Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fun W/ a Fender Champ

I bought a Fender Champ three years ago. It's from 1975 and has been modded so that it supposedly sounds more like a tweed Champ. Don't know what they did exactly but it sounds great and looks sweet.

I have had the same tubes in it for a year and it's going strong but I wanted to try something different. Tubes are really easy to change in a Champ. It is a cathode bias amp so you can just pop the power tubes in and out w/o adjusting anything. Supposedly, you can make adjustments in the bias of the amp and get it sounding better but I've never tried it and it seems to be working fine how I've been doing it. One of these days, curiosity will get the best of me and I'll go poking around in there.

Step one. Remove back plate w/ screwdriver:

They are Phillips head screws. You turn them counter clockwise to remove them. This exposes the tubes. You could probably just work around the cover but it'd be a pain. The Champ has three tubes in it:

From left to right, the first is the rectifier tube which is a 5Y3GT, the second is the 6V6 in the power section and the last is the 12AX7 preamp tube. Good stuff. So basically to get these guys out, you just grab hold and pull:

Be careful putting themin. You need to get the pins lined up. Power amp tubes have a little key that prevents you from putting them in the wrong way but preamp tubes you just have to be careful w/. Here is me putting a power tube in:

The one thing to be careful of is the tubes get hot if you've been playing. The rectifier tube swaps out the same way. I replaced it w/ the same kind, Sovtek, so it wasn't interesting enough to me to take a picture of it.

The particular tubes I tried were a reissue Tung-Sol 12AX7 and a JJ 6V6. I forget what kind of preamp tube I had in there but it was Chinese and sounded pretty good. I love the Tung-Sol though. Very tight sounding and clear but still very warm. It added a lot to my tone and I'm very pleased w/ it. The JJ power tube I wasn't so happy w/. It was slightly warmer sounding but in a muddy way that I didn't care for. To be fair, though, I am using a vintage Jan 6V6 that I got as NOS so the cards are kind of stacked against the JJ. NOS preamp tubes are way to damn expensive for me so I just go w/ new ones and have been fairly happy.

The other cool thing I did for my Fender Champ is build an adapter so I could plug it into a speaker cab:

It is very easy to build. You just need an RCA plug and a normal quarter-inch mono jack. To put it simply, you solder wires between them and you're done. I wrapped some of that shrink wrap tubing for wiring over the RCA to protect it. Couldn't really do much on the quarter-inch jack but it's held up for a couple years now.

The best part about this five-minute project is it allows me to do this:

I use a Weber Z-Matcher to match the impedances of the cabs to the amp. It is a wonderful device and very well built. Buy one. You'll find a use for it.

The two cabs I have going are a Traynor 4x10, which is a strange beast. It came w/ an old Traynor solid state head. The head and cab sound great together. But the head doesn't sound good w/ anything else and the cab is only so-so w/ other amps. I only keep it in my rig for the machismo factor. Say what you will but I like having a full stack in my living room and keep it as a matter of principle. The bottom cab is a Kern 4x12. It was made in the 70s in Chicago and is freaking awesome. It's my favorite 4x12 in the world. Kern still makes some bass gear now but their old stuff is super rare as far as I can tell. I actually sent them an email about this cab to see if I couldn't learn some more about it. Whoever I talked to was like, "Yeah, we used to make those," and that's about all I know about it. The speakers are some square-backed Eminence models and are beat to hell but still sounding good.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say about my Fender Champ at the minute. The silverface ones like I have are still pretty cheap and hands down better than the cheap little tube amps people are putting out now in terms of build quality. Tone is a matter of personal preference but I think this thing sounds better too.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sunn Concert Bass

Recently, through of inquiries over the internets and train rides to and from the south suburbs, I acquired a Sunn Concert Bass free of charge from a gentleman named Tariq who plays in the excellent south of Chicago metal band Couldron, who are looking for a new drummer at the minute should you happen to be one. The only caveat was that it was in non-working order. Some asshole had apparently decided it would be a good idea to let the magic smoke that typically resides in capacitors, transistors, diodes and other such enigmatic electronical elements into the outside world where we all know it should not be. My task was to put it back in there.

I live my life car-free so it is often a trial to get out to the 'burbs. I knew it was worth it though as soon as I set this magnificent bastard on my speaker cab at home:

Looks pretty sweet, don't you think? How'd it sound? Well, at this point, it was still broken so it sounded like crap. I was hopping that the magic smoke may have found it's way back in there on its own but, sadly, that was not the case. Guitar sound would come out of the amp but not much and a ton of buzz came w/ it. Obviously not the best situation.

I opened it up to see what was up. Bear in mind, I followed the proper safety procedure of not being a retard before I started probing around. If you are a retard, I recommend you not open any amps up.

These are the amp guts:

At this point, I realized that somebody had actually tried to put some kind of magic smoke back in there. I can't say what kind but, seriously, this thing utterly reeked of nag champa incense, leading me to suspect that it'd been tampered w/ by a hippy at some point.

Closer inspection lead me to my first clue, two burned out resistors:

Even though I knew it wouldn't work, I tried swapping out those two resistors. The only good thing to report here is that only one of the resistors burned up this time. Apparently, the other one had just been taken out by the first one. I was one resistor down now but at least I had something to show for it. I replaced the one that burned up again and set off about the internets to find the real source of my problem. After some research, guided by several fine gentleman on the Unofficial Sunn Musical Equipment Web Site, I managed to narrow down the source of my problems to a few transistors in the power section. I am not sure if this is normal but they are stuck to the back of this amp and covered w/ little plastic pieces:

You just have to unscrew the screws and they pop right in and out, no soldering required. I tested them using a multimeter and the method described on this page. Three of them were bad out of five. Good thing I ordered four. Once replaced, it fired up just fine. It's loud as balls and your mom keeps calling me to ask about it. I've had it down at my band Sun Splitter's practice space for a couple weeks now and it's still going strong. Sounds pretty good for guitar or bass but I use it w/ my drum machine, Sober Bill. Here's the full rig:

As I said it's been going strong for a while now and I'm happy w/ it but I posted some pics of the board on the Sunn forum and someone noticed that a couple electrolytic capacitors had leaked out some of the crazy capacitor juice that's inside of them. I am OK w/ this since it works anyway but they're telling me that those caps could short at anytime--leading possibly to total protonic reversal--so I'm gonna replace them pretty soon. There's also some old resistors in there that I want to replace as some have drifted pretty significantly over the years. I will, of course, keep you posted.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Un-Baritone Guitar

So I had to come to terms w/ something about my baritone guitar: It was cool, it sounded and played OK but I just needed to accept the fact that it is simply not that great. It's a nice first try but that is all I can say about it. I've decided that it is not worthy of my beautiful Warmoth neck so I've replaced it w/ a dirt cheap no-name neck from eBay. It's a load off my mind saying that out loud.

And I'm not kidding when I say no-name. It literally doesn't have a brand name at all on it's vaguely Telecaster-ish headstock:

I have no problem w/ the lack of name-brand and, in fact, I appreciate not having to shill for whatever company imported this son-of-a-bitch from French Indochina. What I do have a problem w/ is the fact that the holes were drilled in the wrong damn place. Not only that, they are too big for a normal neck screw. I filled them in w/dowels and re-drilled them, no problem. It actually fit in the neck pocket better than the Warmoth neck because it was too big.

Of course, that could not possibly be the end of my problems w/ this thing. The fact that it fit better, meant I got it on there straighter which made it a apparent that the bridge was in the wrong place so I had to move it again using this same procedure. And if that was the end of things, I'd have been pleased but it wasn't. Now that the neck was straight and the bridge was in the right spot, the pickups were no longer in line w/ the strings. Blast! There's really not much I can do about it w/o redoing the whole damn thing so I'm leaving it like that for now. I also rewired it so it didn't have all that goofy stereo crap going on, which was always weird and problematical and I never used for anything other than screwing around. I also unhooked the push-pull pots I was using for pickup selection and threw a Gibson-style toggle sort of awkwardly into the mix. Works but it's kind of cramped.

I also had to level and crown the frets to get it playing w/o a hideous amount of buzz. The neck really was a trainwreck. In hindsight I wish I hadn't cheaped out and got something decent. Here is the guitar w/ it attached:

Now that is one fine fiddle! Seriously, it's not that bad. If I ever get around to it, I'll re-rout the pickup slots so I can move them where they need to go and then make a pickguard to cover all the mistakes up. If I really wanna get into it, I can fill the wood and refinish in a solid color. Might be worth it as I can fix some other crap too while I'm at it. It's still pretty fun to play and having the pickups out of whack doesn't seem to affect the tone much at all. The neck is a big fat vintage baseball bat so it's good to practice on. Makes my other guitars feel tiny and insignificant, thusly allowing me to better bend them to my will.

The Warmoth neck is now going to go on the cheapo guitar project. Somewhat ironical but there you go.