Designing the Power Amp
In order to design a tube power amp, you’ll need a load line chart using the plate characteristics of the tubes you are using. This is found on the datasheet.
I took my plate characteristics chart and laminated it so that I could draw multiple load lines on a sheet or start over without destroying a bunch of paper. You can follow my steps by reading this article at The Valve Wizard. The calculations below are a summary based on my amp design of what I learned at The Valve Wizard and from books on the subject.
I have decided to use an 8k primary output transformer as my starting point for this project. The first point on my load line will be the DC voltage, which is going to be about 300V. I put a dot at the bottom of the load line at 300V.
Next I find the anode current. These are drawn at 1/4Za-a (Class B) and 1/2Za-a (Class A). These correspond to Class A at 4k ohms and Class B at 2k ohms.
- 300V/4000ohms = 75mA
- 300V/2000ohms = 150mA
I will draw a dot at each of these points on the left side of my graph. Then, each segment will be connected with a line using a ruler. This isn’t the final operating point of the power amp. The next step is to find a comfortable bias point. This point will be about 75% of the plate dissipation point at 300V. I counted 6 squares up from the 300V/0mA point and placed a dot. I also placed a mark 6 squares up from the 75mA dot on the left side of the graph. I can calculate everything I need to know about my power amp from this line.
My bias point is at 30mA per tube (60mA total), and the cathode voltage will be at 9V. I now know that my cathode resistor will be 9V/.060A = 150 ohms. The power dissipated by this resistor is .060A*9V = .54W so I’ll use a 2 watt resistor for this. The cathode bypass capacitor will be a 100uF 100V capacitor.
The rest of the power amp design is pulled from most schematics that I’ve seen. Grid 2 is connected to the linear taps of the output transformer using 470 ohm 1W resistors. Grid 1 of each tube is connected to the phase splitter through a 4.7k ohm 2W resistors (grid stopper), and the grid reference resistors are 220k ohms.
In the next blog article I will design the power supply.
Defining Amp Specs
As stated in part one, reading up on the subject of tube amp building is a great place to start when you want to build something. If you use web resources, bookmark them in a folder in your browser because there will come a day when you’ll want to reference it. Sometimes I have an idea in my head, and I forget where I saw it. Having your stuff in order will help you locate something should you need it.
After you’ve become familiar with the process of building an amp, the next step is to figure out what kind of amp that you want to build. The easiest guitar amp to build is one with a single-ended output. I’ve build four of these in the last few years of which three still exist; I turned the parallel 6DG6GT into a single 6DG6GT in 2013, and I updated it in 2014.
The Specs of My Build
I’ve started a new project that will take me quite some time to complete due to the complexity of the build (in both the design and the cost). Here is where I started on this build. Every part of the project will be based on these findings. These specs may change over time given the availability of parts or feasibility of design, but this gives me a good starting point.
- EL84 Push-Pull Class AB power amp
- 15 to 20 watts power output
- Fixed bias on power tubes
- 8ohm output
- 300V power supply
- Single channel input
- Single 12AX7 preamp
- 12AX7 phase splitter
- No effects (tremelo, reverb)
Based on this I have my starting point. Now I have to decide what I want to design first. In the next post, I’m going to start by using the EL84 datasheet to draw load lines, and find the operating point of my power amp section.
It seems like this has been one of my favorite topics on Tech-Tut. I really love to build tube guitar amps. It is proven over the many discussions that I take great enjoyment in this part of my hobby.
There have been many ups and downs, and I have temporarily given up many times, but I rarely give up for good. I know when to cut losses, but a hobby is something that is for me, and I can revisit it again at any time. As with the second revision of my 6DG6GT amp, it goes to prove that persistence finally paid off.
Here I am once again working on my next challenge. I want to design and build a low power, but higher power than a single-ended amp, push-pull guitar amp using the EL84 tube.
I want to document most of what I have done for this project. While I am building this project for a profitable venture, I want to leave the whole project as open source for those who might want to try to build their own.
As with any “tutorial” on my website, sometimes I tend to narrate more than give step-by-step instructions. That’s what leads me to my first installment in how I construct the EL84 guitar amp. I want to explain my research.
There are many links and books available to explain how to design and build tube amps, but my experience with them is that a second opinion or angle helps to solidify the learning process. I didn’t get where I am today from one source. I have read Instructables, webpage after website, and several crazy expensive books to help me wrap my head around the process. With that, I pass to you some of my most favorite links explaining this hobby.
- Valve Amplifiers by Morgan Jones
This book has a lot of great info, but is more directed to HiFi.
- Design and Construction of Tube Guitar Amplifiers by Robert C. Megantz
This title does a great job of showing many stages of a guitar amp. I would have liked more discussion about how the design process happened, but it has been a valuable tool.
- Guitar Tube Amp by gmoon
I’ve mentioned this Instructable many times because this guy walked me through most of the processes. It’s a long read, and it will take many passes. From some of the rudiments of design to how to cover a cabinet, gmoon does a great job of documenting the process.
- The Valve Wizard
This website does a little better job at explaining the design process.
- The Cooperative Tube Guitar Amp Project
For Single Ended amps, this site has a whole document of theory. There is also a forum with people who can help you along the way.
Do Your Research
Ask questions. Google stuff! Check datasheets. See what others are doing. It’s the age of information, and you can find almost anything on the web. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Step one in starting any project is doing research. Start with knowledge bases that are directly related to what you want to accomplish.
Tune in next time when I show you where I’m starting with my latest guitar amp build.
…and the next tube amp build on the horizon of completion.
I have been playing this amp quite a bit lately, and I keep checking the parts against my schematic. Today I noticed that the chassis wasn’t grounded, and the heaters were referenced to the output tube’s cathode voltage. I figured I would make a few changes.
I referenced the heaters to ground using two 180 ohm resistors. I also connected the ridiculous looking star ground to the chassis to keep someone from accidental death. I’d rather pop a fuse than pop a human being should something come loose in there.
This amp has a little hum to it, and I’ll check that out in Duncan’s power supply design program. Single ended amps need some stiff HT supplies to keep the 120Hz hum from moving the speaker. It won’t be anytime soon that I mess with that though.
I would like to point out that I dated the turret board “April 23, 2010.” I have learned some since then. One thing for sure is this: that thing is a wiring mess.
This is my latest project amp that hasn’t quite made its debut on Tech-Tut.com. I call this “Upcycle” because it is made from quite a few pieces of trash. A chassis and toroid power transformer from a Backline 250 bass amp, some capacitors from a desktop PC power supply, tube sockets and transformers from the original 6DG6GT tube amp that I recently redesigned, feet and handle from some amp that was scrapped, and pots left over from some other experiments. Some of the caps were also from the old build. Many parts came from my inventory (which isn’t much), and I purchased a few items new to fill in the gaps.
I believe that I have only spent about $120 on this amp. The speaker was $60; I bought a 12″ Jensen speaker. I wish I could afford a Weber.
I’m getting better at this. Once I get some paint of the cabinet and get my logo embroidered on the black burlap, I’ll put a design blog post explaining how I built this thing.
This is the dry fit of the chassis of “Upcycle” in the cabinet. This amp has a few more steps to go before it is complete.
This is the revised 6DG6GT amp. It is a single tube output. You can see my logo on the speaker cabinet. This amp has a Weber Blue Pup 8″ speaker.
I couldn’t stand it. I really didn’t like the tone stack that I included in the 6DG6GT amp. After reading the GMOON Instructable the other day, I found out that he used the Big Muff Pi tone circuit as shown in Duncan’s Tone Stack Calculator. I decided that I liked the simplicity of the Vox style tone stack. I’ve added this to the 1.5 version schematic. Check out the page dedicated to all of my tube amps here: Tube Amp Builds…all in one place. The image shows the new tone stack built on my existing turret board. Since this is a prototype, I suppose I can live with a few parts that appear to float in mid-air.
One thing to note is that I wired the bass pot backwards. This is because I really want all of my knobs to be at full clockwise for the twangy, overdriven sound. That’s pretty much where I’ll keep it especially since I usually play my guitar on the neck pickup which tends to lend to a darker sound.