• WARNING: Tube/Valve amplifiers use potentially LETHAL HIGH VOLTAGES.
    Building, troubleshooting and testing of these amplifiers should only be
    performed by someone who is thoroughly familiar with
    the safety precautions around high voltages.

1st Build - Kit or No Kit

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I am intent on building my first tube amp :confused: , I am exceedingly green to the whole concept. I am aware there are exceptionally high voltages involved in whichever route I go down (kit or following someone else's cct diagram). I am intent on building the amp and testing it as I go and prior to first power up taking it to a decent audio/electrical shop and get them to sign off on it.
My question to you is which route is the best to take first time round, do I buy a kit (if so which would you recommend) or do I follow one of the circuit diagrams on this site, of which there are many.
This amp is going to be used solely for my Ipod so it only requires the one input, if this has any bearing on the kit/cct diagrams recommended.
Looking forward to reading the help offered.
Hi Jobsworth,

I was in the same boat last year. I could not really find a kit that gave me exactly what I wanted. In the end I built my own from scratch. It was a surprisingly staisfying project and quite achievable.

If you search under my name you can see how it went from start to finish (including a follow up second amp). I have included all of my suppliers and resources as well so that you can see where to get things.


Amp/Pre-amp, truth be told I don't know the difference. As I said I am looking to make something to plug my ipod into before connecting to speakers (I would have thought this was an amp).
Budget I am looking at about £250 or $400, as for speakers I haven't chosen those yet, they would probably be of the bookshelf variety. As for power output, the room it is going to be used in is about 12' square.
G'Day jobsworth'

I have built 4 valve amps now. One was a failure (from a performance point of view, not from a learning point of view) and the other three are working and playing.

I would suggest as a first project that you start with something simple. This way it is much easier to understand what you are doing and easy for the forum members to help if something goes wrong. Building something from scratch is very satisfying, but obviously more difficult than building from a kit. If a scratch build is a bit daunting, an intermediate route is to purchase a printed circuit board and build the rest of the amp from scratch. This approach eliminate much of the wiring problems for novice builders but still offers a level of "built it myself" satisfaction. I can recommend the SimpleSE from TubeLab http://www.tubelab.com/SimpleSE.htm TubeLab is a frequent and helpful contributor to this forum and his amp design is first rate.

Another approach might be to build a SIMPLE point to point project. This was my third project (the second was the not-so-successful one) http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=113917 This amp is inspired from the Decware Zen amp. I gave this amp to my girlfriend for Christmas. When I go to her place and listen to it, I love it. It sounds a little different from the SimpleSE design, but it only puts out a couple of watts (about two watts in triode mode, about 4 in ultralinear I am guessing) where the SimpleSE is about 7 watts in triode and about 14 watts in ultralinear. Your choice of power output will be dependent on the efficiency of your speakers and the volume level you require. Oh, another option might be to try the Zen kit http://www.decware.com/newsite/mainmenu.htm?/newsite/SE84C.htm&intro

There are some other projects, this KT88 build is popular http://diyaudioprojects.com/Schematics/Mikael-Abdellah-SE-KT88-Amplifier.htm

Sure you will get some other worthwhile suggestions here.

Cheers and good luck!

I got my start building by repairing amps first. It's a lot easier to figure out how to work on amps when someone else has done all the hard stuff and you just have to be safe and look for problems. Staring at a blank piece of Garolite is a whole different thing.

I heartily recommend Dave Hunter's book on tube amp design. Google it or hit Amazon. It takes you through the absolute beginings of what things do part by part, then progresses right up to building a complete guitar amp from scratch. really a great way to get not only a fine amp built for very little money, but really understand what does what and more inportantly why it does it without getting too technical and requiring you to learn advanced math or physics to understand it all.

- JJ

I recently finished my first amp, it was Jef Larson's design, but I built it from scratch. Couldn't find a kit that had everything I wanted. After I built that, I built a Bottlehead Seduction phono preamp. The kit is MUCH simpler and easier, you don't have to worry about sourcing parts or laying out components or a chassis, BUT it will be more expensive than doing the same thing from scratch. And let me reiterate what others have said: there is absolutely nothing more satisfying than listening to music on an amp that you have built from the ground up. You'll understand once you try!

On a second note, the amp that I chose to build (2a3 SET driven by an Aikido) sounds awful connected to my iPod. I do not have a preamp yet, that will be coming soon... It sounds great connected to my CD player and the Bottlehead Seduction, but for whatever reason the iPod just does not drive the amp well at all.

Good luck!

My first tube project was a restoration of a McIntosh MC240, so I agree that restorations will teach you a lot.

My next build was the ST35 clone kit from DIYTube. Shannon Parks has put together a beautifully detailed build manual that is very easy to do. Also he has a forum community that is active and answers any questions.

The amp uses a quad of EL84's and puts out the typical 17w/ch. As my friend says, never met an EL84 amp that sounded bad. They aren't the ultimate in resolution, but do contain enough magic to get you hooked up big time.

Have fun, whatever you decide to do.

Read, read, read

Yeah, if you don't know the difference between a pre and an amp you should read up on that stuff.

My first build was a chip amp from scratch. Then a kit for an amp and then a pre from scratch.

More than one way to skin a cat but you definitely need a foundation to start with so check out the stickies above for some knowledge.
Decision Made

I have decided to jump in!! I have decided to go ahead and build the Simple SE from tubelab.com, I have to apologise for the "bone" questions that are definately going to be on their way. I am currently reading as much as I physically can on the matter but have to admit it gets muddy, hopefully it will get a little easier when I have the board and components in front of me.
The tubelab.com website appears to be a very informative site quite literally taking you by the hand each step of the way.
I hope you can be patient with me and my questions.
As a long time tube lover, and with the intention of one day building my own tube gear, I began by first building several Millett Hybrid headphone amps, a couple of SOHAs, several chip amps, and learning the basics.

Although I had a general knowledge of tubes, I read everything I could get my hands on and worked my way UP the knowledge ladder(with a long way still to go), so to speak, before tackling a more complex build. I wanted to do point to point on something simple. I chose the Miniblok SET designed by the late Fred Nachbaur. What I learned has been invaluable. It has me on the path to building some really serious gear eventually.

My advice to you is start with something commensurate with your knowledge. Your statement that you do not know the difference between an amp and a preamp speaks volumes. I mean no disrespect, but quite frankly I think you should rethink your starting spot in the DIY process. On the other hand, you may have the knowledge and ability to tackle this. That's certainly for you to decide.


There are many similar projects if you decide to go this route. I built a dual mono Miniblok enclosed in one nice chassis. It looks nothing like the el cheapo that Fred put together.

My next project is going to be using a Tubelab or similar pcb. IMHO, PTP wiring is a royal PITA. I did it and I've also used pcbs many, many times. After doing a PTP amp, the reasons for doing it again just aren't there for me. While I enjoy saying I was able to successfully complete a PTP, I don't foresee doing it again. The only way would be if I wanted to build something that was easier to do PTP than trying to obtain a pcb, which isn't likely.

Good Luck!
I am exceedingly green to the whole concept

How exceedingly green are you? Do you have ANY knowledge in electronics? If you never built anything before? If not, building a tube amp is not the way to go. Don't set yourself up for failure (and severe disappointment) Start with some low voltage, inexpensive kits. Read up on your basic (college level) electronics. Learn how to solder well enough to be up to the task. Start small and work your way up.
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