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.
There are alot of really excellent preamps out there...mostly they are of the DIY type, but you will be hard pressed to find one with the evil remote control as tube people shy away from this remote ****.
If you can't get up to turn up the volume you have degenerated into the SS world , with its all-on-a-chip mentality.
Not DIY, but the JuicyMusic Blueberry is a gorgeous piece, with a decent phono stage, and a basic remote volume control. I bought a JM Peach b/c it looks way better than anything I'd have the time or motivation to build.
Look into Modwright. Not cheap but they always seem to be raved about. Maybe your friend can find a used SWLP 9.0SE in mint condition for < $3K. They are around $5K new. This is what I want unless I find something better here that I can handle.
Dan Wright started out like some of the more advanced guys here and has become successful with his designs, products and modifications.