I’m gonna build an amp.
Not content to leave my fate up to highway traffic, rockfall, or old age, I’ve decided to go where no spacey musician belongs—into a box of wires, jacks, knobs, caps, tubes, pots, screws, nuts, transistors, transmogrifiers, thermal detinators, and crystal gravfield trap receptors; from which, if all goes as planned, I will emerge with a replica of the legendary Marshall 18-watt guitar amplifier.
If all does not go as planned, I’ll know by the 290 volts coursing through my vitals—double the amount I’d get were I to, say, stick a paper clip in a power outlet.
Why risk electrocution? Marshall built the 18-watt combo amp for just three years, from 1965 to 1967, and they only made a couple hundred before replacing them with the cheaper, inferior 20-watt series. Back then, guitar amp manufacturers were trying to make their amps as clean (distortion-free) as possible, and the 18-watt was advertised as having a “distortion-free volume level.” Ironically, it’s the distortion you get—when you crank the volume—that tone snobs love. Michael Doyle, the author of The History of Marshall says they have “one of the greatest Marshall distortion tones [he’s] ever heard.”
I’m building this amp partly on that promise, and partly on the recommendation of the thousands of gentlemen feeding their midlife-crisis-induced gear lust in the 18 Watt online forum (“An 18 Watt in every home” is their motto), and partly on the promise of life insurance money and/or litigation claims should I daydream about wailing guitar solos while I solder.
Which brings me to Al Scott. Al’s one of my guitar students, and we’re swapping guitar lessons for amp-building guidance. He’s also a writer for the Seattle Times, an ex-speaker-repairman, an amateur amp builder, an excellent teacher, a really nice human being, and my scapegoat if I fry.
Today we set up shop in the basement of my house, on a long, empty workbench that’s just been begging for a project since I moved in this past summer. We took the kit out of the box, fresh off a cargo ship from Malaysia (several companies sell 18-watt kits, but the Malaysian company Ceriatone is the cheapest reputable one I’ve found). We organized the parts on my workbench, and spent most of the hour talking about tools I’d need and deciphering the wiring layout.
A layout’s like a schematic, in the same way that The Moby Dick Coloring Book by Sally Daisyfield is like Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Even so, it took us a few minutes for us to realize that we were looking at the wrong layout—one for the 18-watt TMB, an updated, higher-gain version of the original 18-watt. Once we downloaded the correct layout, things started making more sense, and Al left with me feeling confident that I could color between the lines for the first few hours of work.
The first thing I need to do is screw all the parts onto the chassis, which is a metal plate that holds everything in place. Once I get that done, I’ll post some photos and tell you how it’s going.
If you don’t hear from me, please contact Ken Silverton at New York Life Insurance. His phone number is 206-324-2960. Tell him my policy information is under the stack of Guitar World magazines in my office bookcase, and that it was Al’s fault.