. . . the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. —Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
I think I’ve figured out the appeal of this whole build-your-own-amp craze. It dawned on me during my soldering lesson with Al a couple weeks ago. I’d just made my first few attempts at soldering two wires together, and had discovered that when you hunch directly over the thing you’re soldering, the smoke goes up your nose. I asked Al about the safety of breathing smoke from something that’s 40% lead. Last time I checked, lead was not one of the items on the Percent Daily Values chart on the side of my Cheerios box. Al shrugged and gave me a sideways glance. “I kind of like the smell of it.”
You know what I smell, folks? An ADDICT.
Fact! 60/40 electronics solder isn’t really 60% tin and 40% lead. It also has what’s called a “rosin” core. The “rosin” is supposed to be a “flux,” which helps the solder to flow better. It doesn’t take Jeff Spicoli to figure out that “flux” isn’t just making the solder flow better. Your whole day’s gonna flow like lava in a lamp after a morning spent over your soldering iron.
Fact! 18watt.com, a website supposedly dedicated to discussion about replicating an obscure, long-forgotten amplifier, has over two thousand members. At this moment, at nearly 1am on a work night, fourteen guests and nine members are visiting the site. What could possibly inspire such interest in electronics, particularly in guitarists—a group not necessarily known for having populated the front row, or any row, of AP Physics classes?
Fact! Melting solder smells kinda like doobage.
I rest my case.
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It’s been 23 days since I started my amp-building project, and in that time, in addition to replaying the Bob Marley box set about thirty times, I’ve screwed all the parts to the amp chassis and completed about half the wiring. It’s been so much fun, I’ve put off updating my blog—whenever I have the opportunity to write, I go downstairs and grab my soldering iron. There’s something meditative about soldering wires. Through a thicket of mysterious electronic components, I’m following a path, one step at a time. As long as I stay on the trail, I’ll find my way to my destination.
And on the way, I am learning a bit about electronics. I only have the most superficial understanding of how the components of my amp work—power transformers change voltage, capacitors store electricity, tubes make your guitar scream—but the logic in the tangle of wires is slowly becoming apparent. Instead of seeing a plate of spaghetti when I peer into the chassis, I am beginning to see meaningful electrical paths, as if I were looking at a roadmap of my hometown.