Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (2022)

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (1)

In this age of hand-made, boutique gear (not to mention the enforced confinement), many guitarists have taken up soldering irons and built pedals and equipment of their own to scratch a particular sonic itch.

But given the cost of hand-wired or point-to-point tube guitar amplifiers, you might wonder if building one is actually realistic.

The answer is that building a hand-wired tube amp is within the reach of most players. That said, the advice online can be somewhat difficult to make sense of, given the breath of options, and differing levels of experience among DIY builders.

Building an amp can not only be a fun project, but a good way of learning about electronics, how amps work, and also how to service other valve amps you might already own. It's a great way of building confidence and opening the door to other projects like constructing guitars, pedals or other studio equipment.

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Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (2)

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So, armed with some experience of soldering pedals we decided to take the plunge and build a small tube amp using a kit from Barry at UK-based Ampmaker. It's worth stressing that many people who undertake this kit have much less prior experience and get through it mishap-free.

The N5X that we've chosen is a British-voiced, single-ended five watt head with a useful variable voltage circuit to bring the amp down from its surprisingly beefy maximum volume back to room level.

Although apparent volume is a fraught and somewhat subjective thing, taking a very rough rule-of-thumb of a fifty-watt amp being double the volume of a five watt amp - ignoring questions of clean headroom - five watts is more than enough power to be useful.

We're getting ahead of ourselves though - on to the build...

Before you start

So, first things first - if you're going to be undertaking an amp build then look online for advice on how to work safely with high voltages.

This is not an optional step - amp voltages can kill you, but with due care and attention, the risks are small.

If you've experimented with hobbyist electronics before then you'll probably know that even 9V DC is more than enough to melt a component and start a small fire, so the voltage in itself isn't the real danger, carelessness is.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (3)

Some digital multimeters aren't rated for more than 250 volts, so bear in mind that even on a five-watt amp like this, some of the test points are likely to exceed that. Either buy a higher-rated DMM or omit those tests.

Broadly speaking, you need to be careful about not turning the amp on when there are any grounds or short circuits, and making sure that after, for example, testing part of the circuit, you don't immediately resume work after turning it off.

First, safely discharge any large capacitors that store charge, or wait a reasonable interval before resuming work.

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Tools

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Key tools

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Wire

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(Video) Building a 5E3 Deluxe Guitar Amp From Scratch

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Capacitors

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Valves

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Turret boards

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Resistors

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Transformer

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Output transformer

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Fixings

(Video) DIY Guitar Amplifier - The Lindsay

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Hardware

Tool-wise, here's what you'll need:

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Good-quality solder
  • Soldering iron
  • Reverse-action tweezers
  • A Phillips-head screwdriver
  • A Digital Multimeter (DMM)
  • Rat-tail file
  • A pile of books to prop the chassis up on

Make sure that you use an extractor fan, or do your soldering in a well-ventilated area.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (4)

If you have a heat-adjustable soldering iron, it's important that you set it to a sensible temperature. We tend to run moderately hot at 350 degrees celsius, using 0.6mm solder and then use a heat-sink like reverse-action tweezers for sensitive components like diodes.

It's possible to run the iron at a lower temperature, but connections will take slightly longer to make. Our rule of thumb is that we never like to keep a component under heat for more than a second, or two at the most.

The build

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (5)

The documentation that Ampmaker supplies for its builds is comprehensive and easy to follow (and available to view online (opens in new tab)), so it's not worth duplicating here; rather, here's some gotchas from along the way and pictures to hopefully give you the confidence to tackle an amp build of your own.

When stripping wires, make sure to twist the ends after stripping before 'tinning' the wire by heating and adding solder, as this will make the connection much smoother and easier to make.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (6)

As there are a number of fly wires, it pays to be pragmatic - keep the wires short enough to not be messy, but long enough that you can cut and move them if you make a mistake.

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For wires that have runs together, twist the wires to tidy them, or, if there are several in a clump, then use a zip-tie to gather them up and out of your way.

The biggest thing that it's worth constantly doing is checking your components before they are placed in circuit - it's a lot harder to desolder and replace things than it is to check them first.

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(Video) Scratch Build a Stereo Tube Amplifier Part 1

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We like to make an A4 grid of all the resistor numbers in the schematic, then check them off by testing them one-at-a-time and placing them on the paper.

As this amp has comparatively few components, which for that matter is even broadly true of something like a JTM45, there's really no excuse to not check the orientation of capacitors and the value of resistors before you place them and solder them.

Resistor orientation doesn't matter, but you should aim to be neat. Choose a direction in terms of the bands and make sure that both horizontally and vertically you have the tolerance band at the same end. This will help you if you have to debug later.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (7)

For capacitors, radial and axial capacitors are usually polarised, but they are clearly marked if so. Normally radial capacitors have a stripe on the cathode (negative) side, while axial capacitors have arrows pointing to the cathode side in a stripe.

Other identifying marks can include a dent on the anode (positive) side, or a rubber stopper at the end. As always, if in doubt, Google for images of the brand labelled on the part and confirm before soldering.

Some of the axial capacitors in this kit are non-polarised, and they are the only ones with no anode or cathode marked.

The valve sockets have a cut marking where pin one sits - make sure that you line this up with the physical assembly diagram, or you'll have to mentally rotate the pinout when making your connections later.

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We accidentally placed our valve sockets at the wrong angle when compared to the schematic, and so had to work out which connections were correct. Writing the pin numbers in permanent marker on the inside of the chassis by the sockets will avoid silly mistakes when wiring up the connections.

When it comes to actually seating the valves, some wiggling into place will be required, especially the first time the sockets are used. However, be careful to not force anything and cause damage.

We opted for a 12AX7 in the pre and an EL84 in the power section, which are both quite small and seemingly fragile valves, but with a gentle push they seated correctly.

Diodes are particularly heat-sensitive, so it's worth checking them both before they go into circuit and after. Your DMM should have a clearly-marked diode check function which you can use to verify them. If you're unsure about whether the readings seem off, Google for the diode type and expected readings.

After soldering, make sure you cut lead ends and clear away anything on the underside of the turret board.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (8)

We assembled the main power board on a flat tabletop, which meant all the leads had to be checked and clipped before putting the turret board into the chassis.

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(Video) Build A Guitar Amp In 10 Mins

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The main board, however, we assembled in place in the chassis, and as the result of working late in the evening we missed a fly lead that caused a short-circuit to ground. During testing this then resulted in a power resistor going up in smoke, somewhat embarrassingly.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (9)

If something like this happens, stay calm. Place the chassis back on your piles of books and disconnect the plug at the wall. Wait until the power capacitors have discharged before checking your circuit and board undersides for potential short-circuits.

Whether you assemble it on a flat surface or in place, make sure that the undersides of both of your turret boards have no short-circuits and no un-clipped leads.

Final thoughts

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (10)

Although due to a little carelessness on our part the build wasn't completely stress-free, it was surprisingly easy on the whole. Taking our time, it was complete after a few evenings of work.

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In terms of sound, the amp delivers a lot of punch given its comparatively low wattage. The EL84 power tube gives a clear, bright response, although trying out an EL34 is next on the list of things to tweak.

Build your own DIY guitar amp from scratch (11)

Through a 2x10 cab with the variable voltage dialled right down it had enough gain - via the treble boost switch - to make a decent practice amp for classic rock tones. With a boost pedal in front and the bass rolled back, there was even room for some metal chunk.

Through a somewhat larger 2x12 cab with custom Celestion speakers, the amp had nearly enough pure volume to keep up with a drummer, and would have been able to if mic'd. However, this was with the master and gain rolled up considerably; at that volume, clean tones were simply not an option.

All things considered, the experience has been well worthwhile, and we're already eyeing up the next build - perhaps something with a little more clean headroom. JCM800 you say? Game on!

  • Start a new project with the best DIY guitar kits

Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.

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FAQs

Can you make your own guitar amp? ›

It's never been easier to build an amp of your own. You can find scores of websites with a ton of classic-amp-model options. These kits range from minimal to complete, including cabinet and speaker. Sounds fun, but it can be a bit scary.

How do you make an amp for an electric guitar? ›

And you can see the LED is here there's the on/off switch volume. Control guitar input speaker

How do you make a mini guitar amp? ›

It here we go let's assemble take the quarter inch adapter. And stick it on the three and a half

What can I use as an amp? ›

There are four ways you can play an electric guitar without an amp. You can play your guitar with any headphones or speakers using a PC or Mac, using an iPhone or iPad, using a micro-amp, or with a multi-effects pedal.

What are the parts of a guitar amp? ›

The head contains the preamp and power amp blocks; the cabinets hold the speakers. A combo is exactly what its name implies — a combination of all three — preamp + power amp + speaker(s). Lastly, a rack system is comprised of separate components for all three blocks — namely a preamp, a power amp, and cabinet(s).

What gauge wire does Fender use? ›

The majority of guitar companies including Fender and Gibson use 22 AWG (American Wire Gauge) standard hookup wire. Fender used a cloth braid wire in the early days and with vintage models now built. Fender also uses Teflon coated hookup wire.

Can two guitars share amp? ›

Yes, you can, and it's pretty safe to do so. There are multiple types of amps able to do this, but you can pull this off on every guitar amp with two main inputs. However, you will need to be careful, as having two signals through the same amp with too much gain will damage your amplifier.

What size amp do I need? ›

Generally you should pick an amplifier that can deliver power equal to twice the speaker's program/continuous power rating. This means that a speaker with a “nominal impedance” of 8 ohms and a program rating of 350 watts will require an amplifier that can produce 700 watts into an 8 ohm load.

How can I make my guitar Bluetooth? ›

Bluetooth Wireless Electric Guitar - YouTube

How do you connect two guitar amps together? ›

Guide to hooking up two guitar amps together - YouTube

How do you make an Altoid amp? ›

Weekend Project: Mint Tin Amp - YouTube

What is a CMoy amp? ›

A CMoy is a pocket headphone amplifier originally designed by Pow Chu Moy.

How do you get an amp in Warframe? ›

A second pre-built Amp called the Sirroco is also obtained by completing The New War quest. Future Amps will be obtained by crafting certain pieces and combining them at either Onkko or Little Duck.

Can you use a speaker as a guitar amp? ›

A typical guitar amp contains an amp and also speakers within it. A speaker is just a device used to play out sound signals. A regular speaker cannot be used directly with a guitar because the sound signal from a guitar is too weak for a regular speaker.

Can I use my computer as a guitar amp? ›

A PC can be used as a guitar amp by installing an amp sim (guitar amp simulator). Then, connect your guitar to an audio interface input, and the audio interface via USB to the PC running the amp sim. Finally, connect speakers or headphones to the audio interface output, for a working guitar amp.

Can you play guitar without an amp? ›

Yes, electric guitars can be played without an amp. They will not, however, project as much sound if they're not plugged in. As any musician might tell you, an amplifier is a crucial part of a setup that involves an electric guitar.

Are guitar amps AC or DC? ›

AC (alternating current) means that the voltage swings positive and negative like this sine wave. Guitar signals are AC voltages, just a wee bit more complex than the simple sine wave above.

What is the front of an amp called? ›

The Baffle. The front part of the cabinet where the speakers mount is called the baffle. It needs to be the strongest and most rigid piece of all because this part of the cabinet is subject to the most impact stress.

How loud is a guitar amplifier? ›

Most guitar amps are around 115 dB if you're located a meter (or 3.28 feet) away from the speaker/cabinet. However, if you're standing right next to the speaker of a fully distorted 700W head with a 4×12 cabinet, it's about 135 dB. That's awfully close to the “150 dB” it takes to burst an eardrum.

Are jumbo frets good for beginners? ›

If you are a beginner, or strictly a rhythm player, small to medium frets will do you great - easy chording and sliding from one barre chord to the next without feeling like your going over speed bumps. But if you are a lead player doing lots of bending and vibrato, the jumbo frets are the only way to go!

What wire is best for guitars? ›

Widely used in the guitar world for optimal results, is 22AWG wire. This is mainly because you ideally want your wiring AWG to be the same or greater than the guitar's pickup wire AWG and in most cases pickup manufacturer's use 22AWG.

Can I use copper wire for guitar? ›

Most wire is copper, you can get steel or aluminum i think but its brittle and crappy. So yes it's fine.

Why do guitar amps have 2 inputs? ›

The most common reason to have more than one input in a guitar amp is to accommodate different levels of gain or to "dampen" active pickups.

Why do guitar amps have two channels? ›

Why Does An Amp Have Multiple Channels? A guitar amp with multiple channels allows you to switch the tone of the guitar without setting up additional pedals – typically 1 channel for clean and another channel for distortion.

Can you plug a guitar amp into another guitar amp? ›

If the channel you use on your amp has a second input, you can simply connect that to the prime input of the second amp. It works as a very simple splitter.

What is considered a good amp? ›

If you're looking for an amp to perform live with, you should consider a larger amp (12-15”) that is 50 watts. If you're planning to play in large venues, you can go for a higher power amp that's at least 100 watts.

What watt is a good amp? ›

20 to 45 Watts

These amplifiers yield enough clean headroom to keep up with most drummers, they can produce nifty speaker breakup with lower-efficiency speakers, and they generate rock-ready power-amp distortion at higher volumes.

How many watts do you need to play a gig? ›

For most gigs and live performances in venues that hold around 100 people, you should have either a 20W tube amp, or a 40W solid state amp if you're playing without a band. If you're playing with a drummer, you'll likely need a 100W solid state amp, or a 50W valve amp.

How loud is a 20 watt guitar amp? ›

A 20-watt guitar amp is pretty loud compared to sounds in the normal world, but in a band situation, it may not be enough. This really depends on the type of band you are in, and what the other musicians are using. Acoustic drum kits are loud, especially when they when pummeled by a hard-hitting rock or metal drummer.

Is a 10 watt amp good? ›

A good guitar amp for a beginner is solid-state with a speaker in the 8-12” range. These little amps are usually 10-20 watts. This is more than enough power for a newbie to get started. Look for features like onboard digital effects, reverb, and of course good-quality distortion.

How many watts do you need to play live? ›

For home use your amp should be around 20W. For most gigs and live performances in venues that hold around 100 people, you should have either a 20W tube amp, or a 40W solid state amp if you're playing without a band. If you're playing with a drummer, you'll likely need a 100W solid state amp, or a 50W valve amp.

How many watts does a guitar amp use? ›

Amplifiers & Electricity Consumption

As we've established, the average amount of electricity used by a guitar amplifier falls between 100 and 200 watts per hour.

How loud is a 100 watt amp? ›

One watt=90 dB. One hundred watts, or 100X more power=110 dB.

How loud is too loud for guitar? ›

You should also know that continuous exposure to sound over 85 dB could cause damage or hearing loss.

How loud is 110 decibels? ›

Decibels Explained
Decibel LevelSource
110 dBJackhammer, power saw, symphony orchestra
120 dBThunderclap, discotheque/boom box
110-125 dBStereo
110-140 dBRock concerts
4 more rows

How loud is a 60 watt guitar amp? ›

Anyway, 60 Watts through some efficient speakers can get pretty loud. It's loud enough to match up to unamplified drums and maybe a 30 Watt guitar amp. It's good jam or practice volume, but may not cut it for really loud gigs unless you can use the PA to back you up.

How much does a good amp cost? ›

The Quick Answer. Guitar amplifiers usually cost between $50-200 for beginners, and can cost several thousands for professionals. Tube amps usually cost between $500-3000, whilst good quality solid state amps cost between $100-1000. High wattage amps (over 75W) often cost over $500.

How long do guitar amps last? ›

You should replace them every 10 or 20 years, and there is a high chance that your amp will sound as good as new. What is this? Of course, if there are no issues with your amp or the sound, then you should not change a thing. Probably the best thing about amps is that you can easily tell if something is wrong.

How loud is 200 watts? ›

A 200-watt speaker is loud enough to have a good sound when playing in a medium-sized warehouse with 50+ people, and in general, very loud for any indoor event or an average-sized venue outdoors.

Does more watts mean better sound? ›

Yes, it's true that the higher the power (watts), the louder and cleaner the speakers will play. Small differences in power, however, don't make much of an audible change. In order to perceptively hear a difference (a 3dB increase), the power would have to double.

Do watts matter in guitar amps? ›

An amp's wattage will establish its headroom, which determines the volume when the amplifier starts distorting the guitar's sound. So, the number of watts an amplifier has will tell you how loud your amp can get before the sound starts breaking up.

Is a 40 watt amp loud enough? ›

As long as you have an amp you enjoy, typically anything above about 30 watts will be more than enough for most situations. If you're playing extremely loud metal music, maybe bump up to 40 just to be safe.

Is a 30 watt amp loud enough for a gig? ›

If you're amp is a tube amp, you can gig but 30 watt solid states are generally practice amps so I'd say you should get a bigger amp if you want to gig, about 50-75(solid-state)or 30-50(tube) watts would be enough for small gigs. My 30 watt bass amp worked fine for small gigs at pubs and it's solid state.

Why is a tube amp louder than solid-state? ›

Last but not least, one reason why a tube amp might in fact be louder than a solid-state amp with honest and equal wattage ratings is that tube amplifiers typically have a much more gradual loss of headroom, where the sound gradually becomes more compressed and harmonic, before flattening into outright square-wave ...

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