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This article is a book review of a six-book series that is the most comprehensive and lucid explanation of the architecture, circuitry, sound, components, and construction technique of guitar tube amps. for DIY enthusiasts I have never found. The review discusses each book separately and recommends purchasing them in a specific order to expand your knowledge based on your building experience.

Kevin O’Connor of London Power has created a series of books under the main title of “The Ultimate Tone”. These books are truly unique and carefully crafted for DIY guitar tube amp enthusiasts and boutique amp builders. The books also have a home-made ‘feel’… all illustrations are handmade and the books are photocopied on 8.5 ″ x11 ″ paper and bound with plastic spines and clear plastic covers. There are now six books in the series, the most recent being released in late spring 2008. You might want to buy the whole series at one time and save modest savings, but I think you should consider them. buy one at a time. and digest as you go, building projects along the way. One key point though… you don’t necessarily want to buy them in numerical order. I recommend the following sequence:

  1. The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Sound Generations
  2. The Ultimate Tone Volume 5 – Sound Capture
  3. The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Nirvana Systemic Approach to Stage Sound
  4. The Ultimate Tone Volume 4 – Advanced Techniques for Modern Guitar Amp Design
  5. The Ultimate Tone – Modification and Custom Construction of Tube Guitar Amps
  6. The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless Tone Designed for Today’s Future

The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Sound Generations

This is the most important book in the series for the novice tube amp builder.

Chapters 2 through 4 lay the groundwork for good DIY tube amp construction, teaching you about proper electrical connections, grounding technique, lead sheathing, and other wiring techniques, as well as mechanical layout, including assembly methods such as terminal blocks, turret and grommet boards.

The following chapters each select a particular ‘iconic’ amplifier, each iconic amplifier being a prototypical example of amplifiers in its class, and they are examined in detail as to the circuit topology, the particular tonal characteristics that result from it, and the fatal flaws. that the product is well known. for. Kevin provides the original schematics and then shows how you can apply the techniques detailed in the previous chapters to improve the performance and reliability of the icon without compromising the tone. Schematics are redesigned, layouts are provided, and mechanical solutions are worked out to make each chapter a complete, stand-alone, build-it-yourself amp project.

This process is repeated for several variations of the Champ in Chapter 5 (this chapter influenced my own single-ended amp project a lot), then in quick succession: the Bassman, Plexi, 800, Bull Dog, AC-30, Portaflex, SVT, Bass Master, Custom Special, Guitar Mate, Herzog and Laney amplifiers are covered.

If you can only buy one book for your DIY guitar amp hobby, I highly recommend this one.

The Ultimate Tone Volume 5 – Sound Capture

Volume 5 picks up where Volume 3 left off, with a project-oriented approach and sophisticated DIY tube amp solutions for guitar and bass.

The book begins with a chapter on how the vacuum tube works called a “tone tube,” followed by a chapter on guitar electronics and pickup characteristics.

The next two chapters are small projects: Sigma for effects switching and Triple-X for amplifier switching.

Chapters 5 and 6 are on transformers… important components but that made me yawn, sorry.

From chapter 7, all the stops are drawn and you are in the paradise of projects … Major (200W), Soma 84 (EL84 amp), Standard (the London Power Standard Preamp from 1995 coupled with a 50W amp using four tubes of power), Doppelsonde (mix of power tube types), AX84 (discussion of the original goal of an amp with very low output power), Kelly (50W from 4 6V6) and several other smaller projects .

One of my favorite projects was based on Kevin’s redesign of the Matchless HotBox tube preamp pedal in Chapter 16. I built this pedal in a true “point-to-point style” (that is, say terminal blocks) into a Doug Hoffman tube pedal box, replacing a stack of Baxandall tones and reworking the preamp values ​​to be more Dumble-esqe (non-HRM type).

What would you do to adapt a Yngwie Malmsteen style amplifier? See Chapter 18, “Sweden”.

The Ultimate Tone Volume 2 – Nirvana Systemic Approach to Stage Sound

Volume 2 is not project oriented. The bulk of the book, Chapters 2-5, covers power tips and a comprehensive overview of power amplifiers, including tube, solid-state, and hybrid power amps. Chapter 3, Tube Power Amps, contains very practical information on modifications and fixes to the Marshall and Fender bias circuits.

I like the 1st and last chapter of Volume 2 the most. The first chapter is a brief discussion of sound stages and how you can set up your equipment on stage for the best audience / group experience. The last one, Chapter 6, is titled “Pillars of Sound” and in this chapter the major contributors to the block level sound of a guitar tube amplifier system are discussed one by one and Kevin provides information. very valuable on the shaping of the sound throughout the preamp / amplifier.

The Ultimate Tone Volume 4 – Advanced Techniques for Modern Guitar Amp Design

This is the book you’ll want to buy if you feel the need to get deeply involved in the power scaling technology that Kevin has developed. Power scaling, invented and filed by Kevin, is how you can get aspects of power amp distortion (as opposed to preamp distortion) in your sound at volume levels of bedroom. Volume 4 isn’t all about DIY projects but explores issues including damping, power scaling (both down and up), sag, and sag. power management, addressed by designers of modern guitar tube amps.

That said, the penultimate chapter of volume 4 might be important to a larger group of passionate builders… design philosophy. In this chapter, Kevin offers a hierarchical design process that could be used to make key decisions about how you will approach your next project.

The Ultimate Tone – Modification and Custom Construction of Tube Guitar Amps

There is no volume number in the title of this book, it was the 1st. Personally, I bought it for completeness. I specifically wanted to get the information on the ‘perfect effects loop’, although the loop itself is incorporated into a volume 5 project. TUT also has some excellent material on reverbs and signal switching methods that are not explained in other volumes. The first half of TUT introduces / introduces tube amp systems, power supplies, and grounds, then focuses on mods for preamps and power amps for commercial amplifiers (eg Marshall / Fender)… if you’re totally into it. new to tube electronics, you may want to purchase this 1st volume at the same time as volume 3.

The Ultimate Tone Volume 6 – Timeless Tone Designed for Today’s Future

In many ways, Volume 6 is a continuation and extension of the material from Volume 4, where Power Scaling is introduced. In volume 6, a new “direct control” version of Powerscaling is presented. The DIY builder likes more noise immunity and less sensitivity to layout etc.

I applied the new DC Power Scaling to a Trainwreck clone project and was really impressed with the improved “playability” at lower volumes… is renowned for.

One of the chapters in Volume 6 is devoted to Dumble amplifiers… something I was looking forward to as a lot of my hobby projects focus on these circuits. I found this short chapter to be a good introduction to the overall architecture of Dumble amps, written in terms of evolution from the first modified standard amps that Alexander Dumble began to make, but I had felt like the chapter failed to discuss some of the more important niceties of Dumble’s latest designs.

Volume 6 has a lot of other stuff as well, including a great tutorial on designing super high efficiency power amplifiers and a great chapter on high gain amplifier designs with actual circuitry referenced and detailed.

In summary…

Kevin’s books have a very empirical approach. He encourages you to put conventions aside in some cases or not be afraid to try out tube combinations or even shoot tubes and in any case, he clearly explains why it’s ok and states the reasons for it. which would not be ok All the examples in the books are very practical and he certainly has the handyman in mind when he writes.

Kevin’s work is truly encyclopedic in nature, and given that one feature sorely lacking in his books is any sort of indexing … this is made worse by the fact that Kevin constantly refers to previous writings rather than to himself. repeat in a new volume, and it is very difficult to pinpoint the reference even with the other book in hand. Perhaps search engine technology, like Google’s ability to search for copyrighted content, could be put to good use in this case and provide some sort of “automatic indexing” on the web of all of Kevin’s books. without revealing the book itself. Or better yet, how about an eBook format of Kevin’s entire TUT book collection… I think all eBook readers include search capabilities… and Kevin’s hand drawn diagrams would be probably scaled adequately and would be very readable on e-paper displays the functionality of these devices.

In the meantime, how do you get Kevin’s books today? The best way to get the books is to order them directly from London Power Press. They now have a shopping cart on

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