In Praise of Hand Wiring
At my band's last rehearsal, my Ceriatone DC30 had a strange volume fading problem. My first response to those kinds of things is to replace the power tubes. In fact, that's a very useful pro tip born of 35 years of playing: If you have a tube amp with some kind of weird problem, the first thing to try is replacing the power tubes. At least half of the time, that's the culprit. But in this case, it didn't resolve the issue. In trying to diagnose the cause, I discovered that if I flipped the standby switch on and off a few times, that would temporarily fix the problem. I speculated that perhaps the switch was going bad. I limped along in practice by flipping the switch whenever the fade issue occurred. But when I got home, I went to Mojotone, ordered a new switch and this weekend I finally got around to installing it.
I think that fixed the problem. At least it didn't reoccur for the hour or so I pummeled the amp afterwards. I'll know better at the next practice or gig. If it doesn't fix the issue, then I'll try replacing the rectifier tube. And if that doesn't work, then I'm out of ideas and I'll take it to a professional. [Update: Replacing the switch fixed it!]
Anyway, I hadn't opened up my DC30 since installing the chassis into the cabinet when I got the amp ten years ago. (At that time, Ceriatone just sold the chassis and you had to buy a cabinet and speakers from a different vendor and put it all together yourself.) Ten years of service before developing a problem is pretty darn good in my book. I wish everything I owned was that reliable!
When I pulled the chassis, I was reminded of what lovely hand-wiring work Ceriatone does. It really is a thing of beauty.
Although I own amps built on printed circuit boards, and will probably buy more in the future, I'm a believer in point-to-point construction (either true point-to-point, or on turret boards and terminal strips). But not because hand-wiring itself makes an amp sound better. I don't believe it does. I've read arguments that capacitance introduced by PC boards affects tone. But I think that any such stray capacitance isn't affecting it enough to make an appreciable difference. To my ears anyway. There's no doubt that PC board construction is a lot easier and cheaper to manufacture (keeping consumers prices low). And wave soldering PCBs can achieve better consistency as well.
|Budda Twinmaster – Hand-wired on terminal strips and turret board|
But there are a few real advantages of hand-wired amps.
First, hand-wired amps tend to have better quality components. And that definitely makes an appreciable difference in tone. It's not always the case, but by and large people who take the time and effort to hand-make something tend to use top-shelf materials. It's part of the hand-crafted aesthetic. Of course, you can put good quality components on a PC board too, but it often doesn't work out that way because manufacturers are building to a designated price point.
|A particularly nasty PCB – I'd hate to work on this thing|
|Dr Z Route 66 – A model of simplicity and one|
of the all-time great boutique amps in my opinion.
|'62 Fender Bassman next to a '63 Concert. I wonder how|
many mass-produced 2017 Fenders will be playable
in 2072. Not many, I'll wager.
|Hiwatt – The Rolex of hand-wiring|