Building Amplifiers As Relaxation

I'm often asked the question whether I enjoy building amplifiers. The answer is simple: Yes! It's fun and relaxing to take a pile of inanimate parts, then a few hours later have something that comes to life and makes music. Although I do have to use a variety of calculations to create the design, I do my best work intuitively -- and am at my best when I can "throw away the book" and follow my instincts. That way the amplifier is a result of my creativity, not the result of a formula on a piece of paper. My best designs have come into being this way, as a spontaneous design that evolves, flows into something sometimes entirely different than what I first intended, finally coming into its final form as I build it. For me, an amplifier is part artwork, part engineering. I do see myself as an artist who "paints" with electrons. Part of me is in every amplifier. Think about it, I get to make pieces of electronic artwork that themselves make music! How cool is that?!

As my old friends know, my right hand is partially paralyzed and bright overhead lights give me a headache. So building amplifiers is good therapy too! It's not uncommon to see me wearing a hat while building amplifiers. So, you could say that building amplifiers is occupational therapy. Hey, it beats hours spent with a boring exercise machine!

My two most successful designs had very different beginnings. While studying electronics in the 1970s, one of the classroom exercises was to design a simple hi-fi amplifier. My attempt was disappointing. I truly disliked the sound of the project. My teacher gave me some good advice -- don't junk the amplifier, find out what the amplifier was suited for! I soon discovered the amplifier I thought as awful was wonderful for enhancing less-than-perect sounds. I took my little amplifier to every recording session I did, and used it for a variety of situations. After a while, other engineers began asking where I got the amplifier. When I told them I had built it, they asked me to build them one too. Before long, I was in the business of building amplifiers. Thus was born what would become the Type 61 "Feste," a 10-watt utility amplifier, which has been my longest-selling product. The first Feste amplifier was sold in 1977, and I still receive the occasional order for one.

Recently, I took a break from making a large custom stereo amplifier for a record collector. In fact, it's the amplifier I'm building in the photos. To relax, I grabbed three valves at random, which were a 5Y3, a 12AX7A/ECC83 and a 6V6GT; and decided to put together a small amplifier by designing it in my mind as I grabbed parts. I wanted to try an idea I'd been considering for some time. The little amplifier sounds great! It became the 56J and the basis for my new OEM product, the ValvOEM 3.