My First Guitar Amp - A Tube PA Head

My first guitar amp wasn't a guitar amp. I'm not alone in this; a lot of folks use whatever is handy for their first amp. But this situation was perhaps a bit odder than most.

First, the amp. It did a good job, although one or more of the tubes were microphonic (I didn't realize this at the time), giving the amp a singing, reverby sort of sound. It used two vanilla 6L6 power tubes, and octal preamp and phase inverter tubes (types long forgotten). It had huge transformers, inside a beautiful, steel mesh cage. It had three mic inputs, a phono input, volumes for each, tone controls (bass and treble), and lovely chicken head knobs.

The mic inputs were unbalanced, hi-Z, screw-on connectors (probably mil-spec) with knurled knobs. Kind of like cable TV, but much fatter knobs.

I hooked it up to an old 12" speaker from a dead, but primo quality, TV.

Now the fun part begins. First off, I had only an old Silvertone acoustic, classical guitar. I restrung it with steel strings, which immediately bowed the neck worse than it was from being stored in a Georgia attic for years with the strings taut. After putting on the lightest guage Slinkies I could get, it was eventually playable to about the 8th or 9th fret, barely.

I first tried winding wire around a nail to use as a pickup. I ran the loose ends of the wire to the amp, turned on the amp, and BUUUUZZZZZZ got about 20-30 watts of pure hum and noise.

So much for not using shielded cable! Being on an extremely low budget and impatient, I took a bunch of telco wire someone had thrown out, and spent a half hour or so carefully wrapping a wire as a shield around a center conductor. On general principles, I then wrapped another layer back the other direction, and soldered the two outer conductors together at each end.

The hum was reduced quite a bit, but the music was almost non-existant. I thought for a moment, and cut the "pickup" from the wire. I hooked up a 2 1/4" speaker from an old "2 transistor" radio, fired the amp up, spoke into the speaker as microphone, and got feedback! So I turned it down, and, yes, I had a cheesy PA. So I grabbed some electrical tape, taped the speaker to the guitar at the end of the pickguard (optimal location? What optimal location?), and had an amplified electric guitar! OK, so it wasn't a Strat. Or even a $50 Lafayette. But it was amplified. Oh, yes, the tape. Top quality, black, vinyl, electrcial tape.

Needless to say, this wasn't the hot ticket. It was a pain to lug around (an amp, a raw speaker, homemade wiring). It didn't sound real great (but it was a different tone than anyone else had!) The tone controls on the amp were acceptable.

But it was an electric guitar!

I tried this amp through various speakers, including stereo speakers (bleah) and two smaller, oval speakers from a defunct, tube-based reel to reel tape system. They sounded kinda cool despite the lack of bottom end, so I turned it up and blew them. Thus I learned that speakers had widely varying power ratings.

Where is it today?

I eventually donated this amp to a small church.

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Last updated: 29 January 2002

Copyright 2001 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

Miles O'Neal <> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514