Maybe you were that kid growing up. Your dad turned his work bonus into a cutting edge VCR or wood-paneled microwave and you returned the favor by untangling its innards on the floor in the name of electronics self-education. There’s no way around it, sometimes the best way to understand a piece of technology is to lay it out on the autopsy table. Ideally, as your skill develops you’re also able to resurrect the piece of tech to full working order. If not for your sake, then certainly for your dad’s!
This week, Dan & Mick went under the hood of a pair of new amplifiers with Chris Fantana at Rift Amplification. Rather than simply explore an amp, however, Chris led Dan & Mick down the rabbit hole of building an amp from the ground up. As the sun rose at Rift headquarters in Northamptonshire, UK, Dan & Mick began with bag of bits, bolts, transistors, and tubes. At sunset, they walked out the door with a pair of amps inspired by a classic 5E3 Deluxe.
If you’re thinking about getting into any type of guitar and gear DIY project—a pedal mod, a pickup swap, or an amp build—what should you expect?
A Happy Guitarist is an Alive Guitarist (a.k.a., Safety First)
You might have noticed, but Dan & Mick didn’t just decide to build an amp on the fly and head down to a hardware store. They called an expert. Electronics repair, modification, or building is dead serious business. Having an expert like Christ walk them through the process meant their first project wouldn’t be their last. If you’re getting into a guitar or gear electronics project, prioritize safety and find an expert to guide you along. Not only will this make for a safe project atmosphere, it will mean the right tools and a true education in understanding the gear you’re creating.
Electronics Projects Improve Your Basic Skillset to Care for Your Gear
Dan & Mick both confessed they had different levels of electronics-related skills going into the amp build. For Dan, soldering wasn’t a daily task but he’d certainly had experience under his belt. Mick, however, noted that his soldering experience was nearly nil. While they both progressed at different paces through the project—in Chris’s words, they were the “tortoise and the hare”—they both left the shop with an improved skillset that will transfer to other areas of guitar care. Mick, for example, commented that one of the main things that was holding him back from a little electronics tinkering on his Stratocaster was lack of confidence in soldering. Since the amp build project provided an opportunity to hone his soldering skills, cutting, stripping, and re-soldering connections on his guitar seems far less daunting.
Gear Modding or Building Provides Insider Perspective
Most of us probably have a basic understanding of the electronic components of our gear. We know our amps contain tubes, a preamp section, a power section, inputs, a speaker output, and a circuit board brain that somehow connects it all together. But do we really know what all those elements do, no less how they interact with one another? As Chris walked Dan & Mick through the amp build, their apprenticeship was not only about cultivating better technical skills but also crafting a deeper knowledge of the architecture and interaction of each component under the hood. In this way, any guitar gear DIY project can provide a learning opportunity to know what makes your gear tick.
Where to Start with Guitar Gear Mods
Perhaps watching Dan & Mick inspired you to become your own guitar tech and mod or upgrade some gear. Where to start? Maybe an amp-building course is out of reach, but there are some accessible options for enhancing and customizing your gear.
Arguably, the most common first mod for any pedalhead is tweaking the gain structure or EQ shape of the Boss DS-1 or SD-1. These iconic pedals have extensive histories of mods, with tons of reliable step-by-step resources online. They’re also some of the most economical pedals in the world. So for the cost of a new pedal, a few components, and solder, you can land a truly signature sound for well under $100.
Another go-to first project is swapping pickups. While there are several elements that give your guitar its sound, the pickups are definitely at the top of that list. Dropping a new set of Bare Knuckle, Porter, or Seymour Duncan pickups into your axe can mean less stock and more rock!
Finally, if the idea of electronic modifications or upgrades feels above your paygrade, you can always work your way up to it with some simple hardware and accessory upgrades to your guitar.
To start your pedal and pickup mod journey, head over to Riff City Guitar for some gear to get going!
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Collings 360LT
Pedals: Maxon/Analogman OD9 with Bad Bob Booster, Fox Gear Echosex Baby, Anasounds Element Spring Reverb with Le Bon tank, Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, Keeley D&M Drive, Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man 1100-TT, Mooer Trelicopter.Amps: Rift Amplification 5E3 Deluxe.