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Unread 11-04-2010, 02:33 AM   #1
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Becoming an amp builder?

Wasn't sure if this should go here or in the luthier thread, so mods please move this if it's in the wrong place.

Anyways, I got my hopes up to start a career in building guitar amps. (preferably tube)
I even have the Ca department of rehabilitation (a state funded program dedicated to helping disabled people find work and/or job training) backing me up on doing what I have to do to get the training I need and then finding a pre-existing company to join (probably Mesa-boogie)

They want me to research all that I can about what it takes to get into this line of work and google isn't helping me much. The closest I found for schooling is Musician's Institute's Guitar Craft courses, but that's mainly for building guitars. I'm more interested in building amps. (I live 70 miles north of Los Angeles btw)

Also my google-fu has come up short on what places like Mesa Boogie are looking for in employees.

So what do you gotta do to go from complete n00b to master amp builder for a respected company? Any advice at all would be a big help to me. I gotta have some answers for those rehab people by around Dec-Jan, and I wanna go in there with knowledge and not just pipe dreams if you get what I mean.


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Unread 11-04-2010, 02:45 AM   #2
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start with build your own kit dude.....and if you look for this your google-fu would be very good

there are oodles of amp kits...eg :

Amp Maker for guitar amp kits and parts

Guitar Amplifier Kits - LoveToKnow Guitar

and then you can do the rest!!!
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Unread 11-04-2010, 03:03 AM   #3
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Well, like anything else, to really know what you're doing you'll have to research what the components of an amp do, and why they do what they do. This basically boils down to researching amp components and then researching those bits and pieces and the physics behind them.

There are dozens of books and even more websites devoted to amp building, and guitar effects building which is a simplified form of amp building for the most part.

I recommend you get the books:
"Electronic Projects for Musicians"
"Building Valve Amplifiers" by Morgan Jones
"Ultimate Bench Warrior: How to Design, Build, and Modify Custom Guitar and Bass Amps" by Jackson and Lee

Also, look into electronics courses at local Community Colleges and Trade Schools.

As far as building a kit goes, any Joe Schmo with a soldering iron and a free weekend can build an amp kit, it takes a certain amount of knowledge to assemble an amp from scratch and understand why each component goes where.

As far as who Mesa/Boogie is looking for, they would probably know best. Though, if I had to guess they'd be far more interested in competent (as in highly skilled at soldering) assemblers than full time designers, as they're a production amp builder.

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Unread 11-04-2010, 04:09 AM   #4
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Designing Tube Preamps for Guitar and Bass by Merlin Blencowe is an excellent book that isn't overly complicated in the electronics. You should also look into something like AX-84 amp kits, as they come with instructions on building.

I'm in Electrical Engineering and actually took a course on hollow-state electronics (tubes) and learned how to design an amp that way. You really need to understand the characteristic curves of tubes and be able to decipher the data sheets to get a good grasp on amp design. Also, designing a push-pull output stage via composite curves is a bit overwhelming at first, so I would look into a class-A output stage first.

Here's a site with a bunch of electronics books that are out of copyright that you might find useful: Technical books online.

I know Merlin Blencowe has a website that summarizes each section of the book but I seem to have forgot it.

Tube amp design is a science, yet to get the sound you want requires much more tweaking and experimenting than run-of-the-mill design techniques. Hope this helps.
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Unread 11-04-2010, 04:17 AM   #5
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on the other hand, Ian Egnater from the infamous amp is a member of this forum, so maybe you could get in touch with him?
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Unread 11-04-2010, 04:35 AM   #6
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I was also interested in building amps while i was back in the states. I was gonna buy some kits by Electrosonic Amps, but they are out of business now.

But there are some kits you can buy from places like CeriaTone.Com - DIY Guitar Tube Amp

buy a few kits, perhaps mod them to your specs. At least this way you have experience and you'll see if its really up your alley.
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Unread 11-04-2010, 04:46 AM   #7
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Maybe it's not bad if you focus on something. Do you want to get in the whole engineering-, developing-, designing- stuff or do you just want mount the amp.
I imagine it very difficult to develop and calculate the circuit.
What have you worked so far? (Don't wanna get personal, but it may help)
Starting your own little amp building project sure is the 1. step.

Definetly a career I consider for myself as I'm doing an apprentiship in electronics.

You must unlearn what you have learned.
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Unread 11-04-2010, 05:31 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by signalgrey View Post
buy a few kits, perhaps mod them to your specs. At least this way you have experience and you'll see if its really up your alley.
Very good advise imho.

I mean at FIRST - you need to understand, in theory, what you are doing, what component has which function in a circuit, which components do you need for a simple design etc.etc. - you need to understand A LOT about electronics to become professional.

If you have kinda understood the basics, i'd start with some DIY ampkits, and once they work, you can start to experiment in changing components with different values and see/HEAR how the sound changes.

Do you have any experience with electronics yet?
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Unread 11-04-2010, 05:40 AM   #9
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It's one thing to be able to put an amp together, which requires very little training, just a basic understanding of how to make a good solder joint and what not to touch etc.

I thought Mesa Boogie had a very strict employment scheme from what I gather - very tight-knit, they tend to take on family and friends of employees etc I BELIEVE, I could be way off and they could have totally changed the way they do things. I know Blackstar are taking people on but you gotta move to the UK, lol.

If you want to know how to literally build an amp from scratch to a certain spec (i.e. r&d) there's a huge amount of electrical knowledge required, you can't just stick stuff together, it's about logic. Maybe try and get on an electrical engineering course or something, you'll get the grips of it pretty early on because amps start out as essentially very simple pieces of circuitry. That would be my best advice.

Best of luck, it would be a dream job and I wish you every success :-)


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Unread 11-04-2010, 07:19 PM   #10
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Thanks guys! I was looking more into what college courses/training I'd need to get hired by an amp company.

My ultimate goal is to literally build my own custom tube amps from scratch. My electronics experience is limited, although I did take some courses in high school on building my own custom computers. (A+ certification training. Never got the cert though because my parents were too broke to pay the $200 fee)

I'd be happy to even just work on an assembly line soldering joints or w/e to start with. I just wanna work in the music/music gear industry and be able to go to NAMM and whatnot. I just need to have a good plan of action to get started. Unfortunately, I doubt they'll accept a plan of action consisting of 'well buy me some amp kits and let me figure it out.' Even if that's what it actually takes to get into the field. They want me to get more formal training.

So then I gotta pursue an electrical engineering degree? AA, BA, MA, PhD, etc?

Like I said, they will pay for it all, but they are very particular about details, and I have to be very detailed in the plan that I'll have.

Oh and has anyone here tried the guitarcraft course at Musician's Institute? Would that be a better/easier way to get into the industry? (making instruments)
Like I said, I prefer amps, but I'd be willing to build guitars themselves as well.


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Unread 11-04-2010, 07:21 PM   #11
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TheAtomicAss on this site wanted to get into amp building, not sure if he ever went with it but I know he did a lot of research. It might be worth creeping his profile and looking at threads he made or if he still posts PM him.
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Unread 11-05-2010, 01:02 AM   #12
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Quote:
although I did take some courses in high school on building my own custom computers. (A+ certification training. Never got the cert though because my parents were too broke to pay the $200 fee)
A+ certification is just a manner of saying "this guy can swap a memory stick without fouling up" and not much else. I wouldn't count on that knowledge for your amp building, it's completely irrelevant.
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Unread 11-05-2010, 02:04 AM   #13
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A buddy of mine did the guitar craft at MI... he works at an amp repair shop now but he's probably learnt more on amps from experience working there or taking apart amps than what he learned at the school From what I remember he said it was something along the lines of a "bullshit waste of time"

Honestly MI isn't a bad school but I feel like you have to get really really lucky and meet the right people at a place like that... also you'll most likely still have to work your way up from the bottom doing odd jobs whether your'e "pro tools certified" or "guitar craft certified" or w/e they call it... just my

Though if you don't have to fund it yourself it wouldn't be a bad idea to do the program

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Unread 11-05-2010, 10:03 AM   #14
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haha, so do you want the truth about amp building, or the glamorous dream that everyone thinks this job is? I'll give you a quick break down of the truth.

School definitely helps, but don't think you need a bachelors in electronic engineering. I am currently attempting to finish an electronics bachelor's degree, and I can tell you that aside from about 2 semesters worth of classes, nothing you learn will apply to old school analog tube electronics. Most of the time nobody in school with you will even know what a tube is. Experience and knowing the right people at the right time will get you further than any school can. Getting into this business without years of experience will probably involve apprenticing for free, or minimal pay with someone. Try and sponge knowledge off of good amp techs, and not just part swappers. Read all the old books that people have suggested as well, because like I said, most tube technology has not changed much since the old days, and new electronic books don't touch on tubes.

I tend to agree with the people saying to build a kit, but probably not for the reasons they are saying. Most amp kits have terrible instructions, and you will be forced to work through problems with the kit, which just ads to your experience and knowledge.

This could be of some interest to you, if it's financially feasible: The Chicago School of Guitar Making - Tube Amplifier Building Workshop, Tube Amp Kits

Also, here is my dad's suggestions for reading that he gives when people ask about getting into amp building:

The Electric Guitar Amplifier Handbook, by Jack Darr
-out of print, but recently reissued, and he considers this a MUST have

Kevin O'Connor from London Power has a series of books, that can get quite technical, but are also very informative

The tube amp books by Aspen Pitman of Groove Tubes, and the books by Gerald Webber of Kendrick Amplifiers
-Lots of good useful information, as well as schematics

Audio Express Magazine
-Available at most major bookstores. Not specifically for guitar amps, but interesting articles about tube audio

A few informative websites that could be of some interest are:
Aiken Amplification
Mesa Boogie Vacuum Tube Guitar and Bass Amplifier
Duncan's Amp Pages
www.ax48.com


Now finally, I have one last word of advise for you. Most of the time you will make no money and struggle for a long time to get a break in this business. I was fortunate enough to be born into this, but I still did a lot of grunt work for my dad before I knew enough to get my hands into the amps, and before we got our big break to become what you see Egnater as today. There is usually many years of building amps in your basement, making minimal money and hoping another order will come in, before you get to the point of a full time amp builder career. Anyways, I've rambled enough, but I wanted to give you kind of the truth about all of this. If you've got any questions, feel free to message me. I check in here usually daily.
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Unread 11-05-2010, 01:12 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ghstofperdition View Post
So then I gotta pursue an electrical engineering degree? AA, BA, MA, PhD, etc?

Like I said, they will pay for it all, but they are very particular about details, and I have to be very detailed in the plan that I'll have.
Someone's willing to pay for you to get an EE degree? What are you waiting for?

My degree is in Computer Engineering (plus one in Physics) but that was a last minute change so most of my coursework was EE (I figured out that I liked programming a lot more than Calculus), so I'll say a few things about that experience.

First, it's pretty much correct that you can go through a whole 4 year BS EE program and never touch a vacuum tube. They come up a few times but mostly in passing as a historical curiosity and then you get back to studying transistors and op amps and digital signal processors.

For better or worse, an EE degree is pretty much all theory, and a *lot* of math. You won't learn to solder (we only had maybe one or two projects where we had to solder the whole time) and you won't come out knowing how to design an amp that sounds good. You'll still have to learn all that from reading the kinds of books Ian Egnater points to, working with someone who knows tube amps inside and out, and years of experience just trying shit.

What you will learn is fundamentally how to think about electricity and circuits. You will be able to read a schematic or a data sheet for a tube and understand everything there. You'll be able to look at an amp schematic, say "I'd like to add an EQ control that lets me cut up to 12dB at 4kHz with a high Q factor" and know how to design that.

You'll be able to get a day job doing something more lucrative than guitar amps while you tinker in your basement for years perfecting your tube amp craft.

Then, one day, when you are a successful amp builder, you'll be able to discuss the workings of your amps without sounding as idiotic as this guy talking about "a magnet thatís charged on your pickup", "atoms" flying around inside tubes, and claiming that you wouldn't want to play recorded music through a Class A amplifier and generally displaying a fundamental ignorance of basic Physics and electronics. (sorry, that interview's been bothering me for a while. Feels good to vent)

So... no, an EE degree probably wouldn't be the fastest track to working for Mesa Boogie, but it would be a very solid foundation to start out a career with and would be a solid bet long term, especially if you wanted to design your own amplifiers and do something innovative.
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Unread 11-05-2010, 02:23 PM   #16
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What Ian said about EE classes is correct. You can get a BSE in EE without even uttering the word "tube" or "valve," but in my physics classes (granted, it was a decade ago) we learned quite a bit about vacuum tube theory. I'd suggest that a BS in physics with specialty in instrumentation will get you a lot closer to designing an audio amplifier than a BSE in EE, but in all reality, nothing will teach you better than a room full of dead amps and a soldering iron.

Ian mentioned the abysmal instructions in amp kits. I would recommend tinkering with these sorts of kits, or even the circuit diagrams you will find on the internet as a starting point (many internet circuit diagrams are absolutely wrong, so you'll be bound to tinker around with them a learn from other people's mistakes). Radio Shack used to have tons of components that could be made into little bits of amps, but now I think it's easier to cannibalize old equipment. I was lucky- when I was at school, one of the instrumentation labs shut down and I found a professor that told me I could take whatever I wanted. There were literally hundreds of tube sockets, transformers, and tubes in there, which later became my first guitar amp project.

Also, start simple. I've found that some of the most brainlessly simple circuits can make some surprising guitar tones.

I've never made a penny off of any effect or amp I've built, and I honestly haven't even messed with this stuff in years, so keep in mind that your investment may be greater than your return.

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Unread 11-06-2010, 03:53 PM   #17
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I find it interesting what you guys are saying about EE degrees. I studdy Electronic and Electrical Engineering at University College London and soooo much of my masters' degree is practical. We do regular problem solving, we run realistic scenarios and have built/continue to build audio amplifiers from scratch. I know a lot about valves and biasing to loading inputs and outputs, to rectification etc etc etc it was my interest in amplifiers that brought me here.

I guess what I'm saying is, come do Electronic and Electrical Engineering in London, lol!

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Unread 11-07-2010, 05:59 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian Egnater View Post
haha, so do you want the truth about amp building, or the glamorous dream that everyone thinks this job is? I'll give you a quick break down of the truth.

School definitely helps, but don't think you need a bachelors in electronic engineering. I am currently attempting to finish an electronics bachelor's degree, and I can tell you that aside from about 2 semesters worth of classes, nothing you learn will apply to old school analog tube electronics. Most of the time nobody in school with you will even know what a tube is. Experience and knowing the right people at the right time will get you further than any school can. Getting into this business without years of experience will probably involve apprenticing for free, or minimal pay with someone. Try and sponge knowledge off of good amp techs, and not just part swappers. Read all the old books that people have suggested as well, because like I said, most tube technology has not changed much since the old days, and new electronic books don't touch on tubes.

I tend to agree with the people saying to build a kit, but probably not for the reasons they are saying. Most amp kits have terrible instructions, and you will be forced to work through problems with the kit, which just ads to your experience and knowledge.

This could be of some interest to you, if it's financially feasible: The Chicago School of Guitar Making - Tube Amplifier Building Workshop, Tube Amp Kits

Also, here is my dad's suggestions for reading that he gives when people ask about getting into amp building:

The Electric Guitar Amplifier Handbook, by Jack Darr
-out of print, but recently reissued, and he considers this a MUST have

Kevin O'Connor from London Power has a series of books, that can get quite technical, but are also very informative

The tube amp books by Aspen Pitman of Groove Tubes, and the books by Gerald Webber of Kendrick Amplifiers
-Lots of good useful information, as well as schematics

Audio Express Magazine
-Available at most major bookstores. Not specifically for guitar amps, but interesting articles about tube audio

A few informative websites that could be of some interest are:
Aiken Amplification
Mesa Boogie Vacuum Tube Guitar and Bass Amplifier
Duncan's Amp Pages
www.ax48.com


Now finally, I have one last word of advise for you. Most of the time you will make no money and struggle for a long time to get a break in this business. I was fortunate enough to be born into this, but I still did a lot of grunt work for my dad before I knew enough to get my hands into the amps, and before we got our big break to become what you see Egnater as today. There is usually many years of building amps in your basement, making minimal money and hoping another order will come in, before you get to the point of a full time amp builder career. Anyways, I've rambled enough, but I wanted to give you kind of the truth about all of this. If you've got any questions, feel free to message me. I check in here usually daily.

thank you so much for the advice man! It's good to hear from people that do this for a living (and do it well! )

Like I said, I'd just be happy to start off as an amp repair apprentice or whatever. It's just that, like I said, these people want a detailed report on what it takes to become an amp repair guy, and for that I was asking about what kind of training would be required. If it really does come down to simple one-on-one training with an experienced amp maker, a soldering iron, and a shitload of dead amps, then what would be the name of a amp builder/designer to get training from here in Southern California?

If I could reasonably demonstrate that this trade is similiar to say.....an electrician, in that you have to start as an apprentice and work your way up, and have names of people that would be willing to....'take me under their wing'..... then I'm pretty sure that they'd go for it and pay for it all.

And thanks to everybody else for their advice as well. I appreciate it all very much because this really helps me out....

Oh and for the math thing. Well tbvh, my math sucks. I haven't gotten past intermediate algebra (outside of the brief studying of trig back when I had geometry) so I'm not all that up and up on math. In fact I scored pretty low when I took the pre-testing for the local college. But my english and history were damn near perfect. As for on-hands electrical experience, I've helped a friend of my uncles wire a spa to the house and do other odd electrician jobs, so I'm not (that) afraid of messing with wires and whatnot. (only when it involves sweating outside in a hot sun. Then the risk of me being electrocuted kinda increases. )


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Unread 02-26-2014, 09:09 AM   #19
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Looks like we will be doing one, 2 day class here in Detroit on Sat/Sun April 26&27 (2014) with the new amp. 20 watts with two 6V6 tubes and some new, cool features. Cost should be around $1600 total. Email me for more details if you are interested.
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Unread 02-26-2014, 10:54 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rook View Post
I find it interesting what you guys are saying about EE degrees. I studdy Electronic and Electrical Engineering at University College London and soooo much of my masters' degree is practical. We do regular problem solving, we run realistic scenarios and have built/continue to build audio amplifiers from scratch. I know a lot about valves and biasing to loading inputs and outputs, to rectification etc etc etc it was my interest in amplifiers that brought me here.

I guess what I'm saying is, come do Electronic and Electrical Engineering in London, lol!
I agree with this more so than some of the other things that have been said about an EE degree. I have an ECE degree (electronics and computer ENGR), so I will admit that a lot of my curriculum was based around software engineering, mostly in MatLab. Still, I feel that I was taught a lot about practical design and it taught me how to learn if that makes sense.

But now I work at a company that designs very high power RF amplifiers, 1kW to 120kW, and most of our designs are hybrid... meaning they have a solid-state intermediate power amplifier and a MONSTER tube in the final gain stage. The things I learned during my undergrad studies were 100% relevant to what I'm doing now, even though I learned absolutely nothing about tubes or RF as an undergrad. The fundamentals are the fundamentals. If you can design an amplifier with MOSFETs, you can learn to design one with tubes. Current, voltage, power, complex impedance... It's all there. Plus along the way I had to learn to solder, breadboard prototypes, even designed a little 10W audio amplifier as the final project for my first electronics course. You just have to love math.. which sounds like it may be a problem for the OP because he said he hates it. Our program was so math intensive that anyone in the ECE program is 1 course away from a math minor, so a lot of us went ahead and took that 1 extra course to get it.
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Unread 02-26-2014, 11:05 AM   #21
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A good background in electronics theory helps. I did a 2 year diploma in electronics engineering technology at NAIT in Edmonton, and it helped to establish a strong base understanding of electronics. Its a bit different than a 4 year bachelors course as we didnt dive as deep into theory, and had much more lab time and "practical" experience like soldering, troubleshooting, etc.

That being said, I want to build my own amps as well, but for now I only fix them (Im actually the western Canada repair depot for Laney). Im guessing that companies like Mesa Boogie only have a very few number of engineers who actually design the amps, and a larger work force that actually assemble them, which probably isnt as fun. Other companies (like Laney) will design then outsource the production altogether. I have approached Mesa in the past to be the repair depot for them in Edmonton, but was turned down due to lack of experience (this was 3 years ago, may be different now!).

As has been suggested, start with something small, learn the basics, and work from there.

Edit: I Fix amps as a side job. Theres a special need in my area for people who fix amps so I took the initiative. My regular job is servicing Leica geomatics equipment, so my troubleshooting skills stay sharp.
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Unread 02-26-2014, 11:09 AM   #22
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You guys are replying to a 3.5 year old thread...
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Unread 02-26-2014, 12:02 PM   #23
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You guys are replying to a 3.5 year old thread...
Ha. Didn't even realize. I just saw it pop up, read it, didn't bother to look at the dates
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Unread 02-26-2014, 12:28 PM   #24
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Reviving the old thread was my doing. FYI, our classes are not really intended to make you an instant design engineer. The idea is that you get hands on experience and spend one of the two days in a sort of lecture/question session. You can fumble around for a long time trying to learn bits and pieces or learn a ton of stuff in a couple of days. Building and modifying guitar amps is a fun and rewarding hobby. I would like to think we can be the ones who help get you started and give you the knowledge to go off and do cool stuff on your own.
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Unread 02-26-2014, 01:58 PM   #25
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I'm very flattered by the offer and thank you very much for it Bruce. Sadly I live in California, and I would probably have to do some shady things to come up with $1600 as I am currently unemployed.
Amp repair and design is still a major desire for me, but I have to be a bit realistic and find a mcjob or something that will allow me the financial freedom to do workshops halfway across the country.


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