BY JEFF BOBER
Every guitarist who plays a tube amp, whether
it’s a combo or a head and cab, should have
the following tools and spare parts on hand
to address low level first-aid needs:
• LED flashlight
• Small, inexpensive multimeter
• 1/4" female-to-female mono adapter
• Extra speaker cable
• Small flat-blade screwdriver
• Standard-size flat-blade screwdriver
• Philips screwdriver (for removing rear panel)
For a good percentage of 6-string guitarists out there, a tube amp isn’t just the preferred way to achieve the ultimate tone—it’s heresy
to consider playing anything that doesn’t have glowing valves around
back. And the longer you play, the more likely it is that you’ve been
through a bunch of brands, models, and output-tube types in effort to
find the sound(s) in your head. We all tend to start out with what we
can afford, and gradually we graduate to something better—and better
again—all to achieve the next degree of tonal satisfaction.
But at some point, most of us tube-amp fans also experience some
sort of failure related to this arcane—yet fantastic and sonically satisfying—technology from the 1950s, and it’s often at the worst possible
time. Unfortunately, there’s no practical or accurate way to predict when
or where this will occur. But, as someone who has been in the repair
and modification business for more than 25 years, I can tell you there’s
a very good chance it’ll happen to you sometime if it hasn’t already.
Sans a crystal ball and the ability to see into the future, the best way to
prepare is to practice preventive maintenance and be prepared for the
inevitable with a little bit of basic knowledge and the proper contingent
of tools and parts to back it up. To that end, this article will furnish you
with must-know information that will help save the gig and allow you
to execute basic troubleshooting and repair on your amplifier.
The first and most important tip I can give is to bring a spare amp to
every gig. If you notice, quite a few of the players you see in television
performances have two amps of the same make. This is generally not
for increased volume, tonal variety, or to look cool—it’s life insurance.
There’s no time to change out or troubleshoot an amp in that situation,
and it would certainly be an epic fail if you were performing on a late-night talk show and your one and only amp failed during the performance of a lifetime.
I know some of you will say you either can’t afford or don’t have
room for another amp in your car, band van, or on your stage, but your
backup doesn’t have to be the same model you normally prefer. If you
don’t have another tube amp that’ll suffice, many solid-state options on
the market offer an affordable solution. Remember, your backup doesn’t
have to blow minds with its peerless tonal ecstasy—it just has to get you
through the gig.
Whether you play a combo or a stack, you just need a spare head
or combo with a speaker out. Something like an Orange Micro Terror