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more... GearBuilder ProfileAugust 2007Byers Amplifiers

Building on Tradition: an introduction to Trevor Byers and his amps

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Tell me about the Model 10''s circuit and electronic design, and the sounds you were going for.

Well, George introduced me to Bill Sterle who started working at Fender around 1960. Bill is an audio engineer who designed a lot of the original blackface amps.

Having someone who was there and who designed amps telling me why they made certain decisions is so much different than starting with copies of what Fender, Gibson, or Marshall did. I learned distinction between the amps Bill made and the Fender amps of the 1950s, which were the easiest and simplest designs. The blackface-era amps were much more complex designs and they were really trying to do different things with the preamps to keep them cleaner.

When Bill was designing things, he stressed that distortion is your enemy - that''s the school of amp design he came from. You have to have the cleanest representation possible. I went to Bill''s house for hours and he would describe everything from tube heater circuit design to what you want to get accomplished in the preamp section, the phase inverter section, and the power section. He told me once you get going on the tone controls, you can go crazy because there are so many variations in tone circuits - not only what you use, but where they are placed.

I wanted to have a 10" speaker in there. A 10 just has a clarity that you cannot get from an 8" speaker, and I didn''t want to go as big as a 12. 10s have a really neat sound to them if you find the right one. I knew it was going to be either a small, single-ended design or a cramped, push-pull design. I ended up starting off with a small single-ended design.

So, design wise, you met some of the original guys who developed modern guitar amps, and took it from there, as if you were in that era.

Oh yeah, and every single element that was put in the amp was based on what I was trying to accomplish in the circuit, not based on something I was trying to copy. My initial intention was to make it really straight and clean, without a ton of bells and whistles. It is a single-ended design with a 6V6 power section and a 12AX7 preamp tube.

I looked at a lot of Internet message boards for guys who are building amps, and for players in general, to find out what kind of modifications they were making and what they wanted out of an amp. I tried to keep it really simple and clean, but I did put in a few things that I thought would expand the tone a little more.

Building on Tradition: an introduction to Trevor Byers and his amps Is there a tube rectifier?

No tube rectifier in this. In such a small, single-ended amp that putting one in would be more of a novelty than anything functional. Not putting one in allowed me to use a smaller power transformer and to clean up the power and make it more stable, along with giving me more space to do other things in the chassis. Also, when I went back and talked to Bill Sterle, he threw his hands up and said, "Tube rectifiers are absolutely worthless!" [Laughs]

My impression is that stout, well-built power supplies produce robust tones, especially at high levels. When you are pushing the amp, and you''re not clobbering the power supply, the amp doesn''t freak out as much. If I want a little sag and compression, I use a compressor!

Well, yeah. It''s all relative though, because there is a ratio between the voltage and the current that the plates see. You push harder, sand the plates, and try to draw more current. If the current isn''t there, then there is going to be a difference in the tone.

I started with a solid-state rectifier and that is the only solid-state piece in the amp. In the preamp, I used more of a blackface preamp design, where I split the 12AX7 in the middle because the amp only has one channel. I do have two inputs on the amp, but one is just hotter than the other.

So there are only two tubes in the amp?

Only two! It''s simple - there is just a treble and a bass control. With all passive tone controls, if you use the control, there is a certain amount of insertion loss, so on bass control I put a switch so you could remove the tone controls from the circuit completely.

The Model 10 has the standard volume, bass and treble controls; then there is the switch. What does it do?

It takes out the negative feedback loop. You turn that off and bypass the tone controls and it will crunch just like an early tweed Champ. Even with only two tubes and three knobs I wanted to be able to have a range so it isn''t just for one style of play; it is an amp that you can play around with and get a cool tone out of.

It has an amazing array of tones for having so few controls.

I have designs of every shape and size, but this is where I wanted to start. In the larger models, I am going to do a 15-20 watt amp, and I may do as much as a 30-35 watt one as well, though I don''t want to come out with a 100 watt monster.

I think people are starting to re-evaluate how much wattage is really needed.

You know, one of the many helpful things I learned from Bill Sterle was how to test everything correctly. Lots of amp makers out there will say, "This is a 5-watt amp," and that''s what they assume because a similar one was made by Fender, but Fender tested where the wattage comes up just before distortion, on every one, and that''s how we test as well.

The Model 10 puts out almost exactly 5 watts. It has a cathode bias power section and I go through and measure every single one of those tubes and every single output section of each amp to make sure it is right for this design. I don''t want to run these as hot as I possibly can to get every last watt out of them, because it is hard on tubes. I offer NOS tubes as an upgrade, and they are not making any more of them! I run them right in the middle where you get great tone and good longevity.

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