Pete Millett’s Starving Student was one of the first amps I ever built completely from scratch. Unfortunately, the 19J6 tubes have become rare (or at least no longer dirt cheap) due to all the bright eyed DIYers scooping them up to build amps. I think the world needs another <50V tube amp for beginners, so I’m designing one. Like the original, it’s an oddball tube with a MOSFET buffer and an off-the-shelf power brick (same brick, in fact).
Millett is one of my personal tube heroes. This is a tribute. Full write up coming soon (and parts values subject to change once tested).
Sometimes people ask about how much money they need to invest to start playing around with DIY tubes and audio. The answer is probably less that you think.
I have been using the puny 23W Weller pencil iron for several years. You can buy this thing at literally every hardware store on the face of the earth. The tip is replaceable. Sometimes the little iron struggles with larger buss bars or binding posts, but its never given up. It’s my little orange choo choo iron.
Why am I thinking about this now? I bought a 45W iron recently and immediately found it to be almost too hot for small sockets and parts. Little choo choo is not going to the tool box graveyard yet.
If someone told me they hiked to the summit of Mt Everest, I’d think they’re pretty amazing. If they told me that their first thought when they got to the top was how much money they spent to get there, I’d probably think they’re not quite so amazing. If they told me they actually took a helicopter to the top instead because it was cheaper, I’d be sure that they’re an idiot.
DIY requires an investment in tools and parts, but more importantly, it requires an investment in time and patience. Your first project is not going to be the Mt Everest of projects, just like a hiker’s first backpacking trip shouldn’t be up the side of the Himalayas. Like every hobby, excellence takes patience and practice.
It’s very tempting to compare the cost of building something yourself to the cost of buying something that’s commercially made. As you’re starting out in DIY, you won’t win this battle. The more you practice, the more you’ll refine your finish and design theory, and the more of a return you’ll see on the time you’ve invested. But price-points still do not capture what DIY is about.
Craftsmanship is what you pay for with high-end, high-dollar, boutique design. The craftsman that wields it didn’t buy his or her experience with money. He or she built experience and knowledge by making mistakes and a lot of crappy products first. When you buy commercial, you are paying for the mistakes it took for the craftsman to become exceptional. DIY is about having the courage to overcome those mistakes yourself instead.
P.S. Yes, I know helicopters don’t fly to the top of Mt Everest.