A DIY Rack Preamp

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Passinwind, Nov 15, 2005.

  1. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    I build lots of bass widgets from scratch, but this one's based on the ESP preamp board from project 27, here: http://sound.westhost.com/projects-5.htm .

    I also used his power supply board, project 05 here: http://sound.westhost.com/projects-4.htm . This has been replaced by project 05A.

    The toroidal transformer was scrounged from an old Allen & Heath mixer. I used the best Clarostat and Bourns pots I could find, and a rack case from Sescom. The opamp is a Burr-Brown OPA2132. If you're looking to save money by rolling your own, forget it in this case. I probably have nearly $200 in the project at this point, maybe more. And it's a very simple design with no spiffy extra features. But if you built it into an existing case and have some usable parts kicking around, it could be reasonably cost effective.

    One caution: the circuit boards are pretty unforgiving of rework, so you might want to buy two preamp boards and figure on throwing one away by the time you dial in all the values. I managed to do several mods without completely hosing the board, but I did have to do some trace repairs.

    Some pictures, sans front panel graphics (which are in process):


    How's it sound? I'm liking it as a replacement for the preamp in my AI Focus for fretless BG. I didn't intend it to be a recording preamp, but here's a noodley sample recorded straight to my soundcard, using my Crescent Moon fretless 4, with a Bart preamp and strung w/ T-I Jazz Flats. I'll shoot for a better recording eventually, this one is a bit noisier than it needs to be, mainly due to some issues with the onboard electronics in the bass.

    Scary Bass Preamp Clip

    Questions, comments, and general derision are welcome, as always.
    maestrovert likes this.
  2. great stuff...very professional looking...

    question...given that the preamp circuit is designed for guitar...what mods did you do for bass? did you change the capacitor values for the bass mid and treble controls to get you different peak frequencies? if you did, what did you settle on?

    also, that power supply is very beefy and expensive...couldn't a suitable power supply be done with a decent wall wart combined with some downstream filtering?

    I'm just looking at the design...and I'm thinking about ways that I could produce something similar in the $50 range as opposed to the $200+ that you have invested
  3. Maverick Blues

    Maverick Blues Being a Thumper is all about ATTITUDE!

    Apr 28, 2005
    Richmond, VA
    Kudos to ya, Passinwind. I really like seeing people do stuff like this. :)

    I'm drooling over all the free space you have to work with in your rack box. I was too cheap to buy one when I started on my preamp, so I snagged a BBE 362 unit off of eBay with the intention of gutting it and using it to house my preamp. But I wound up liking the BBE process enough (as an effect) to keep it -- and the darned BBE board takes up almost all of the space in the box.

    So, a preamp, tube emulator, 3-band parametric EQ, and an electronic tuner all got jammed into a few scant square inches. Whee. :rolleyes:

    How are you planning on doing your front-panel graphics? That's always been one of the most challenging aspects to me. I've tried a lot of techniques but they all have their different limitations, so I'm always interested in what works for other folks.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep up the development work!

  4. Nice!

    I was seriously considering making either that ESP preamp, or this one here:


    But the rackmount chassis was going to be more than I wantd to spend, plus I also was wondering how to do the faceplate graphics....

    I had a URL for a custom amp faceplate business but the link is dead now. So I was contemplating having a trophy shop engrave a nameplate....
  5. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    I changed some of the coupling caps, going one standard size (e.g. 1uF to 2.2, etc) bigger, but I left the tone stack alone. It's an impedance-scaled Fender style stack BTW, and the values work out fine for my active fretless basses. You could throw the whole thing into the Tone Stack Calculator and tweak values pretty readily if you care to though. I also played with a few different bright switch options, and may still install a pot to allow fine adjustment. Finally, I doubled the size of the two gain setting resistors to reduce overall gain in each stage, since I don't need as much gain as was designed in as the default.

    The power supply also runs power to one of my active basses through the XLR output on the front panel, plus I may want to add a few modules for EFX mixing, and I already had the A&H transformer kicking around. The ESP power supply is actually designed to run off a wall wart though, so your approach would work great if you don't mind using a wall wart. It's easy to breadboard regulator circuits, so you could save some money by doing that as well.

    My last solid state DIY preamp was very similar functionally, but it looked really ratty. I have too many upscale gigs these days to mess with that, and I also felt like using all new components for once just for a change. I have a lot of junk parts in my shop, having done repair work for many years, and they make their way into a lot of my projects. My last preamp survived ten years worth of gigs, which is truly amazing given its lineage.

    If you used Alpha pots from Mouser instead of the ones I chose, you'd save nearly 50 bucks right there. In a few years you may or may not hear any substantial difference, but in the short term it could very well be negligible. I just figured I'd use all metal film resistors, good grade caps (not audiophile-style ones though), sealed conductive plastic pots, and so on. The B-B opamp I used is maybe overkill too, you could buy an OPA2134 for a good bit less, or downgrade another notch to NE5532 or even the TL072 that the author used.

    Hope this helps. I give the ESP design a thumbs-up so far.
  6. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    There's an outfit in Seattle that is part of a German company. They do killer engraving work, but it would cost around $50 for what I need so far, including the panel stock itself. They offer free design software, and off you go. Here's the link: http://www.frontpanelexpress.com/

    A local machinist has also offered to do one on spec that I might build more using my own design eventually, so I might let him take a shot at engraving one. I am also lucky enough to have several friends who do graphics design and/or silkscreening, so that's in the frame as well. A certain Talkbasser I'm related to has first shot though, we'll see what he comes up with.

    I'm drooling over all the free space you have to work with in your rack box.

    I figured I'd better leave lots of room. I have lots of scary plans for developing some of that real estate. ;)
  7. my brother in the states has two CNC machines that could probably knock off an engraving in no time...I doubt he'd charge less than the $50, though...I'd have to ask him...

    if you're planning on producing a few of these puppies for sale...he'd probably be a good avenue...

    another option, of course, is silk screening...again, it's a good option for mass production...

    Me...i just use computer labels...(i'm not into looks as much as functionality) :)
  8. Dirk Diggler

    Dirk Diggler Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Anytown USA
    Damn you living on the other coast! I would love to try it. I have no doubt it rules. Perhaps I'll start posting graphics in this thread for everyone to critique. I wish I had the skills to do electrical modding, in the meantime I'll stick to fondling wood. ;)

  9. 4Mal

    4Mal Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2002
    Columbia River Gorge

    Well, Yes you do!

    I had the opportunity to play with the Passinwind pre last evening and I was blown away! PW an I did a very short mix 'n match. We were both travelling light as it was an open mic. PW's Focus is Speakon based so he had a 3 foot Speakon cable. My Bag End is banana or 1/4 inch based so I had a 1/4 inch cable...

    The bass was my Reverend Rumblefish PJ with Aero type 1's.

    First up was the PW pre into the power amp return of my GK 1001 RB II into my Bag End D-10-d (shallow, tweeterless 2x10). Very yummy. Delish in fact! Very Fender Showman like but with more juice available from the tone stack. More available range basically. Brilliant highs, solid low's, crankin' mids and a ton of variablility from the tone stack and brite switch ... and dead friggin' quiet...

    I'm hooked on J bridge pickups, play 4 strings and I love a cabinet with highly detailed mids, will brook absolutely no harshness in the high end and I want the cab to roll off a little early as I want to sit in the mix a little 'above' the kick - probably all hang over from pro sounds days. So the Bag End's do it for me...

    Given the above, if you guess that I'm no fan of the Schroeder - move to the head of the class. I can appreciate what it does but I don't need the 'Acoustic 360' in a box thing it does ... Well, I have to say that last night was the best I've heard that cabinet sound. I'd still have to dial down the high's and dial out some of the lows to get it where I want it but I'm pickier than all get out. This was totally usable even for me - and as PW will attest, that's probably the first postive thing I've had to say about that cab...

    I have never had the pleasure of the Alembic F1X or F2B. Both are at least somewhat based on the Fender tone stack as is PW's pre. I can't imagine that they do the Showman thing any better than this one though. PW get's the Jensen DI in there and this thing is going to be killer. Simply killer!

    As a bit of a disclaimer - I am an admitted and unabashed Fender guy. The older tubey stuff.

    {flame - on} IMO Fender hasn't made a decent bass amp since the 60's. 300T's and Bassman 400's are not my cup of tea. and the 300T wasn't a Fender design anyway. And all of that opened a door for companies like Alembic who took the original vision further - and yes I know that the original vision really belonged to RCA and that Leo (or was it George ?) basically copped the tone stack from there... {flame - off}
  10. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Heh, thanks for the SPAM Mal. :cool:

    I have a standard Jensen DI transformer sitting here, guess maybe I'll throw it into the box. I'm also thinking about using a different model that would let me do a post EQ transformer-balanced output at line level though.

    There's an Alembic F1X nearby that we can try out pretty easily, I'll work on snagging it for a test spin. I've played through it; it's a nice piece, as you'd expect. Mal just got an old blackface Bassman head, which definitely has that Fender mojo he loves so much as well. I had a great time playing through that amp, but we're both finding that it likes old school speakers better than the ones we're both using on gigs these days. My new pre was built specifically with the Schroeder 1210 in mind, and so far I'm pretty happy with the results. The pre works well with my Bart soapbars in passive mode too, which is a bonus I hadn't figured on.

    Anyway, I thought I'd post a few test results for the preamp, done with Rightmark analysis software, which is freeware. I used an EMU 1820M sound card for the tests.The frequency response figures reflect the different tone control settings I used for the tests.

  11. Funky Doctor

    Funky Doctor Guest

    Aug 28, 2003
    How awesome is Rod Elliott... I was going to get mine working not too long ago but I got an avalon U5... no need:D
  12. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Necro bump, as I've recently re-done this one, and Rod Elliot has also released a cool updated version of his circuit board. This is a great first timer's DIY bass preamp build, IMHO. I ended up gigging regularly with the original version for a few years before moving on to the other builds you can find in the Amps FAQ. Recently I've added a new discrete FET front end, using a design another TB'er is working on for his own preamp design. Hopefully he'll post his own thread when that gets a little further along. [​IMG]


    So here are revised test specs for the updated version:


    The new front end adds a bit more headroom and character to an already nice sounding circuit. Rod's new board looks like it offers some worthwhile improvements as well though.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014
    JGR and Foz like this.
  13. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    Could this fit into a half-space 1U container? I could park it next to my Line 6 G55 wireless receiver....

  14. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Sure could Dave. The pictured power supply is way overkill and a wall wart could be used easily enough if one wants to avoid plumbing line voltage into their build. For more advanced builders rolling your own power supply is generally worthwhile though.

    Originally I was contemplating adding one of my high pass filter/parametric EQ boards too. Feature creep, the DIY'ers' curse!
  15. I've been eyeing this project for a couple of years and have looked at all of the westhost designs. I see a few mods for bass use mentioned on the web site (Deleting the last stage including the master volume and Q1, C3 and C8 bumped from 1uF to 4.7uF, gain mod discussion...). Did you go as far as to change the cap values for the tone circuit (C5,6, and 7)? This is what I am interested in... very cool project.
  16. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Rod added another opamp and restructured the last stage a bit, but IIRC you have to buy his board to see that schematic. I omitted the bipolar transistor in my build, but have since come to realize that buffering post-master volume is generally best practice.

    As I alluded to in post #5 a zillion years ago, I changed the values for the coupling caps and the feedback ones on the noninverting inputs. I did reduce gain in both stages a bit, and I also messed with the brightness circuit a lot, going from a little edgy at all times to now a little more relaxed. I think I left the tone stack alone, but the next time I open this thing up I'll try to document everything I changed. I can run frequency response curve tests again too -- doesn't look like I ever posted them in this thread the first time. I can also throw the whole circuit into an LTspice model and run tone stack tweaks for you if that'd be helpful.
    Foz likes this.