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Amp school!

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Benjamin Strange, Aug 11, 2004.


  1. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    I've decided now that I've got this cush job with Mesa/Boogie that I am going to go back to school. :) I'm considering pursuing an education that would help me out at work - such as electrical engineering or something like that. What kind of direction should I take with my schooling in regards to learning amps? I'm wanting to get to the point where I could actually design my own, and fix anything that comes across my path. Is getting a degree in Electrical Engineering too extreme, or could I learn something from those advanced classes that could pertain to tube amps?

    Any advice on where to begin would be appreciated - I'm going to register for school on Friday. I wish I had gotten this job earlier so I could plan my schedule ahead of time, but now I have to do it right under the wire. :eek: Help a brother out - I might just end up designing your next Boogie amp! ;)
     
  2. Jazzin'

    Jazzin' ...Bluesin' and Funkin'

    i guess all you would need is a trade school.
     
  3. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    i'm very interested to find out the answer to this one as i am one of those people who insists on knowing everything about my hobbies
    fwiw - why the hell couldn't someone at mesa give you this kind of information????????????? (that is, what to study)
     
  4. notanaggie

    notanaggie Guest

    Sep 30, 2003
    Ohhh....don't do it, it ruins musicians....
     
  5. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi Benjamin Strange, sounds like a fun job. What exactly are you doing for Mesa?

    Here's my take on schooling. I have an honors degree in engineering from a prestigious Ivy League university. All things considered, I'd have to say that hasn't helped me "at all" in terms of musical electronics. Everything I learned about electronics as it relates to music, I learned outside of school. It's something along the lines of "street smarts".

    However, the formal schooling has definitely helped me in other areas, both in terms of work, and outside of work. There's hardly any downside to getting an education.

    Where to start, would depend on how much you already know. For instance, I've been dinking around with electronics since I was six. Started with the Radio Shack 101-in-one kits, then moved on to ham radio, then on to computers, and so on. By the time I got to college, I already knew everything there was to know about tube amps. Built 'em, designed 'em, fixed 'em, etc etc. You can do all that without one spec of formal education.

    Where the formal stuff really helps is in the more esoteric areas, and those with a lot of math. Waveguides and transmission lines would be an example. Those definitely have applications in audio engineering. The theoretical areas like materials (how to build chips and sensors, like if you're interested in piezo pickups), antenna theory (which it turns out actually relates directly to how much hum you're getting out of your bass and your amp), and very basic physics (like "grounding") also have some applications in audio engineering. Those areas are kind of esoteric though, and eventually if you build enough tube amps you'll probably cross over into some of those, but they're not needed to understand a schematic and how an amp works.

    My suggestion would be, concentrate on the "basics" in your first year, or couple of years, in school. Math, physics, chemistry, that kind of thing. Those are hard topics, 'cause you'll be competing for grades with the pre-meds and the hot-shot engineers, but as long as you're willing to dedicate the time, you'll do fine. Then, while you're doing that, pick up some books like Gerald Weber's "A Desktop Reference of Hip Vintage Guitar Amps", and the "Audio Cyclopedia", and that kind of thing. While you're reading those, pick yourself up an old beat up vintage tube amp (the cheaper the better), and try modding it with some of the circuits and principles you encounter in those books. There's no substitute for practical experience. The more time you can spend with a soldering iron in your hand, the better. You'll know when you're ready to start designing stuff.

    Once you have some experience like that, "then" decide what direction you want to take in terms of your last couple of years in school. Typically the latter half of the degree track is "specialization". so you'll probably have to pick some area of electronics that you want to be an "expert" in. If after your initial exposure, that still turns out to be tube amps, then go for it. But who knows, you may discover that there's another area that appeals to you more, like maybe the electronics of mixing consoles, or music synthesizers, or computer music, or something like that. What I'm trying to say is, test the waters first, before you jump in.

    Man, that sounds like a great effort. I wish I had the time to go back to school. I have a part of a PhD in neuroscience, and through a strange turn of events, my advisor ended up going abroad on sabbatical, and I ended up playing music in a rock 'n' roll band. Thank God I had some electronics education to fall back on, 'cause after I got burnt out touring there was this big question about what to do with the rest of my life. So I became a third party field service engineer for computers for a while (this was back in the days of the PDP-11 and such), and that's the direction my career has taken ever since. These days I make a big fraction of my living as an electronics consultant to studios and such, and the rest of it comes mostly from software services to non-software sectors of the industry (like healthcare, access control, the financial sector, and so on). There's more money in the latter, but the former is a lot more fun. I often end up dinking with someone's tube amp till 4 in the morning, and then arrive at the client site "just in time" for the morning meeting.

    Anyway, it's a wonderful thing when you get to combine your work, with something you really enjoy doing. That's a real blessing, getting up and going to work every day to a job that's actually "fun". A surprising number of people don't have that in their lives.

    I wish you all the best of luck and success with your endeavors. :)
     
  6. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Oh yeah, and let me know if you ever need an alpha tester for one of your designs. :)

    Edit: the ham radio thing might be very helpful, if you're at all interested in that kind of thing. Those people probably know more about tubes than anyone else on the planet. If you can find an old-timer that wouldn't mind talking with you and sharing some knowledge (which shouldn't be very hard, those people generally love to talk about their hobby), you can probably take everything you learn and apply it directly to tube amps. Might be a good direction to investigate.
     
  7. Subculture13

    Subculture13 Jamming Econo

    Apr 9, 2003
    Toronto, Ont. Canada
    What he said :eek:

    Saved me as helluvalotta typing right there.
     
  8. metron

    metron Fluffy does not agree

    Sep 12, 2003
    Lakewood Colorado
    EE is extreme. Keep in mind that it will take up all your time while school is in session. The actuall classes that will help you learn about amps (semiconductor devices) dont happen until your third year at most universities. Also its worth noting that in all the classes I took to get a BSEE I never heard mention about tubes. I have the knowledge base to understand and learn about them on my own though.
     
  9. pyrohr

    pyrohr

    Aug 28, 2001
    Pakistani compound
    In my opinion a EE degree won't help much in the way of amplification. what may help is a real good electronic school. This will cut to the chase and not make you take up stuff you really won't need. I myself took up computer repair an upgrade Microwave transmission, all amp classifications and how they work, op amps, logic, all forms of digital (octal, base10, binary,etc) radio and tv, fiber optics, satellites. basically all electronic devices. As far as Vacuum tubes go we didn't mess with that either, It was considered " 20 year old" technology. Like said above, what you learn in electronics school will give you an understanding of how things operate. Most things you need to know you will learn "hands on". Most prospective employers hire Tech school grads because they know they are "teachable" and do have some sort of clue to operation of different components of electronics.

    P.S.
    it's funny, after I graduated from school I spend something like the next two years finding stuff on the street and fixing it. 90 percent of the time it was something real simple, but without the education I wouldn't have known what to look for!
     
  10. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member

    First off, nonsqtr said it right, I'd listen to the man.

    If I were you, I'd take a look at what Mesa needs now, and is likely to need in a couple of years. CAD skills and surface mount electronic rework skills are what someone would pay for me to study, today. Those skills aren't likely to fall out of favor anytime soon either. Don't count out the marketing side as well. How about webmeistering, graphics, or the like, as a minor at least?

    They still featured vacuum tubes in trade school back when I did that, but you can certainly learn that online pretty easily these days. I always had guys on the line at Fender bugging me on how to get going on mods and repairs outside of work. Fact is, two terms of basic AC/DC circuit theory will get you pretty far with analog audio gear. Try to get lots of lab time, somewhere that's friendly towards your specific goals.

    Finally, think about the big picture too. The music industry doesn't tend to pay as well as lots of other things. The production side is at least as competitive as the performing side. Fender showed me a stack of 250 applications for the two jobs that were up when I signed on. You've wedged your foot in the door, so you're certainly way ahead on that count. I've had a few people offer to produce my amp designs as a startup, but frankly, I don't see it as being worth the hassle. But I do still dream about doing that from time to time.

    Best of luck to you,
     
  11. metron

    metron Fluffy does not agree

    Sep 12, 2003
    Lakewood Colorado
    Oh you will learn about amplification in EE but if thats all one wants to get out of it then its definitely excessive.

    I remember when I asked one of my professors (instrumentation design class) about tubes and tube design for a possible project and he asked why would I want to know about them. I explained about my interest in music and that they are still used in amps and his response was thats all they are used for. He wasnt interested in elaborating.
     
  12. pyrohr

    pyrohr

    Aug 28, 2001
    Pakistani compound
    Like you said good buddy,
    2 to4 years of school just to learn about amps (you will only spend a short time on them) is overkill.
    I also asked my professor about tubes and was told of the old and dying technology. We bass players love the sound of tubes but the rest of the world has moved on as far as technology goes. That's why I think it isn't taught anymore.
     
  13. Yossarian

    Yossarian

    Jun 24, 2004
    Virginia
    What do you need to get in to a tech school? Like... what if you did one thing in college, like liberal arts major or something not remotely electronics-related, could you go to a more specific tech school after that in hopes of learning amp things?
     
  14. joeybcdt

    joeybcdt

    May 6, 2004
    SE Texas
    Have you talked with the higher-ups at Boogie to ask what they suggest? Maybe they'll even foot the bill.

    I know that Kendrick amps in Texas gives siminars on it. Kendrick

    I remember when I got my AAS in IET in the 80's we were taught nothing about tubes.
     
  15. A9X

    A9X

    Dec 27, 2003
    Sinny, Oztraya
    That's eerily similar to my story, and thanks, you saved me a lot of time typing.

    Benjamin, you're in the perfect position in a lot of ways; around you now are a lot of people who understand how amps work and can explain them to you. Learn from them. By no means disregard University or some other Technical College for more education but as others have stated a degree won't neccesarily make you a better amp designer. Based on a couple of decades of working in the field, and teaching for a while, I still beleive the best way to learn analog electronics is in a type of apprenticeship. See if someone at work will take you under their wing and pass on what they know (irrespective of whether you do a Degree), then do three things; build, listen, measure. In that order, again and again.

    All the best with your journey.
     
  16. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    Thanks for the help guys. Let's see if I can answer some questions here:

    What do I do at Boogie? I do final assembly and quality control. Basically I take all the finished parts (cabs, heads, etc.) and turn it into an amp.

    Why didn't I just ask the guys at Boogie? I did. I wanted to get an outside opionion as well as their advice. Most of those guys have been there for over 20 years, and I figured I could stand to hear some advice from some guys who haven't been building tube amps for several decades (not to mention they are INCREDIBLY busy).

    Why don't I consider another position at Boogie? Actually, I didn't interview for this position at all - I was interviewed for a regional sales manager gig. They thought I would be better in customer service, and I guess they figured a good way to groom me for that would be to put me in the factory for a while. They've talked to me about customer service, artist relations, and web development (all of which I know how to do already) - I figure knowing amps inside and out could only help me there.

    Another thought is that not only do I want to be better equiped to take on new challenges at Boogie, but I also want to contribute to the creative process. Everything at Boogie is designed by three people - literally. Randall Smith designs almost all the guitar amps and some bass amps, Dan Van Riesen designs the Triaxis and the bass stuff, and Jim Aschow designs alot of the cabinets in his spare time. There are certain things that I'd like to see Boogie make, but I want to be able to not only state my case as to what they should introduce, but also be able to bring in a prototype or two. ;)
     
  17. notanaggie

    notanaggie Guest

    Sep 30, 2003
    Ok, if you gotta, you can look at getting an associate degree, or just go to a night tech school.

    The associates degree may be more engineering design oriented. Tech school will get into it faster, with much less advanced math, of which there is a lot in engineering school (not that one uses that much of it out on the job.....).

    With a jump-start into electronics you will start to absorb better what you can learn from others on-the-job.

    You'll have a lot of catch-up.