OK, so your amp just made a bad noise, blew its fuse, and there’s a bad smell coming out of it. You get a screwdriver, and look at the back of your amp. It says: “No user serviceable parts inside”, and the natural inclination is to think “bull-pucky” and tear into it.
As a professional repair tech, I conditionally support this attitude because that’s how many in my profession got started. However amps today are significantly more sophisticated than those amps from the 50’s and 60’s that a lot of repair techs got their start by “tearing into”. Also, the manufacturing techniques used today produce circuitry that is far finer and more complicated than their more elderly predecessors. To successfully perform your own repairs, you will need a background in electronic theory and safety, training in troubleshooting & repair, and some fairly expensive equipment. You’ll also need soldering tools and skills (really!), and you’ll need all kinds of supplies and resources.
More than likely, you’re going to want to seek the help of a professional repair tech. Your choice of repair tech should depend of several things. Your repair tech should understand the fact that your entire electronic equipment suite is your instrument (guitar/keyboard + FX + amp + etc.). The repair tech should also relate to the idea that your instrument/amp is your “baby”. You should feel as confident in the care your repair tech will give your equipment as you are of the care your vet gives your cat or dog when it’s sick.
Here are some common questions that I get as a repair tech, and their “real” answers.
Q: What’s wrong with my amp?
A: Strange as it may seem, until the tech takes your amp apart by pulling the chassis out of its cabinet, hooks it up to some test equipment and turns it on, we won’t really know!! Some repair may even be necessary to get enough power out of the power supply to see what else is wrong. Sight unseen, there is no accurate answer. If there is a loud hum in the output, or it blows fuses, the problem is most likely in the power supply or the power amp, but the tech cannot tell you exactly what’s wrong, not just yet.
Q: How long will it take to fix?
A: The actual repair will probably take from 1-3 hours. That’s pretty typical. However, your actual question is: “When will I get my baby back?” The answer to this will be dependent on a few variables such as parts availability (are the needed widgets in stock or do they have to be ordered); if they have to be ordered, are the parts inside the continental United States (not weird if you think of how much stuff is made in China), the shop’s workflow (AMPWERX is a one-man operation and I give my customers face time, which means I’m not working on your amp, just like I don’t work on the other guy’s amp when you’re in my shop). If it’s a warranty repair, then the tech must (usually) use the manufacturer’s parts, so if the manufacturer’s source is based out of China or Japan, then needed parts can be 4-6 weeks in getting into the United States, let alone into your tech’s shop. Welcome to our wonderful global economy!
Q: How much will it cost?
A: Again, a truly accurate answer will not be available until the equipment is actually back to full operating condition. The best that can be given is an approximate range. Amp repair is not like driving into the local “Grease & Go” to get an oil change and tune-up for $39.99!! Auto repair folks have books put out by the auto manufacturers that have standard repair times (calculated using trained techs, appropriate tools available, and parts right on hand). Kudos to Yamaha who actually does this, but they’re about the only ones! And remember that once the problem has been fixed, the amp has to be put back together and tested. That’s why it can take an hour to “just replace a jack”. 15 minutes to take it apart, 5 minutes to replace the jack (another 10 if the circuit board has been damaged), 10 minutes to check for other stuff that may need attention (mostly “dry” solder joints), 20 minutes to put it back together (cleaning out pots, roaches (both kinds), and spiders as we go), 10 minutes to test it, plus “office time” working to get parts, schematics for your equipment, and yeah, it can take an hour to “just replace a jack”. In some simpler equipment, this can be done in 20 minutes or so. If that’s the case, we’ll do if we can while you wait. Maybe you can help!?!
Q: How much to look at my amp?
A: The obvious, sensible answer is “for free”. However we also need to understand what the tech can actually do in an “on-the-spot” examination, and what “look at” means. I have found that in a matter of a few minutes, I can plug up an amp, turn it on (assuming it still powers up) and look/listen to the output. Reasonably, your tech should be able to plug it up, turn it on, and talk about it for free. There are two good solid technical reasons for this: a) the tech must “verify the complaint symptoms”, and b), you need a way to isolate the problem in your audio chain. This is the equivalent of your vet asking “What’s the matter with Sweetums?” How would you know? You don’t speak “hamster”! There is no way to actually observe the properties of electricity without test equipment, and this is best done in a laboratory setting. That’s what an electronic repair shop is… a laboratory, with scientific test equipment, manned by a trained scientist. So, if you’ve taken off part of your Monday day job after a gig and two days of schmoozing to book the next jobs, to come see your tech, your tech can certainly give you 15 minutes of face time to be able to talk intelligently with you about your gear’s condition. At AMPWERX, a reasonable line to start talking money is taking the chassis out of the cab. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is tech work, and that’s what techs get paid for. However by this time, we’ve already talked it out and have an idea of what we’re doing because we’ve done some tests and have some information.
Q: Do you have a (whatever)?
A: I support DIY. I have a list of resources that you can get by just asking. If you’re going to ask a tech shop (which is not a parts store) for a part, please at least have the make and model of the equipment, and what label the pot/knob, jack, IC, etc., has been given (i.e. INPUT, TREB, D.I., etc.). Having the part number or circuit designation, if possible, would be good. Your bringing the old part in for an actual physical match is better yet. Your tech should be able to get or direct you to your needed parts so you can take care of your gear if and when you want to. Please don’t ask your tech for a “jack” when there are literally hundreds of different kinds of jacks out there. Your tech should be able to encourage your DIY efforts, provide you with resource information, and give you an idea of how big a can of whoop-ass you’re opening. As for walking you through the entire repair process for free? Well – maybe your tech would want to have a little talk with you about what DIY really means in the first place.
I hope this article will help artists get the technical help they need for optimum creativity. Any equipment hassles literally jam the creative process with the static of irritation. When you need your tech, she or he should immediately be able to get you enough information for you to make a decision about your equipment’s immediate future. Your tech may not be able to turn the repair around yesterday, but having your gear sitting in the shop does neither of us any good, and we’ll work to get your gear back to you ASAP!!
Armand Blake, Owner: AMPWERX Repair
1935 E. 7th. St.Long Beach,CA90813
Tel: 562-591-1423 Fax: 562-591-1423