First time building a (luxurious walnut) custom headshell
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Thread: First time building a (luxurious walnut) custom headshell

  1. #1

    Join Date: Feb 2010
    Location: Laramie, Wyoming
    ME: Jackson AT Pro
    Rig: Rivera K Tre

    iTrader: 15 (100%)

    First time building a (luxurious walnut) custom headshell

    So now that I built a pedalboard and I re-did the Babs-Cab with fucking sick black hardware, Mesa Track Locks, and four K100s (which are ridiculously expensive, more than V30s, but the best all around speaker Celestion makes) I figured it was time to do a little DiY action on the head to complete the most DIY rig I have ever had. Specifically converting my VH-140c combo to a head. I contemplated selling it and getting a VH-140C head, but not only are those getting harder to find and people are asking higher prices, selling a 212 combo is lunacy. After shipping you end up losing money. I was going to be stuck with it no matter what.

    And before anyone says, "Solid state sucks", the two amps I had before this chronologically were a 5150 and a Dual Recto. This is better than both in terms of gelling with my personal style, provided you pair it with the right speaker. I've had setups I would overall rank more highly, my Riveras and past ENGL preamp - Mesa Poweramp combos, but total package, the VH-140C is hard to beat in terms of usability/practicality. The Riveras were overall unbeatable and the best amps out there, but the gain channels on those are designed to be used at a minimum volume of "noticeable speaker excursion", which is hugely impractical. The VH-140c is actually pretty similar to the 5150 in terms of the gain channel. Though the VH stands for the "Varying Harmonic" proprietary technology Ampeg designed for these heads, and not Van Halen. When I got it, I was at a point where really wanted to switch it up to one of the legendary solid state amps. It was between this and the GK stuff Iron Maiden and Alex Lifeson used in the 80s. Those were two of the heads on my bucket list I hadn't yet owned at the point I bought the VH. The GK is the only one left now. Solid state has a lot going for it. You can't beat the cleans, and you definitely can't get the searing rhythm tone on tracks like "Moonchild" without one. I have some gripes with some of the build quality compared to super solid stuff like Rivera, and yes, favorite Mesa, but it is a USA Ampeg.

    Anyways, progress pics first.

    This is my first time building a headshell. I'm not actually a really good woodworker, but my dad and grandpa are both monster woodworkers, my dad in a professional "luxury furniture builder" capacity, so I picked up the extremely rudimentary stuff. Shit would have been a lot easier if I had a serious planer and a table saw, but once again, not a serious woodworker. I just decided to do it all by hand.

    Besides, woodworkers honor demands you actually know how to do everything by hand. It's fine to use power tools, but you have to be able to do it by hand if you really want to. I've been reading George Nakashima's (famous woodworker) book "The Soul of a Tree", and I was like, "I'm going to do this by hand like this badass samurai dude." Just because it is more practical to do it with a table saw and a planer doesn't mean you shouldn't cherish the challenge of doing it with japanese hand saws and files and rasps.

    I ran into a shit-ton of problems.

    -I had a limited stock of suitable walnut lumber sitting around.
    -I had to revise the plan in progress to be slightly thicker, and not only did I not have enough wood for it, some of the wood had knots and irregularities in spots that made it unusable.
    -Ran out of sandpaper and waiting for more.
    -All my files,rasps, and japanese handsaws are blunt from trying to work a bunch of walnut.
    -Squaring pieces of walnut by hand without tools like a table saw and a planer is fucking tough.
    -I still have to paint the little decorative L brackets I am using in the corners with black rustoleum.

    The major issue was gluing. Everyone who has ever given me woodworking tips has been like, "DON'T FUCKING CUT CORNERS GARRETT, LEAVE THE STUFF WITH THE TITE-BOND CLAMPED OVERNIGHT"....

    .....but those people also have more clamps than me. I only have like, 5-6 clamps, and some of them aren't long enough for the shit that would be required here. I didn't want to spend a week making a headshell, clamping one plane together every two days, So I sort of pushed it and strayed a little bit closer to the "30 minute minimum, but seriously, don't do the 30 minute minimum" the bottle recommends. Technically Tite-Bond doesn't have to sit for that long, but pretty much everyone leaves it clamped overnight, so that was pushing my luck. I had to obviously clamp the separate planes together, but the walnut I was using also had to be clamped horizontally 3 times. All the stuff held, except for one joint towards the end, which definitely separated after drying for only 45 minutes when I tried to put everything together. That almost ended in disaster, but I was able to salvage it.

    Also, because Ampeg are bastards, it's not as easy as building a headshell for something with a straight vertical faceplate like a Marshall. Not only is it a slanted faceplate with a transformer awkwardly hanging from the bottom and some other shit, it also has this stupid fucking lip that has to rest securely on the top panel.

    So I wasn't able to do a definitive plan from the start, because while height and width and shit are easy to figure out, getting the stupid little lip to clear the front panel and rest securely would require physicially building the headshell around the amp instead of just taking the dimensions and building a box.

    Overall I'm stoked on how it turned out though. It needs final fitting, but for a first build as an extremely unskilled woodworker winging a headshell for an amp with awkward dimensions, it could have turned out a shit ton worse. Most of the pieces still need final squaring and some shit needs filing and hardware needs painting and attaching, but overall it was a relief.

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  3. #2

    Join Date: Jun 2006
    Location: Earth
    ME: 02 NAMM Jackson RR
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    Rig: SLO|Road King|Überschall

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  4. #3

    Join Date: Dec 2008
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    Damn that is impressive.

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  6. #4

    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    As a man on a mission for every amplifier to look like an organ for sale at the Salvation Army in the 90s, I fully approve of this overhaul.
    Argbadh - RHLC©

  7. #5

    Join Date: Sep 2008
    Location: Somerville, Ma
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greg McCoy View Post
    And before anyone says, "Solid state sucks"...
    Solid state DOES suck. The VH-140c is the amp, along with the JC120, that is the exception to prove the rule.
    "They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are a bit dicier." - David Foster Wallace

  8. #6

    Join Date: Feb 2010
    Location: Laramie, Wyoming
    ME: Jackson AT Pro
    Rig: Rivera K Tre

    iTrader: 15 (100%)

    Quote Originally Posted by Randy View Post
    As a man on a mission for every amplifier to look like an organ for sale at the Salvation Army in the 90s, I fully approve of this overhaul.
    The wood is actually significantly lighter than the classic "nursing home wulitzer organ" color unfortunately.

    I keep hitting it with Guardsman lemon oil every couple hours. Walnut isn't ultra hard to work with obviously, it's not super easy, but it's not at the top of impossible to work with iron wood shit or hickory or mesquite or something, but this is a dry climate, and I did have at least one split happen on me because I was having such good luck drilling with pilot holes I thought "hey, this bit's not that big, why don't I just forego a pilot hole?"

    I'm filling gaps and shit with purpleheart, and probably the shit ton of walnut sawdust I have sitting around. It's definitely going to have a more "carved from a log" textured look to hide most of the joins.

    The wood was ultra nice, but it was walnut premium siding/trim type shit. Expensive wood, but not including the front panel it's actually twelve panels, three for each plane. I had to plane most of it, because it had a trim type bevel sort of thing going on, but I kept it for the front panel. That's the only part that's not glued, you pull it out through the front for maintenance or whatever.

    The back has little buttresses made of pine. There is also a fucking heavy ass nice figured blank of something or other to counter balance the transformer and support the amp. The headshell is super light compared to the standard birch ply stuff. That blank is sort of fucking wasted there, but in the combo I fucking hated the four flimsy screws that secured the amp to the top of the shell, so I decided to switch to something that supported it from the bottom.

    I'm not sure if I'll put a reverb tank back in there. I'm a devotee of the Catalinbread Talisman, but I might as well.

    If I did it again I would opt for a single plank of wood sufficient in depth. Having to join three pieces side to side is a fucking pain. I wouldn't have bothered if it wasn't a "nice hardwood". Obviously not a problem from a strength perspective, since adequately dried and set Tite Bond is stronger than pretty much any wood, but especially considering the pieces had raised edging it took a lot of extra hand planing.

    Building the whole thing out of pine or birch ply would have been significantly easier. When I sawed through the shitty stock ampeg 212 combo cab a dull handsaw went through in like, 18 seconds. But walnut is hardier. I wanted something thinner. Obviously you need the thicker birch ply and tolex for standard stuff, because that's not ultra strong.

    The whole thing also would have been much easier if the actual amp part was a standard rectangle. I briefly considered sawing off the stupid little lip thing. But between that and the angle you had to build around it instead of just taking the dimensions, which is obviously not the way you are supposed to build a headshell.

    It still needs all kind of fine touches and joining everything right and sanding and shit, but I'm glad it's over, it's been on my "to do" list for fucking ever.

  9. #7

    Join Date: Feb 2010
    Location: Laramie, Wyoming
    ME: Jackson AT Pro
    Rig: Rivera K Tre

    iTrader: 15 (100%)

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew View Post
    Solid state DOES suck. The VH-140c is the amp, along with the JC120, that is the exception to prove the rule.
    Tell that to BB Kings lab series you heathen.

    There aren't that many good solid state designs, but there are a few more exceptions to the rule than you listed for sure.

  10. #8

    Join Date: Sep 2008
    Location: Boston, MA
    ME: EBMM(s)
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