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I wish to learn electronics, but where do I begin?
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SongJohn
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#1
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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I wish to learn electronics, but where do I begin?

My name is John, I'm 25 based in Eastern Connecticut and I wish to learn electronics repair but I do not know where exactly to begin. I've tried getting friend to teach me, and they are lazy. I've tried talking to actual techs and honestly, a lot of them seem detached and bored, or just completely inept. Here is what I want to repair and why:
-60s and 70s tube amps
-60s and 70s analog synthesizers
-60s and 70s tape machines

Why: because I've wanted to learn their ins and outs for over 10 years now: I feel I'm entirely ripe to have someone show me cap discharge and trouble shooting, etc. This isn't some new desire - I've had a broken Arp AXXE for 8 years now and after years and years of reading, I finally want to get inside of this thing without fear.

What I've done: not too much. I made posts offering to exchange analog studio time for tutoring.

I keep getting emails from people who want to record at my '70s replica studio, but no tech type of help offered. I looked up a few area technical schools that specialize in amp repair, and they seem honestly, WAY expensive ($36,000 for 6 months of schooling!! Guitar and Amp Bootcamp Costs ).

Whatever happened to the days of the 60s and 70s when people shared knowledge like this? I do minor repairs at work (wurlitzer pianos, CD players, etc) but nothing serious like tracking down fried resistors etc etc. I've never brushed shoulders with anyone who had any sort of technical knowledge who seemed inspired to pass his wisdom on. Anyone here have any tips? Thanks!!! John
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Hi
You have to learn to ask yourself or those around you, WHY?
Question everything and ask WHY does it do this, WHY did the designer put this type and value of component in this place?
READ as many schematics as you can and establish what each compionent is in there for.
Read component data sheets and the 'design tips' from manufacturers like National Semiconductor. There are many 'throw away' comments in them which can have important consequences.
Do some maths and work out what changing component values might do to any given circuit.
WHY should anyone give you a 'free lunch', you have to put the 'legwork' in yourself.
Read electrical regulations and marvel at how dangerous and badly built old gear was put together. Remember that if you are doing repairs YOU become responsible for continued safety and much of it was pretty dangerous before you opened the box.
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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This isn't too much help I'm afraid. People who know this stuff should teach me because they want to pass the wisdom on. Analog electronics is a dying art and if you don't wanna pass it on then you don't really care about the art, do ya? I run an analog 70s replica studio in my basement and every time someone's down here I have no problem passing on any info I can give because I think this sort of thing is well...damn important! The things I want to learn, like discharging a 700 volt capacitor, needs to be shown in PERSON!! You can't read about that kind of thing in a book and I wouldn't want to do it alone. Hell, even when you get hired at Subway they have a guy training you.
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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In terms of books to buy:

Douglas Self's Small Signal Audio Design

No, really. It's amazing, I learn something new every time I pick it up (which maybe displays my ignorance more than anything).

Online resources:

RCA Tube Receiving Manual

diystompboxes.com - they've a "Tube" and a "Wiki" section full of highly informative learning resources. And no, it's not limited to guitar stuff!

Here. Plenty of informed people, and the more questions the more interesting the discourse!
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#5
4th March 2012
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+1 what Matt said... if you are running a replica 70s studio, guaranteed to you have dealt with a tech (for money of course). they have spent the time to learn their craft and make their living from it, and it took them a long time and lots of studying.

if you really want to learn, you have to find someone willing to teach you. If you want someone in person to show you how to discharge a cap, hire a tech and ask him or her how to do it safely and if they would be willing to show you. Why come on a forum and ask to be shown how to do something that you feel can only be done in person? it is really not that hard, google it, youtube it... either way i gurantee you the first time you cut the wire (after dischange and voltage testing) you will be scared a little. it seems like even the idea of trying scares you, maybe it is better than you dont play with high voltage. its pretty much a certainty that at some point you will get zapped!

the thing about subway training is that they are paying you to make a sandwich a very particular way. they are paying you. to do something. I have never made a sandwich, but I can work at subway. OR, I have never worked at subway, but I can still make a sandwich! a good one too. anyways, either or still true statements.

point being is that you should train yourself if you want to learn. then you will at least be able to ask pointed questions. if you want someone to hold you hand, pay the 36k for the school, it will only take 6 months of your life. you still might not learn anything. better to take the 36k, pay your living expenses and buy books, read websites, etc and pay a tech who will let you watch and ask questions about the repairs you need done.
#6
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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In that case you're going to have to find someone who lives near you to learn from. Surely there must be a college or something in your area where you can do an electronics course. Once the ball is rolling your knowledge will increase just as it has with the knowledge you have & now pass on to others about recording with analogue gear. There's a pretty good forum over at Music Electronics Forum which I use when I get stuck trying to fix equipment. I have a pretty basic knowledge of electronics. Ohms law etc...and how to operate a dmm or oscilloscope. Guys over on that forum have helped me think about what is going on with a device, which has led me onto a fix, but as Matt said you are going to need to become familiar with schematics and data sheets. If you're serious about this stuff, they're the bible
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4th March 2012
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repost from another thread

reposting this as i feel it relevant.


with an electrical engineering degree, if you work it to the right people you could land a pretty decent gig somewhere, so i would say if you got the time, and the money do it and scope some jobs while you do it. don't limit yourself to just the audio realm however. sometimes we must do something we don't like for a little while to do the things that we do like later on. get a job, then worry about getting a job you like. experience is what gets your foot in the door. after about 2-5 years in almost any craft people start to take you seriously.

in the meantime, start experimenting. building kits, fixing broken gear, find out how it works inside and out, from the wall to the recording medium, cables and all. download and read schematics and block diagrams. get a multimeter and a scope.

with audio and the science behind the gear you may spend your whole life learning. there's really no cut and dry path unfortunately. it's a matter of steps.
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4th March 2012
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Hope you got lots of spare time for reading!

These books assume you are competent in trig, algebra, and calculus and have knowledge of passive components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SongJohn View Post
-60s and 70s tube amps
Radiotron 1952 Tube Design Handbook (40+ chapter PDFs are online)
RCA Receiving Tube Design Manual (not sure this is online)
Any books by Gerald Weber for the layman no design or math here

Quote:
-60s and 70s analog synthesizers
Musical Applications of Microprocessors by Hal Chamberlin excellent primer on synthesizer systems, 2nd edition contains an comprehensive description of the ARP Chroma polyphonic synthesizer a must read if you plan to repair any polyphonic.
Electronotes Newsletters for music engineers a series of class notes by Bernie Hutchins. Available for purchase online. Inspired almost every synthesizer designer.
The Art Of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill for general electronic study
Active Filter Cookbook by Don Lancaster for study of synthesizer filters
Opamps and Linear Integrated Circuit Technology by Gayakwad probably the best book on opamps I've seen for any electronic student.
TI Transistor Circuit Design a 1963 book published by Texas Instruments, the most comprehensive book on transistors I have seen. Examples may use obsolete components but the theory is still relevant.
Analog Integrated Circuit Design by David Johns & Ken Martin a modern circuit design book.
There is a great online resource by Ron Mancini Opamps for Everyone
Application notes from National Semiconductors, TI, Motorola, Analog Devices, Harris/Intersil, and many others are excellent studies on both circuits and components.

Quote:
-60s and 70s tape machines
Audio Cyclopedia by Howard Tremaine, any 2nd edition from the 1970s. Newer ones are very condensed and I do not know what sections were omitted. Contains a lot more than just tape machines, has just about everything related to pro audio.

I know there are a lot of design-heavy books here, but a good study in design is essential to repair services. Without that design foundation you will have a harder time understanding why a circuit is malfunctioning.

Beware of online electronic study resources, many of them are erroneous. There are a lot of poor electronic books out there they have textbook circuit examples that don't work well or not at all. I have a lot of books in my library from thirty years in the EE field and these are the good ones I recommend.
#9
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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#10
5th March 2012
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Got my start in the U.S. Navy. Best damn electronic training available! Taught me how to fix stuff like my life depended on it. Come to think of it, it did. U.S. Navy Submarine Service.
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5th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NYCruiser View Post
Got my start in the U.S. Navy. Best damn electronic training available! Taught me how to fix stuff like my life depended on it. Come to think of it, it did. U.S. Navy Submarine Service.
I always felt both the Navy and Air Force were the best US services. Wish I would have joined.

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5th March 2012
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Yeah, but they never appreciated my turning their radio gear into musical instruments!
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5th March 2012
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This may sound stupid, but Electronics for Dummies is a great start too. I'm trying to get more into vintage audio myself and I'm currently reading Beginners Guide to Tube Amplifiers, good read.
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5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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Quote:
People who know this stuff should teach me because they want to pass the wisdom on. Analog electronics is a dying art and if you don't wanna pass it on then you don't really care about the art, do ya?
Dying art or not, it's you that needs to pursue knowledge for yourself. Don't think you are entitled to someone else's time based on some expectation that they should "care about the art". Expectations won't get you very far.

Get some kit's to put together and get some basic books so you can start learning the basics. But you will need to do a lot of math so be prepared for that.
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5th March 2012
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Hi
I find the OP remarks a bit snarky and I wonder if he is serious, asking these kind of questions at 25 years old.
You have to be innately inquisitive and WANT to know how and why stuff happens. To have got this far without being able to ask sensible questions then questioning and reading around any answers suggests this line is not really for you.
Analogue electronics is not a dying art although it may be overshadowed by the vaccuousness of 'digital bling'. Ears are analogue and so is the front end of radio and TV reception.
My bank manager doesn't give free handouts of money, why should anyone else?
You should have spent the last 15 years reading up on stuff.
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5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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of course I want to know. Why do you think I made this post in the first place? You're mistaking frustration for something else. Ever heard of apprenticeships? You work for free in exchange for experience. Well, I'm pretty competant and in love with the sounds these things make and have enormous amounts of conviction. I think I'll start calling every repair center in the state of CT and ask for this kind of arrangement.

Not that I am not grateful for all of the thoughtful posts here, but looking through some of these technical publications makes me feel sort of pukey. I might need something easier like "elec. for dummies" because quite frankly, I cannot learn by reading a lot of the times. I need hands on in the flesh activity. For example, I am a fine organist and guitarist but the cycle of fifths elude me. I've given my money to a lot of techs to fix dead tube amps, and usually they just poke around and swap out parts. No real math there. Do I really need math to just troubleshoot circuits and swap out parts? My father in law is a car mechanic whiz and he never used any schooling or books - his daddy showed him the ropes in person!

Yes, I am curious, but the gear I'm using is high voltage so I am smart enough to keep my distance. The heaviest things I've done is convert coaxl outs on '60s tube pre amps (2) to 1/4", repair my wife's headphones, solder a fuse to an old organ to make it work again, build a guitar and wire it. Everything else I want to do usually revolves around capacitor discharge and again, I have read the procedure up and down, but I'm going to keep my distance until I can be shown the procedure in person! Again, if you get hired at subway they don't just say "now get to it!" No, they have to show you how to work their computers so you don't ruin the business.

There isn't a single piece of gear here that doesn't need some attention, and that has been my motivation for years now


#17
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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Offering to apprentice is a great idea. How could someone say no if you offer to come make them coffee, run errands, etc, in return for them teaching you. Especially if doesn't cost them any money!

BTW, love your space and the old gear. Post some music if get a chance. Would love to hear an analog recording of those organs from the reel to reel!
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5th March 2012
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Hi
You could start off by getting the Union Jack hung the correct way.
Try hanging the 'stars and stripes' upside down for fun.
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#19
5th March 2012
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If you really want to understand tube circuits down to the level of electrons (and you should, if you want to design your own circuits eventually and not just repair things up to spec), the best book to start with is Amplifier Circuits by Thomas M. Adams, Capt. U.S. Navy. Published by Howard W. Sams. 1961. But good luck finding a copy. It is very conceptual, which it sounds like you'd be into. Little to no math.

Last edited by muggler; 5th March 2012 at 02:55 PM.. Reason: missed a word
#20
5th March 2012
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Look, there's no substitute for understanding the fundamentals. You don't learn Ohm's Law by looking over someone's shoulder. No, you won't be solving equations every time you pull the chassis out of an amp. Yes, you still need to understand the theoretical underpinnings of what you're looking at. If you're highly self-motivated, get The Art of Electronics and the companion student manual and work the problems. If it makes you feel pukey, welcome to the club. If you need more structure, you might want to start here: Connecticut Community Colleges Login Get thee to school, before it's too late!
#21
5th March 2012
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hey, the kid can read all the theory, etc. But what he expressed concern about is his safety. I agree with him. The best thing for him to do is apprentice with someone if he has the time and can afford to. Even if just to learn proper safety procedures regarding working on energized gear. These old tube circuits can pack quite a wallop if you don't know how to properly discharge caps and such, let alone if you need to probe something that's hot to trace a signal. I wouldn't be advising him to work alone in his studio just based on reading books.
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5th March 2012
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dont worry about the discharge it is really not that tough or scary. if you fixed your organ and added a fuse, you probably should have checked your capacitors first anyways, because there is a lot of voltage in an old organ!

the first tube thing i fixed was my organ, i recapped it. it is really basic, i just followed aprocedure I read on the internet and was safe. you really dont need someone to show you, just learn to use your multimeter. test the line voltage (120v ac) to make sure you are using it right. get an alligator clip and test to see if you can read DC on a low voltage cap, and then try a higher voltage cap. get a resistor on a stick and try to drain the voltage from said low voltage cap and then remeasure. once you get the hang of it you will not feel the need to have someone show you, because you will have safely shown yourself.

do not forget safety, use an alligator clip on one probe so that you can test things with one hand. never hold a probe in each hand, because if you short something, the electricity will travel up your arm, thru your chest, and out the other arm. remove all metal rings etc from both hands. read more on electrical safety, google is your friend.

no matter what you are going to have to read and study, even if you are "working" for free in exchange for learning, i dont think anyone who is running a business is going to spend the time required to teach you everything you what to know, or that you will find someone who is able to teach you all that.

*btw, i assume zero (no) responsibility for any actions you perform in any way what so ever. anything you read in this post is strictly opinion and should not be taken as advice, fact, or instruction, or even as encouragement to do anything. if you do not understand the subject and the required safety, please hire and consult a professional.
#23
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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Wow John. You've gotten some very helpful advise from everyone who's posted on here so far.

As someone who's interested in learning this stuff I must say I find everyone's comments and suggestions helpful. Thank you all.

John (or anyone who is in a similar boat) I will also recommend Craig Anderton's Electronic Projects for Musicians. Doesn't go into much for high voltage tube or tape, but it's great for simple inexpensive hands on training. Hopefully at the end you'll have made some practical tools that you can use in the studio or on stage. I like the fact that he not only shows the circuits and how to build them, but also explains why each component is in the place it's in. He doesn't go into much math if you're keen to avoid it.

For future reference you should keep in mind good professional techs put as much time heart and soul into their craft as any serious musician does. I hope you wouldn't expect a musician to teach you for free.

Sharing ideas and thoughts is a win for everyone. If the knowledge is flowing in both directions. For experienced techs to take the time to teach newbs like us any basics or suggest ways we can learn is a generous thing. Much more useful than you seem to recognize based on your responses so far. Sure someone might post a YouTube video on how to discharge some caps but eventually you will discover you're going to need a ton more knowledge. We've received some great advise for books & places to source info. That's a real life shortcut. They potentially saved us hours of research time deciphering which of the many publications out there pertain.

We should be very grateful for any advise, and most certainly not expect it for free. That's like me saying you should be willing to play keys in my band and record us on your sweet reel to reel because you love music.

Just so you know here's how you came across to me (& most likely others that come across this thread): You're a grown man who expects professionals in a trade to teach you the skills of that trade for free. You want those skills because you don't want to have to pay those professionals (or their colleagues) to do the work you need. Somehow if they are not willing to do that you feel they must not love analog electronics.

Maintenance on the great analog gear is part of the price to own it unfortunately.

Also did you consider that your tech friends might not actually be lazy? Perhaps they are too busy doing tech work to pay bills, and don't have the time to teach you to do it for free.

Also when Subway (Eat Fresh) trains you to make sandwiches and use the electronic cash register they are paying the person training you. That person isn't there because they just want you, John to know how make kick ass sandwiches because they love sandwiches so much. They are paid to be there. Sure they are probably only paying that person a little over min wage. If one really tried hard you could learn to be a good Subway employee in about an afternoon. Good techs get there from decades of work. For someone who seems to want to learn this stuff one would think you'd have more respect for the guys that have put in the time.

Your Grandfather taught his son how to fix cars. That's a far cry from teaching a stranger how to do it. Perhaps your Grandfather would have taken that time to teach any random guy or girl who wanted to learn. Problem is it takes time. He'd still need to have time to make money to pay bills.

No real hard feelins. I hope you get all that you need. I bet if you do eventually gain that level of skill and knowledge you'll have more respect for yourself and other experienced techs. In this day and age it's sometimes hard to imagine that some things aren't instant. Some stuff just takes serious time and it's the way it is.

On the other side, there are some apps for electronic math you can get.
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#24
5th March 2012
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you are right. There is more info here than I can begin to thank for. Thank you all. Every single last post - there is so much diversity of knowledgeable opinions here that I am beside myself. There are so many book recomendations I can't begin to pick one to partner up with. If I were studying music theory from the beginning, I would pick "Edlys Music theory" as it is designed for the intelligent beginner who knows nothing. What book in the elctronics world fits this bill best? The one seventh circle mentioned?
Quote:
..that's like me saying you should be willing to play keys in my band and record us on your sweet reel to reel because you love music.
why not? if the band shows promise, why not? I'm pretty sure that happened a lot during the '70s! Dave allen loaned his reel to reel decks to plenty of artsits he believed in, way back in the 70s. Now, though, I feel there is an "every guy for himelf" type of attitude that ticks me off about techs. You know how much of my hard earned money goes to techs? And how many of them treat me like poop? Jeff at san diego sound and music repair made me feel like I was annoying him by paying him hundreds of dollars to fix my stuff! The only decent tech I paid was Russ at Teac factory service. He fixed my machines up, but also cared. He wasn't going to leave me hanging like so many have.

enginefire, I can read AC line voltage with my multimeter. it is in good shape.

WOW I can't believe I just found this: MORE Tube Amps 101 - Draining Filter Caps - DVD on Repairs, maintenance and more! - YouTube

This is REALLY helpful. This wooden stick trick seems to be a life saver. I feel I can do that without having to worry so much. But I'd need to wear safety goggles.


now, moving on, if I get hurt who can I sue?
Well the tips have all been helpful and encouraging, even the ones I have a hard time swallowing. For example, I still think I'm too scared to discharge a 700 volt cap alone practically speaking. I'll start with smaller tube amps.

Quote:
e your space and the old gear. Post some music if get a chance. Would love to hear an analog recording of those organs from the reel to reel!
yes, actually. The sound on these recordings sucks to me. too flat. too quiet. not enough happenin. but, it's all me songwriting wise and performance wise...I just record drums, then bass, etc etc. Also, even the 1/2" reel of tape is old - it's scotch 203:

Organ is two chan: one mic on dry speaker one mic on reverb speaker.

http://musicalsound.yolasite.com/res...2012Pt.ONE.mp3

http://musicalsound.yolasite.com/res...2012Pt.TWO.mp3
#25
6th March 2012
Old 6th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SongJohn View Post
The sound on these recordings sucks to me. too flat. too quiet. not enough happenin. but, it's all me songwriting wise and performance wise...I just record drums, then bass, etc etc. Also, even the 1/2" reel of tape is old - it's scotch 203:

Organ is two chan: one mic on dry speaker one mic on reverb speaker.
Silky smoooooooooooooth…….makes me want to run out and get some tape running!!!!
#26
6th March 2012
Old 6th March 2012
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that is a beautiful organ sound John!

if you can test line ac 120v, i wouldnt stress too much about discharging a cap. I find wall sockets with 120v WAY more dangerous than a HV cap (maybe i am wrong but), the cap only has a limited amount of charge, if you get hooked up to the ac it just doesnt quit until someone knocks you off the juice with a stick.
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6th March 2012
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There are times when it becomes necessary to work on energized circuits for various reasons. Discharging caps is only a small problem. It's learning how to properly work around an energized circuit that may have 600 volts of DC on it, like for plate bias. DC is much more dangerous than the AC from wall current. AC will knock you off. You tend to stick to DC and fry.

Knowing when you must work with only one hand to avoid getting zipped.

I say the kid should take some kind of training before he starts opening up tube gear. Either apprentice at a repair shop for someone, or just take a job at one, or enroll in a school. I think he could learn more quicker at an actual shop that is fixing this stuff. Maybe he could bring some gear in with him for service and talk to the tech about learning.

Maybe just my over cautious Navy training kicking in.
#28
7th March 2012
Old 7th March 2012
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wow! love that room man. serious.


that little echoplex you got up there, there's a dead simple mod to that to extend the echo. look it up.

just replacing a pot for a different value.

i got that same unit, but mines dead :(
#29
7th March 2012
Old 7th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SongJohn View Post
The things I want to learn, like discharging a 700 volt capacitor, needs to be shown in PERSON!! You can't read about that kind of thing in a book and I wouldn't want to do it alone. Hell, even when you get hired at Subway they have a guy training you.
My first time wondering if I got the polarity of power caps right I was by myself. It was, err, exciting!

Not every job has built in training. In fact, most of the more independant work doesn't. It's a neccesity that when working by yourself that you be able to learn and make decisions by yourself and with yourself accountable. Nobody else.
#30
9th March 2012
Old 9th March 2012
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I was browsing this subforum and ran across this thread...browsing because I am in a similar situation. I have become more and more interested with the "how" of all my equipment over time. Have tried to get into electronics by picking up various books at the library, or even getting The Art of Electronics on interlibrary loan. None of them worked for me. I got a basic sense of Ohm's laws, Kirchoff's, Levenin (or whatever; intentionally not looking up the correct spelling to demonstrate my level of ignorance), etc.

But I would always get caught up on things like impedance phase, what the hell *is* ground, anyway?, etc.

Then I bought Make: Electronics a few months back. I read the first few chapters. Sat on it for a few months. Finally, yesterday, I ordered basically all the components listed in the book for the various projects in it from mouser. Shipped today.

Ultimately I realized that the difference between someone who does stuff with electronics and someone who doesn't is that the one who does stuff with electronics does stuff with electronics.

It was a long and winding road to get to this point (like, as in about 4 years). I would read a couple of books, take apart a couple of home appliances, get frustrated, and quit. Then I'd get drawn back in by the slowly-building *need* to know.

Putting together the shopping list was in and of itself confusing and scary and frustrating. But finally I just did it, because...I really, really wanted to.

POINT BEING, I think the best bet for a beginner is to buy a hobby kit online or get an electronics project book and buy the stuff you need to do the projects. Save yourself 4 years and go for it.
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