I would sugegst finding a kit project that most people recommend for a beginner, sich as the Bottleheads or Hagerman stuff. Get a decent soldering iron and good solder. I would also recommend a decent multi-meter. Then just go for it. Read up on the mods and changes that others have done, then consider which ones you might want to incorporate for yourself at this early stage. You can also do them later if you want, but it will cost more to go that route.
Expect to have problems, and expect to learn a lot as you trace them down and fix them. Then expect a huge pride of ownership thing to occur, and the itch to move on and play with something else.
The Bottlehead Seduction really is pretty easy to build. The instructions are step by step and easy to follow. Even if you screw it up, there are plenty of people who could fix it, so it's not like it could never be used if you mess it up. The Bottlehead forum on their website is EXCELLENT for help. The Bottlehead community is wonderful for advice. BTW, the Seduction is MARVELOUS!!!
Find someone local who can review your work before you power on the unit. That may save you some frustration.
I made my first diode AM radio from scratch when I was 11. If you can read, you can do it. I don't know how young you are. But if you are in your early teens, it is a good idea to get someone watch over you too.
Take a peek at diyaudio.com they have an amplifier section there. You can learn about kits that people have built, what they sound like, and mistakes to avoid.
I just built the winsome lab mouse amplifier, very easy to build and sounds great to boot. All you need to know is how to work a solder iron. I suggest just practice on a old pc card.
Just to clarify - the Bottlehead Seduction is a phono preamp. Their regular preamp is the Foreplay.
Start with a kit that will result in a good sounding piece of equipment that you can live with for a while. E.g.: http://www.dynakitparts.com/store/product.aspx?id=2.
This is for a Dynakit St70. There is a huge amount of information about it on the Internet -- it has been modified extensively. After building the basic version, play around with mods to see if you like the sound changes.
By that time, your feet will be very wet! While doing this, read as much of the theory as you can find on the Internet. Most of the mod pages will also go into theory. More and more of it will sink in as you continue to read. If it's associated with a project or modification, you may see the practical application of the theory and it may make more sense to you.
Welcome to the world of DIY audio. It is so much fun. I am so satisfied when I complete a project and it sounds good! But, BE CAREFUL!!! Electronics projects expose you to LETHAL VOLTAGES! When you are probing circuit points with a volt meter, keep one hand in your pocket, literally. This avoids you providing a complete circuit path for the electrical current, and thus DEADLY SHOCKS. You can attach the ground probe to the chassis with an alligator clip.
Thanks for all the responses. I used to play in a touring band, and I would regularly fix cables, bias amps, and trouble shoot tube amp problems. Sounds like I could build one of these things if they are as point-and-shoot as they sound.
speaking of biasing, do these amps require biasing and other routine maintenance ?
I'm thinking of pulling the trigger on the 4 piece bottle head package with the line stage, phono pre, and dual mono blocks. I'm guessing these are about as introductory as it gets and produce good results.
The St70 does require biasing adjustment. It is easy to do -- you just need a flathead screwdriver and a voltmeter (even the cheap portable one from radio shack will do).
I have any original Dynakit St70, and the bias voltage drop is read from a pin from a tube socket on the front panel. I am not sure where it is measured on the new kits, but it is probably the same. Or else, the instructions will tell you how.
What is the likely-hood of one of theses things starting a house fire?
I had a nightmare last night that I raised my house to the ground after building a pair of mono-blocks and one of them caught fire while I was away at work.
I would not leave a tube amp on when I left the house. Tube amps generally warm up quicker than ss and the output tubes can be quite expensive. So I just turn them off before bed adn when I leave.
I took the plunge last month and built a Bottlehead Foreplay III as my first ever audio project. I built a couple of $5 christmas tree LED kits first in order to get a feel for soldering.
The Bottlehead instructions are amazingly clear, and the support forum is very responsive.
I managed to build the foreplay with no problems. It sounds great, by the way.
Thanks for the positive info. I'd read some information that complained about the cramped set up of the foreplay and that it was hard to solder everything because of it. Any comments there?
Glad you like it!