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Confessions of an Evangelist
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Sometimes you need to do something different, crazy, out of the usual. A couple weeks ago while I was filming some courseware for AppDev my director John Wilson told me about his site and the Stella Amp. Basically it’s a circuit board, a bunch of resisters, transistors, LEDs and switches that you have to break out the soldering iron to put together.

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The idea is to take the bag of parts, follow the instructions and you get a guitar amp in a cigar box. Now I’ve been building boxes for a while from various kinds of hardwood and I thought it would be fun to give it a whirl.

Starting with the circuitry
Not being an electrical engineer, but more on either the mechanical side and/or the computer code side of things I’ve been more hands off on diving into circuits and resistors type of things. This seemed like a good project to learn it, so I ordered a soldering iron from Amazon – '>'>'>Hakko FX-888. This is a decent soldering iron with a temperature control thing that John recommended. At the same time I stopped at Radio Shack to pick up some kits to try out my soldering skills. These were simple circuits, but cheap enough that I could use them for practice.

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After putting that together it was time to start with the real deal. The Stella Amp consists of a bag with 15-20 resistors, a couple diodes, about a dozen capacitors and a couple chips. I’m not deep on understanding why the parts work the way they do, but I spent an evening soldering the kit together and was able to get it to work in the end. One piece of advise is to take your time, invest in a multimeter to be able to check your progress.

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After working with it I plugged in the battery and got a 1/4” cable to my guitar and tried it out. It took a little jiggering of the rheostat’s and I had a loose connection to the battery, but I got it to work. Next I need something to put it in.

The Box
I chose to make the box from Cherry and Paduka (a wood with a deep red color), and follow a cigar box style design that includes a sliding lid. To make this you need something that can resaw the lumber to 1/4” stock, then a table saw to cut the finger joints, and some patience. I have a 12” planer that I use to cut down the stock after resawing it to about 3/8”. To get the red line I glue up the board with a 1/4” Paduka strip before resawing.

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The fingerjoints are cut with a jig I put together which has a notch on the crosscut that is 1/4” off from the blade on the tablesaw. I also used the table saw to cut the lids so that there’s a 1/8” lip on the lid that fits into a corresponding slot on the box.

Putting it together
To mount the circuitry into the box took a little bit of work. One limitation was the depth of the threads on the rheostats and the input jack of 1/4” meant I needed to sand down the thickness of the front of the box enough to be able to put the washer and nut on. Fortunately it was something that just took some time to get it to fit. The end result is pretty nice.


This was a project that was outside what I’ve done before. The woodworking is nothing I haven’t done before, but getting circuitry to come together and actually work when I plugged it in still makes me smile. It goes to show that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith when you want to try out something new. The result is pretty cool…maybe a presentation at a code camp sometime or a talk at TechMasters. We’ll see...what do you think?


Posted on Sunday, January 27, 2013 12:43 PM | Back to top

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