Handwired vs. PCB vs. "Hybrid"

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by wrxplayer, Jan 14, 2008.

  1. wrxplayer

    wrxplayer Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2008
    Somerset County, NJ
    I'm new here. Reading with interest about the boutique amp boom and the handwired vs. PCB debate. I have a few questions:

    1. I own a Genz-Benz BP30 and a Rivera Chubster. I'm guessing they're not boutique amps as they're not handwired. Is that correct?
    2. I almost bought a Budda SD18 (really nice amp). Would seem it's not a boutique as it's not handwired, but people seem to include it (but not Rivera, for example) in discussions of boutique amps. Why?
    3. My understanding is that the benefit of handwired over PCB is mostly build quality/durability. Clearly this is worth something. But is there any reason that a great amp using PCB construction shouldn't sound as good as a handwired amp?
    4. In the end, what percentage of the appeal of a handwired amp is cachet/exclusivity?
    5. Are Fenders and Voxes from the 60's or Marshalls from the 70's handwired?

    I'm sure it's all be covered before, but I haven't seen the above questions answered in one thread.
  2. Steve Dallas

    Steve Dallas Supporting Member

    Feb 22, 2005
    Surrounded by Idiots
    I'll try to answer some of this.

    1. Generally speaking, mass-produced amps are not considered boutique regardless of the construction method. So the hand-wired Fenders of yesteryear and PCB Boogies of today do not qualify.
    2. If you can buy it from Musician's Friend, it probably is not boutique.
    3. PCB and hand-wired can both be excellent or poor construction methods. It is all in the design and execution. Some PCB amps are done very well and some are very poor quality. Same with HW. You really have to evaluate each builder individually and not rely on a rule of thumb like HW is generally better. It isn't necessarily.
    4. In many cases, boutique amps are made with the highest quality parts available and are not subject to unit cost scrutiny by bean counters. That is worth a lot when it comes to tone.
    5. Most amps prior to 1970 were HW. PCB started making an entrance in 1970 and shows up in most companys' products by 1975 to varying degrees.


    Nov 17, 2004
    Fayetteville, NC
    Handwired isn't a requirement to be included in the Boutique category. Boutique usually refers more to a smaller builder, using high quality components, high build quality, and in most cases excellent tonal properties.
  4. 900

    900 Member

    Dec 27, 2005
    I wouldn't say that the benefit of handwired over PCB is mostly build quality/durability. A good PCB is probably more or just as durable as HW.

    Just keep in mind this. For the most part or very often handwired boutique amps are based or are the builders take on old amp designs from Fender, Marshall, Vox etc.
    These amps, in general, were all relatively simple and straight-forward cirquits compared to the current multi-channel/multi-mode amps from Bogner, Mesa, Marshall JVM etc. that we have today.

    For me, one of the main advantages with a simple and well built one or two channel HW amp is the easy servicability, especially compared to a "bad" PCB design where everything is board-mounted - pots, tubes, jacks etc - and therefore a PITA and usually much more labour intensive to service or fix if something goes wrong.

    As for everything else, if the amp sounds good, I really don't care if its PCB or HW anymore.
  5. justonwo

    justonwo Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    SF Bay Area
    Here's a good explanation from one of the real amp experts of the world.


    And here's a quote (from myself) regarding Rivera from a recent post:

    "As far as build quality, it's a very nice PCB layout using double sided traces and mil-spec PCB. Wires are thoughtfully organized and strain relieved. Sockets are chassis mounted. Transformers are big Mercury Magnetics. Chassis is high quality, as are the switches, faceplates, and other hardware. The cabinet is as high-end as it gets. Expertly executed tolex on 3/4" dadoed birch plywood. All the various panels are mounted with machine screws, finishing washers, and countersunk threads - very nice.

    In my opinion, the build quality doesn't get any boutiquier."

    Whether or not something is "boutique" is purely semantics in my opinion. Rivera makes outstanding amps.

    My Custom Audio Amps OD-100 is constructed similarly (with PCB). That amp is $3300 new. Is it boutique? I don't know or care really. It's VERY well made.

    The short answer is that PCB does not a crappy amp make. Crappy PCB makes a crappy amp, however.
  6. tonefreak

    tonefreak Member

    Jan 24, 2005
    West Los Angeles, California
    Great design, durability, function and sound... PCB, HW or hybrid doesn't matter to me as long as a great end result is achieved.

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