This article follows my experiences during the process of finally turning my cut-up, dented and abused prototype box into a professional and truly awesome looking bass amplifier. Part 1 focused on the why’s and how’s I got to the form factor I decided to go with. The post ended in sending the CAD files over to the enclosure fabricator. Guess what, Christmas came early…
A big brown box came in the mail. Excited like a 10-year-old, I unboxed it and laid eyes on the physical embodiment of my first amplifier design. It was both odd and extremely fulfilling to see it finally become a reality. This enclosure combined all ideas, electronics, and years of hard work into a tangible, professional product.
And ProtoCase delivered! A sturdy steel case, flawless powder coat, digital printed backside and a solid chunk of cut, milled and brushed aluminium. The pre-fitted PCB stands and tube brackets made installing the electronics a breeze. Except for a few stands that didn’t line up with my PCB’s. Entirely my fault (measure twice…) and the reason why it’s still called a prototype 😉
Fonts & gradients & logo’s & scales
“What button does what exactly?” And the art of how NOT to overload a user with information. It turned out to be a major pain in the butt to come up with the front- and back panel’s graphical designs. First was the font selection. I wanted to use it for my logo and for labeling knobs, buttons and connectors. So it had to match the overall design. Modern but modest, familiar but unique and clearly readable yet nice to look at. An entire focus group (including myself) selected the final font out of 10 different candidates. Step 1, check.
Step 2 was labeling… everything! It was tempting to spell out every value, option and position of every knob, button and connector. But it would have muddied the design and would probably cause confusion rather than presenting an intuitive interface to the bass player. Less is more! Recent field tests have shown an instant grasp of the controls and their workings by all users. Job done.
Step 3 was bringing it all together. I can’t take full credit. I had a lot of people I could turn to now and then, who’d nudge me in the right direction when needed. The minimalistic gradients around the knobs, font size, the way the preamp sections are visually separated, how labels bend around connectors, et cetera. Even the fading of the LED’s. These details turned it from a dull incoherent mess into a visually pleasing product. It’s easy to lose sight of the whole when there are so many details to deal with. My lesson learned was not to dismiss the overview of others… well, most of the time.
Finishing the front panels
The front panels are going to experience abuse. Simply by usage, transport, beer and other musical performance related wear. Blank aluminium scratches like crazy. Anodizing is a process where a very thin but tough aluminium oxide layer is build up onto the metal in a very controlled manner. This oxide layer contains open pores after the buildup, which can be filled with a color of choice. After closing the pores, you’re left with a hard, colored surface finish that will last for many many years. There’s as certain quality feel to anodised aluminium compared to e.g. powdercoat or paint.
The challenge was finding a partner that was willing to do small batches, like mine, in a specific color. I found Coatinc Anox, located in the Netherlands. They had the perfect color in stock and were even willing to do single pieces of aluminium.
Dissonanten, a collective of silkscreening pro’s, provided the finishing touch. They guided me through the whole process of finding the proper ink, the right colors, and the do’s and don’ts to get a crisp, legible silkscreen print on the amps. With silkscreen printing, you literally press ink through a very fine mesh. The mesh gets a treatment beforehand with a special emulsion and UV exposure to block the areas where the ink shouldn’t go through.
There are other techniques to print graphics onto an enclosure. The combination of a multicolored print on two different materials, in small quantities, while maintaining excellent detail made silkscreen printing the weapon of choice.
Wood, and how the amplifiers got their names
From the moment I started thinking about enclosure design, I wanted something to tie the bass itself into the design. But not too obvious. I love how the wood of a bass gives soul to the sound it produces. The amplifier is an extension of the instrument in my opinion. A hat tip in the form of ‘fretboard inspired’ wooden side panels seemed appropriate.
The preamp is also called ‘Viður’, which means ‘wood’ in Icelandic. I’m from the Netherlands, but it was the inspiring beauty of Iceland and its enchanting landscapes that kept drawing me in when thinking about nomenclature. The poweramp is called ‘Detti’, named after the Dettifoss waterfall, which is the most powerful waterfall of Europe and produces the most fantastic sound I’ve ever heard. A funny contradiction, since waterfalls produce mostly pink noise, while I did everything in my power to get rid of any form of noise whatsoever.
So there it is. My first finished preamp and poweramp combi, done. It’s euphoric, strange, scary, awesome, unbelievable and unavoidable at the same time. The next article will officially present these amps in all their glory.