Grampian Amplifier Speaker Set

As well as microphones, Grampian made amplifiers and other PA equipment. Here’s an old Grampian amplifier and speaker set.

I found the amp a few years ago in Dave Dee’s junk shop in York. The circuit is actually very similar to a Mullard Twenty, with the addition of a transformer balanced mic input, and several taps on the output transformer for 8 ohm loudspeaker or 100V connection. I have even used this in the past as a mic preamp for recording, for some warm and slightly dirty vocal tracks.

The speaker is a recent purchase found on It has a rather nice and unusual tapered shape, with (no longer very) white vinyl covering. The whole set has a really cool vintage look to it – very different from today’s ubiquitous square black boxes.

I am now using this as a guitar rig – it has a great vintage valve tone with just the right amount of breakup coming from the speakers. There is plenty of volume for recording, but I would hesitate to use it for rehearsals with a modern loud drum kit!

I am unsure of the age of these but I would guess 1950s or early 60s – they don’t appear in Grampian’s 1968 product line, and presumably pre-date that. If anybody knows more, please get in touch.

Ward Beck preamps part 2

The old aluminium front plates from the preamp modules were screwed to the new front panel to act as a drill guide, so getting the holes in the right places was quite easy (for once). The Canford chassis is very nice to work with – the aluminium panels machine easily, and the metal is thick and sturdy enough for the job.

With additional holes drilled for XLR inputs and a power switch, the panel is ready for the modules to be screwed in place.

It looks like a neat job once the black printed control panels and all the knobs are back in place – I also added a pair of jack sockets as additional outputs so that I can route the signal to either the front of the unit or the studio patchbay – or both for some parallel compression fun!

The modules are connected to the outside world via 44 pin card connectors at the rear. Although these look daunting, only a few of the connections are needed for our application. Here’s a revised pin assignment with the surplus connections omitted.

In this case I am just using two of the four available inputs – XLRs on the front connect to Mic Input A, and jacks on the rear for line input A. Both sets of outputs (M1 and M2) will be used, one on the front and one on the rear of the case. On the original WBS mixer the modules would have been wired to a fader, but we can bypass this by connecting across the appropriate pins as shown in red. Note that in the schematic for the M480C, the fader inserts are wired from pin T to 10 and from pin 16 to L, which means diagonally across the connector rows.

However, when we wire it that way the polarity of the preamp is inverted, as shown on the scope.

It seems likely that some other part of the console flips the phase, or less probably that the M480 is differently wired from the M480C – one would expect the modules to be interchangable. Either way, the simple answer is to connect pin T to L and pin 16 to 10, as shown on the pin assignment above.

The hole for the fused IEC power inlet was cut through with an appropriate punch – this gives a neater rectangle than a jigsaw or just drilling and filing, and is quicker too. A dual ±24V bipolar supply is required, and I used a small board left over from an 1176 project. The board from uses LM317 and LM337 voltage regulators, and 5Kohm trimmers were used to set the voltages. The modules have on-board filters and regulators to bring the down to ±18V, and their is no audible hum on these modules even at full gain.

Once up and running, the modules sound very nice with plenty of gain. I particularly like the low boost on the EQ, which sounds like it should be useful for beefing up tracks. At the moment many of the pots are rather worn and scratchy, so I next will strip it all down and replace those. It never stops!

Racking a pair of Ward Beck M480 preamps – Part 1

Ward Beck M480 preamp modules

I recently acquired this pair of Ward Beck M480 input modules. Ward Beck Systems, or WBS, have a great reputation, and so I am very keen to get these racked up as microphone preamps. The modules have four switchable inputs, and a parametric EQ section too.

I have not yet found a copy of the M480 manual, but the Ward Beck Preservation Society have the manual for the later variant, M480C. The pin assignments look the same although the later ‘C’ revision has some additional features such as a switchable phantom.

The modules are very neat and clean inside, and use 44 pole PCB edge connectors. Luckily I had three gold plated connectors in the parts bin. These were salvaged from some scientific equipment that I pulled from a skip. It pays to recycle… and never throw anything away!

Although the modules are in great shape inside, the front panels and knobs are very dirty from years of sticky fingers. Naughty engineers!

The collet knobs can be removed by popping off the coloured caps, and then loosening the central locking nut. Then the black control panel can be prised away from its glue. In both cases they are destined for a long zap in the ultrasonic bath, which will clean them up nicely.

WBS M480 stripped down for racking
The modules will be mounted in a standard 19 inch rackmount case, and the construction makes this very simple. The existing aluminium front plates can be used as templates to drill the holes in the new front panel, and the black screen printed control panels can be mounted over these. Then it just needs a ±24V power supply and we will be ready to go.
Part 2 to follow soon, when the new case arrives

Altec 438C compressor amplifier

The Altec 436 and 438 series are vari-μ tube compressor-amplifiers that were famously used at Abbey Road in the 1960s, when the Beatles were there. The 438C is the best of these models, in that it has a built in mic preamp, and also control of the threshold and release, which make the compressor a lot more usable.

I have been looking for one of these for some years now, to the extent that I even built one from scratch – but of course without the gorgeous meter. I finally took the plunge and bought this one on US ebay, for (what I considered to be) a fair price.

Altec 438C compressor

Having paid the ransom to release it from customs, I picked it up from Parcel Force today. Happily, it looks to be in good original condition, and it should not be too much of a challenge to get it up and running again.
There is plenty of vintage dust inside…

Inside the Altec 438C compressor

A few things will need to be done. These were built for the US market, and the transformer will need to be swapped to a 240V model. It would also be prudent to swap out the electrolytic capacitors. All the original transformers are present, which is a relief as these are difficult / expensive to find.

The ‘clone’ has been in regular use for years, and it will be interesting to see how the original compares!

Home made 438B compressor

Some Altec compressor related links…