This series of postings will detail the construction and debug of a Ceriatone kit. Along the way I hope to capture some of the key considerations & stumbling blocks and give you a good feel for the process.
I decided to build a Trainwreck-inspired amplifier after reading a posting on The Gear Page by GeetarPicker (Glen Kuykendall) about how well a Ceriatone “Expression” had tested against a real Trainwreck Express amplifier. Unfortunately I think the original ’shootout’ posting has been taken down, but there are lots of documented comparisons and other clone-related information on The AmpGarage as well.
I bought an Expression in kit-form from Nik at Ceriatone. The complete kit of parts is shown to the right. You can arrange to buy various levels of completeness from fully assembled amplifiers down to a ’bag of parts’ by talking directly to Nik via email. I opted for a standard ’package 2′ which consists of all the parts (except tubes), chassis, faceplate, transformers and pre-assembled/stuffed turret boards with wires coming off of them.
Ceriatone is constantly improving their products and my kit came with a new improved output transformer that better matched the original performance. In the latest picture (shown on the left) the chassis now has an IEC power connector cutout instead of a dedicated power cord grometted in place. The faceplate logo has changed to a more politically correct chinese dragon instead of a copy of the Trainwreck logo. Original Trainwrecks all had a wooden faceplate with a wood-burned picture custom to each amp, so I think the dragon is closer to the original idea. Trainwrecks are also built into wooden cabinets with a natural finish, not your typical tolexed variety.
Before we get started building this kit, however, you need some important reference material. The layout provided at the Ceriatone site is mostly accurate and a good start. It is possible to get a very good results from the Ceriatone kit, but the Trainwreck Express is a very high gain amplifier that is barely under control and can be prone to excessive noise and even break into oscillation… layout and lead dress are key aspects of a successful build for this amp! A layout drawing is a kind of visual schematic and the lead routing shown on those isn’t meant to be followed literally… you need experience or more detail…
With the Ceriatone kit it is possible to closely match the layout and lead dress of an original Express despite the changes in construction technique (e.g. turrets on 1/8″ thick FR4 instead of flea-clips on perforated 0.156″-spaced vero board)… You should study some original Express photos to prepare for the build. Luckily, on AmpGarage a number of Trainwrecks are documented by photos, the most notable being Francesca: TrainWreck Pictures.
Even better, DrHulsey on AmpGarage prepared a cool composite photograph of Francesca that he used as a reference for his successful cloning effort, documented in this thread: DrHulsey Build. I’ve downloaded his composite for your convenience and clicking on the picture to the right should get you the full resolution version.
Next time we’ll get started with the mechanical preparation of the Expression chassis…