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Thread: Which direction should banded (foil case) side of signal caps go in an amp circuit?

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    Which direction should banded (foil case) side of signal caps go in an amp circuit?

    I read someplace that the banded end should go towards the lowest potential. So, if a cap is coming off the junction of a plate and a resistor that feeds the plate, the cap band should not be on the junction side, but the other side, i.e. towards the next input stage.

    Just read a post someplace where they had them in several directions in an amp, and said that the banded side should go towards the plate, in tube amps.

    Is there a right way universally, or is it not so cut and dried?

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    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    It is not so cut and dried because it is not so important at all.

    On the internet, you will find people to argue about ANYTHING. And whichever side they take, they will put great energy rationalizing reasons for their choice.

    Outside foil makes darn little difference in a guitar amp. I makes a lot more difference in say a short wave radio, which our guitar amp is not.

    I like my parts to face the same way on the part board. To me that cosmetic difference is worth more than some outside foil argument.

    On the other hand, if you pick one approach, and defend it to your death, you won't be wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enzo View Post
    It is not so cut and dried because it is not so important at all.

    On the internet, you will find people to argue about ANYTHING. And whichever side they take, they will put great energy rationalizing reasons for their choice.

    Outside foil makes darn little difference in a guitar amp. I makes a lot more difference in say a short wave radio, which our guitar amp is not.

    I like my parts to face the same way on the part board. To me that cosmetic difference is worth more than some outside foil argument.

    On the other hand, if you pick one approach, and defend it to your death, you won't be wrong.
    Thanks Enzo!! Im thinking about taking a spray can, and painting the resistors all bright red, and leaving a little tiny window just to leave teh capacitance and voltage rating show. All those bazillion old classic amps, most don't have any bands anywhere on those caps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepukmel View Post
    Thanks Enzo!! Im thinking about taking a spray can, and painting the resistors all bright red, and leaving a little tiny window just to leave teh capacitance and voltage rating show. All those bazillion old classic amps, most don't have any bands anywhere on those caps.
    do that and you will modify thermal derive of you components, so take this in account

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    Supporting Member mozz's Avatar
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    The foil goes toward the side with the lowest ground potential. But i have to ask, do any modern caps have the outside foil marked?

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    I've read that some caps have the markings arranged so that you know where the outside foil is by which side, say, the value is printed on. I can't remember any specifics on this and the caps I'm referencing are actually made by another manufacturer now, so it's really no holds barred. But my point is that there MAY be info out there for SOME cap models that indicates where the outside foil is.

    And your right, sort of. I've read that the outside foil connected lead should be nearest to ground, but also that it should be to the lowest impedance. They can be two different things and exist on either side of the same circuit. Orange drops use to be marked for their outside foil. I experimented a little with orientation. I can't say I eliminated every possible scenario at all but I never found orientation to make any difference in noise or tone.

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    Mr. Carlsons Lab on YouTube has an excellent video on this very subject. Now, he does a lot of radio work so capacitor shielding is pretty important to his work however as Enzo pointed out, musical instrument amplifiers are pretty much immune to this type of mismatch. He shows that even though there is a band on the capacitor it does not necessarily mean that is the case side of the foil. He finds them randomly marked but has come up with a rig using a scope and your own body as an antenna to determine the outer and inner leads of a cap regardless of it's markings. Interesting stuff, check it out.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnR_DLd1PDI

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    There is a very long thread from a while back here on MEF about this topic too.

    http://music-electronics-forum.com/t39867-2/

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    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    One quasi-scientific answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikepukmel View Post
    I read someplace that the banded end should go towards the lowest potential. So, if a cap is coming off the junction of a plate and a resistor that feeds the plate, the cap band should not be on the junction side, but the other side, i.e. towards the next input stage.
    • Just read a post someplace where they had them in several directions in an amp, and said that the banded side should go towards the plate, in tube amps.
    • Is there a right way universally, or is it not so cut and dried?
    With 630vdc 418P and 715/716P orange drop capacitors you can actually see and feel which lead is connected to the outer foil. In a critical circuit having the outer lead connected closer to ground potential can add some shielding, at least in theory. It probably makes absolutely no difference at all most of the time.

    When I was experimenting with my Blue Express amp builds inspired by Trainwreck schematics in the early 2000s I discovered that I had wired the .001uF coupling cap after the 2nd stage backwards. I switched it around and found that the amp had lost a definite on-the-edge aliveness that was very responsive to my playing. So I switched it back and that responsiveness returned.

    My guess was that there was some sort of parasitic activity going on for lack of a better explanation. To experiment with intentional parasitics you can wrap an insulated wire around an orange drop coupling cap and then connect the other end to the plate of a preceeding tube stage. If you go back 1 stage you would get negative feedback, if you go back 2 stages you would get positive feedback. (To reduce parasitics you can connect the wire wrapped around the cap to ground.)

    So why the heck would anybody want to introduce positive feedback to a guitar amp circuit?!? My own theory (entirely unconfirmed by reality) is that Ken Fischer would experiment with the layout of each amp he built on perfboard until the parasitics were just right and the amp had just the right amount of positive feedback to get as close as he dared to the edge of oscillation.

    Here is the reasoning behind my theory. We know that Ken built his amps on perfboard which would allow him to orient each component in all 3 dimensions. We also heard the report that he would spend up to a week fine-tuning and tweaking the design. As shown in the layout drawing of a Liverpool or Express clone there are only 27 components on the preamp board, 11 capacitors and 16 resistors so what the heck was he doing in his basement for a full week?!? I think that he was moving the main coupling and tone caps, et al around until the sound was just right.



    I thought it was amazing that he could fine tune an amp in his basement and know that it would deliver the goods in a large venue like Madison Square Garden. I am sure that there was something he listened for and when the amp had that special something he knew it was golden.

    Enough for my quasi-scientific explanations which will be debunked by anyone with any knowledge about electronics. But I know what I heard in my Blues Express experiments and I have been unable to find any other explanation.

    Steve A.

    P.S. I had first tested Orange Drop caps for the outer foil lead using a 1/4" cable with two alligator clips plugged into a guitar amp. I would clip the test clips first one way and then the other to see which hummed more while holding the cap in my hand. Sure enough the bulge in the cap indicated the outer foil lead every time.

    I have not bought any OD caps for many years so perhaps they have changed. (I usually use Mallory 150's instead of orange drops since they cost less and take up a lot less space.)

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    Wrote a too long post, erased it, but I think the whole thread makes a lot of sense now, thanks everyone. If you have an amp builder guru, like Fisher or Dumble, who would toil for weeks or more to make one amp, they maybe they will sift through a huge pile of cap's, and fiddle with orientation and positioning of all the caps in an amp to "tune" it, and maybe they have some way of figuring out when it makes a difference. But for the 99.99% of us, replacing one or two caps, or even reversing all of the caps in an amp, it probably won't make an audible difference.

    On amp #1, The FrankenDeluxe, it had a certain sound. I can't describe the tone, but it had a sound character. I pulled all the components off the old board that was not intended for reverb, soldered all the components back down to a new board, and wired it back up, and ... it sounds like a completely different amp. Same caps, same resistors, MUCH neater wiring, and added 2 new grid stops to V2 and one to one side of the reverb driver (I think 5.6K) Didn't change tubes, speaker, etc. I think the orientation of the "signal" caps is about the same. The second wiring,, for the lack of a better description, is 'darker'. Has more boomy bass (not a huge amount), doesn't sound as bright. The tone controls all work better. Before, the bass control didn't do much. I could hear a difference, but now its more pronounced. The highs are slightly less caustic, a little more clear. Admittedly, my ear isnt so good, like a recording engineer who can hear the tiny fizz and ring here and there, but it is noticeably different.

    I really wish I had a recorded raw guitar that I could use as input (so it would be exactly the same), and do an AB comparison, but I didn't record anything before.

    Maybe this is also partly due to what you're talking about Steve, little parasitic loops throughout the circuit that are now just tuned differently now.

    Based on my ad hoc, unintended experiments, I can see how a mfr could produce 1000 amps, all the same parts, same person wiring, same mfr tubes, and get some that sound noticeably VERY different. I wish I had the smarts and technical background to be able to figure out what I did that caused the difference in tone!

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    Old Timer J M Fahey's Avatar
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    It is not a *potential* issue at all, but an *impedance* one.
    The outer foil is a shield by definition, a metallic foil wrapping the rest of the capacitor, and as we already know, shields to do their magic, must be grounded.
    Ever saw a guitar cable with center conductor grounded and shield carrying signal?

    If not actually grounded, best (or least bad) is "the point with lowest impedance to ground"
    Imagine a 100k resistor tied to a plate, and a 1M resistor tied to next grid ... which one has lowest impedance to ground?

    That said, you are shielding just a part of a path which may be much longer.
    If plate gos to a grid 1 inch away, fine; if signal travels through 4 inches of wire or more, won´t do much.

    As of paint influencing thermal behaviour of a capacitor, IF the capacitor dissipates power (what a resistor does) the thin layer of paint will increase thermal resistance and resistor will work (a little) hotter, but capacitors do not dissipate significant power, so .......
    Capacitors take whatever ambient temperature surrounding them, whatever it is; a paint layer in theory will make that process infinitesimally slower .... unmeasurable.

    Even if the capacitor is wrapped in styrofoam, it will work at ambient temperature, it will just take a little longer to reach it (suppose you just turned your amp on).

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    Quote Originally Posted by J M Fahey View Post
    Imagine a 100k resistor tied to a plate, and a 1M resistor tied to next grid ... which one has lowest impedance to ground?
    I have an amp with a switchable coupling cap between the 100k plate and 1M vol pot. If I run the amp chassis out of the box the hum increases as the coupling cap is switched from 10n in stages to 500p. I assume this is because the impedance at the vol pot is higher for smaller coupling cap values because the vol pot can't "see" the lower impedance plate through the impedance of the small cap.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepukmel View Post
    Based on my ad hoc, unintended experiments, I can see how a mfr could produce 1000 amps, all the same parts, same person wiring, same mfr tubes, and get some that sound noticeably VERY different. I wish I had the smarts and technical background to be able to figure out what I did that caused the difference in tone!
    Not sure if it was your intention, but you have identified one of the big reasons manufacturers like printed circuit boards, and one of their greatest benefits: consistent products.

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sowhat View Post
    Mr. Carlsons Lab on YouTube has an excellent video on this very subject.
    I've seen that video before. I had forgotten that Mr. Carlson was the guy who lives in a house that was actually built out of old test gear.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    I've seen that video before. I had forgotten that Mr. Carlson was the guy who lives in a house that was actually built out of old test gear.

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    That looks like the coolest places in the whole world. I can imagine what my wife would say if she saw that lab!

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    Quote Originally Posted by J M Fahey View Post
    It is not a *potential* issue at all, but an *impedance* one.
    The outer foil is a shield by definition, a metallic foil wrapping the rest of the capacitor, and as we already know, shields to do their magic, must be grounded.
    Ever saw a guitar cable with center conductor grounded and shield carrying signal?

    If not actually grounded, best (or least bad) is "the point with lowest impedance to ground"
    Imagine a 100k resistor tied to a plate, and a 1M resistor tied to next grid ... which one has lowest impedance to ground?

    That said, you are shielding just a part of a path which may be much longer.
    If plate gos to a grid 1 inch away, fine; if signal travels through 4 inches of wire or more, won´t do much.

    As of paint influencing thermal behaviour of a capacitor, IF the capacitor dissipates power (what a resistor does) the thin layer of paint will increase thermal resistance and resistor will work (a little) hotter, but capacitors do not dissipate significant power, so .......
    Capacitors take whatever ambient temperature surrounding them, whatever it is; a paint layer in theory will make that process infinitesimally slower .... unmeasurable.

    Even if the capacitor is wrapped in styrofoam, it will work at ambient temperature, it will just take a little longer to reach it (suppose you just turned your amp on).
    That's where I get lost (the impedance to ground arg). OK one of the many places I get lost These caps do some really cool stuff: one side has AC and high voltage DC, the other side, hopefully just the audio signal. So, impedance implies we're talking about AC. So, there's a shield tied to one end of the cap, to one lead. Suppose its the cap right after V1. On the V1 side, there are two paths to ground, through the 100k resistor, but that leads back to the dropping resistors and caps., and the other path is through the plate, down through the tube through the cathode and its resistor to ground. The other side of the cap goes through a whole bunch of stuff before the signal gets to ground. I can't quite get why these 3 paths are different enough to make a difference in the audio signal if you flip the cap around.

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    The supply is basically AC ground. Keep that in mind. That's why you don't see the AC signal on the supply rail when you scope it. If you do, one of the filter (decoupling) caps is probably bad.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepukmel View Post
    Suppose its the cap right after V1. On the V1 side, there are two paths to ground, through the 100k resistor, but that leads back to the dropping resistors and caps., and the other path is through the plate, down through the tube through the cathode and its resistor to ground. The other side of the cap goes through a whole bunch of stuff before the signal gets to ground. I can't quite get why these 3 paths are different enough to make a difference in the audio signal if you flip the cap around.
    Have a look at the Tone Stack Calculator circuit for the Fender plate driven tone stack. It has Zsrc i.e. the impedance looking into the plate as 38k. If it's just driving a 1M vol pot (say) the impedance to ground looking the other way is the 1M.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave H View Post
    Have a look at the Tone Stack Calculator circuit for the Fender plate driven tone stack. It has Zsrc i.e. the impedance looking into the plate as 38k. If it's just driving a 1M vol pot (say) the impedance to ground looking the other way is the 1M.
    OK thanks, then that is why a few amp builders flip these caps around depending on the position in the circuit.

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    Yes, the supply rail *is* Audio ground.
    You have a big honkin´10 to 47 uF capacitor to ground there.

    Forget supply rail resistors, the local capacitor is already a short to ground at all Audio frequencies so plate load does not even "see" them.

    If it weren´t so, signal from one stage would reach the earlier one and oscillate or at least cause instability ... exactly the symptom when one such decoupling cap opens, or dries up and has high ESR.

    Or has severely reduced capacitance, so it still does its job at mid-high frequencies (sort of) but not at lower ones ... that´s how motorboating appears.

    As of where the "38k" used in TSC comes from, it´s the result of 100k load resistor to rail "Audio ground" in parallel with triode´s own "internal impedance", again to its own cathode which is grounded or very near ground, and which is usually between 60 and 70k.

    Now if it were a pentode stage driving that Tone Stack, "generator" (the tube driving the TS) impedance would be straight the load resistor (say, 100k) because a pentode internal impedance is very high, usually >500k so it gets out of the picture for all practical purposes.

    TSC, as well as most simulators, call all audio sources "generators" with a given voltage output and an equivalent series resistor to study the tone stack all by itself, with no need to argue about tubes/transistors/Op Amps/pickups or whatever is driving it.

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    Thanks Juan, Im able to understand most of what you said pretty well. Some of this stuff is sinking in!! So, re the original question, its complex enough, inside the amp, capacitor to capacitor, that if you had them all lined up "the right way", whatever that is, listened to the amp, then pulled them all out and put them back in randomly, you probably would not hear a difference. Or might, if you knew what to look for?

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    You will not hear a difference in "sound" , they work the same both ways, and if the Audio path is short , say capacitor goes from pin 1 (plate 1) in a 12AX7 to pin 7 (grid 2), you don´t really have much of an antenna there anyway.

    Now in the other extreme, when going to a relatively distant panel control / Jack or simply from somewhat separated Pre to Power, or if too near to another high gain stage, it will help.

    Not a drastic difference but every bit of hum you can save here and there makes the grand total less annoying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepukmel View Post
    That looks like the coolest places in the whole world. I can imagine what my wife would say if she saw that lab!
    "I can't stand to live in this house -- I want a divorce."

    Dare I say it, looking at that picture of his Man Cave, I'm inclined to think that Mr. C is a bachelor.

    Here's a walk through tour of his lab. He's either a bachelor or he's got a very understanding wife. His home lab has got to be one of the greatest estrogen-free zones on the planet.



    As great as his lab is, I think he needs a bigger workbench. His workplace is way too small.

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    Last edited by bob p; 04-17-2018 at 05:19 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    As great as his lab is, I think he needs a bigger workbench. His workplace is way too small.
    I think he thought the same thing... lol!!

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Well that removes any doubt from my mind. He's a bachelor.

    He's opened up a second lab that's packed to the gills with old gear, including old broken test equipment that needs to be fixed so he can use it to fix old broken gear... and he says that the second lab doesn't even show all the stuff that he has that needs to be fixed... which means that there's yet another room full of stuff in his house... I don't think any wife would but up with that, I think he's a bachelor.

    BTW, which piece is the receiver from a B-29? When he mentioned that, he pointed at a Heathkit O-10 oscilloscope. I'm thinking the B-29 receiver was sitting it it's right.

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