Part 1: Introduction

Once up a time I bought a used Zinky Superfly guitar amplifier.

This blog is the educational story of the perils of "boutique" gear as exemplified in the problems I have had; equipment that is so esoteric that if it develops a fault, only one person in the whole wide world can repair it. If they can be bothered...

I bought the amp through eBay UK on 25 January 2007. The amp chassis has spent the time between 29 April 2008 and 5 February 2010 in the workshop of Bruce Zinky. For the vast majority of that time, nothing has been done with it. For the details of how this ridiculous situation has evolved, read on...

Part 2: Early problems

Over the next few days in January 2007 I began to notice a problem when using the Superfly: upon turning it on and plugging in, at first everything was fine, but then the reverb would go silent; no crackles, pops, hum - just an absence of reverb.

Part 3: First Contact

So on 28 January 2007 I sent off the email on the right to the main support address.

Note the question about the reverb level control add-on. At that stage I couldn't really believe that Bruce Zinky had supplied it!

I also raised some observations about the behaviour of the reverb when the retro-fit level control was not in-circuit.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply the same evening - see part 4.

Part 4: First Response

The response from Bruce (opposite) was helpful and informative, although his description of where the reverb driver tube should be ("near the output transformer") was a bit ambiguous - near the speaker output transformer or the reverb output/send transformer?

By much trial and error I later figured it should be the latter.

Over the next few days I did my best to check Bruce's points as well as I could and then emailed him again - see part 5.

Part 5: Inconclusive Observations

It took me a week or so to find the time to check out the amp and my observations were not exactly conclusive - I still had an intermittent problem, but had it just become more intermittent?

Receiving no reply by 20 February, I re-sent the email with the comment "Hoping this will appear on your radar this time..." (see below right).

This was the first indication that the initial quick response from Bruce might not be typical. However a response did come - see part 6.

Part 6: First Upgrade Offer

Next day I received a reply (opposite). I didn't really want to start adding components into the circuitry or making changes as per paragraphs one and three, my knowledge of electronics being sparse.

However I was interested in the second paragraph which mentioned an upgrade service. $100 seemed affordable... except that I was in the UK so shipping it overseas would be expensive.

I sent another email to try and understand what my options were - see part 7.

Part 7: Checking The Options

My email on 22 February (right) asked for more information from which to make a decision. It wasn't clear whether Bruce reckoned he could instruct me to do the upgrade myself (gulp!) or just to try and sort out the reverb problem. If the upgrade required expertise, was it available in the UK?

At that point I had not even seen inside the amp chassis - a daunting array of circuitry (see picture of the area around the reverb driver transformer) to handle the MIDI switching as well as the audio shaping.

Part 8: No UK Repairer?

So it seemed like the upgrade could be quite involved... but no-one in the UK was able to do it?

Shipping costs could be minimised subject to a possible wait? At this point I didn't know what waiting was!

Strange question at the end though: I'd mentioned in my first email that I could not find the serial number.

Still, I went back to the amp to have another good look. See part 9 for my response.

Part 9: How Much To Ship?

I tried to restate the problem - no complete failure, just intermittent lack of reverb.

Aside from the shipping cost, I noted that I'd have to buy a backup amp to use while the Superfly was away. It seems a reasonable question to ask how long that would be.

...and I still couldn't find a serial number anywhere.

At least this time I got a quick response - see part 10.

Part 10: Check The Reverb Valve

Bruce's reply gave some more information on which tube sent the signal to the reverb, but nothing about the time required to do the upgrade once he'd got the amp.

I went back to the amp, took the back grille off (remember, all this time I'm still using the amp for weekly band rehearsals) and tried to match up his description with the positioning of the valves. See part 11 for my findings.

Part 11: Mis-placed Valve?

I was confused because looking at the valves in the amp, the 12AT7 did not appear to be in the right place. It should be the small valve right next to the red RCA plug in the attached picture I think!, but there was a 12AX7 there. Although I'd got a PDF of the Superfly user guide, for some reason it did not include a simple diagram of the valve placement.

Part 12: A Year Later

In the preceding year I had lived with the intermittent reverb but understandably was not happy at having to do so. As I outlined in my next email (opposite), I'd bought new pre-amp valves and even gone to the trouble of buying a new reverb pan (not particularly expensive considering it was sent from the USA), but that did not help the original problem.

By April 2008 the situation had changed partly due to the effect of having put in new (and supposedly good-quality) power valves.

Part 13: Starting Over

I didn't expect Bruce to remember every detail of what had gone before, but having previously stated twice that I couldn't find a serial number, it was frustrating to see that as the first question.

Frustration was to be the overriding theme from henceforth however.

At least there was a sensible suggestion included, but why didn't Bruce or I think of that a year ago?

I tried the suggestion and reported back as soon as I could - see part 14.

Part 14: More Puzzlement

Although the method seemed sensible, I couldn't get the amp to drop the reverb signal to order or to make a crashing noise in a predictable way that would give an idea of what was wrong.

If the act of shaking the amp revitalised whatever was causing the reverb dropout, I'd hear the crashing always (although I'd tried gently banging the amp before when the reverb failed, with mixed results).

I reported this back to Bruce. His diagnosis was incisive - see part 15.

Part 15: Really Starting Over

So I've got an intermittent reverb (paragraph 2)? I think I knew that, as well as I knew that it didn't for some reason have a serial number.

At this point I tried to steer back toward the idea of getting the amp repaired - see part 16.

Part 16: Can You Fix It?

For the first time I took the chassis out of the combo case and really had a good look at it.

What I saw convinced me that only an expert assessment was going to unravel the mysteries therein. Rarely can a valve amp have had as tightly-packed circuitry - point-to-point this wasn't.

So I concluded with a direct request to ship it back to them. Bruce's reply was partly in agreement - see part 17.

Part 17: Ship Ahoy?

Some good suggestions that might help me make progress... and an interesting observation that the chassis metal is really too thin :(

However the end of this email is heading back to the "diagnose it yourself" department which was so unproductive the first time round.

I was sufficiently encouraged to reply the same day with some of my own suggestions for shipping - see part 18.

Part 18: Shipping Suggestions

Having removed the chassis from the combo case a while ago I had a clearer idea of what would need protecting if shipped, hence my suggestion of a protective board across the top, surrounding the controls.

At this point I thought it worth reminding Bruce about my request for a head-only case.

All the indications from the Zinky web site and international dealers were that the Superfly was still in production, at least as an amp head. Hence I expected a wooden case to be available (Note: The Superfly is still advertised as of October 2009.

Part 19: Ready To Ship

I sent Bruce a picture of the chassis (left) with the protector bolted on using the screws that normally hold it into the case.

Once again I tried to clarify exactly what I would like in addition to the reverb repair - do the upgrade, figure out why the new output valves were not working well in the amp and supply a head-only case.

Back came a sort-of positive reply a couple of days later - see part 20.

Part 20: Suggestions Of Progress

Finally a specific response about the head case / shell...

Also some good advice about shipping it with the transformers at the bottom. I could believe that their weight would bend the chassis down if it were dropped with them above.

By this point of course I was resigned to paying whatever it took to ship the amp out to Flagstaff AZ but I didn't know what some of the other costs would be - see part 21