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Archive for December 14th, 2009

Debugging Tube Circuitry: Open Resistor

Open 2.2 meg resistor

Open 2.2 meg resistor

I dropped in to mooch some female header strips from my buddy Eks (which is not nearly as obscene as it sounds) and got the story behind this innocent-seeming 2.2 megohm carbon-composition resistor.

It seems he was debugging a defunct tube-based audio amplifier. He’d probed everything and discovered that the grid bias on one of the tubes was totally wrong, which caused protracted headscratching over the associated circuitry.

Now, in semiconductor work, a 2.2 meg resistor is an open circuit compared to the other circuit impedances. In fact, you can use pretty nearly any resistor with green or blue in the third band as a standoff in Manhattan-style construction in place of those small insulated pads.

Megohm-value resistors are actually useful in tube circuitry; you’ll see plenty of green and blue bands sprinkled around those sockets. Although we didn’t get into details, I suspect this one was part of a grid-leak bias circuit that holds the grid voltage just a bit below the cathode; the bias comes from the few electrons that whack into the grid wires rather than passing through, so the total DC current is in the microamp range.

After more headscratching, Eks yanked this resistor, measured it, and found it was a completely open circuit. A 2.2 meg resistor isn’t all that much different from an open circuit (it’s hard to tell the difference with an in-circuit measurement) when used in a transistor circuit, but the difference separates correct function from failure for a tube amp.

Eks swapped in a new resisistor and the amp worked fine. Case closed!

The digital multimeter in my desk drawer tops out at 2000 kΩ, which shows you just how much demand there is for high-value resistors these days…

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