Ampeg B-12-XY: Tin Whiskers!

After Eks set me straight on cleaning the contacts involved with the Ampeg’s Echo circuitry, we emerged from his shop into brilliant sunshine. He looked into the thing and shouted “Tin whiskers!”

It turns out the Hammond folks made the outer frame from tin- (or, shudder, cadmium-) plated steel that has grown a dense crop of whiskers on its interior surface. They glittered in the sunlight like a carpet of crushed glass, with the longest ones maybe 3 mm tall!

This view looks nearly parallel to the side of the channel (upward as it mounts on the speaker box), with the steel wall to the bottom of the image. I applied gruesome contrast stretching to make the whiskers more visible:

Ampeg Spring Echo Unit - Tin Whiskers
Ampeg Spring Echo Unit - Tin Whiskers

This is the first time I’d ever seen a tin whisker in person and there’s a bazillion of ’em in there!

If that Ampeg had transistorized components, it’d be dead as a doornail! Fortunately, a tin whisker doesn’t stand a chance in an analog vacuum-tube circuit. The power supply puts 400-ish V into 40 μF caps, providing plenty of energy to vaporize the errant whisker; all you’d hear is a pop.

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