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Here is the tone stack from the Hiwatt CP103, better known as the amp created for **The Who**. The stack is also found in Sound City amplifiers like the SC-105.

To simplify the mathematics, we'll make two important assumptions. First, we'll assume that the driving circuit has an output impedance of zero. For a low-impedance driver like a cathode follower, this is a highly-accurate assumption. The CP103's driving stage is a 12AX7 voltage amplifier with a 220k plate load resistor and a partially bypassed cathode resistor. Its output impedance is 49kΩ at treble frequencies and even higher for bass. Nevertheless this simplification will turn out to be good enough to create an accurate design.

Second, we will assume that the tone stack output drives an infinite input impedance. Tone stacks often drive a 1MΩ grid resistor. The Hiwatt uses a 250kΩ master volume control in this position, but we'll see that this simplification is also justified, because the results are very similar.

These assumptions make it easier to turn our analysis around, so that we can calculate the required parts values based on a desired frequency response. Once these parts values are finalized we can test the results under real circuit conditions.

Let's begin by setting the bass at maximum and the treble control at minimum. This shorts **R _{2}** and connects the output directly to the bottom of

**C _{2}** is smaller than

Because we're driving an assumed open circuit, there is no current through **R _{T}** and by Ohm's Law there is no voltage across it. Thus we can treat it as a short circuit, giving us a classic voltage divider where

The frequency response is then

where

(If the variable "**s**" looks unfamiliar, please see our
tutorial on Laplace notation.) By arranging the formula this way we can clearly see a gain of

and a pole at **s = -a**. Let's look at the extremes of frequency. At DC, where **s = 0**, we get

This makes sense, because **C _{1}** is open, making the circuit a simple voltage divider formed by

At very low frequencies the gain is constant, as determined by the two resistor values. As the frequency rises the gain begins to decrease, falling by 3dB at the pole's transition frequency:

Above this frequency the response decreases at a rate of 6dB per octave (20dB per decade) until **C _{2}** begins to conduct. (As mentioned, however,

Now we are ready to draw the Bode magnitude plot for the bass control at maximum and the treble control at minimum. We can combine the gain and the pole by drawing a horizontal line at -0.8dB until we reach the transition frequency of 37Hz. Then we draw a line sloping downward at the rate of 20dB per decade. The actual frequency response is is 3dB lower at the transition point, as shown in the plot:

The approximate pole response and and overall gain are represented by the dotted line. The actual response, which includes the 3dB difference at the transition point, is the solid curve.

Here is the response using Electronics Workbench Multisim®. In this case the plot assumes a driving circuit output impedance of zero and a driven circuit input impedance of infinity so that we can directly compare the results.

(The horizontal axis is a log scale of frequency from 10Hz to 10kHz and the vertical scale is from -45dB to 0dB.) If you look very closely you can see a very slight upturn in response due to **C _{2}** conduction at treble. Otherwise the results are identical to what we obtained assuming the capacitor was an open circuit. Here is the response when we include CP103 conditions: a 49kΩ driving impedance and a 250kΩ load.

We observe additional attenuation for very low frequencies. The actual response is a bit more exaggerated by the CP103's partially bypassed cathode resistor, but not significantly. For the lowest note of a guitar with standard tuning, 82Hz, the difference between assumed and actual conditions less than 1dB.

Next we reverse the control settings. With the bass control at minimum **C _{1}** is shorted and

The frequency response is

where

From these formulas we see that there is a gain of

and transition frequencies for a pole at **-a** and a zero at **-b**:

The second represents the midrange-treble transition frequency, which for CP103 component values is 254Hz. The first represents a transition to zero attenuation at 2.8kHz.

The response begins at the midrange level created by the voltage divider formed by **R _{1}** and

We see substantial bass cut and a transition through midrange to zero attenuation for treble.

Here is the simulated response, where the driving circuit output impedance is 49kΩ, and the driven circuit input impedance is 250kΩ:

The results are almost the same, except for additional bass attenuation due to the greater-than-ideal driving impedance.

When the tone controls are set to minimum we get this circuit:

Since **R _{B}** is 100 times large than

The circuit has a familiar looking frequency response:

where

At DC, when **s = 0**, the gain is that same as for a voltage divider formed by **R _{1}** and

At extremely high frequencies the gain is

which, if we work the math, represents the same voltage divider but with **R _{1}** replaced by

There is a pole at **s = -a** and a zero at **s = -b**. The transition frequencies for the pole and zero, respectively, are

which for the CP103 are 2.8kHz and 2.1kHz. Here we see why there is only a 3dB difference between the bass and treble response: the zero and pole are fairly close together. At extremely low frequencies, the gain is -21dB. At the first transition frequency the zero kicks in and the gain starts to increase. At the second transition frequency the pole causes the gain to level back out and thereafter we get a flat response. Here is the Bode magnitude plot:

Here is the simulated response with the controls set to minimum. (The driving circuit output impedance is 49kΩ, and the driven circuit input impedance is 250kΩ.)

Under real circuit conditions the response is nearly identical.

The one combination we haven't examined yet is for the bass and treble controls at maximum. In this case both capacitors interact to create midrange attenuation, thereby creating the equivalent of bass and treble boost. We could compute this response directly by applying Kirchoff's Voltage Law over multiple loops, but having already looked at bass and treble boost in isolation, this is hardly necessary.

The complete response combines the two responses we studied previously. The bass transition for the CP103 was at 37Hz when the bass control was at maximum and the treble control was at minimum. When we reversed the tone control positions we observed a treble transition of 2.8kHz. Having both tone controls at maximum brings these two conditions together, creating midrange scoop roughly centered between 37Hz and 2.8kHz on a logarithmic scale. Taking the log of each frequency, adding them, dividing the result by two and then taking the inverse log gives us 322Hz. A more easily obtained estimation is to look at the bode plots and pick the frequency about halfway between. Either way the results are very close, as this simulation shows:

The plot incorporates a driving circuit output impedance of 49k and a driven circuit input impedance of 250kΩ. Midrange scoop is centered around 316Hz.

To convert our analysis into a practical design procedure we need to translate the equations that determine the frequency response based on parts values into equations that determine parts values based on the desired frequency response. We take that step and put the formulas to practical use here:

To convert our theoretical knowledge into a practical strategy we translate the equations that determine frequency response based on parts values into equations that determine parts values based on the desired frequency response. This will be demonstrated using a concrete example: giving the CP103 a more Bassman-like midrange scoop. Here is the simulated response of the Fender Bassman 5F6-A tone stack with its bass control at maximum, its midrange control at minimum, and its treble control at maximum:

It has a bass transition frequency of 142Hz and a treble transition frequency of 2.5kHz. Let's modify the CP103 tone stack to use these transition frequencies. A rough approximation of the expected response (with bass and treble controls at maximum) can be seen by drawing two lines. The blue line below shows a modified CP103 bass response that starts at 142Hz, 0dB, and ends one decade higher (1.42kHz) at -20dB. This represents 20dB-per-decade attenuation that begins at 142Hz.

Likewise the red line shows a treble-to-midrange attenuation of 20dB per decade that begins at 2.5kHz and ends at 250Hz. (Nothing really "ends" there - it's just a convenient reference point to give the line the correct slope.) From the intersection of the blue and red lines we observe midrange scoop centered around 600Hz. Let's determine the CP103 component values needed to produce this result.

From our analysis of the CP103 tone stack the bass transition frequency is

and the treble transition frequency is

These two equations represent two constraints, and since there are many more parts values than constraints it appears we have a lot of freedom of choice. There are other factors to consider, however. The overall circuit impedance needs to be high enough not to load down the driving circuit and low enough not to be loaded down by the stage it drives. We'll therefore keep the CP103's **R _{1}** value at 100k. Out of convenience, we'll also retain the CP103 tone control values of

Another consideration is the midrange-treble transition frequency:

For effective tone control performance this need to be below the midrange scoop frequency. The CP103 uses a midrange-treble transition of 254Hz for a scoop frequency of 316Hz and a treble transition frequency of 2.8kHz. From the equations above this means the ratio

is equal to **f _{MT}/f_{treble}**, where

For our design, let's set **f _{MT} = 400Hz** for a scoop frequency of 600Hz and set

Everything is now known except for the capacitor values, which we can determine by turning around the formulas for the bass and treble transition frequencies:

For our desired transitions at 142Hz and 2.5kHz we get **C _{1} = 0.012uF** and

Here is the response using Electronics Workbench Multisim®. This plot assumes ideal conditions: zero source impedance and an infinite-impedance driven stage. These were the conditions we used to determine the parts values.

(The horizontal axis is a log scale of frequency from 10Hz to 10kHz and the vertical scale is from -35dB to 0dB.) Here is the same plot using CP103 operating conditions: a driving circuit output impedance of 49kΩ and a driven circuit consisting of a 250kΩ volume control.

For the same conditions, here is the response with the bass control at maximum and the treble control at minimum:

Bass control at minimum and treble control at maximum:

Both controls at minimum:

Guitar Amplifier Electronics: Basic Theory - a 21st-Century approach to understanding preamp, power amp, and power supply design |

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Guitar Amplifier Electronics: Circuit Simulation - a deep dive into SPICE tube amp modeling |

The Fender Bassman 5F6-A - plus Marshall's Bluesbreaker and Plexi |

Georg Simon Ohm - Imagine a world without Ohm's Law! |

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