Around October (2005) I received a phone call from a gentleman named Will, based near London UK. He explained that he had found my contact details on the Champ website, and needed some help and advice. He also explained that he played electric mandolin and was looking for a very small, very portable combo amplifier for this purpose. He had his eye on one on EBay called a Gibson Skylark, Model GA-5T; this being a little baby combo with a single 8” Jenson speaker - about 5 watts and with tremolo (hence the “T” in the model number) - circa 1960/1
His problem was that this model didn’t have voltage selection facilities, and was set up for the US 120 volts only. He therefore asked if I could supply him with a suitable auto transformer, to which I replied that I could make him one, no problem. I however suggested to him that it was a little silly having to carry an auto transformer around with the amp. This would defeat the object of the portability that he was looking for!
My suggestion was to get the amplifier to me and I would simply rewind the small power transformer for the UK's 240 volt supply. Cost-wise it would be about the same. As this amplifier was about 40 years or more old, I also suggested that it was very likely that it would need some kind of repair/service and this could be carried out at the same time. He liked all I had suggested, and promptly asked for the address and would it also be OK to have it sent straight to me from the States for the necessary work to be carried out. I had no problem with this so we exchanged details accordingly.
The amplifier itself arrived about the beginning of January (2006). It had travelled from Idaho, USA.
When I lifted it from the very effective packing (face up), I noticed some kind of fine powder falling out of the open back into the bubble wrap. It looked rather like fine sand or light coloured soil! Looking into the back itself, I could see more of this substance including some larger pieces. Not thinking too much about it, I put the amp back into the box until I was ready to do the job; thinking to myself “it will need a good Hoover and clean out".
When the time came to make a start on the amplifier, firstly I removed both the 2 back panels and did in fact Hoover the unit out of all this sandy substance. Two small screws were next removed to release the tiny, simple chassis.
A small equal pull started to see it come out, but after about half an inch it jammed? Back in and back out; the same thing happened again? I went in with a torch and couldn’t, for the life of me, see what the hell was holding it!? A third, more vigorous tug revealed all. Inside the chassis, at about 3” long and about 2” diameter, was a big chunk of this sandy substance. It was full of holes, tunnels and alleyways.
The walls of some of the tunnels were lined with a hardened secretion to give them strength. Fortunately, there was nothing alive in it! I very carefully removed this thing (very brittle and crumbly), placed it in a sealed jar, and it is now my intention to have it analysed in order to determine what sort of a creature has made it. I will place the results on here later.
It would appear that this amplifier has stood in someone’s attic or garage for years, and some kind of insect has slowly built this cocoon as its (their) home. Strange and spooky!
As regards the amplifier itself; after a massive thorough scrub and clean out, a complete rewind of the power transformer, change of nearly all the dried-out/dead capacitors, one NOS 5Y3 rectifier tube (the ECL82/6BM8 and the ECC83/12AX7 tubes are still the originals and fine), a general good service, and she is now back to life.
A few weeks after this page had been put on the website, I was contacted by Dave Costner from the States. He had been browsing the site, and immediately recognised the "substance". But I will let him explain...........
"What you had inside the amp was a nest for what we call 'mud daubers'. These are wasps or hornets. (I'm not sure what the exact difference is between the two!) They lay their eggs in the mud. (That's what was in the holes.) Good thing that they were all gone when you got the amp!
The mud daubers live all across the country from what I can tell, because we occasionally get them in Florida too, although I saw them more frequently when I lived out West.
- David Costner "
Many thanks for that Dave. You have solved the mystery!