Hawes Amplifier Archive by James T. Hawes, AA9DT
FET Preamplifier, Part 1

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Use a Radio Shack FET in Your Preamp

Now, with Easy to Find Parts! Some time ago, J. Donald Tillman designed an elegant JFET guitar preamplifier. He posted the circuit on the Web. Overnight, this circuit became very popular. And it's still a winner today. The reasons why are easy to see. This amp is easy to build. The circuit works like a champ. And the JFET's tube-like warmth sounds great. Plus, the high-impedance input won't load your guitar. At the other end, the medium output impedance combats high-frequency losses due to loading and long cables. And by the way, this FET preamp is great for microphones, too!

Bad News...and Good. Unfortunately, Tillman's amplifier requires a J201 FET. The J201 is a very special device and an excellent choice. Yet it's uncommon to hobbyists. But my site solves the mystery. I've designed a similar preamplifier with an everyday Radio Shack JFET.

Buy It Today. Use It Tonight. I've read the forums. Hobbyists want to buy now and play tonight. They stop at Radio Shack. But Radio Shack only sells one FET: The famous MPF102. Hobbyists try to use an MPF102 in Tillman's original design. Yet Tillman optimized his design for the J201. The specs for an MPF102 are very different. Ignore these differences, and your amplifier might not work. For example...

  • The J201 requires only 0.2mA to 1 mA of drain current.

  • The MPF102 operates on 2 to 20 mA. Run it on less, and you may get an attenuator instead of an amplifier! I can prove that statement. See... Proof

Pinout for an MPF102 JFET

Summary of the Differences

On the table, notice that the MPF102 requires more current than does the J201. The current requirement is a major reason why you can't just plug an MPF102 into Tillman's circuit. This is a very poor substitution. It will disappoint you. (You might as well strum piccolo music on a bass guitar. You'll have more luck.)

Device IDSS
(Drain current, mA)
VGS GFS (Gain) RDS Typical
J201 0.2 - 1 -40 0.5mS + 750Ω 10
MPF102 2 - 20 -25 2 - 6.5mS 150Ω 15

Achieve results that you can be proud of! When you build a circuit, you go to a lot of work. Make the effort pay off! My page offers a new preamp design, starting with the MPF102's specs. Now you have the right design for an MPF102 JFET preamplifier. Build carefully. You'll wind up with a satisfying project that you'll appreciate for years.

Oncoming Scarcity of MPF102 & J201

CAUTION. Major manufacturers are exiting the JFET market. Others are ceasing production of leaded JFETs or MOSFETs. For instance, Siliconix has already left the JFET market.

In 2011, Fairchild obsoleted the MPF102 and J201. Other JFETs that are compatible with the MPF102 (2N3819, 2N5458, etc.) are also obsolete! When current stocks run out, Fairchild will not provide more. For the time being, you can still buy these devices from vendors or factory representatives (see below.)

In February 2013, Radio Shack discontinued the MPF102 (part 276-2062). Soon thereafter, stores ran out their stocks forever. Other vendors sell various substitutes, many by NTE. You'll have to order online. Radio Shack's Web site no longer ships replacement JFETs to your local store for free. I recommend the NTE457. For more suggestions, click MPF102 Substitutes.

Substitute parts. Fairchild continues to manufacture the J113, a possible substitute for the MPF102. Vendors such as Mouser and Digi-Key sell the J113.

Other sources continue to make the MPF102 and J201...

  • InterFET, the former producer of the Siliconix JFET line, continues to manufacture the J201. InterFET also provides devices that seem compatible with the MPF102: Use the Interfet 2N3822 or J113. Note that device pinouts might not match the MPF102 pinout. For an InterFET sales representative in your area, contact InterFET.

  • Central Semiconductor continues to manufacture the 2N3819. The 2N3819 is a reliable substitute for the MPF102. (The pinout differs.) Central also offers the J201, which you'll need for the Tillman circuit. Prices for these “end-of-life” devices tend to be high.

  • Ebay Electronics Parts can find you deals on JFETs from China. Some of these deals are impressive. If you can arrange for air shipment, your order can arrive in a few days or weeks. I don't know if the parts come from Chinese foundries or elsewhere. Chinese MPF102s plug right into my circuit. I've bought 2N5457, J113, and 2SK370 JFETs from China. So far, the I've received excellent parts.

Catalog and online vendors...

Allied Avnet Digi-Key
Mouser Newark Radio Shack Online

Find a vendor in your area...

•Contact Central, Fairchild, or InterFET for a local representative!

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WARNING. This is your project. Your achievement is entirely yours. I assume no responsibility for your success in using methods on these pages. If you fail, the same is true. I neither make nor imply any warranty. I don't guarantee the accuracy or effectiveness of these methods. Parts, skill and assembly methods vary. So will your results. Proceed at your own risk.

WARNING. Electronic projects can pose hazards. Soldering irons can burn you. Chassis paint and solder are poisons. Even with battery projects, wiring mistakes can start fires. If the schematic and description on this page baffle you, this project is too advanced. Try something else. Again, damages, injuries and errors are your responsibility. — The Webmaster

Copyright © 2007 by James T. Hawes. All rights reserved.

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