How did you originally come in contact with the amp you decided to reproduce?
I worked with Geoff Fullerton at Fender, who became a good friend of mine. Geoff is George's son, and was Leo's personal assistant at G&L for several years. He was a builder and engineer there as well. George's father used to work at Fender in the wood mill where he ran this huge ripsaw, which George, Geoff and I also ran, so I had become good friends with the family.
George is a wealth of information and a really interesting man to talk to. He has great ideas about how things were done, the reason things were done, and craftsmanship. Even though his guitars were not traditional, the craftsmanship that went into them was impressive. They case-hardened every single one of the screws that went into a guitar, so if you had to repair it, you wouldn't strip out the threads. Nobody does that kind of thing anymore because it is not cost-effective.
When I talked to George about the amp, he told me about one at the Fullerton Museum owned by Phyllis Fender, Leo's widow. As he described the amp to me, I decided I wanted to take a look at it. Phyllis said sure, so they pulled it out of the museum for a day. I looked at it, taking every picture and measurement I possibly could. I worked with what I had, but it wasn't enough to do a reproduction. Later on I was able to go back, and they let me take the chassis down and measure every single component. One thing I couldn't do was turn it on.
You were able to disassemble this old amp down to the component level?
I was. I took my meters down there and measured everything. Not only did I measure it, but I cross-referenced it to the color code because those resistors and capacitors are 63 years old now and have drifted a lot. One of the things I noticed is that he used many of the components because they were the only things he could get. They weren't exactly the right value for the position they were in, but he put them in there because they were close enough and that's what he had.
So, I'm looking at it, and George leans over and says, "You know, you're the first person who touched the inside of that amp since Leo; you'd better be careful!" Because no one had touched it in all those years, the chassis, being made of steel and zinc plated, was pretty much pure white and powdery - I wasn't about to leave my fingerprints in it!
Are you going to reproduce the zinc plating and everything?
Oh yeah, but I'm not going to relic it or try to make it look old.
Are there any ground issues getting through the zinc?
Yes, you have to grind away the zinc to get to the steel. And that was one of the things; there's no circuit board, it's all point to point, and whatever had to be grounded was run straight to the chassis right there. It was function over form.
What year was the original produced?
I don't really know if it is one of the earlier or later ones, although I think it is earlier. There is a kind of complex cutaway on the top of the amplifier and a relief on the cord panel that is pretty much decorative. Those two things are also on the 15" amps that we know were the first ones made. Later examples don't have either of those features on them, so it is likely an early piece.
Did your experiences at Fender and taking apart the old K&F amp lead to your decision to start an amplifier company?
The K&F thing led directly to my own amplifiers. That amp was amazing and cool, but it was so rudimentary. Boutique amplifiers are becoming a bigger business now and I though it would be interesting to see if I could do my own interpretation of the design.
I was looking at all these beautiful Fender guitars that we were making, the amazing Custom Shop guitars with custom finishes that people wait years for. There are some really nice-looking amplifiers out there, but most of them look like big Tolex suitcases.
It all started me thinking about something that was small enough that you wouldn't worry about it getting banged around, with the form plus the function, and replicating some of the beauty of the guitar finishes. That really appealed to me - no one was doing that. Finishing it like a guitar, the correct way, is such an art. I wanted to make them so they would match people's prized instruments.
Over the years, guitars and their finishes have gotten more elaborate, but you aren't doing that with the new Model 10; it is using simple shape, texture and color for the amplifier, rather than the busy style of many expensive guitars.
I started out spending hours designing cabinets, and the right one just hits you. This one was simple; it effectively gave room for my logo, but with some different elements. I have 1" radiuses on the corners instead of ¾", which makes the amp look more spherical, instead of looking like a big square
It gives it a softer, more attractive appearance.
I started the design of the amp with the cabinet, and I got that nice angled swoop to the front, which was simple, not complex - you see some of the amps from the 1940s that had great grilles on them, and some were so complex. Once I got the design for the cabinet down, and I knew that I could physically produce it from a woodworking standpoint, I knew how much space I had, so I could work on the chassis and circuit layout.