|Almost every guitarist is familiar with the
enduring problem of how to control the
overall volume of a powerful amp without
losing the killer tone it can deliver when it’s
cranked. We thought we’d heard of every
method there was for handling that problem,
so when Steve Carey arranged to drop by
the PG offices while on a cross-country trip to
demo his new FluxTone speaker system, we
were certainly curious.
Telling us in advance that his product took a
wholly different approach to reducing the SPL
of any amp up to 25dB, without attenuation
and without changing the tone, we weren’t
quite sure what to expect. When he arrived
with a fine, tweed-covered Mojo cabinet containing
a single FluxTone speaker with a control
knob and power cord, we were intrigued.
After plugging in several of the rowdiest
50-Watt heads in residence and hearing the
sounds of dimed amps at levels that could
barely pass through an office door—we were
persuaded. And we could tell from his reaction
that Carey recognized the mixture of surprise
and gratification that was surely written
all over our faces.
The fact that Carey’s method isn’t one of
those we already knew about made us want
a closer look—while the FluxTone speaker
system really is a new idea, the Variable
Magnetic Technology at the heart of the system
is itself based on a pretty old idea. What
appeared to be obsolete a half a century ago
turns out only to have been waiting—for a
guy like Carey, with a knack and need. I had
to pick his brain to find out just how it works.
CB: Can you tell me about your background
and how you got started with this?
I had a pretty good introduction to tube
electronic theory and circuitry in the sixties.
I was in an experimental electronics course
offered one year in high school. There were
like a hundred and forty of us… it was a
disaster… too much data, but I just happened
to be at the right place at the right
time and took it all in. We went from atomic
charges to super heterodyne receivers in nine
months. I built my first tube amp in the late
sixties and got into hi-fi repair all the way
through the seventies.
Then I started building PA systems for the
disco era, doing church sound systems,
things like that. We built big transistor
amps back in the early seventies, when you
couldn’t get them… a few years ago, I got
into the restaurant business, and we set
up a stage. We were doing blues jams and
local acts. Sure enough, the age-old problem
came up: my girlfriend would say, “I
can’t take the orders on the phone, because
those guys are too loud. Can you turn that
down?” Of course the guitarists always
responded, “No, that will ruin my tone.”
One by one by one, we went through all the
versions of how to turn it down without losing
the tone. And one by one by one, the
guitarists would say either, “Yeah… that
sounds just like my other thing that has a
master volume control,” or else they’d say,
“It doesn’t work.” We tried building regulated
power supplies for the output tubes,
driving a small output tube into an inductive
load and then re-amplifying it, all the normal
master volume controls. There were various
kinds of load boxes and such. Being in
the hi-fi business, we always had load boxes
when testing amps.
All that time in the back of my mind, I knew
about what would become the FluxTone system,
or VMT (variable magnetic technology),
but I always thought it was just such a long
way around to get the desired effect. Why
would I want to do that? After everything
else was undesirable to the guitarists playing
in our restaurant, I finally said, “Fine. Okay.”
FluxTone manufactures hardware for speaker assemblies in small production runs.
That’s when you decided to go ahead and
take the long way around the problem?
Yeah, I got an old field coil speaker and built
a variable power supply for it. I did all the
preliminary testing. I’d call up a few guitarists
who live nearby, who’ve been playing
thirty or forty years—when there were tone
issues—and tell them to get over here and
play the thing, test it out.
Then we showed it to other guitarists. They
would hear it, and then the inevitable… what
I call the FluxTone smile would creep across
their faces. I swear they hear things I don’t,
and that’s because they’ve been playing twenty,
thirty or forty years and they’re tuned in to
the nuances. I’m just an oscilloscope guy, looking
for distortion. It’s hard enough to see on
equipment, and it’s even harder to hear. But
players hear it, and when they heard the VMT
system work, they said, “Wow! You did it!” So,
we started demonstrating at local shops here
in Colorado, and every single time it always
ended with, “That really works!” Three years
later, I have yet to find anybody who says it
doesn’t work. It’s been unanimous.
When did that turn into the
decision to start a business?
After demonstrating to maybe fifty or a hundred
people, we couldn’t find anyone who
would say, “You’re full of it.” Instead, we
were hearing, “Why hasn’t somebody else
done this? Why did it take fifty years?” We
also heard a lot of, “When can I get one?”
and of course, all the time I’m doing my tests,
my buddies are giving me their tonal input;
I set them up with VMT systems and they’re
totally addicted. They’re going to their gigs
with it. We’ve gotten only positive feedback.
So you didn’t run into any problems?
The only negative was that field coil speakers
were abandoned in the fifties. Who makes
Our patent is not for a field coil speaker. The
FluxTone patent is for a certain method of use.
The field coil speaker has been around since
the twenties. It was abandoned when the technology
moved forward. Back in then, we didn’t
have Alnico, and there was no way to make a
really strong magnetic field with rare earth, so
the magnetic field was produced with a field
coil. It also doubled as a power-supply-quieting
device in those early crude amplifiers… it managed
to get the hum out of the power supply,
because back then there weren’t these great
big capacitors—so the field coil was used to
smooth the power supply and to create a magnetic
field that was strong enough to be viable.
But then after WWII, and Alnico, people figured
out how to make stronger magnets. Then field
coils went by the wayside. They were just too
expensive, they were too hard to make, there’s
too much copper involved, there’s too much
labor… they’re just a pain the butt.
So, you’re going in the opposite direction
of the technological development?
Right. Back then nobody ever wanted to
reduce the power to the field coil of a
speaker. Why would you do that? They were
trying to get all the efficiency they could. Not
to mention those old speakers operated at
lethal voltages! With FluxTone we redesigned
the field coil system, and our speakers operate
at a completely safe voltage… you can
even stick your finger on the field terminals.