|Hartley Peavey inspects the latest prototype for the Steve Cropper Classic, which salutes Cropper’s history of coaxing soulful doublestops out of Tele-style guitars. Production models of the Cropper Classic are available with a mahogany back and flame maple top, a mahogany neck, a 25 1/2” scale length, Seymour Duncan pickups and Wilkinson machine heads.
If there were an electric guitar/amp-manufacturing version of Mount Rushmore, would it feature the steely gaze of a fellow named Hartley? Many would agree that Leo, Les and Jim would be the Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln for their work as namesake developers for Fender, the Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplification—three cornerstones of modern music that can easily take credit for creating and recreating the founding tones that other manufacturers make a business of emulating today. What would a worthy fourth profile have to possess? Someone with a pioneering, progressive spirit (a la T.R. Roosevelt), who built upon foundational ideals and modernized them for new generations. One could argue that the fourth face to be carved in stone on the Mount Rushmore of modern gear may well be that of the bearded man from Mississippi—the man whose last name is among the strongest brands in the music industry: Hartley Peavey.
That seems a pretty lofty honor for a man so often thought of in conjunction with the memory of a “first” amp by so many players under a certain age, but when you consider all of his accomplishments, it’s easy
to see that Hartley Peavey is a worthy contender. He has done much more than most people can recall, or may even be aware of. Whether your measurement is longevity (only Hartley and Jim Marshall have been
producing amps and running their own companies for more than 40 years), innovation (Peavey has earned more than 180 patents) or sheer production volume (only a few other companies are even in the same league when it comes to worldwide distribution and sales), Peavey emerges as a candidate to be memorialized in rock.
In terms of professionals, some famous names have certainly been on the Peavey endorser and user lists: Carl Perkins, Merle Haggard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tony Iommi, Eddie Van Halen, Nickelback, Steve Cropper and Joe Satriani immediately come to mind. As far as relevance goes, one only has to go to Nashville(where some of the most refined ears in the industry reside) to see well-worn ValveKings and Classic 30s on Lower Broadway backlines and in Music Row isolation booths.
So, why does such a list of arguments seem necessary to justify Hartley’s place in history? The answer, perhaps, is that the business philosophy that allowed the company to thrive—“Building quality music and sound gear for a fair price,” has branded the company as a producer of affordable quality, which for many is a stage to be passed through. As you know, the “in thing” for a while now has been the desire for ridiculously high-quality gear that often comes with a ridiculously high price. It’s a business niche that Hartley, on sheer principal, refused to participate in for a long time. But as the boutique industry continues to grow, Hartley has finally relented, acknowledging that his company has plenty to offer to the most discriminating of tonehounds. But like everything else Hartley has done in the music industry, his company’s approach to boutique is a little different.
The main Peavey office in Meridian, Mississippi
We recently had the chance to catch up with the industry legend on his home turf of Meridian, Mississippi.
Strolling down Hartley Peavey Drive to the company’s headquarters, one of thirty-three facilities on three continents (eighteen in Mississippi), the establishment literally shines brighter than anything else in this Southern town, which has certainly seen brighter days. Having thrived as the largest city in Mississippi for decades after the turn of the century, the city’s population peaked with the railroad’s heyday in the fifties but has been on the decline ever since. It now hovers around 38,000.
Unlike many American cities where the middle class occupies the meat of the bell curve, Meridian’s vital stats rank lower than the state of Mississippi’s key averages, with a median income of $25K and just eighteen percent of the population above the age of twenty-five having Bachelor’s degrees.
So what does this have to do with guitar tone? Well, the backdrop of the city says a lot about the man who saw it thrive as a youngster and continues to give it hope as one of its largest employers today. The town is resilient; if anything, so is Hartley Peavey. Perhaps it is fitting that the word “meridian” defines the dividing line between polar opposites. That barrier is always looming, waiting for someone to reach across to the other side.
Just as the town’s other favorite son, Jimmie Rodgers, popularized a style of guitar picking and singing that begat basically all the other forms of popular music we listen to today, Hartley Peavey found his own way to make a contribution that would have a global impact. Today, his handprints are in the Rock Walk of Fame. His gear is used around the globe, including a specially designed system for the Sydney Opera House and most recently an integrated system for the Beijing Olympics. There probably isn’t an electric guitar player on the planet that can’t relate to a piece of Peavey equipment or, at the very least, identify the Peavey logo from a mile away. And yes, many of us fondly recall our first amp being a Peavey.
Having heard many a story about the tall Southern gentlemen with the measured, self-assured manner, a ruddy complexion and equally colorful personality (with colorful words, to boot), I was eager to meet the man himself and jump right into a conversation about tone, industry trends and Peavey’s place in history. The following is an excerpt from that conversation.
Hartley, it’s been said that one of your pet peeves is when someone tells you their first amp was a Peavey.
I’m always glad to hear that, but the implication that I’m not so glad to hear is that somehow they’ve moved on to bigger and better things, when the reality is that we make some of the best amplifiers that have ever been made, period—by anybody. And that’s not stopping. We continue to push the envelope, not by reinventing the wheel or reintroducing this or that model, but by building new stuff, building on our experience. I don’t know of any other amp out there that is better than ours—certainly from a standpoint
of reliability. There are amps that sound different, but I build amps for the people.