Splawn’s most popular amp,
the 2-channel, 100-watt Quick
Rod, is voiced for hot-rodded
tones, and its overdrive
channel features Hot Rod
Plexi, Hot Rod 800, and Super
Hot Rod 800 modes.
When Scott Splawn started playing guitar at
age 12 in the early ’80s, Eddie Van Halen’s
now-coveted “brown sound” had just
begun to exert an inescapable influence on
hard rock and heavy metal guitarists. Three
decades later, that sound is a benchmark
for the high-powered tube amplifiers that
Splawn makes in Dallas, North Carolina.
Splawn developed his designs by modding
old and new Marshall amps and learning
through trial and error how these legendary
heads could be made even more crushing
and versatile—all while running his own
music store, Splawn Guitars, and gigging
extensively with local bands.
For the past six years, Splawn and a small
crew have been making killer amps—mostly
in the head-and-cabinet style—all by hand
from start to finish. These flexible amps have
earned some high-profile devotees, including
Steve Stevens, Dokken’s Jon Levin, and
Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz.
Splawn amps are available in
a variety of racing-themed coverings,
shown by this black-and-white-striped Quick Rod.
Splawn’s amp shop is behind the storefront
of his eponymous guitar boutique, which
is crammed with axes by Charvel, ESP, and
other metal-approved makers—instruments
perfectly suited for his aggressive stacks.
While the guitar world at large has been
catching on to Splawn amplifiers, many
of the store’s local visitors are completely
unaware of what’s going on in back. “A lot
of customers have never even heard of our
amplifiers,” says Splawn.
We recently chatted with Splawn to learn
more about the genesis and evolution of
his amps, which, given the company’s growing
league of enthusiasts, certain North
Carolinians will likely learn more about soon.
How did you get into modifying
In the mid ’90s, I opened Splawn Guitars,
where I sold instruments and did repair
work on stringed instruments. I wanted to
also be able to work on tube amps, so I
studied up on them by reading how-to and
electronics books. This gave me a decent
knowledge of how amps work and how to
repair them. Then I started doing mods
on some of my own old Marshalls, to give
them some extra gain. As I was working
on an amp, I’d take it to rehearsals and
gigs—I played in a bunch of cover bands
and Christian rock groups—to see how
it worked in context. By experimenting I
learned to make the best-sounding mods
I could. Once I got my customized amps
sounding like I wanted, I took them to the
shop, where customers would check them
out and then bring in their own gear for
me to mod.
Cabinetmaker Brian Smith routes the edge of a Splawn head.
Owner and founder Scott Splawn works inside one of his amp chassis.
What sort of mods did you provide?
My most common mod involved completely
rewiring the preamp to an all-tube, four-gain
stage, which made for lots of headroom,
rich harmonics, and sustain. Some customers
also wanted things like a half-power switch,
an effects loop, and a footswitchable solo
boost—mods that would make their amps a
bit more versatile.
How’d you get your name out there in the
A couple of customers put audio clips of
my modded amps on internet forums, and
that’s when I started getting calls from
people all over wanting to send me their
amps for updating. Some players wanted
to get the sound of one of my modded
amps, but didn’t have any equipment to
send me, so I started to buy used amps
on eBay to modify and resell. But after
awhile I ran into a problem where I could
no longer find amps at the right price
to justify modding them, so I ended up
getting hooked up as a Marshall dealer.
Since I got the amps at cost, I’d take
a couple of different brand-new models—
the 1959SLP and JCM800 reissues—
modify them, and sell them for the same
price that other dealers sold standard