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I recently attended an Egnater amp building seminar to experience the gearhead’s version of fantasy camp. People have been raving about the experience in forums across the net, and I was curious to answer the question, “Why would Bruce Egnater do this?”
With a solid following of tone connoisseurs, Egnater is no stranger to the boutique world; fortunately, his secret is beginning to spread among the masses. Since his days with Rocktron (remember the Vendetta?), he has collaborated with Randall (his proprietary modular design is featured in the MTS series) and more recently designed two foreign-made, but custom shop-sounding Egnater amps sold exclusively at Guitar Center – the Rebel and the Tourmaster. These amps are just starting to show up in stores across the country, helping the chain attract the elusive boutique player with some serious street cred.
Bruce’s modular design allows you to pop modules – essentially small circuit boards modeling classic amp tones – in and out of an amp, just as you would cartridges in an old-school video game console. Many a designer would sacrifice a digit, Yakuzastyle, to invent that kind of slap-on-theforehead breakthrough, which is why Bruce ranks somewhere between genius and celebrity among the people who flock to his amp-building seminars. Any of us can buy the components to make a tube amp; new ideas separate your average solder monkey from a true tone artist.
Located just north of Detroit, the Amp Lounge in Berkley, Michigan, is easy to miss. The converted coin shop is smaller than you might expect but it transforms from a snug, professional amp-building setup to an instructional setting quite nicely. The first day of the two-day seminar is when the actual build takes place; the second day is reserved for lectures and eureka moments. Having previously conducted seminars with the theoretical load on the first day, Bruce claims that the current framework is much better. Expecting to grasp everything before soldering every resistor and capacitor in place tends to hang people up.
Bruce says most of his students come in with minimal soldering experience, but that rarely matters – people pick it up fairly quickly. The group of eight I was part of came in fairly proficient with the iron.
It was a diverse group, ranging from a blues-playing hobbyist in his fifties to a proud eighties hair metal fan who, believe it or not, was only in his twenties. One guy’s $1600 tuition was a birthday gift from his wife. Another was getting back into music after taking years off when his first child was born. Students drove and flew in from Pennsylvania, Utah and many points in-between.
After a few minutes of introductions and pastries, Bruce addressed the question that I had come to answer right away. “I have nothing to hide,” he told us. “I simply enjoy passing along what I’ve learned.” Each person’s workstation had a soldering iron, an amp chassis, a schematic, bags of components and a turret board with some parts already soldered in. Before we knew it, we were bolting transformers into our otherwise empty chassis. Within minutes the unmistakable aroma of tin/lead alloy filled the room as we melted it within a maze of wires, pots, caps and tube mounts.