“Voodoo understands the sound of rock ’n’ roll.” —Elwood Francis, guitar tech for Billy Gibbons
Voodoo Amps started out in a 200-square-foot room in Davis’ house in Ithaca, New York, back in 1999. The company grew at a pretty rapid rate, and quickly spread into the living room. He eventually moved the business out of his house and into a 1,100-square-foot space right off of the Ithaca Commons, but he grew out of that within a year and a half. Next up was a 4,000-footer, and then, in May 2013, he moved to his current 7,000-square-foot facility in Lansing, New York.
Davis isn’t just a guitarist—he’s also a sound engineer who’s genuinely enthusiastic about music and continues to be very involved in his local scene. “When someone puts a microphone on an amp, it’s got to sound good,” he says. “There are a lot of guys outside of just the player who have an influence—the monitor engineer has to be happy, and the front-of-house engineer has to like it. Clearly the player has to be happy, but if everyone else is happy, it makes things easier. I’ve played live for a long time, and I’ve made records, and I’ve done and continue to do sound, so I understand both sides.”
Meanwhile, Cindy Davis—one of five full-time employees at Voodoo (and Trace's wife)—handles everything from bookkeeping to customer service. She also builds amps. “Trace is so meticulous in his work and has so many detailed schematics of his designs that any one of us can build an amp following his instructions, and it will sound just like he built it,” she explains. Trace still has the final say on what goes out the door, and he tests each product to make sure it measures up to his standards.
In addition to building Voodoo amps, Davis’ company does repairs, mods, and servicing. Another full-timer, Dan Stillwell—whose brother John “Dawk” Stillwell has done tech work for Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, and Richie Sambora—handles most repairs.
Photo by Chris Kies.
The Viral Bill Kelliher Signature Mod
“Bill [Kelliher, Mastodon] came to us with a Marshall JCM800 he said just didn’t sound very good, so I designed a custom mod for him” says Voodoo Amps’ Trace Davis. “Just as I was about to put it in the road case to ship back, he asked, ‘Can you install a clean channel?’ I like a good challenge, so we implemented a clean channel and added another gain and master for the clean channel. To show him what I’d done, I made a quick video on my iPhone and posted it to YouTube, thinking it would be private and I’d pull it down once he got the gist of what we did. Lo and behold,” Davis laughs, “a few weeks later we get an unsolicited request for ‘the Bill Kelliher Mod’ from someone who’d seen it on YouTube. So now we are offering that, too.”
Asked about the benefits of owning a small company, Davis says one is that Voodoo doesn’t get into pricing wars with the competition. “Our amps are designed to be a performance car, much like a Ferrari, and then the price comes at the end,” says Davis. “I haven’t had a huge desire to compete against the bottom line—that’s a hard road to travel and usually means you can’t manufacture in the U.S.A.”
Voodoo amp prices range from $1,495 to $2,995, and Davis started manufacturing the line in 2002—again, partly out of necessity. “Some guys would call and just ask, ‘Do you have an amp I can just buy?’” he says. “They didn’t want to bother with shipping their amp back and forth for a mod. So I said, ‘Let’s just put out an amp so that people can buy it.’ Some production models come from that. For example, the V-Rock is loosely based on our Jose Mod, which is intended to capture the hot-rodded Marshall tones from the 1980s.”
Another catalyst for manufacturing amps came from a customer who once needed an old Marshall plexi serviced. “It was in rough shape,” recalls Davis. “So we cleaned it up to the point where we could fire it up, and when I hit a chord, I was like ‘Oh my god, that’s exactly it—that’s like the amp I had.’” In that moment, Davis decided to offer an out-of-the-box plexi that would be consistent with the qualities he remembered from his beloved ’69 of many years before. Davis acquired the amp from the customer, and it became the model for the Voodoo V-Plex. “We sent the transformers to Mercury Magnetics to have them cloned, so that we could get them as authentic as possible,” he explains. With the transformers replicated, the 50-watt single lead V-Plex was born. Davis also started designing higher-gain amps similar to ones the company had been doing mods on. The Hex and Witchdoctor were the first high-gain, multi-channel amps offered by Voodoo.
Mercury Magnetics transformers are used on all production Voodoo amps, and F&T capacitors are frequently used. Some models have an aluminum chassis, while others use steel. “They do sound and feel different,” Davis says about the chassis materials. “We’ve built them side-by-side, with the only differing variable being the chassis, and anybody who plugs into it notices that the steel is a more aggressive, harder sound. The aluminum has a very sweet kind of thing going on.” Davis says he’s experimented with this “exhaustively.”