Voodoo Amps V-Rock DL100 Chassis.

More on Mods
“Building products is different from doing mods,” explains Davis. “I’ve built enough amps with aluminum chassis, steel chassis, chassis with various different kind of plating, that I know what I want to do for my own product,” he says. “Especially when it’s for one kind of amp, for one kind of sound, aimed at one particular market.”

Conversely, when designing a mod you obviously have to work around what’s already there. “If it’s a massive circuit board and a 4-channel amp, you really have to take that into account,” Davis says. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can play an amp and then go look at the schematic and take some voltage readings and say, ‘Okay, we need to do this here, here, and here,’ and the amp will be 90 percent of the way there. Then it’s just a matter of finessing it. The equation just somehow makes sense in my mind. I’m not even sure how it makes sense, because I just look at it and see what needs to be done based on what the customer is saying he doesn’t like. I know what will fix that.”

Davis says the lack of information in the ’80s inspired him to make professional mods available to the public. “When I grew up, there was only Mike Soldano, Lee Jackson, and Jose Arredondo,” he recalls. “I came across a magazine article somebody wrote on mod techs, but it didn’t have a way to contact any of them.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I can play an amp and then go look at the schematic and take some voltage readings and say, ‘Okay, we need to do this here, here, and here,’ and the amp will be 90 percent of the way there. Then it’s just a matter of finessing it.”
—Voodoo Amps’ Trace Davis

So I thought that if a player could read something like that nowadays—in a magazine or on the internet—and be able to contact us to get the exact same thing as, say, Vivian Campbell or Billy Gibbons, well, ‘Here you go. This is exactly what they use. Verbatim.’ A lot of players like that.”

Voodoo mods range in price from $195 to $1,200, and the company’s website lists a multitude of mods designed for specific amps, such as the Peavey 5150, Marshall JVM series, Mesa/Boogie Rectifiers, and the Marshall JMP-1—their most popular preamp mod. “It’s still the most widely used preamp on tours,” says Davis. “We’ve got seven or eight players currently using it, and everyone has the exact same mod.”

Billy Gibbons is one of those players. He uses Voodoo’s Platinum Mod on all 13 of his JMP-1 preamps. “Voodoo understands the sound of rock ’n’ roll—it’s that simple,” says Gibbons’ guitar tech, Elwood Francis. “As far as the Platinum Mod is concerned, it’s a night-and-day difference. Before the mod, the JMP-1 was bland, noisy, had no dynamics and was squishy. After the mod, it’s open-sounding, the gain is harmonically rich and very round, and it has far less noise despite having more gain on top. It’s like the difference between a VW and a Porsche. A VW is an excellent car for getting around, then one day you drive a Porsche—big difference.”

GN'R guitarist Richard Fortus tests out some Voodoo prototypes onstage before a gig.

Guns N’ Roses’ Richard Fortus on Voodoo Amps

I first heard about Voodoo Amps about eight or nine years ago. I was looking to have my favorite ’73 100-watt Marshall cloned, and my tech at the time (Jason Baskin) recommended Voodoo. I bought the head from Mick Mars (Mötley Crüe) about 11 years ago. A friend of mine who owned a shop in L.A. called me and told me that Mick was selling off a bunch of Marshalls, so we went to his house and I played through about a dozen Jose Arredondo-modded heads. I plugged into one and hit a chord, and it was as if the clouds parted and the angels sang. My jaw hit the floor. Mick looked at me and said, “Yeah, that’s the one I did all the records with.” That became my No. 1 amp for years until I met Trace—he not only meticulously cloned it, but he beat it.

The main heads that I use live are a pair of signature Voodoo R4-100 heads that Trace and I designed. They are like having four of my favorite Marshalls in one head. I’m not a huge fan of multi-channel amps, but there seem to be no sacrifices in tone with this amp. It’s a two-channel head with an extra volume and gain that can be engaged for each channel. The first channel is based on my favorite plexi, and the second channel is based on the ’73 Jose. I also have a single-channel head that Trace meticulously cloned from the ground up. His attention to detail is beyond any amp guy I’ve ever worked with.

Voodoo’s first high-profile mod user came via a particularly unusual route. “A good friend of mine drove for Def Leppard, and he lined up a meeting for us,” says Davis. “He said, ‘You can bring some stuff up. If they like it, you can figure it out from there—I’m just setting up the introduction.’ We ended up getting Def Leppard as one of our first endorsements, which we didn’t think would happen right away. We figured we had another four or five or six years of climbing the ladder. Once we had a noted artist like Def Leppard, it seemed to add some legitimacy and bring new customers.”

Davis is proud to offer everyday players a very personal experience, too. “We often get calls from people who say, ‘I see you do work for a lot of big players, so if they like it, it must be good. Here’s what I like and here’s what this doesn’t do. Is it modifiable, and if not, what should I get? Here’s my budget.’” He says Voodoo will also look at what a customer wants and the budget they have to work with and help them get the most bang for their buck. “We’re trying to establish relationships with customers over the long term.”