Photo by Bruce S. Gates
My fascination with amps started before I was even a player. I remember hearing an accordion played through a Leslie speaker at a local park function as a preteen. The timbre—the lush physical cry of the horn and the full, resonant bass—marked the advent of my obsession with sound.
When I eventually started playing myself, I realized that the Leslie had been an immense part of that accordion’s glorious sound equation. I began collecting as many amps as possible, playing and performing with them often. Because many of them were used, maintenance soon became a real problem—which led to me getting my hands inside them and studying how they work. Repairs and inventions soon followed. I was hooked! Besides adding up to 20 years of great playing memories, my enthusiasm for all things amplified translated into a job for me, too. (I work as a designer and builder for EarthQuaker Devices in Akron, Ohio.)
With this article, I’d like to hip you to some fantastic amps that—so far—have flown under the radar. We all know the usual suspects that have left an indelible mark on the collective guitar psyche. The tones and aesthetics of these canonized stacks and combos are forever linked with the iconic images of legendary players and bands, and some have even made such a splash that they’ve crossed over to become household names with everyday music fans.
The creations I’m highlighting here are so formidable that it’s a wonder they remain a secret. They’re off-the-beaten-path designs that are ominous and arguably deserving of mythical status. But for whatever reason, not only have these amps maintained anonymity with the vast majority of the playing public, but they’ve pretty much been overlooked by the industry as a whole. Some are pawnshop prizes—that oft-skipped-over amp for sale next to the shiny, more easily recognizable and sonically safer brand. Some are classified-ad gems. One, sadly, never evolved beyond the prototype stage. And one got backburnered for years but is now making a comeback. But they all have one thing in common: Each is armed with authoritative sounds, tonal complexity, and burly features. I hope they inspire you to expand your horizons when looking for an amp—or, at the very least, renew your appreciation for your own favorite unsung amps with stories to tell and faces to fry!