Fryette testing a prototype Deliverance.
There’s a couple, actually. One was the Deliverance. Someone here said they thought our sound was too sophisticated to cop something like the guitar sound on Anarchy in the UK. So I took a couple of minutes and set up, I think the CLX, to sound like, or more correctly put across the attitude of that guitar sound. From there, we started exploring how we felt that there was something some people weren’t “getting” about our amplifiers—that their versatility is not a function exclusively of the feature set. How do we make that apparent? How do we put something into the hands of a player that illustrates the versatility absent all the features? The obvious answer was, “Let’s just yank out all the features that people think are responsible for the versatility, and then see if we’ve retained it. If we have, let’s throw it out there and see if anybody recognizes that.”
The idea was to take your mind off of the switches and buttons and all that stuff. You just play, and then you realize, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m playing this amp that I never thought could do these sounds, and without all the features I thought I needed.” And that creates a moment of an awakening to a particular segment of the guitar-playing world that thought we were just a metal amp, or that we were just about whatever kind of sound or artist was associated with it.
It seems very much like an artist’s approach to problem solving: put all the things you need to know in your mind and then just wait, let it cook.
Yeah, the needed component finds its way to the top, if given the opportunity.
Is that balance something you’ve always been able to strike—between the engineering and the “know-how” of building the amp, and the artistic approach of letting the missing piece find its way into the pattern?
That’s a really good question. If I knew, I probably could answer it. I would say that whatever you call balance is the product of the time and place you’re in—just like music is… and the gear that you use to get a sound is simply the approach that you used at that time. In the real world, players often find themselves not using the gear they thought they needed to accomplish what they set out to do. I do the same thing working out ideas as I would for playing music—try to stay in receive mode.
It also sounds like you’re clear about approaching the whole thing as a journey, just kind of going for the ride. Lots of people sell themselves on the idea that there’s one path, and that they shouldn’t take any detours or follow anything that interests them, but it seems like you really respect the different places your own obsessions have taken you.
It’s very much a ride. The detour, by the way is often the most interesting and revealing path. Closing the door and saying, “Okay, the ride’sover. We’ve figured out what we wanna do; now we’re just gonna make this time a million…” that’s when I walk out the door.
I’m pretty lucky ’cause I’ve met a lot of people who have reinforced that feeling, you know, that I’m on the right track. I’ve always had the support of my friends and my family and all that, but I’ve also had some pretty good influences. There was a book I read once called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…
Sure, I remember that book.
That was something that always stuck with me, because that book dealt with the duality of the rational side of doing a thing versus the romantic side of a particular pursuit. Of course, the whole idea of the book was that those two things coexist. I went on a motorcycle trip and read that book during that time, so that really stuck with me. I was fortunate to have a good ear, and to be able to play different instruments, and have music come to me pretty easily, and to really love music. When you really love something and there’s a bunch of other people that all love the same thing, then you’re part of a community. If your life revolves around being part of that, you can’t help but pick up good information and get inspiration, and maybe even get challenged, which is always a great thing.
With us, there’s an underlying philosophy that everything we do, whether it’s a product, or a feature, or a function, it has to have a reason to exist, it has to be consistent with what we consider the qualities of our product and sound, and it has to make sense. Usually, if it meets those criteria, then the rest of it sort of takes care of itself.
Fryette and a Pittbull prototype, ca. 1987.
There’s a little angst out there about it, but the bottom line is that we are the same company that we’ve always been—we just have a new name. We had an association with another company that lead ultimately to the sale of the VHT trademark, and it was a good deal for us and a good deal for them. It might be difficult for people to understand, because it’s such an unusual and seemingly drastic move in an industry where people feel that when you build a brand over a long time, that there’s something associated with that brand and that it’s a cardinal sin to dispose of that or to veer away from that model—although, in the nineties internet companies were doing it all the time. It was the M.O… so you saw a lot of rebranding going on then. It was the way to go.
The other part of it is the people who are our family, our loyal players. Long-time users have an attachment to that, and they felt maybe that it was kind of ripped from them without a proper explanation. I’m sympathetic to that point of view too, but the bottom line is, this name change represented a huge opportunity for us to grow and do a lot of things that we had been constrained from doing for a long time because of our size. So, as unusual as that concept is (and shocking to some people), selling our trademark to another company who’s going to put it on an entirely different product that doesn’t have any association with our products has worked out really well on a financial level and on a creative level for us. I made the conscious decision to get out from behind the amp and take my place on the front, instead of using a pseudonym. It’s going back to this thing being a conversation.
What can we expect from you guys going forward? I know you’re working on the Memphis.
Right. Memphis is going to be a series, starting with combos. We’re working really hard on that. For a long time we’ve sort of been in awe about the demand for our big gear. Recently, the emphasis on combos has been more noticeable than in past years—the dull roar of “When are your combos coming back?” has turned into a little bit more of an aggressive roar in the last couple of years. We’re replacing our former Pittbull series combos with the Memphis Series—new features, some refinements, and innovative cosmetics. A combo is a specific kind of a thing. There’s a set of expectations, and manufacturers have to live up to those expectations—those challenges to address, maybe meet, but also try to open people’s eyes and show them maybe another little twist on that. That’s the innovative part that you’ve got to keep your eye on.