Splawn’s most popular amp, the 2-channel, 100-watt Quick Rod, is voiced for hot-rodded ’80s
tones, and its overdrive channel features Hot Rod Plexi, Hot Rod 800, and Super Hot Rod 800 modes.

When Scott Splawn started playing guitar at age 12 in the early ’80s, Eddie Van Halen’s now-coveted “brown sound” had just begun to exert an inescapable influence on hard rock and heavy metal guitarists. Three decades later, that sound is a benchmark for the high-powered tube amplifiers that Splawn makes in Dallas, North Carolina.

Splawn developed his designs by modding old and new Marshall amps and learning through trial and error how these legendary heads could be made even more crushing and versatile—all while running his own music store, Splawn Guitars, and gigging extensively with local bands.

For the past six years, Splawn and a small crew have been making killer amps—mostly in the head-and-cabinet style—all by hand from start to finish. These flexible amps have earned some high-profile devotees, including Steve Stevens, Dokken’s Jon Levin, and Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz.

Splawn amps are available in a variety of racing-themed coverings,
as shown by this black-and-white-striped Quick Rod.

Splawn’s amp shop is behind the storefront of his eponymous guitar boutique, which is crammed with axes by Charvel, ESP, and other metal-approved makers—instruments perfectly suited for his aggressive stacks. While the guitar world at large has been catching on to Splawn amplifiers, many of the store’s local visitors are completely unaware of what’s going on in back. “A lot of customers have never even heard of our amplifiers,” says Splawn.

We recently chatted with Splawn to learn more about the genesis and evolution of his amps, which, given the company’s growing league of enthusiasts, certain North Carolinians will likely learn more about soon.

How did you get into modifying amplifiers?

In the mid ’90s, I opened Splawn Guitars, where I sold instruments and did repair work on stringed instruments. I wanted to also be able to work on tube amps, so I studied up on them by reading how-to and electronics books. This gave me a decent knowledge of how amps work and how to repair them. Then I started doing mods on some of my own old Marshalls, to give them some extra gain. As I was working on an amp, I’d take it to rehearsals and gigs—I played in a bunch of cover bands and Christian rock groups—to see how it worked in context. By experimenting I learned to make the best-sounding mods I could. Once I got my customized amps sounding like I wanted, I took them to the shop, where customers would check them out and then bring in their own gear for me to mod.

Cabinetmaker Brian Smith routes the edge of a Splawn head.

Owner and founder Scott Splawn works inside one of his amp chassis.

What sort of mods did you provide?

My most common mod involved completely rewiring the preamp to an all-tube, four-gain stage, which made for lots of headroom, rich harmonics, and sustain. Some customers also wanted things like a half-power switch, an effects loop, and a footswitchable solo boost—mods that would make their amps a bit more versatile.

How’d you get your name out there in the beginning?

A couple of customers put audio clips of my modded amps on internet forums, and that’s when I started getting calls from people all over wanting to send me their amps for updating. Some players wanted to get the sound of one of my modded amps, but didn’t have any equipment to send me, so I started to buy used amps on eBay to modify and resell. But after awhile I ran into a problem where I could no longer find amps at the right price to justify modding them, so I ended up getting hooked up as a Marshall dealer. Since I got the amps at cost, I’d take a couple of different brand-new models— the 1959SLP and JCM800 reissues— modify them, and sell them for the same price that other dealers sold standard new Marshalls.