So how many amps do you average per week?
Around five or so.
Would you ever consider selling Splawn amp kits to those who’re electronically inclined?
No, because of the liability involved and also, to do it right, I’d want to be available to answer any questions that customers might have about assembling their kits. Between designing and building the amps and all of my other responsibilities, like paying bills and ordering parts, unfortunately I don’t have the time for that.
What’s it been like to work in North Carolina, a great distance from any major music city?
It feels good, since it’s where I grew up and where I got started playing music and working on amps. The cost of living is pretty low, so I don’t have to worry about overhead like some makers do. But it is hard being away from the big scene—I don’t have the advantages I might in a place like LA, where there’d be big-name players dropping in all the time. And, being such a small company, it’s not feasible at this point for me to go to a trade show like NAMM. I can’t afford the time away from the shop, because we’re constantly backlogged.
Speaking of the Carolinas, home to so many auto sports, your amps all have names evocative of cars.
Yes, all my amp model names come from drag racing. I’ve always been into that sport. My older brother did it for a long time and that left quite an impression on me. I also see a connection between hot-rodded amps and drag cars: both are very loud and powerful machines.
The 40-watt Street Rod is a combo version of the Quick Rod
that features a 12" Eminence Small Block speaker.
Tell us more about the whole product line.
All of our amps are based on the same Marshall head-and-cabinet platform that got me noticed in the first place. Our first amp was called the Quick Rod, and it’s our most popular model to this day. It’s a 100- watt, 2-channel, hot-rodded ’80s-sounding amp. The overdrive channel has three positions, which I call Gears, to go along with the automotive theme. There’s first gear, Hot Rod Plexi; second gear, Hot Rod 800; and third gear, Super Hot Rod 800. On all the amps, there are footswitchable lead and rhythm sounds, and a solo boost with its own Volume control.
A newer amp of ours is called the Nitro. It’s basically set up the same way as the Quick Rod, but voiced to have more low end, more gain, and less midrange to suit the modern metal player. A lot of guitarists have been asking for smaller versions of our amps, so we recently came out with the Street Rod—basically, a 40-watt combo version of the Quick Rod with a single 12" speaker. It has been really well received. Our other amps, such as the Competition and the Pro Stock, are basically just stripped-down, single-channel versions of the Quick Rod and the Street Rod.
What types of new amps do you envision adding to the line?
We’re currently working on a new type of multi-channel head, as well as some combo versions of various amps.
I noticed that none of your amps have any effects.
We don’t do any effects. We just make straight-up amps and aim to get the best raw sound we can. We don’t want players to be stuck with whatever effects we put in an amp. But since so many guitarists these days use outboard processing for electronic sounds, we put effects loops in our amps.
How would you describe that “best raw sound”?
It’s got a lot of midrange. It cuts through the mix really well. It’s very dynamic, and it reacts sensitively to different pickups, guitars, and speakers. What you put into a Splawn amp is what you get out. If you play hard, it’ll growl at you. If you lighten up, it’ll obey you. When you roll your guitar’s volume knob back on the overdrive channel, the sound cleans up really well. Splawn amps have definitely got their own thing going on—they don’t sound like anything else.
This incarnation of the Splawn Quick Rod features classic plexi styling.
What sorts of players are Splawn amps geared toward?
While we’ve got guitarists of all styles using our amps, they’re designed with the heavier player in mind. The Quick Rod, for instance, is ideal for copping the sort of sound that someone like Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, or Warren DeMartini had in the 1980s. But any of our amps will work for a more modern sound as well. Tony Rombola of Godsmack, for instance, has recorded with both a Nitro and a Quick Rod.
Have you redesigned your amps at all based on player input?
Yes. Once our amps caught on, we learned that a lot of players didn’t actually get to use them for what they were designed for—loud music in big spaces. So we’ve made the amps more manageable at lower volumes for guitarists who play in smaller clubs or even just at home. To do that, we’ve made a very small adjustment—we added a volume control on the effects loop.
How do you feel about amp modeling?
It has come a long way in the last few years, but to my ear there’s still nothing out there that comes close to replicating the responsiveness and harmonic content of a real tube amplifier. I’m not saying there won’t be, there just hasn’t been anything yet. There’s still nothing like a tube amp, and I hope for our sake it stays that way.