It starts from a serious meeting with our marketing expert, Kevin Van Pamel (director of marketing and product development), in a dodgy watering hole. Tools are good beer, a pen, cocktail napkins and vivid imaginations.
Are you trying to fill a niche or trying to emulate similar products on the market?
Both. It’s amazing how many companies take the stance of “we know what the customer wants, therefore we will make it and they will buy it.” Instead, we keep our finger on the pulse and our ears to the ground, seeking the opinions and demands of players on the street. Then we try exceeding their expectations. Some gear is proven, but priced at a level where the average person can’t afford it. We take the hype out of boutique prices, keep the quality and make it where anyone can afford it.
Do you aspire to create a specific tone when designing the amp?
I am a product of old school technology and rock – I like pretty organic sounds. A guitar should sound like a guitar. I desire the amp to be the extension of the player and guitar. Some amps make any guitar and player sound the same. I like making the amplifier a blank canvas for the player and guitar. Many players rely on the front-end gain structure of the amp to achieve easy sustain – I think that’s a crutch, the tone should come from your hands. The best way to develop this is to take off the training wheels, plug in and turn up old school style. I like to take players back to the roots where amps were all tube, rock was pure and you had to be a hell of a player to get laid after the show.
What role does the speaker play in your overall tone?
Major! It is the last and probably one of the most important components to your overall tone. Not having the right speaker is like running out of gas as you approach the finish line.
Do you design the amp around the speaker or design the amp and then find a complimentary speaker?
When I was an independent amp builder I designed an amp and catered the circuit to the speaker. Now I have the luxury of using speakers fine-tuned to the circuit just as much as the circuit to the speaker.
How do you go about finding the right speaker? What factors are considered?
Efficiency is a big factor. A small amp can sound huge with an efficient speaker and a big amp can – but doesn’t have to – sound like crap with a speaker that has a low efficiency rating. Then there’s break-up – early or late? Is it going to be an open back or closed back cabinet? Do I want an American or British vibe? I generally just tell Eminence what I want and then they translate my request into their mad science and deliver what I need.
Do you prefer custom designed or off-theshelf speakers and why?
Custom! I like to feel special. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with off-the-shelf speakers. In fact, when requesting a custom designed speaker I use standard models as references, but having a custom speaker option is hard to pass up.
How do you decide the power of the amp and what role does the power of the speaker play?
Blackheart has amps from a fraction of one watt to 100 watts. In each case, we try creating a speaker that best compliments the specific circuits. At the same time, we realize our extension cabinets may be used with other amps, so we also ensure that they complement other amplifiers and their respective power levels. I heavily lean towards high efficiency speakers rated much higher than the amp.
What features of the amp are you pleased with? What’s cool and different about your amps?
Boutique design and quality construction at a working musician’s price is one of our greatest features. Let’s face it, for tube amps, the building blocks every designer relies on are the same used in the first amps ever built. Some technologies have been developed, but the bare bones of a great tube amp are as simple as the V8 block from the 1950s. Building an amplifier that captures the player’s eyes and ears with useful features, quality components and top workmanship without bending them over the barrel is the magic behind Blackheart Engineering. As much as I refer to price being important, that’s not where we start. We nail down an idea we’re excited about and run the numbers last. If both can exist in a world true to the BHE mission, the planets are aligned and there is great peace in the universe. We’re just a bunch of average guys that like to hang out and make the world a better place through tubes and wires. In the words of Brian Johnson, “For those about to rock, we salute you!” At Blackheart Engineering, we salute those who work hard, play hard and like to get something of substance for their hard-earned cash.
For more information on Blackheart products please visit blackheartamps.com.
Anthony “Big Tony” Lucas
is a guitarist and Senior Lab Technician at Eminence Speaker LLC, where he specializes in guitar-speaker design and customer support. Big Tony has been with Eminence for over 10 years and is responsible for many well-known guitar speaker designs.