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Ask Amp Man: A Fond Farewell

Ask Amp Man: A Fond Farewell
Jeff Bober rocks the stage at the Maryland Music Awards with Rob Fahey and the Pieces, wielding a Kevin Brubaker model called the Extreme. Jeff currently plays in three bands and plans to perform even more frequently.
Photo courtesy of Maryland Music Awards

Our beloved Amp Man signs off after 13 years of answering readers’ questions from under the hood.

A big hello to all you Ask Amp Man readers worldwide, and welcome to yet another installment of your favorite column. But this is not just another of my monthly columns. No, this will actually be my last column. I know, hard to believe, right? You open or download your magazine every month and there's the Ask Amp Man column. It's been there ever since you can remember!

Well, you are indeed correct about that. Premier Guitar was launched in February 2007, and the Ask Amp Man column has been there since the inaugural issue. What you may not know is that I've been writing this column even longer than Premier Guitar has existed. Prior to the launch of the magazine under the name Premier Guitar, it was known as Musicians Hotline and it, too, had a column where you could ask an amp expert questions.

I hope I've been able to bring at least a few of you a little bit of joy, or a sense of accomplishment—or, at the very least,
increased knowledge.

The original column—at least as original as I know it—was called “Ask Mikey" and was written by Mike Soldano of Soldano Custom Amplification. At some point, Mike became too busy to author the column, so the magazine needed to find a knowledgeable replacement in the tube-amp world. They wound up calling another one of the top boutique amp companies, Budda, and spoke with my partner Scot Sier. Since the questions were of a technical nature, Scot asked me if I would like to write the column. Upon accepting the challenge, the column in Musicians Hotline became Ask Budda. Once Hotline became Premier Guitar, the name of the column also changed to Ask Amp Man, and the tradition of answering readers' questions continued.

First, let me say that it's been an honor to have authored this column for so many years and to have been associated with Premier Guitar. The publication is well respected by its readers, as are the authors and columnists within. I know, because I'm told this all the time. I have been in the business of repairing and modifying, as well as designing and building, guitar amps for about 35 years now, and am probably as well known for writing this column as I am for the amp business.

The hands that have been inside of countless amps have also been on the necks of many, many guitars. Here, Jeff Bober lays into a favorite Strat. Photo by Robert Jordan

I was recently reminded of an instance when I was attending one of the big guitar manufacturers' “experience" parties. There was a gentleman performing onstage with the likes of Davy Knowles and David Grissom, and I really enjoyed his performance. (No disrespect to those other two players. Ha-ha!) I spoke to him after his set, later in the evening, and told him I really enjoyed his playing and his tone. At the time, I guess I looked similar to the frontman of a very successful band (dyed blond, coiffed hair with a bit of a beard and moustache), so he engaged in conversation with me. After a minute or two he noticed the name on my badge and said something to the effect of: “Man, I was just being nice to you because I thought you were Chad. You're the guy who writes the Ask Amp Man column! Now I'm really happy to meet you." That's not the first or the last time I've been acknowledged and thanked for being the author of this column—and I am very appreciative of that.

I've always looked at the column as a way to help people: be it someone who lives nowhere near anyone with the ability to diagnose or repair an amp, or someone with a desire to improve an amplifier and make it better suited to his or her needs. Although some have said it would be a great platform for self- or brand promotion, I never thought that appropriate for the column, so I tried never to use it in such a manner. It was always fun to read the questions and think about the possible causes of a problem or symptom, or a way I could help owners tweak or modify an amp to achieve a better result for them. It was also interesting to find someone whose need or application was outside the box, which prompts one to look at things with a different perspective. This is all part of the learning process, which makes everyone better at what they do. Of course, there are times where you just have to say, “No, you can't do that!" Ha-ha!

I also really enjoyed bringing you, as of late, interesting amps that have crossed my bench. For all the years I've been in this business, I still occasionally come across something I haven't seen before or seen only a few of because there simply aren't many of them around.

Putting his own amps, and a Gibson Les Paul, to use, Jeff rocks on the big stage with Johnny Chill, a side project of John Palumbo of Crack the Sky. Photo by Ellen Wiley

And then there are amps that were manufactured by relatively small companies—well known in their day, but after not being manufactured for decades and initially built in small numbers, they slowly fall off the radar. I have done columns on amps such as West and Sundown, where, after the columns were published, the likes of Dave West or Dennis Kager have contacted me and thanked me for writing a column on their amps. Something as simple as that brings one such joy, and for that I'm grateful.

I hope I've been able to bring at least a few of you a little bit of joy, or a sense of accomplishment—or, at the very least, increased knowledge. That said, there's only so much one can write in a column for more than 13 years without repeating one's self, so I've decided to bring it to an end. I'll still be designing, building, and repairing amps (which I really love to do), and if the folks at Premier Guitar are so inclined, maybe bringing you a feature story now and then. Or maybe something entirely different. Who knows! And if you'd like to hear what others in this wonderful world of music are up to, you know you can also hear me, as well as my co-host Mick Marcellino, on our weekly Amps & Axes podcast.

To bring this to a close, I'd like to leave you all with just a little bit of my philosophy: Live in the moment and be practical. We are all (at least most of us) guitarists. And that can come with the search for the ultimate tone, but don't let it get to the point of obsession. We live in an imperfect world—there is no perfection! If you keep lusting after every new guitar, amplifier, cable, capacitor, tube, speaker, pedal, pick, or battery, you will never be satisfied. If you have the opportunity to try or experience any or all of those … great. But it's not going to make or break you. Some of the best music in the world has been made on the most basic collection of materials, so do the best with what you have and improve or upgrade when it's practical. After all, music is supposed to be fun and good for the soul, so don't ruin that with obsessions. Life is too short. Take time to smell the roses. Or coffee. Coffee is good, too! Learn, have fun, respect other musicians, and, just as Frank Zappa said, “Play yer guitar!"

All the best, Jeff.