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Love and Sockets: A Busy Nashville Producer’s Solid-State Sound

The Quilter Aviator has become the foundational amplifier in Coleman’s highly trafficked Howard’s Apartment Studio and for his onstage appearances.

Dave Coleman’s Quilters and Pathfinders are the foundation of his hard-working tone.

This month’s Love and Sockets entry has … no sockets. But East Nashville, Tennessee-based producer and guitarist Dave Coleman does love his workhorse Quilter amps—especially the Aviator Gold combo that’s his No. 1 for the constant flow of sessions at his Howard’s Apartment Studio and onstage with a variety of artists, including his own band of 20 years, the Coal Men.

You can hear Coleman and his Quilters—yes, he’s got a small fleet in service—on recent albums by Amelia White, Madeleine Besson, Lynn Taylor and the Barflies, the Truehearts, Nathan Belt & the Buckles, and Keats that range from rock to folk to country to bluegrass. And his playing is always economical and dynamic, until it’s time to step on the gas, when he uses pedals to take the palette of his collection of Telecasters to panoramic tonal territory.

Here’s how Coleman became a solid-statesman. While he’s still fond of his Fender Deluxe and Super Reverb, he’d also extensively used a 15-watt Vox Pathfinder with an 8 1/2" speaker. “It taught me you truly don’t have to miss tubes,” says Coleman. “I even chop-shopped a Pathfinder down to a small head to send to an extension cabinet with a 12" speaker in the studio.”

“When I show up to gigs or have sessions, my amp is the one with the quietest noise floor.”

About six years ago, Lij Shaw, who owns Nashville’s The Toy Box Studio, introduced Coleman to Quilter amps, which are designed by Pat Quilter with the sonics of EL84-driven machines by Vox and Marshall in mind. “Immediately, I knew they were the perfect alternative to a powerful Fender-esque clean-slate amp for a pedalboard user like me,” says Coleman.

After getting an Aviator Gold head, he acquired his Aviator Twelve combo with a 1x12 Eminence Swamp Thang speaker. Both Aviators are 2-channel with 200-watts output (100 per channel) and an effects loop, with one channel having simply volume and tone controls, and the other packed with gain, bass, middle, treble, master, and a hi-cut dial—and both subject to reverb and dwell controls. Coleman says the clean headroom is great for his baritone electric guitar as well as toppy Tele chime. Coleman also recently purchased a Quilter 101 Mini Reverb head—50 watts with gain, limiter, bass, mid, treble, reverb, and master volume dials. “It’s just two pounds, making it perfect for fly dates,” he notes. “I can plug into any combo amp speaker or a cabinet and have a consistent, familiar, and confident tone.”

This summer Coleman played Bonnaroo with the band Keats, and his backline Twin Reverb suffered a tube failure. “By the end of that song I’d taken my 101 Mini Reverb out, connected it to the Twin’s speakers with an adapter speaker cable, and my tone was up and roaring again,” he says.

“Another great thing about the Quilter amps is how little they weigh,” he continues. “I’ve had some back troubles through the years and I’ve learned to gig smarter with a really well-packed and portable rig. Yet another great thing: Quilter’s can use a 120 or 220 power cable. I’ve played shows in Europe and powered a backline amp with my own Quilter head with no power converter needed.

Coleman’s preferred settings for his Quilter Aviator combo.

“The Quilter stuff just sounds great with the voiced tone knob straight up at noon—left of center scoops mids and right of center boosts mids and highs. It’s such a clean palette for pedals. I’m a big fan of various stompboxes for grit and tone. I’m particularly a fan of the Walrus Audio 385 and the Menatone Foxy Brown drive pedals. I often use an isolation box I built for a 1x12 extension cabinet—a Port City cab with a Celestion or a Vox cabinet with an Eminence Legend. The isolation box does emphasize the low end, so I usually crank some highs—or the tone knob on the Aviator, slightly to the right—to compensate.”

So, does Coleman have any regrets about relegating tubes to the back seat? “Solid-state amps like the Quilters and Vox Pathfinders don’t have a tube-compression feel, so there’s a learning curve with your dynamics, but not as much as some think,” he offers. “But honestly, when I show up to gigs or have sessions, my amp is the one with the quietest noise floor. I never have trouble dialing in a volume suited to the room, and Quilter amps will outlive any musician reading this article by 50 years.

I still love tube amps,” he allows. “They can sound great, but they can also slowly deteriorate into the gray/beige—still sounding good, but some tube is slowly fading. I still use my Deluxe and my Super Reverb, as well as an Ampeg GVTH and a wonderful little BR-9 Gibson amp. They all have unique sounds. Pairing the right amp with the right guitar is one of the most fun parts of finding an overarching sound for an album, or just a unique sound for a song. They all can have their place. The consistency and dependability of the Quilter amps and the Pathfinders let me push sound without having to resort to modeling amps or amp plug-ins. Those can sound great, but I prefer sound from a speaker hitting a microphone.”

In this late 2016 performance, Dave Coleman leads the Coal Men through “Depreciate,” from their album Pushed to the Side. Note the clarity and shimmer of his tone. Coleman’s solo starts at 3:48.