Staff Picks: My First Amp
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James joins us to discuss our very first amps, and where they are now.
Q: What was your first amp? Do you still have it?
Photo by Atlas Icons — Igor Vidyashev
My Morning Jacket
A: It was a shitty little 10-watt Ross amp, and boy it sounded like dog shit but I bet now I would love it. I definitely don’t have that still. I wish I did. Every time I move, I lose stuff!
Current obsession: I just went into the studio for three days to cut some acoustic songs. I was just sitting there playing as many songs as I could—just me and an acoustic guitar. I’m obsessed with the idea of back in the early days of studio recordings when they would just send a guy from RCA to Virginia or whatever or put a notice up for people to come down and play. It felt like that. I’m also obsessed with Martin 000-15s from the 1950s. I’ve got two of ’em. That’s hands-down my favorite acoustic.
Reader of the Month
A: A Marlboro Sound Works combo from around 1977-’78. They were rare and really cheap, $50 or less, but that was a lot for me back then. I bought it at the PX at McChord Air Force Base as I was still living at home (dad was military retired). That’s where things began for me and I learned my first songs, chords, etc. on that crummy amp. I had it until the mid-’80s when my house got robbed.
Current obsession: To continue to improve as a player and continue to learn new things and new songs. The learning process never ends, especially for me. Refining my tone is another ongoing process.
A: I bought a JMF Spectra 30-T, in blonde Tolex, because I wanted an amp with channel switching so I could play clean and dirty at will. Both channels sounded nasty, even to a beginner, so I sold it to an electric violinist for about what I paid, and put the cash into a 1966 Twin Reverb that I still own. Score!
Current obsession: Blending amps in the studio. Always two at once, sometimes four on a song, for sonic variety. Can’t go wrong following Jimi’s path.
A: My high-school sweetheart gifted me an Epiphone EP-800R, along with a cherry sunburst Epiphone Les Paul Junior, on my 17th birthday. I still have both (pictured). I didn’t know it was an acoustic amp for years, but I do know that it sounds ratchet but I love it and have kept it alive and with me through the years.
Current obsession: Every year after Bonnaroo, I’m obsessed with who I saw live (or missed, in some cases). This year, that’s Muse (they left my face in a puddle), Sturgill Simpson, Eminem, Tash Sultana , the Killers, Alt-J, Thundercat, Bassnectar, Tyler Childers, and the list goes on.
Tash Sultana holding nothing back during her Bonnaroo performance. Photo by Chris Kies
A: A 1977 SG Systems SG-212. It’s not your typical first amp before age 10, but my old man worked for Norlin at the time. Amazingly, I still have this 2x12 beast, and I don’t know why since I’m a minimalist by nature. “Blue Jean” weighs about 90 pounds and looks like a cross between a doomsday device from a ’60s Japanese sci-fi flick and an HVAC unit from the same decade. No tolex here: It’s dressed in denim, baby. It’s also incredibly loud and clean with scads of headroom. Channel 1 is a dreamy tube-amp pedal platform and channel 2 has several built-in effects including a phase shifter.
Current obsession: Opal from Vinyl Williams. Recorded almost entirely by multi-instrumentalist Lionel Williams, this guitar- and synth-heavy set of tracks is a warm and gooey psych-rock ride to the other side.