Nik Huber is well known in guitar circles as the guy responsible for lavish, no-expense-spared, set-neck and humbucker guitars, most notably the fifties meet aughts design of the Dolphin

Nik Huber Guitars Junior & Special Review Nik Huber is well known in guitar circles as the guy responsible for lavish, no-expense-spared, set-neck and humbucker guitars, most notably the fifties meet aughts design of the Dolphin and the more traditional silhouette of the Orca. By using choice woods such as highly figured maple and Brazilian rosewood in addition to some insane inlay work that routinely features everything from abalone to precious metals, “subtle” is not a word typically associated with this German guitar maker. And yet, despite the figured mahogany bodies and abalone fingerboard dots, understated, and even subtle, are the first words that come to mind when searching for descriptions for the two rock n’ roll animals Nik sent us to check out – the Junior and the Special.

Based on the earlier Junior, the Special is the newest addition to the Huber line, building on the success of its single-pickup predecessor. Our overseas package contained examples with matching, tasteful two-tone sunburst finishes. Picking up any Huber guitar will belie a strong, vintage Gibson influence, and the Junior and Special are no exceptions. The neck profiles of each are fat, Gibsonish Vs that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-fifties Gibson LP or Junior. The nottoo- tall medium jumbo frets also help impart a vintage feel to the respective instruments and should be comfortable to players from either Gibson or Fender camps. Oddly, the lack of a pickguard and restrained finish impart an almost plain-jane vibe to the Special. The Junior side-steps a similar fate by featuring just a touch more figuring in the mahogany and a handsome tortoiseshell-patterned pickguard to help break things up. Other shared features include an ebony headstock veneer, satin-finished ebony truss rod and control cavity covers, ebony-buttoned Schaller tuners, Brazilian rosewood fingerboard, unique cutaway neck/body joint and a wrap-around, aluminum bridge. Both sunburst finishes also include the ‘burst pattern continuing up the one-piece mahogany neck and headstock, while still allowing plenty of figure to shine through.

"...understated, and even subtle, are the first words that come to mind when searching for descriptions for the two rock n'' roll animals Nik sent us to check out — the Junior and the Special"

Starting off chronologically with the Junior, both the beefy neck and a slightly stiff feel are immediately noticeable. My cheapassed calipers indicate the guitar has a set of .010s, but they felt more like .011s. Also, Nik is shipping his guitars with Elixer strings, which along with the Fendery 25 1/2” scale-length could be contributing to the stiffness, although the Special felt looser. Again, while there are subtle tonal differences between scale lengths, for most pickers scale length equates to feel, and the mixing of traditional elements from both Fender and Gibson’s past should allow a larger cross section of players to feel at home on this guitar. The neck feel on this guitar, while perhaps one of the most subjective subjects in guitardom, is incredible. Before writing reviews, I jam through a familiar amp while recording off the cuff comments. When listening back to the Junior demo, I noticed that I dropped the F-bomb several times while describing how well this neck fit my hand.

Nik Huber Guitars Junior & Special Review Playability is fine, but between the scalelength, strings and wrap-around bridge/ tailpiece combo, traditional Gibson fans may initially be put off. I would identify myself as a Fender fan and even I fought the stiffness a little at first. The setup is also partially responsible with the action setting at a little over 4/46” on the low E at the 17th fret and 3/64” at the high E. Relief was minimal, but along with the medium action allowed for big, bold sonically pure tones to flow easily even with clinically clean amp settings.

Nik Huber Guitars Junior & Special Review Special Licks
Plugging in tells you just how reliant on the fundamental the Junior really is as well as how nice that purity of tone can be. The dog-eared, Huber and Harry Häussel-designed pickup is a phenomenal match for the wood and imparts a very rich, midrange-heavy P-90 tone. There is also a push-pull tone pot to tap the P-90. Harry and Nik have done an amazing job of finding just the right spot to take the stout single-coil from a thick vintage flavor to a thinner sound that falls somewhere between a lower-output P-90 and a fat, Broadcaster-like sound. When first looking over the specs and learning of the tapped P-90 feature on both instruments, I was initially skeptical of its usefulness. In practice, it is perhaps one of my favorite things about the both the Junior and Special after their respective feel and tone. I believe this feature succeeds precisely because it doesn’t try to make the guitar sound like something it isn’t. Rather, it adds a subtly different, closely related flavor to the mix. For the Junior, it allows – along with judicious use of the tone and volume controls – enough flexibility to clean up and rock some chicken picking while being able to get back to rock n’ roll territory easily enough; just push a button and roll both knobs back to ten. The nice thing is it imparts a vintage feel and sound the entire time, despite the high-end tone woods and “wrong” scale-length. I was able to cop fat Les Paul Junior sounds throughout the Huber’s range, easily approximating different P-90 outputs, bordering on the edge of thick, vintage Tele tones at its thinnest, coil-tapped settings.

The Special adds a neck position P-90 while losing the pickguard. While the pickguards on Gibson’s Les Paul Specials were perhaps some of the most obtrusive scratchplate designs ever, the lack of pickguard here can make things look awfully sparse – I tend to go back and forth on whether or not it was too much so. The guitar still exudes quality through its impeccable workmanship and flawless nitrocellulose finish, but even with the beautifully figured mahogany, the Special sometimes looks almost too austere for its asking price, although this is totally subjective. Again, as with the Junior, both of these instruments are treading new ground by offering subtly along with the Huber signature – my mind might just need some additional time to justify the two previously incongruous elements.

The neck on the Special doesn’t have the same pronounced V shape of the Junior, instead feeling more typical of the majority of vintage Pauls by offering a more subtle V shape that borders on an open C. The string tension seems lighter, although there is nothing indicating why this should be the case – both guitars are set up identically and share the same string gauge, at least according to my dodgy calipers.

Plugged in, the Special offers a slightly less focused bridge pickup sound – perhaps due to the neck pickup route – which may offer up even more usable tones for this exact reason. Whereas the Junior always retains focus, the Special plays around more with the mids and offers up some delightfully honky, horn-like textures that should be old friends to vintage Les Paul Junior and Special fans. The coil tapping is implemented in a push/push tone pot here and is a treat when used with the neck pickup. As was the case with the Junior, this feature walks the tightrope between thick Fender tones – in this case, the fattest Strat neck pickup you’ve ever heard – and traditional solidbody P-90 tones. In fact, it was the coil-tap in conjunction with the neck pickup on the Special that sold me on the feature – the tap really is in the perfect spot for the pickup’s voice.

The Final Mojo
Even though the Junior and the Special are intended as striped down rock n’ roll machines, their high-end pedigree is always evident. The quality is so apparent that the respective axes almost beg you to try to find a visual hiccup or flaw, yet none could be found. The subtlety of the design and delicious smell of the nitrocellulose lacquer draw you in, then the jewel-like fret work let you know Nik and company are just as serious with these “entry level” instruments as with the high-end solid-bodies for which they are best known. Price, which is always a consideration these days, is doubtfully going to work in the Huber’s favor due to the rising cost of materials and horrible exchange rates, but I get the feeling price isn’t a consideration for most Huber customers. If Huber’s Dolphin and Orca models are akin to BMW’s Alpina B7, the Junior and Special are like Porsche’s 911 GT3 RS – well-crafted and built for speed, and yet another in a long list of reasons to be upset if you’re not an independently wealthy guitar aficionado.

Buy if...
you appreciate life’s finer things and have a hankering for a nobullshit set neck
Skip if...
you’ve been saving up for a Billie Joe Signature Gibbo for quite a while and you still don’t have enough

MSRP (Special) $3953 (Junior) $3357 - Nik Huber Guitars -

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Nearly every obsessive human trait is on display when it comes to guitarists and their gear. Some guys – the “collectors” – need to have at least one of

Carr Raleigh Review
Nearly every obsessive human trait is on display when it comes to guitarists and their gear. Some guys – the “collectors” – need to have at least one of everything, whether it’s custom color pre-CBS Strats or obscure overdrive pedals. Others – the “fans” – spend years tracking down the exact gear of their favorite guitarist, as evidenced in the early-eighties by the scads of Van Halen aficionados scouring electronic surplus stores for Variacs.

My unique obsession usually manifests itself through a need to understand the motivation behind a riff, lyric or design choice – the “geek” archetype. For example, I wondered where Clapton found the inspiration for his around-thebeat trademark “Layla” riff when he had previously relied on fairly straightforward fare. When I found out Duane Allman was responsible, the wrap-around riff suddenly made sense. Likewise, when I read the press release for Steve Carr’s new 3-watt Raleigh, I wondered if this was intended to be a pared-down addition to the Mercury line or an altogether new concept.

It turns out that the Raleigh – while retaining Carr’s signature mids and bloom – is perhaps the most singularly focused amp in their current lineup. Although comparisons to their Mercury series are inevitable due to similar power and size specs, the Raleigh distances itself from its slightly larger and more powerful stablemates by eschewing the need to ever leave the bedroom or recording studio. With that out of the way, 3 watts with no option for attenuation makes perfect sense – there’s plenty of juice for bold, blooming cleans without ever once shaking the rafters. For those times when melted down distortion is needed, the Raleigh offers up a switchable master volume circuit.

Small, low-wattage amps have always been a boon in studio situations by delivering pushed tones (making the power amp section sweat a little bit, even when clean) at lower SPLs, allowing the use of large-diaphragm tube condenser mics without fear. For example, both Duane and Eric are alleged to have tracked the aforementioned “Layla” riffs through a tweed Champ, likely mic’ed with some vintage Bavarian goodness. The smaller speakers also allow for more desirable mic placement options when taking respective diaphragm sizes and soundwave lengths into consideration.

"It turns out that the Raleigh — while rataining Carr''s signature mids and bloom — is perhaps the most singularly focused amp in their current lineup."

On paper, the specs on the Raleigh would suggest a tweed Champ/ blackface Princeton influence: a 10” Eminence Lil’ Buddy; single-ended, 3- watt output; a single input jack; and a simple, no-standby on-off switch. Its tube compliment – two 12AX7s (an Electro-Harmonix and a Groove Tubes in our example) and a single Electro- Harmonix EL84 – is where the Raleigh starts forging its own path. Other typical Carr touches include a thick and thirsty Carr-branded speaker cable, the ubiquitous medical-grade AC plug and what looks to be a bulletproof handle design. The controls are top mounted and keep things simple with a Volume knob, Tone knob, Gain/Master switch and Master Volume knob.

Carr Raleigh Review
The chassis design itself is unique with the tubes mounted on the side and the Mercury Magnetic transformers on the bottom, residing with the bias trim pot and DMM probe points. The cabinet has a port-like cutout in the bottom allowing easy access to everything, while an abbreviated L-shaped window up above helps the tubes to stay cool. Our green tolex example arrived with lightly flamed maple inserts on the front, which, combined with the asymmetrical, wrap-around speaker grill, give the amp a handsome look suitable for nearly any living room or recording studio décor – hey, at this price range, this kinda thing is important. If you tout form over function, Carr offers no-nonsense, all-black tolex trim for $250 less.

Plugged In
Once we plugged in with the master circuit switched out, it became apparent that the Raleigh isn’t really going for a 6V6 Champ/Princeton-vibe, but instead a more 6V6/6L6-type of tone and feel – inbetween a blackface Deluxe and maybe a Vibrolux or Pro. The only time the Raleigh is easily identified as an EL84 powered amp is when fiddling with the tone control. With single-coils the amp was perfect with the Tone control just shy of noon; much higher and the amp sounded too bright, although it might be useful to cut through a mid-heavy mix. Starting with a trusty Tele – and the master still disengaged – the Volume control was placed at nine o’clock, which delivered a dynamic, sparkly, multi-dimensional clean tone with just a hint of compression, effortless sustain and the start of Carr’s trademark mids. A soft touch here delivered delicate tones while digging in offered more chime up top with just a hint of breakup on the low E and A strings. This setting probably best displayed the Raleigh’s EL84 roots. Rolling the Volume up to around 10:30 is where the amp – particularly the lowend – became more Fender-y. It gave up some of the right hand dynamics of the lower setting as well as the top-end chime, replacing them with big, bold “large amp” tones a la Don Rich through Buck’s magic Bassman. The breakup was actually a bit less here – it’s not until the Volume reaches noon and above when the Raleigh starts to offer a little breakup while still being identified as clean until around three o’ clock. From there on the amp’s honky midrange is accentuated, giving all notes an overdriven edge – think dimed blackface Princeton with that fat Carr midrange replacing the sweating Fender’s – a Les Paul with a BurstBucker III at the bridge loved this setting. The Lil’ Buddy really started to make itself aware here too, offering just the right amount of coloration for this amp. This setting would be perfect for blues and roots rock tones or anything else needing both primitive authority and definition. Engaging the Gain/Master switch is like Dr. Jekyll taking a swig of his potion; all of a sudden the amp that was almost encouraging you to turn down suddenly wants to skateboard down to the corner store to pick up another bottle of Night Train after insisting you show it where you’ve hidden the spray paint. Starting with the Volume at 9:00 and the Master at 11:00, the Raleigh sounded a tad boxy when just farting around, but positively huge on mic. Rolling in more dirt – Volume and Master both at noon – took the amp from classic rock/modern country crunch to a more saturated, British sound, belying its EL84 roots and instead sounding like a much larger, EL34-powered rig. Throughout the amp’s distorted range, complex two and three-note voicings retained each note’s identity while barre chords melted deliciously into single, authoritative jabs. Diming both the Volume and Master – what I affectionately call “hillbilly-style” – resulted in a fat, saturated Billy G./Warren Hayes warmth, even with a Tele. Grabbing a Les Paul at this point delivered just what you would expect – even juicier mids and additional warmth. Surprisingly, even with all of this saturation going on, the amp seemed determined not to get mushy. Providing these kinds of tones at honest, conversational volume levels is nothing short of amazing.

buy if

you need an impeccable, lowpowered tone producer

buy if

current financial woes have you singing the blues

Carr Amplifiers
MSRP $1250 ($1500 as tested)
The Final Mojo
The Raleigh took whatever we threw at it – single-coils, humbuckers, P-90s – and spit back inspiring cleans, complex overdriven tones and raucous dirt with nothing more than a knob tweak or two. In other words, the Raleigh is nearly perfect for recording or truly enjoyable living room jams. The price of admission isn’t cheap, but if you want a nice little amp for your Murphy R9 or DeTemple, or you find yourself needing another high-quality tool for the studio, the price shouldn’t make you balk.

Buy if...
you need an impeccable, lowpowered tone producer
Skip if...
current financial woes have you singing the blues

MSRP $1250 ($1500 as tested) - Carr Amplifiers -

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The Reason SM50 is a unique take on an old favorite: 50 watts of vintage-flavored, fixed biased EL34 goodness – with a twist. Brought to us from amp designer

Reason SM50 Review
The Reason SM50 is a unique take on an old favorite: 50 watts of vintage-flavored, fixed biased EL34 goodness – with a twist. Brought to us from amp designer Obeid Khan and cabinet maker Anthony Bonadio, the Reason Amplifier company is a relative newcomer to the scene, although neither partner lacks experience in the industry. Obeid designed, among other things, the Vintage Series amps for Crate while working for St. Louis Music. Anthony designed and built speaker enclosures for other high-end amp makers. The company took shape when Obeid approached Anthony about a cab for his new amp.

From all outward appearances, the SM50 looks like most other current amps. Our sample sported black tolex with a tan stripe on the front behind the gold Reason logo. The grills, control plates, handle mounts and even the back panelscrews were all gold – in fact, about the only thing that wasn’t gold on this amp is the input jacks. With the black and tan tolex combination, it gave the amp a classy, yet surprisingly subtle appearance.

Under the hood, the SM50 features two Amp Doctor EL34s, a mix of JJ’s and EH 12AX7s for the five preamp slots and a GZ34 rectifier tube, all pointing to Obeid’s predilection for vintage amps. The black silk-screened front panel features Power and Standby switches; Volume and Hi-Cut knobs for the Stack channel; Bass, Mid, Treble and Volume for the Normal channel; a Normal/Stack/Bright rotary switch; knobs for Tone and Volume for the bright channel and High and Low input jacks.

The back panel harbors no surprises, featuring a jack for the supplied footswitch, effects send and return jacks, two 4Ù speaker outputs, two 8Ù speakers outs and one 16Ù jack. The back panel is rounded off with a couple of fuse holders and the AC inlet. As with the rest of this amp, there is more here than meets the eye. Reason has decided to go with a parallel effects loop, reckoning that most guitarists will be placing stompbox effects in front of the amp, saving the higher-end, rackmounted delays and preamps for the effects loop. As such, the loop adds no additional circuitry and offers a 100 percent wet, line level signal.

Reason SM50 Review
Moonage Daydream
Plugging into the SM50 for the first time is a little disorienting – this thing is freakin’ loud for 50 watts. In fact, it reminded me of that old Bowie song, “Moonage Daydream” on Ziggy Stardust, specifically the line, “I’ll be a rock n’ rollin’ bitch for you.” This thing positively screams, making me wonder on more than one occasion if the guys over at Reason weren’t having a go by sending us a 100-watt head with a 50-watt panel. A quick look around their website indicated the SM50 is the highest output amp they make and I can understand why – this amp pushes more than enough air for any situation [the company says that they also produce the same circuit in a 25- watt combo].

Obeid had indicated he was a Strat fan and that the SM50 played well with the contoured single-coil contraptions, so I grabbed one to check the amp out. Initially, running through the Normal channel, I was a little disappointed. The SM50 initially sounded weak and thin. I tried flicking the Normal/Stack/Bright switch and finally lit on a nice crunchy sound, although I was having difficulty groking the amp in general. The two things I came away with were that the SM50 has nothing whatsoever to do with living room amps, ever. There is no pussyfooting around here, if you want some crunch, turn up the Volume, whichever channel you happen to be using.

"...this thing positively screams, making me wonder on more then one occasion if the guys over at Reason weren''t having a go by sending us a 100-watt head with a 50-watt panel. A quick look around their website indicated the SM50 is the highest output amp they make and I can understand why"

The second thing is once you have acclimated to all of the ear-drum pummeling glory that is the SM50, the Normal/Stack/ Bright setup is a great way to get three distinct vintage flavored tones without ever sounding strained or running the risk of that bees-in-a-bottle, high-gain sound.

Starting with the Normal channel, the Reason delivered a firm kick in the pants with a distinct, JTM45 vibe. The mids were nice and fat here, encouraging judicious use of the tone knob. Rolled back it retained a more modern feel; cranked up, it was 1973 all over again, giving a fat, splatty Strat sound that needed nothing to fatten it up. Rolling the selector switch over to the Bright channel added a hobnail boot to the amp’s pant kicking foot and was able to get really close to the SRV/plexi dirty-but-defined Strat sound. The Tone knob here has a really unique – but thoroughly musical – curve, adding in mids to a certain point then bringing in some additional dirt at around 8 on the dial. Start at zero and then roll in enough to suit – the tone control’s curve is not unlike a Tube Screamer’s. Like the Normal channel, turning up the Volume and moving some air really brought the amp to life. Not that it doesn’t sound good clean, but you’ll be relying on your guitar’s volume knob for clean up duty – this amp sounds too good dirty.

Luckily, Obeid and crew created two really kick-ass channels to incorporate into the third Stack channel, which in an nutshell is both the Normal and Bright channels in series with an additional gain stage – the Stack channel’s Volume – and an additional tone shaping device via the Hi-Cut control, which came in useful when pushing the Bright channel’s Tone control for some extra grit. In “Stack Mode,” every knob on the control panel’s face is active and the results are more impressive than even the individual channels on their own. To continue with the ass-kicking analogy, this channel is Gene Simmons’ dragon boot having a go at your backside. Sonically, this channel sounds like a modded JCM800, or maybe one of those supermodded plexis from the eighties before anyone cared what they were worth unmolested. The Stack setting delivered tons of dirt and midrange thicker than a chocolate shake, accentuating the chunk already eloquently established by the Normal channel. Shredders, punk rockers and geezers alike will dig what this channel has to offer.

The Stack setting is a lot of fun and like the other two channels, plays nice with P- 90s and humbuckers, but you can tell this amp is sweet on Strats. It touches on past tones easily enough – like Blackmore and Bolin on the Normal channel. The Bright channel can get close to Rory Gallagher tones in addition to the previously mentioned SRV huge-clean-dirty trick. But the Stack Mode allows for some just flat-out, raucous fun. Since the gain never gets out of control, dynamics and picking nuances remain at all but the most bombastic settings. Switching between pickups keeps their character intact, making the SM50 a painfully loud, good time – in other words, a perfect rock n’ roll amp.

The Final Mojo
Unfortunately, due to logistics, we weren’t able to pair the SM50 with one of Reason’s cabinets and I’m really bummed we didn’t – I’d love to hear this amp as Obeid and Anthony intended. But, through a tall 4x12 cab loaded with Celestion V30s, this thing sounded glorious in a “I’m gonna cut you” sort of way. If you’re a Strat guy, you’ll be pissed if you don’t check one out. If you’re into P- 90s or humbuckers, you’ll dig it too, but maybe not quite as much. Either way, if you like vintage tones, and would like to use them as a jumping off point to make some too-loud rock n’ roll, give the SM50 an audition.

Buy if...
you simply want to crank it up and sound glorious
Skip if...
there is anyone with delicate sensibilities on your block

MSRP $2295 - Reason Amplifiers -

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In both a literal and metaphysical sense, John Suhr is a hard man to pin down. Not only was it difficult for him to find enough time to chat

Suhr Guitars In both a literal and metaphysical sense, John Suhr is a hard man to pin down. Not only was it difficult for him to find enough time to chat with us, but it has also been tough to categorize his position within the industry. Is he a master guitar builder or an amp guru? Apparently the two aren’t mutually exclusive because his latest endeavor, Suhr Guitars, has melded both passions successfully enough to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Despite the traditional looking designs from the company he and Steve Smith founded, John rails against the concepts of soul and mojo that tend to permeate guitar making. To John, the “mojo” that a particularly nice ’56 Strat exudes is quantifiable, and therefore repeatable. By embracing modern building methods and a little bit of science, his instruments have that consistent feel, ensuring that each plays and sounds as good as the next. Ironically, this approach gives each guitar with the Suhr logo on the headstock tons of what most players immediately identify as great feel and soul – more commonly referred to as mojo.

As further proof of John’s singular vision, he left a successful gig building the high-profile Pensa-Suhr instruments at Rudy’s Music Stop to design and build preamps and amps with Bob Bradshaw, a move many would be reticent to make. Typical of John’s idiosyncratic take on doing things was the way he came to learn about amps – rather than apprentice with some dusty, old amp guru, John studied electronics and poured over iconic designs until the sounds he wanted to hear were coming out of the speaker.

John’s embrace of technology, combined with his DIY ethos, places him in a league of his own. Throughout this interview we were struck by how often he felt the need to improve upon designs and working situations that most would find more than satisfactory. Luckily, that drive has lead to the design of the Badger amp and his adoption of the SSC noiseless single coil system. That same drive and constant critical thinking also makes his instruments and amps among the finest available, ensuring that Mr. Suhr will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for many decades to come.

John was gracious enough to chat with us about the past, present and future of Suhr Guitars.

Suhr Guitars When you were first starting out 35 years ago in New Jersey, what were your original designs like? Were you a big Leo Fender fan?
Well, this is all kind of a flashback for me; I’ve forgotten about a lot of that period. But I can’t really answer that without a little history. I played in a band that was heavily influenced by bands like Mountain, The Who and early ZZ Top. At that time, I thought Fender guitars were too hard to play and too thin sounding. I did actually own a ‘54 Strat back then, but I only used it for Hendrix and Trower-type tones – I was more of a Les Paul/Les Paul Junior person. I thought notes choked out too easily on Strats and they were too easy to knock out of tune. At that time in 1973, I was just starting to tinker with guitars, rather than build anything. I built later out of the frustration of not being able to find instruments I liked – I could see the flaws everywhere.

I had Bob Benedetto [founder of Benedetto Guitars] make a new neck for one of my Strats – which looked nothing like a Fender – to overcome some of my complaints. In the process we both learned some important things about tremolo systems. Bob also gave me a busted up Les Paul Junior he found in the trash. I turned that Junior into this beast that I gigged with all the time, and ended up modifying all my guitars very heavily from then on out. As much as I wanted to apprentice with Bob, he told me, “If you want to do this for real, just learn it on your own.” I still talk to Bob and credit him with giving me the inspiration to take instruments into my own hands. The basic answer is that the first guitars I made were more in the LP Junior vein.

How did you land the gig at Rudy’s Music Stop? A lot of heavyweights walked through that place.
Playing in bands was not a great way to make a living when I moved to New York City, so I picked up jobs as a cook while still playing in the New Jersey club scene. One of the guys I worked with at a restaurant had heard that I knew a lot about building and repairs – he also knew I was getting tired of slinging omelets. He had moved onto a sales position at Rudy’s Music Stop, and when he saw a need for a repair guy, he convinced Rudy to talk to me.

Suhr Guitars At that time there was no repair shop there, let alone much room for one. My first “shop” was a small bench in the boiler room. Rudy was a Schecter parts dealer, and it didn’t take long for me to start building what became hundreds of instruments and doing so many repairs that we had to expand from the boiler room to over two floors of the building. This is the period when I was able to begin dialing in what I did and didn’t like about Fender guitars.

Did you get to meet Lou Reed and Eric Clapton? Mark Knopfler?
Mark and Lou were customers who I wound up doing a lot of work for, as well as guys like Reb Beach, Steve Stevens, Victor Bailey, Peter Frampton, G.E. Smith and many of the local studio players. I didn’t get to meet Eric until years later when I built amplifiers for him at Fender. The Pensa-Suhr Eric owned was a gift from Knopfler. I wish I could have had a personal interaction with him, but fortunately I was able to spend a lot of time with both Knopfler and Reed.

When you left that gig to design amplifiers with Robert Bradshaw in 1991, which was ultimately very successful, weren’t you worried about walking away from a successful gig – the bird-in-the-hand thing?
Well, yes, I was sort of worried, but Bob had already presold 100 or so of the 3+ preamps before I decided to move. I was always an employee at Rudy’s, and to be honest, the money wasn’t enough to really take care of my plans for a life with my new wife.

I designed all of the circuits and the preamp while I was playing in my band at my bandmate’s studio in NYC. I was constantly searching for tones I didn’t hear in amps I purchased but was hearing in my head. My then wife-to-be was stuck in Columbia for two years sorting out immigration issues, so I needed something to keep myself occupied. Taking what I had learned earlier, working at Time Electronics in Union, New Jersey and pushing myself to get the tones in my head in a three-channel preamp kept me very busy.

Suhr Guitars
“Wood is always an issue. We use old, slow growth maple for our necks. We’ve never had an issue with plain grain maple and have been using the same source since the beginning, but we are constantly looking for sources of body woods. Currently, we bring in a lift of alder and send at least half of it back, mainly for being too heavy.”

In 1995 you landed a gig as Senior Master Builder at Fender’s Custom Shop; did you appreciate the situation while you were there?
I have no regrets about my time at Fender – I learned things the way they were done there, but it really wasn’t what I expected. I was hired as a Senior Master Builder and was there more to contribute rather than learn. I learned how a factory approaches production, but I chose to approach it differently.

What precipitated you leaving Fender?
I left because I wanted more control over the product, so I could hold my head up high. I pushed for new machinery (CNCs) and the red tape was killing me. I was frustrated and felt that my skills would be better utilized in design and engineering – more so than sitting there, leveling frets and building guitars. I enjoy solving problems and being involved in research; I don’t like mojo. To me, there is a reason for everything.

Suhr Guitars You and Steve Smith founded JST in 1997. How integral was Steve to starting your own shop? How did you guys meet?
Steve was a software rep and a CNC programmer. He saw my frustration while at Fender and asked me why I didn’t just start my own company. My response was that I hadn’t learned about the programming end of it, and of course the money! I was also feeling a bit reserved since I now had a family to think about, with my wife and young son. Steve had done some programming work with Rickenbacker, but wasn’t a guitar builder; fortunately, all I had to do was get my CAD chops together and Steve could cut whatever I threw his way. We gathered a group of investors – mostly family, some friends and even Peter Frampton. Ten years later things are growing and better than ever. It took six to eight years to realize it, but I definitely made the right decision.

With Steve’s CNC experience and your building skills, you now have complete control of the manufacturing process. What has that been like?
The amount of personal effort, sacrifice and time that one must put into a successful guitar business is not for the faint of heart. I was sanding bodies, fretting necks and painting into the early hours of the morning until just a few years ago. I was the lone paint boy until very recently; now I finally have someone who has been able to free me up a little. My wife and I used to wind all the pickups at home. It has been hard to find just the right crew.

How do you feel the Plek machine [a computer-controlled alternative to manual fret dressing] has changed things from a manufacturer’s standpoint?
You don’t need a Plek to do excellent fret work, but it does take the guess work and theorizing out of the equation. It’s sort of like surgery without X-ray, compared to a full body scan before the operation. Each piece of wood will behave differently, but the Plek makes them all set up with the same consistency.

As production increases, are you able to retain the same control as before?
I have way more control now. I’m still a small builder, but I have a hand-picked, top notch crew who do things my way with my supervision. I’m much more in control now than when I had to be one of the crew. This allows us more resources to make a better product and take advantage of new technologies.

For instance, I now have the ability to actually measure the frequency response of a body and neck before they go together. With that information, I can hear and see the frequency response of the instrument as a whole – I can start putting an end to myth and use science to make sense out of what we hear. You need to have room for R&D in order to come up with new products and explore new ideas.

Have you had any issues sourcing good wood?
Wood is always an issue. We use old, slow growth maple for our necks. We’ve never had an issue with plain grain maple and have been using the same source since the beginning, but we are constantly looking for sources of body woods. Currently, we bring in a lift of alder and send at least half of it back, mainly for being too heavy. We re-dry all of our wood, even though the moisture content is good when we get it.

What prompted the standard bass model in 2003? Did you offer basses on a custom order option before that?
I’ve made many basses before, even back to the Pensa-Suhr days with Victor Bailey, and at Fender I made some custom, oneoff basses for Wayman Tisdale. We didn’t start them at Suhr until 2003 and next year we will expand our bass line beyond our current traditionally shaped models. In fact, we will have some new bass products at NAMM.

Suhr Guitars Can you walk us through the SSC pickup system and tell us a bit about how it works?
The SSC now has an official patent. I am not the inventor – Ilitch Electronics is the inventor. I was, however, one of the only people to believe that Ilitch was onto something. Together we tweaked the idea to work with Suhr guitars. I later asked them to integrate it into the backplate of a trem-equipped guitar so we could sell it as an aftermarket part.

It creates the same hum as the single coils create, without the negative effects of a simple dummy coil. It works more like an antenna with virtually no inductance or DC resistance to rob your tone. There are no active electronics either. It is the most uncompromised solution for maintaining your single coil tone I’ve seen. When I first saw it, I kicked myself in the head and said, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It really works and 99 percent of the pro players I have installed it for hear no difference or such a little difference it takes them half a day to hear it. All the glory and air of the single coil pickup is still there – only the hum is missing.

It seems that you’ve come full circle with the release of the Badger amp last year. How does it feel to be back in the amp game?
Amazing, but I never really left. The great thing is that we are still a small company. I make decisions and have the control. If I need to spend some money on great test gear and tools to make better product, I just do it. I don’t have red tape – I am the red tape.

I’m so excited about the new amps that we are working on. I have some new guys in our electronics crew who will enable our amps to achieve a whole new level of features. In 2008, we will be developing some amps that have me truly excited about making amps again. Some builders feel it’s all been done before – what’s left? What’s left is that the builders need to listen to musicians’ needs and put things into an uncompromising package that works in every situation. So, with that in mind, it hasn’t all been done before.

What do you enjoy about the business? What gets you up in the morning?
My enjoyment comes from building a great playing, great sounding guitar – a tool where a musician can find comfort. The biggest compliment I get is when someone like Steve Stevens says, “I took the guitar straight from the shop to the studio – no need to tweak or change anything.” The only reason I drifted into building guitars and amplifiers was because I was a frustrated player who spent more time tweaking my instruments and amps than I did on my playing. I found a niche of course, but I don’t feel musicians should have to worry about all of the complaints I had when I was making a living playing music. I don’t regret it at all, but the obsession with making better instruments didn’t leave enough room for playing.

To this day, I still eat, sleep and breathe with the desire to make better instruments and amplifiers. An artist can make an art guitar, but a real, working instrument is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Suhr Guitar