Are You a Clone?

Hand Wired Amps

When at guitar & amp shows, I often get asked if my amps are like a particular major brand or model, or if I have something similar.  I appreciate what they want – a familiar amp, but built by hand and not mass-produced with low-cost components and/or labor in a foreign land.  They want a hand made, hand wired guitar amplifier that will provide great tone as well as durability.  I get it.

I could do that, pretty easily.  Buy an amp kit at wholesale, assembly it, and then sell it for a mark-up to cover my labor and build costs and allow a profit to keep my business going.  I choose not to do that; there are plenty of places where you can buy a “boutique” clone… if a clone can be “boutique”.  That’s not me.  I suppose it could be, but I’m already busy building my own amps.

That being said, I have models that are ‘similar to’ or better yet ‘inspired by’ those old favorites.  Here’s how.

Boutique Amps

My signature amp, the Texas Tone 12, was inspired by a rebuild of an old Gibson amp from the mid 1950s.  I made numerous changes and improvements, enough so that it’s not the same amp, or even a clone.  I changed the gain structure, the phase splitter, the tone stack, the power tube bias, and the tremolo circuit to a pulsating tremolo that’s been dubbed the Hypnotic Slam Effect.

Another popular model is the 5881 powered Texas Tone Ranger.  This amp was inspired by an old Marshall EL84 18 Watt amp, but actually shares very little with that amp other that general layout of the controls and block diagram.  The list of changes and revisions is too long to list here, but suffice it to say that it’s an all-new design, loved for its versatility to play loud or quite, clean or dirty, or many variations.

The well-received Texas Tone 30 was broadly based on (“inspired by” I like to say) the tweed Bassman/JTM45 design.  I re-voiced: the Bright channel to a Lead channel; the phase splitter; the Presence control; power supply filtering; and changed the output transformer and lowered the noise floor.  It’s not the same amp as its inspirees.

Next, I mention the Studio Series – the Reverb 1×12 and the JRS 2×10.  These use a totally unique circuit that takes the general block diagram of the tweed Bassman and creates a amplifier that’s clean until driven, takes pedals well, has near-zero ciruit noise (hence the “Studio” designation), and has a natural compression when pushed, can be played wide-open, and isn’t too loud for the studio or small venues.  They can do jazz, county, rock or blues as is, or any style with your choice of pedals.

My latest is a small, lightweight amplifier based on the Ranger.  Small enough to carry “one load” to gigs, loud and versatile enough to play those gigs.  It takes pedals well, yet can stand on its own without them.

Inspire yourself

I build amps that are inspired by great amps of the past, to inspire guitarists of today and of the foreseeable future.

Your Tone Matters

Distinctly Different

Recently, my wife and I attended a music showcase. One of the bands featured a very good local guitarist, one that I’ve known of for over 30 years. He’s always played well, and he’s well respected.

During the course of the show, he played several guitar solos, all of them top notch, and kept the rhythm going with style the rest of the time. He was using a Fender® Stratocaster®, which looked to me to be either a 57 re-issue or an Eric Johnson signature model, and a Bugera amplifier, with a well-stocked pedal board in between. This brings me to my first point.

Eric Johnson has a signature tone. If you’ve heard him play, it usually doesn’t take long to discern that, ‘that’s Eric Johnson playing.’ Fender recently introduced a new Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline model. While talking about this guitar, Mr. Johnson recalled some advice that B.B. King gave him years ago:

“You know, you can do this; you can do that. There’s all these things you can do, but find the one thing you do that’s unique, that nobody else can do, and just go with it!”

B.B. King had an instantly recognizable style. So does Eric Johnson. So do many others, from Carlos Santana to Willie Nelson to Roy Buchanan.

While listening to this great local guitarist play his solos, which were all on point and very good, I couldn’t help but notice his tone. To me, it sounded very, well, generic. It sounded like a Strat played through a pedal board. Nothing distinguishable about it, even though it was musically very good and well placed.

During a break in the show, my wife, who has a very discerning ear for music, had asked me who the guitarist was, and commented that he was really good. She’s very honest about her musical thoughts. If my tone or playing or singing is not very good, she will tell me. She’ll also honestly tell me her thoughts about anyone we listen to. I value her opinion; it’s an opinion forged by years of musical training.

As we were driving home after the show, I asked my wife what she thought about his tone. I asked her cold, so as not to prejudice her response. She replied that his tone, “wasn’t very good. It sounded cheap.” Interesting, especially considering that he was a very good guitarist playing what is considered to be good equipment.

That One Thing

Perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received from anyone came from Mark Daven of the Guitar Radio Show. During an interview with him, after he had played two guitars through two different Texas Tone™ amplifiers, he stated:

“Many times I’ll play amps and you can’t tell one from the other. These are very distinctly different sounding amps. They made me play differently. I started approaching the instrument in a different way as I played each one.”

Mark Daven, Guitar Radio Show

When speaking about my signature amp, the Texas Tone 12, he stated that it has a “a pulsating tremolo. Different than anything I’ve heard before.”  He’s heard lots.

Don’t be generic. Don’t settle for a ‘me, too’ sound. Take advice from two masters, B.B. King and Eric Johnson. Find that thing you do that’s unique, that nobody else can do, and just go with it.

For me, it’s hand made tube amps, featuring the unique Hypnotic Slam Effect of the  Texas Tone 12 tremolo.