Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
Amped: The Illustrated History Of The World's Greatest Amplifiers
Every once in awhile a book will come along that is truly unique. Dave Hunter's book Amped: The Illustrated History Of The World's Greatest Amplifiers is in that category. Dave Hunter tells the story of 60 of the greatest amps ever built, illustrated with hundreds of photos, catalogs and memorabilia.
Q - I don't think there has ever been a book published on amplifiers, has there?
A - Well, I've got a previous book out on amps myself. This might get more credit, style and design wise, than a lot do, but there have been quite a few books on amplifiers out already and some very well done ones too by other writers. I don't know if there's another one that collects a range of different vintage amps in this way with as much attention to the layout and design as there is to the details. I think gear books are traditionally a little old-style. Always a little dry, a little straight and kind of two dimensional. So hopefully this dresses it up a little bit.
Q - Certainly the cover of your book is eye-catching.
A - Yeah. I write for a few different publishers, but these guys are always a lot of fun because they go all out for the design work.
Q - Your book is a real stand-out.
A - Well, thank you very much.
Q - I take it you're a musician.
A - I am a musician and I used to play professionally when I was younger, but I still play pretty seriously. The writing is the day job these days.
Q - What is the music scene like in Portsmouth, New Hampshire? That is where you call home, correct?
A - I do, yeah. There's a pretty good music scene. It's not a real big town. I think it's a town of about 25,000 people. It's on a sea coast. It's a popular vacation destination. There's a pretty good arts scene around this whole area. So, there's a lively music scene and a lot creative musicians. We're just an hour north of Boston. So, it's commuting range to Boston. About an hour south of Portland, Maine also. All through this part of the Northeastern seaboard, there's a lot of venues and obviously Boston has a thriving music scene of its own. So that's more of the place a band here would play too.
Q - What kind of a band are you in? Top 40?
A - No. I've got a band that does original music. It's a band called The Molenes. We're taking a break now, but we have 3 albums out of original music. People either call it Roots Rock or Alternative Country. I usually describe it as Rock 'n' Roll with a little bit of twang to it.
Q - There's a lot of work in Portsmouth?
A - Well, there's plenty. There is. Right around locally there are fewer places. We play a lot in Boston and go down to New York City or travel further afield. So yeah, you get around. There's not as many venues as there would be right in a big city, but Boston has plenty going on. That's not too far to go.
Q - What publications do you write for?
A - I write for Guitar Player magazine and Vintage Guitar magazine. And I've done a number of other books in the past.
Q - How long did it take you to put this particular book together? This has to be a labor of love.
A - This was done bit by bit over the course of a number of years. The foundation of this is a long running series I've had in Vintage Guitar magazine where I feature a different vintage amp every month. They're not all vintage. Some of them are modern classics. You can see in this book there are some more contemporary amps, but the majority of them are older. So that formed the basis of this. We added a lot more artwork and some extra details and some extra amplifiers to that series of columns that I'm still doing for Vintage Guitar. So it's all over the course of a number of years. It was something I was working on anyway. These books can take a lot of effort, but this one kind of had the bones of it in place already.
Q - Where did you find all these amps to photograph? They can't all belong to you. Did you have to go to music stores or bands?
A - Yeah. It was a little all of that. Initially when the column started running, and this is 5 or 6 years ago, I used some amps I had myself, but I don't tend to maintain a big collection. If I'm not using something, I tend to sell it. I've gone through a lot of amps over the years, so if I've kept pictures and details, I've used some of these. And then I'd go to vintage music stores. There's a local music store and I use theirs. Then after awhile we would have a lot of readers and fellow musicians who would come forward. They'd see the column and get in touch and say "Hey, I've got an amp that might be of interest for you guys to check out." So a lot of it happened that way. They would get quality photos done, send in the details and we'd work from their amplifiers. So, it was really a little bit of everything.
Q - Did you approach the manufacturers of these amps for information?
A - In some cases we did. With the older names we didn't quite as often because most of them are in the hands of different companies now. Marshall has always been owned by Jim Marshall, who died just a couple of months ago. (April 5, 2012) That's the only major maker that hasn't passed through a number of owners, although it's had parent companies. All of 'em make very good re-issues of some of their older products, but they're not always able to provide a whole lot of information or photographs on the old stuff. So we'll go to collectors and photo archives. With some of the newer amps we would go straight to the source sometimes for some details or amps to try out or photograph.
Q - Did you ever speak to Jim Marshall?
A - I've spoken to him in the past. I worked in London for many years. I was the editor of a magazine over there called Guitar magazine. So I would bump into Jim at trade shows through the course of work and spoke to him several times. The other founders of the other great companies aren't with us anymore. But Jim was one of the great originators who was with us until just a couple of months ago.
Q - How about the guy who founded Vox?
A - I'm not sure when Tom Jennings passed away. Dick Denny, who was his chief designer, he died when I was editor of Guitar magazine over in London. I remember running a feature on his death, or maybe it was shortly after I moved back to the States in 2004. It was somewhere around there. It might have been anywhere from 2001 to 2005. So, he was around for a good while.
Q - It was probably the explosion of the British Invasion that brought about great strides in the world of amplifiers. The Beatles with their Super Vox.
A - Yeah.
Q - There was never a need for as big of an amp before The Beatles, was there?
A - That was a huge part of it because Rock 'n' Roll was becoming big in the U.S.A., but The Beatles were the first band who were really selling out to massive audiences and trying to be heard in those enormous arenas. So funny enough, it was a lot of those British bands. We've all seen the examples of The Beatles playing in front of hordes of screaming teenage girls. You can't even hear the vocals or guitars or anything. So that was very directly a phenomenon. They went to Vox, Dick Denny who I just mentioned, and said "We need some bigger amps" and they built those up as quick as they could for The Beatles, the 50 and 100 watt amps. Then Jim Marshall took that on. He was just coming along in 1962 or so, really. So he was layered into the game, but he was doing the same thing for Pete Townshend, requesting more volume. Townshend didn't use a Marshall for very long, but he was one of the guys urging Jim Marshall to make the bigger amps. And then there was Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. So that was really when it transitioned from the mid '60s from kind of just dance hall and club music to stadium music.
Q - It would've been a different book had that never happened.
A - (laughs) Yeah, they'd all be smaller things that put out about 20 watts at most.
Q - Since you lived in London at one point, did you interview a lot of the famous guitarists?
A - Yeah. I'm doing less of that now, but I used to do more feature writing, artist interviews.
Q - Did you meet George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page?
A - Jimmy Page I met, also his bass player from Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones. I met Pete Townshend in the past. I met Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters to some of the great old players like Hank Marvin of The Shadows who had big instrumental success over there. Steve Earle, a great sort of Alternative Country player. A pretty wide range of those guys.
Q - And now you're getting away from it.
A - Well, yeah. I always enjoyed that a lot, it's just now I'm in this groove of writing about the gear. So I'm not interviewing the players as much as I'm talking about historical and technical aspects of the equipment.