Ask Jackson – Question 1 of 10

I figured it had been a while since I updated the Jackson Ampworks Blog so I decided to do something different this time. I got the idea from my brother to ask 10 questions about either me or Jackson Ampworks and see what came in. These are the questions that came in from Twitter, Facebook or Email. Think of this as sort of a “mass interview.” Hope you enjoy and learn something interesting about me (Brad Jackson) and or Jackson Ampworks!

This is Question #1. The remaining questions will be featured in further blog posts.

I’m an aspiring amp builder.  I’m going to start my first build in March. What advise can you give me give as my goal is to become a competitor of yours?

I like this question and I appreciate the honesty of it. 🙂

First off, if you are going to build an amp, I would learn the rules first. By that I mean learn what can and will kill you. Electricity can be a dangerous mistress; take her for granted and she will bite you. I’ve been bit really bad before and it was only luck that kept it from being worse than just a shock and a few high volume expletives. That being said, I strongly recommend that you get the following books:

Tube Amp Talk for the Guitarist and Tech – Gerald Weber

This is a great book with tons of good information that is presented in an easily digestible format.

Tube Guitar Amplifier Essentials – Gerald

Get this one first and read it cover to cover. After you’ve read it, read it again. This book takes years of lessons I had to learn the hard way and again presents them in an easy to understand way. I could not recommend this book more.

The Ultimate Tone Volume 3 – Kevin O’Connor

All of Kevin O’Connors books are incredible and present a wealth of information. These are the kinds of books you’ll read over and over and every time you’ll pick up another tidbit of information that you can use later. I think at this time Kevin has 6 Books in ‘The Ultimate Tone’ series and they are all worth getting but start with Volume 3. It’s the most relevant to you now.

For your first amp, I would strongly recommend that you build a kit amp. There are a lot of companies out there that sell complete kits with all the parts and instructions etc for building your first amp. Once you get a feel for what goes into an amp, you might try sourcing the parts for your second amp yourself as that is a huge part of the process as well.

Some of the more popular kit companies are:

CeriaTone, Tube Depot and MojoTone

All this being said, you need to build the following amps. Fender 5E3 Deluxe, Fender Deluxe Reverb, Marshall Plexi, Marshall JTM45 (very similar to the Plexi), Vox AC15, Vox AC30. Each of these amps is considered an iconic sound and you need to be familiar with each of these at least for the simple reason of being able to relate to the tone each produces. Each one will show you something different and you need to stock your bag of tricks with all the tricks that make these amps sound good. In truth, 95% of all guitar amps are either clones of or variations on these amps. Once you build these I STRONGLY recommend that you build a Trainwreck Express clone. This is one of those amps designs that is so on the edge of stability that it will be a great exercise in layout, component selected and placement. This is one of the designs that will make a man out of you so to speak. After the Trainwreck, try building a Dumble circuit. Again it’s a very iconic sound and should be in your arsenal of tones. There some really cool tricks to be learned here too.

Once you get your head around these designs and get working/gig-able amps made from then, then you can start thinking about cooking up your own recipe based on the ingredients you have collected.

Okay so now you have a pretty good idea of how guitar amps work and you want to carry on and make your own contribution to the industry. My first piece of advise. Don’t start a business that simply clones the amps you cut your teeth on. There are countless guys building 50W Plexi clones with each one saying, “this is the best sounding, most vintage correct amp ever made.” It’s been done so much that it doesn’t matter anymore. If you want to contribute to the industry, then by all means contribute to it and bring something fresh to the table. Companies like Divided by 13, 65Amps, Morgan and Jackson Ampworks have done well because each of them brings something unique to the table. It could be killer tone with a great look and vibe or something totally fresh sonically. Whichever way you go, fight tooth and nail to come up with something that is unique and ultimately gives the guitarist a better user experience. Honestly the word experience is the perfect word for it. You need to create an EXPERIENCE for the player. Whether its the way the amp sits in the mix or the way the amp makes your pant legs move, create an experience for the player that he/she can’t stop talking about and you’ll be well on your way to building a successful company.

That’s my 2 cents on the design side of the business. For the business side of it, since I studied aeronautics in college and not business, I had to come by that stuff the hard way and as such would strongly recommend the following books.

Rework – Jason Fried

I love this book because it reinforces how to run and manage a small and nimble business. This book blows apart a lot of the ideas we have been fed for years about how a business should conduct itself. It’s very guerrilla and perfect for small businesses.

Guitar Lessons – Bob Taylor (yes THAT Taylor!)

I read this book in two sittings because I couldn’t put it down. As I was reading it, it was like Bob Taylor knew the specific problems I was facing and was giving me the exact answers I needed. Building guitars and building amps are not that different. You need good designs, good parts and good people to put them together. This book is perfect for anyone involved in manufacturing especially in the Music Industry.

EntreLeadership – Dave Ramsey

Great book on starting a business and running it. You can tell this information was learned the hard way. Read it and absorb as much as you can. It will likely save your business or at the very least save you money.

That’s the best advise I can give at this point in my career. It’s certainly advise I wish I had been given early on. Best of luck to you as you start your venture and please do stay in touch if you need any help or council.

I’m pulling for you, we’re all in this together!

Brad Jackson

Jackson Ampworks

One Comment

  1. I would like to start by saying thank you so much for addressing my question.

    I need to make a correction to the question, “What advise can you give me give as my goal is to become a competitor of yours?”. I should have read, “What advise can you give me, given as my goal is to become a competitor of yours?”.
    Sorry in my haste I forgot the ‘n’ on given.

    Your advise is very much appreciated and heart felt. I understand that with the pressures of everyday life it isn’t always easy to make time for other people and for that I thank you.
    I’ve been blessed with a very varied array of life experiences that have allowed me to be around amps and even worked in an amp repair shop and as such, I am very much aware of the electrical dangers that about with even an amp that has been unplugged for days. (I used to own a Marshall Major).
    My first order is to get into the building process and actually some of the suggestions you have mentioned are things that are already part of my agenda.
    I was also very impressed at the business suggestions as any endeavor that deals with money needs to have a business plan. I have spent time getting advise from SCORE which is a free service that is a great resource for someone looking to start a business.

    Thank you so much for a very informative response.
    Serapio Perez III

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