Pedal gurus take on the next frontier: an amplifier
After turning out guitar effects with names like “Tentacle,” “Disaster Transport,” “Zap Machine,” and the wonderfully equivocal “Afterneath,” could EarthQuaker Devices still build anything that would surprise people? How about an amplifier. It’s been an eventful year for EarthQuaker, which only this summer moved its operation to a much-expanded new factory in its hometown of Akron, Ohio. Not long afterward, the company surprised crowds at the Summer NAMM Show with a sneak peak at its first ever non-pedal product: a tube amp with vintage personality and a touch of the quirky aesthetics also found in its pedals. What most of them didn’t know was that EarthQuaker only decided to make it a production model around 24 hours before. “We had a faint idea that if things worked out, this just might be a serious product for us,” says EarthQuaker founder and CEO Jamie Stillman. “Then we posted a picture of it on our Instagram account—and everyone flipped out. Our dealers started emailing us to ask how soon they could buy it.”
In truth, the amplifier started out as an experiment. Known for its range of more than 40 U.S.-made pedals—distinguished by their funky graphics and adventurous range of sounds—EarthQuaker found itself buying a lot of amps for product testing and demos all over the country. So on a whim, the EarthQuaker team decided to see what it would take to build their own amp. Stillman threw the task to EarthQuaker builder Joe Golden, who’s built and repaired amplifiers on the side for years. Out of several designs he suggested, the one he and Stillman liked best was a big, white stage amp that combined a simple interface with a hint of ’70s edge. From a sound standpoint, says Stillman, what they liked was that the output was very “flat”—not prone to accentuate certain frequencies or add unnatural coloration—and therefore ideal for showing off their pedal tones. It also works with all types of power tubes, which are easy to switch out without re-biasing the amp. “It started as hearkening back to classic amp design and led into how we can showcase these pedals in the best way possible,” says Golden. “It was a natural evolution toward diversifying the product line.”
While the demand for the amp was a bit of a surprise, the EarthQuaker team knew they had the resources in their new factory to make it happen. At 15,000 square feet, the facility has been tricked out with a range of new tooling and includes ample space for a wood shop to do the cabinet construction. They expect to start shipping amps to dealers sometime in early 2016. “It’s like starting a whole ’nother company,” says Stillman. “We’re going to do this right and not rush into it.” Meanwhile, though, EarthQuaker is busy on a pair of pedal upgrades that should be ready for Winter NAMM on at least some models. First, it’s fine-tuning a high-powered digital platform—“basically tiny super-computers,” says Stillman—designed to bring powerful new features and true stereo sound to the pedal line. Second, it’s converting the entire line to electronic relay switching, a silent, or “click-less” technology that also stands to cut way back on switch breakage. “Yes, this does mean redesigning 40 circuit boards,” says Stillman. “But all this is really going to take us beyond the realm of what most companies in our league are doing. We’ll be able to do a lot more crazy things.”
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