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About Me, My Beliefs, And My Amplifiers

 

Truth In Tone

“Truth in Tone”. I like this expression.  It was used by a musician to describe a Soul Tramp amp.  It’s a simple statement with a profound meaning that conveys more than the three words seem to hold at first glance.

A good amplifier becomes an integral part of the guitar.  It becomes an instrument, something that helps move the music from the mind and fingers of the musician to the audience.   I’ve been told my amps feel “organic”.

With a Soul Tramp amp you may hear sounds from the speakers that weren’t there before.   Some will be surprising and pleasing, while others may not.    You may hear a string vibrating against a fret, or muffed notes that aren’t properly muted.   You may raise an eyebrow and realize your technique needs some more work.  BUT, you will also hear wonderful sounds that weren’t there before.  Sounds your fingers were producing, but were lost in the signal path of your old amplifier.

We all know how difficult it is to describe tone.  It’s like trying to describe color!  We use many words with somewhat esoteric meanings, hoping the person we’re talking to will understand.    We use examples and analogies.  When I listen to an amplifier there are five things I look for.: note separation, articulation, harmonics, note bloom, and bandwidth.  These five qualities are what separate great amps from all others. 

When Science and Art Collide

Very interesting things result when a Scientist produces art, or an artist incorporates science in his work. 

Masters such as Escher, Dali, Picasso apply simple physics to bend and distort what we see.  Les Paul and Leo Fender revolutionized guitar playing.  Leon Theremin created a musical instrument wielding science as a wizard works magic.

It’s not enough that an amp sound spectacular.  It’s beauty and lines should stir emotions.   A Les Paul is a beautiful guitar.  The lines, symmetry, and craftsmanship make it a piece of visual art.  The same should be true of an amplifier.  It’s not just a wooden box filled with electronics.

I guarantee, once you smell the shellac on a Tweed Soul Tramp, you will recognize it immediately twenty, thirty or more years later.  It will stir nostalgia.  The feel of the leather handle and the smell of shellac will stir the right side of your brain, while the circuit designs and engineering will stimulate the left. 

If you see and hear beauty in my amps, I have succeeded.

Tone, Quality, & Beauty

Tone

Tone is the elusive Shangri-la that we musicians endlessly seek.  How often have we sighed  a great relief having found “the” perfect tone.  Finally our quest is at an end.  Despite what Tolkien said, the road does not go ever on.  But within months, weeks, days, we hear a different tone.  Perhaps it’s better!  How can that be!?  Was Tolkien right after all?  Again we sigh, but this time it is in despair.  And the search is on!

Each amp in the Soul Tramp product line is a result of a sound, a tone, a fluttering of fairy wings, that has taken root in my mind.  Then begins the arduous task of turning lead into gold.  The tone is thought through, schematics drawn, circuits designed,  prototypes built, and the experimentation begins.  More than once the whole thing has been abandoned.  The fluttering fairy wings are driven out by a new sound, and the cycle begins again.

I haven’t lost my mind.  The preceding tongue-in-cheek paragraphs attempt to make the point that tone, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I do take tone most seriously!  Clear harmonics, note separation, strong low freqs, clean high freqs, articulation, are tonal qualities integral to each Soul Tramp design.

Quality

I take great pride in the quality of my amps.  It begins with the selection and use of only the highest quality components.  Component cost is not a determining factor as with so many other amps.  Even those amps that cost considerably more than a Soul Tramp.  Heavy gauge aluminum chassis, Mercury Magnetics transformers, Teflon wire, and on, and on. 

Each amp is built slowly by hand.  From drilling the 100+ holes in the chassis, fabricating the turret boards, laying out the components, to soldering each wire.

I build each cabinet of solid pine with half-blind dovetail joints.  The tweed cabinets are finished in 11 coats of shellac and lacquer.  It’s a very slow process, but worth the effort.  It takes about 50 hours to build an amp and cabinet.

Beauty

As with tone, beauty is subjective.  However, I believe you’ll find Soul Tramp amplifiers meet your expectation of beauty.  I have a confession.  It is my opinion the blackface Fender Bassman is the most beautiful amp every designed.  It is the pinnacle. 

Since I can’t copy the Bassman I have followed my own path and tried to craft an amp that is functional and beautiful.  You will be the judge.

Don Hills, Founder

Although I’ve spent my entire career as a systems integrator designing complex software & hardware solutions for manufacturers and distributors, I’ve been designing and building electronics and audio related equipment since high school.  It started with crystal radios, and was quickly followed by stereo systems.  While in high school I was designing and building hifi speaker systems.  Once out of college, in the late 70′s, I was designing and building digital and analog computer circuits.

It was the late 1960′s when I first learned acoustic folk guitar.  Inspired by bands like Steppenwolf, and Cream, it didn’t take long to make the jump to electric guitar, always owning and favoring the blackface Fender amps.