I live in New Jersey (doesn’t everyone?!) which happens to also be home to a few of the premier amp builders on our planet. One of these men is Andy Fuchs, who has his HQ about an hour from me. So naturally I had to go there, and am I glad I did.
Fuchs HQ is tucked into part of a warehouse and has sort of a superhero secret HQ vibe, maybe an urban Fortress of Solitude thing. Maybe that was all in my head but it was cool nonetheless. The space is painted blue, with reviews from guitar mags and other memorabilia framed hither and yon on the walls.
One half of the space has a selection of his amps and pedals. (Yes, it’s where my eyes went first, about this fast: blue…amps!) It’s hard not to stand there and stare just at the amps.
Behind this area is the workshop, where innocent-looking pieces of electronic gear get turned into the mouth-watering tonal instruments (yes, instruments) known as Fuchs amplifiers. And that’s about how it looks, like someone’s workshop expanded a few times over.
At some point after talking to Andy, I grabbed a beat-up Gibson The Paul (walnut/walnut/ebony, Gibson T-Top pickups) and started plugging directly into his amps, which is how I like to play ‘em.
I recently played the Train-45 at the NY/NJ Amp Show so I instead plugged into the Tripledrive Supreme. This is a Dumble-based or Dumble-like amp (Fuchs and Two Rock were the first independents to build Dumble-esque amps), but as I’ve said in a previous post, that ultimately isn’t a very helpful characterization.
I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a classic rock guy. Used to be able to do some shredding, can’t anymore, never really got into the progressive blues of a Robben Ford. So I am a 4ths and 5ths, hard rock-ish licks, VH and ZZ Top kind of guy. And let me tell you: All of that stuff sounded GREAT through the Tripledrive – although three crickets hopping on a banjo probably would sound good through that amp.
What I mean is, it’s that good. That absolutely does not mean that three bugs on a banjo will sound like a Les Paul through it, nor will a Strat sound like a Les Paul through it, which is the point of all very good amps: the guitars sound different, as do the players.
Bottom line: The Tripledrive is a mouth-watering tonal festival. If you play one, be prepared to get GAS!
From there I played the Overdrive Supreme which also was cool and great for my caveman rock style. So what did I (re)learn:
1. Andy Fuchs makes great amps, amps worth saving your pennies (more like $20s!) for.
2. So-called “D-style” (Dumble-style) amps aren’t just for single-line noodling-type players. Really good amps, no matter what they are, can rock – which I guess should be apparent by looking at some of the guitar-slingers who play Fuchs amps (more on that in a future post).
Right on top of the Tripledrive is this Mantis head. It looks like a modern, gainy rock head. It’s described as one by Fuchs. So my initial reaction at the NY/NJ Amp Show was…nah, not playing it. But at the show, time was precious. At Fuchs HQ, I had time. So I figured what the heck.
I plugged in and had an immediate connection. Mike Pasterczyk of Fuchs started twiddling knobs and eventually switching channels, and I was digging it! The gain was there but you could dial it back if you wanted, and rock just oozed from the lone speaker (sounded big in that Fuchs cab).
Eventually I cranked the mids on the amp, Mike got behind the drum kit that sits next to the amps and we ran through Moby Dick, And the Cradle Will Rock and a few other tunes, just messing around. (Btw, I love it when you can play an amp with someone else playing drums because that way you get to see whether it can hack through some of the same frequencies.)
So naturally I started asking Andy questions, like: how did this amp come to be, what tubes are in it (6550s – unusual – why?), etc. Cool story, cool answers, so I wrote ‘em down.
AmpGAS: What’s the story behind the Mantis – why do a rock amp?
Andy: I would say the main reason was diversifying the company. We’d been known for the D-style stuff and amps that were blues, fusion and jazz, and we wanted the company to move in more than just that direction.
A lot of guys are out there hanging their hat on being the greatest Dumble cloner in the world or whatever you want to call it, but I see my company as a wider company. We might do bass amps, we’ve done some of the lower-power single-channel amps…. We really felt there was a market beyond just being a Dumble-style amp builder. And some metal players recognized the quality of our tone and wanted that quality in a high-gain amp.
How did this amp become part of the Fuchs family?
We had an endorser with the company, an East Coast metal guy. He brought in an amp he’d been using for years, a Marshall [with 6550 power tubes] that had been rebuilt by Jose Arrendondo [of Arrco Electronics, now deceased, who famously helped EVH with his early sound]. He said, “I have this amp, it has a bunch of tweaks in it, I think it sounds great.”
So we used that amp as a model, not so much electrically but sonically. We first reached a point where the amp sounded as good [as the Jose Marshall], and then we said, ‘Okay, what can we do to make it sound better.’ We ended up with the first channel similar to an ODS [Fuchs Overdrive Supreme] – similar but with a bunch of tweaks to make it higher gain – and the second channel in the Bassman/Marshall realm.
- End of part 1 of 2 -