[Here's part 1 if you missed it –Ed.]
AmpGAS: Anything else you’d like to mention or highlight about Mack Amps construction?
Don: Yes. We strive to produce the lowest-cost handmade boutique amps on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we cut corners. Every amp follows a stringent quality process, and we pay attention to fine details when we design our circuits, chassis, circuit boards, and wiring dress and layout.
I’m going to send you some photos [below] that show what some might think is “sloppy” wiring. My response: Aesthetic design and electronic performance are sometimes not compatible.
We’ve all seen interior shots of amps where the wires are tied together in extremely neat bundles and the result is almost a work of art. In those cases I assume that the builder has been painstakingly ensuring that cross talk and electrical interference has been minimized. The reason I say that is because if two wires are run parallel to each other, the possibility of interference between them is greatly increased.
So, neatly bundled wires look very, very good, but unless great care and attention has been invested in precisely determining which wires can co-exist in a bundle where all wires are parallel to one another, chances are the layout has not been optimized to minimize noise and other electronic artifacts that can degrade performance.
In Mack amps we follow the opposite philosophy. For us, internal wiring that minimizes noise, etc. takes precedence over aesthetics. To that end, we actually work hard at having as many wires as possible cross each other – if they have to – at 90 degrees or as close to it as possible. Wires that don’t have to cross, but that are relatively close to each other, are routed so that they are not parallel – by adding a different curve to each wire.
The reason we do this is because whereas parallel wires have a much higher probability of inducing problems, wires that intersect at a right angle or that are not parallel minimize that probability.
Consequently, the internal wiring of our amps doesn’t look as nice as some – and I’m proud of that fact!
[We picked this up after I received the photos.]
As you can see in that photo [above], a number of wires cross each other at near 90 degrees. The white wires at the top are run parallel, but they are shielded cable so in this case that is acceptable. Also note the twisted wires at the top of the photo – that is another way to ensure that interference between conductors is minimized.
In [the above] photo you can see all of the chassis internals with more evidence of ‘sloppy’ wiring.
What kind of wire is that?
We use 22-gauge wire as opposed to the much heavier wire often talked about. And it’s Teflon-coated for heat performance instead of being fabric-coated like vintage amps. Twenty-two-gauge wire has current-carrying capability far in excess of the currents that flow through our amps so the safety margin is very comfortable.
That being the case, we see no need to use other wire for reasons that relate only to popular myth. Back in the day, Fender and Marshall used the wire they could find at the lowest cost that provided acceptable performance – there is nothing magical about cloth-covered wire.
Another thing to point out, now that you’re looking at the guts of one of our amps, is that the circuit board is indeed handwired. On first sight some people believe that we use printed circuit boards in Heatseekers and Skyraiders, but this is an eyelet board where the eyelets were inserted by hand and the components were hand-stuffed and -soldered.
We produce professional, silk-screened boards with component numbers to aid in troubleshooting and repair. Also note the inspection stickers, which are visual indicators of our quality process.
These are just a few examples that hopefully illustrate that while Mack amps may be priced well below traditional boutique amps, they are built with an attention to detail and quality that rival, and in many cases surpass, traditional boutique amps.
What kind of tones were you going for with Mack Amps?
Mack amps are designed for rock and blues players. Having said that we have jazz players that love their full and rich clean tones.
I particularly love power-tube overdrive and distortion, so when you turn up a Mack amp that’s what you hear – warm and lush power-tube distortion.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I’ve been a guitarist for over 35 years now. I’ve gigged in a few bands over the years, though most of that was in my so called “active” period back in my university days. Since then gigs have been sparse (career, kids, work got in the way), but I still manage to play out every once in a while.
For the most part I’ve played in classic rock cover bands, but for about 3 years I was involved in a jazz fusion band that played Jean Luc-Ponty and Herbie Hancock tunes and the like.
I’ve always been an extreme gear head. n fact, I collaborated with a local luthier in the late ’70s and helped build my first real electric guitar. Since then I’ve put together a few parts guitars and always did my own repairs and setups.
Didn’t you tell me once you were an electrical engineer?
That’s right. Unlike many boutique amp builders, I was never an amp tech nor did I attempt to build my own amps. Rather, when I decided to found Mack Amps I relied on my electrical engineering education and 12 years of experience designing electronic control systems – and a lot of research – to guide my designs and our manufacturing processes. My business experience definitely helped Mack produce fully commercialized products right from the start. The very first Heatseeker prototype received rave reviews from local Toronto players and I haven’t looked back since.
One more item: I checked out your website, and it says the 36w and 30w heads are sold out – does that mean you’re not going to make them anymore? [I asked this because I've had my eye on both of those heads (EL84 and 6V6)!]
Those models are discontinued and will be replaced with a new, dual EL34 model to be launched in December/January. Sounds great!
> Check out the Mack Amps website here.
End of part 2 of 2