The Journey to my Amp Tech

I am very particular about who fixes my gear. I play a lot of handmade and rare stuff (yes, I know, I’m a boutique snob….but hopefully I’m an open-minded and friendly boutique snob who realizes that he’s still not that good of a guitarist and that most people sound better than he does even though they don’t play the boutique gear :-) ) so I want to make sure people know what they’re doing before they dive in and take the stuff apart. It’s best to send them back to the builder, but in some cases that’s not possible. 

Like my Holland head. I adore this amp, and have never heard another sound quite like it. It’s technically a Vox AC30 clone (EL84-based), but the circuit is kind of Fendery. It’s like, the Vox chime and singing mid-highs, with the warmth of a Bassman. Really cool amp. But the builder, Mike Holland, is kind of private and difficult to get ahold of. And me not being a famous or accomplished musician by any stretch of the imagination (and believe me, I do stretch my imagination pretty far pretending to be famous), it’s difficult for me to get ahold of him. And then I’d probably have to ship the amp somewhere, and pay UPS or Fedex to kick my beloved amp around, as well as pay for the repair.

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(My Holland. A few scrapes and dents ago.)

So I found this tech named Jerry Blaha in Hollywood. Jerry’s amazing. Used to be Black Sabbath’s guitar tech. He’s rebuilt a Peavey Classic 100 that caught on fire (seriously), told me how to fix an Orange DC-30 over the phone for no charge, and fixed the reverb and power on this same Holland. Pretty cool guy, and does impeccable work. 

This time….I need a half power switch. It’s getting ridiculous to run my head on stage at church, and a 50 foot speaker cable to my cabinet in the closet. Things keep falling on my cabinet in the closet (see a previous post), and I can barely hear my guitar through our in-ear monitors, let alone get any type of feel. So I end up overplaying like a total hack, and it sounds like junk. So it is definitely half power switch time so that my amp can go back on stage with me where it belongs. hehehe

Plus, one of my other amps had bit the dust, so I decided to have him mod the Holland, and fix the other one.

So I call him up, he proceeds to explain to me 6 different ways which he can do the mod (which I pretend to understand), and I make an appointment to come up the following day. 

And then I forgot to bring my camera. 

But, this blog is about the return journey the next week, after he finished my amps. 

Now Hollywood is pretty far…..which is awesome. See, an amp needing fixing or a mod is just an excuse to grab a friend and galavant around Hollywood like musical tourists (even though we only live, like, 2 hours away). There’s a ton of guitar shops up there. I’ve bought more gear than I should have at most of them over the years. And now, of course, it is time for more. So, I call my buddy Justin (a great guitar player in his own rite), and off we go. What follows is a photo-journal of our tonal journey.

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This is me taking a picture of the 15 freeway for no apparent reason.

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This is me trying to take a picture of the 15 freeway for no apparent reason and failing.

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I thought those mountains kind of looked like the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings. I am a film freak just slightly less than I am a music freak. But it was a beautiful rainy day.

Then, I picked up Justin:

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Ya. With all the trees in the background, kind of looks like a hitch-hiking troll. But that’s Justin. I’ve known him for many years. We both started in a metal band in high school where the idea was to play as musically proficient as possible, using all the musical knowledge you could muster, in order to dumbfound the audiences because it sounded so bad that it must be some crazy musical technique. Oh, ya. If we were trying to write something contrapuntal or something of the like and it ended up sounding good, we’d scrap it, because sounding good was ‘selling out.’ And this works for some bands, like Dream Theatre; some people like hearing just straight technical music. The problem was…..we weren’t very good at being technical……we were in high school. So what you got was music that thought it was being technically snobby by not sounding good and being really proficient, and in reality sounded like bad Offspring.

U2 saved us both some years ago.

Now, remember I said how my film freakishness is only surpassed by my music freakishness? Well, before we got to Hollywood, we had to stop in downtown LA to take pictures at a memorable site of one of the greatest films of all time:

Heat.

Oh…….yes. 

This is where Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, and Tom Sizemore robbed the bank. And where Al Pacino chased them. Eat your hearts out.

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My picture.

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Mr. Sizemore right where I was! (I’m a loser, I know.)

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My picture.

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Bobby DeNiro and Val……I was sooooo there!!

And just to prove it………………

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This is me, doing the best DeNiro and Kilmer impression a guy with a U2 shirt on can muster.

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And this is after me telling Justin to do an Al Pacino impression, and Justin telling me I’m an idiot.

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Here’s me pretending to be Al Pacino chasing the bank robbing actors. And it looks like I’m doing the worst job of it that you could possibly imagine. (There’s supposed to be a gun in my left hand. Just thought I’d let you know. Helps the plotline.)

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And Justin told me to take a picture of this because it was in Heat. (It definitely wasn’t.)

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And this guy was just on the street, playing his saxophone. It’s stuff like this that makes me just love LA and Hollywood. (Note my incredible photography skills as well.)

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And these are the two tallest buildings in downtown. The one on the right is the US Bank building, and the one on the left is the one they supposedly robbed in Heat that we were just standing under and pretending to be famous actors (well, at least I was.)

So, the sidetrip to the Heat filming location was over. And there was much rejoicing.

Onward to Hollywood!!

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Sunset Boulevard!! 

My amp tech lives a few miles down Sunset, so we traverse the whole length. Fantastic. For some reason, I just love being here. I think I imagine myself to be people who I’m not going to say the name of (for fear of getting made fun of), going to play a show.

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The Channel 5 satellite on Sunset, sending us 7th Heaven re-runs as we speak.

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The CNN building….or one of them. Some ghetto yellow used car sales flags, too. Wouldn’t be the complete Hollywood experience without some ghetto.

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Nickelodeon Studios. Such stars got their starts here as Aaron Carter, Hilary Duff, and Miley Cyrus. Ya……we drove away pretty quickly.

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Best music store in the world. The craziest rarest records and cd’s you’ll ever find. Fantastic bands that you’d never hear of anywhere else. An indie kid’s dream.

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And of course, the Paladium. Justin’s and my old band (you know, the one I mentioned we were in years ago as high schoolers) were supposed to sell tickets to play here. The bill featured such talents as Sick Deer, Sickless Impaired, and Ghetto Fabuloso. Our band name was not much better…..Requiem Mass. They spelled it Requiem Mess on the flyer. Ya, that’s about right. The Paladium closed down before we played it, thank goodness. It’s been closed for like 7 years now. Hmmm….how in the world could it close while promoting such bands as Ghetto Fabuloso?

So then, we arrive at the main part of the trip (well, besides my amp tech). Guitar Ghetto. Guitar Ghetto is the nickname given to the place surrounding Guitar Center Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. When I first started coming here 3 or 4 years ago, there were about 6 or 7 boutique and vintage gear shops within these two blocks. Now it’s down to 2 or 3 because of online gear places. I’m told that in the early 1990′s, there were like 19 or 20 guitar shops. Stupid online buying. I’m gonna boycott all e-bay and gearpage gear buying so that these shops will have a chance!…………No……I’m not. I gotta be honest. 

But Guitar Center is still there, and honestly, it’s one of the better, if not the best, Guitar Center.

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Guitar Center Hollywood. Now, anyone who reads this blog even once in a while, probably knows my feelings on Guitar Center and how they mercilessly and greedily rip off the general public by selling mass produced and sub-par gear at inflated prices (see what I mean?). But no, seriously, Guitar Center does have some nice gear….you just gotta know what to look for. But the Hollywood one is a totally different story. Boutique rooms, used pedals, and a vintage room that will literally kill you with joy. They’ve got 1890′s 

Martins, and 6 1963 Vox AC30′s, and ’40′s Guild electrics and you name it, if it’s vintage and valuable, they have four of ‘em. Very awesome. They also have the RockWalk there, where all the great guitarists have put their handprints in bronze at the entryway into the Guitar Center.   

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This is Justin very happy to be at Guitar Center Hollywood.

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This is Justin showing his happiness in a different and much more frightening way, seeing as we are still in LA county.

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And this is Vintage Gear Hollywood, one of the shops still open. Incredible gear. Guitars, amps, pedals…..vintage and boutique and rare. There’s an Epiphone Jupiter amp in the picture that kinda faded into the background (again, my photography skills.) But it’s got a cab with 3 12″ speakers. Killer. And there was also a bass amp in the store bigger than me. 

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And this is the former site of Future Music (RIP). Awesome shop. I’ve bought many, many delay pedal children within those walls.

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And Voltage Music (RIP). They had a ’74 Explorer at one time. I wanted it. I had no money.

So, we leave beautiful Guitar Ghetto and head out to my tech’s. 

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This is Sunset Hills, and he lives just below them. Gorgeous. My favorite part of Hollywood. (And not just because that’s where Edie, Robert DeNiro’s girlfriend in Heat, is supposed to live.)

Picked up my Holland head for the half power switch mod and my Mondo Amps Bassman clone for a repair. Seriously, Jerry’s the best. A wrap up of the mod and repair that he did at the end of the blog. For now, more Hollywood!!

We did go to Truetone in Santa Monica…..which may just be the best boutique gear shop on universe. Stacks….literally…..stacks of boutique amps. Pedals which haven’t even been released yet…..they have ‘em.

But….we forgot to take a picture of Truetone. Oh well. You’ll just have to join us on our next escapade and see the glories for yourself.

So, back down Sunset to the 101 and home.

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I saw these Shrek dolls on the bottom of this truck. I got excited. I don’t know why.

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Rain on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with my amps in the backseat. It doesn’t get any more perfect than this for me. Except if Jamianne were here. :-) Sorry, Justin. hehe

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This is me thinking I’m an artsy photographer.

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This is a picture I wish I hadn’t taken.

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We saw this motel and figured people had definitely been murdered here.

And then Justin saw the best graffiti ever:

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Scary demonic bunny with an ’80′s ghetto-blaster. Seriously, who drew that?

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And of course, lastly, how can you see a random photo of crazy Dennis Hopper of Apocalypse Now fame and not take a picture. “Look at me! Wrong!” –Dennis Hopper.

And so our journey ended. With bunnies and Dennis Hopper. I don’t know how that fits. But that’s how it ended. And me with the best mod ever on my Holland. The half power switch is incredibly transparent. Still has all the fullness of the amp at full power, just at a lower volume. Amp sounds great.

And he fixed the Bassman clone just as well. Even re-biased it, and it’s never sounded better. It’s awesome to find a good amp tech. And to live out your fantasies of being Al Pacino……and U2……………………………………….Hollywood is the best.

Splendid.
Karl.

10 thoughts on “The Journey to my Amp Tech

  1. Awesome post. Makes hack guitarists like me want to be better so I could be worthy of gear like that.I recognize the red step pyramid thing from Heroes. Not a movie, I know, but I was excited I recognized it.

  2. Oh, it’s from Heroes! That’s why Justin recognized it. He’s in love with that show. I haven’t crossed over yet.

    And about the gear, I’m as hack of a guitarist as they come!! I only play nice gear to give the appearance that I actually know what I’m doing. :-)

  3. Karl, that was one of your best posts… If I was 10 years younger and single (or at least very newlywed) I’d be there on every trip. This kind of stuff makes me happy.

  4. Hey Shane! Unfortunately, I don’t have any firsthand experience with the Hayseed 30′s. But the builder did attempt to build them exactly like a ’63 AC30, and a lot of guitarists think he nailed it. Only complaint I’ve heard is that he may have gone too far, and that the Hayseed’s might be a little too jangly-sounding. But I think the amp’s a great price, I like that he put a master volume in, and if I were going to get one, I’d definitely get one with the EF86 in the preamp. In my humble opinion, to be truly Voxy (and if you’re looking at the Hayseed, I’m guessing you do ;) ), you gotta have the EF86 preamp.

    Hope that helps a bit!

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