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Amp Fest 2012

Earplugs would be a good idea but nobody at Amp Fest has any. You’d think there’d be a little dispenser of them at the door, considering the combined wattage that awaits inside but no. No such protection for either the guests or axe-masters like Jeff Moore or Adrian Demain, Joe Bonamassa, or event organizer Rick Gould.

Gould’s a north county rock photographer and admitted gear geek who hosts the annual by-invitation gathering at an undisclosed warehouse location where no one will complain about noise or bleeding eardrums. For the 60 or so people crowded into Amp Fest today, loud is almost a religion.

Eleanor (she prefers to use her first name only) shows up in a red sweater with a red Stratocaster to match. But it’s not just any Strat, it’s a Fender Artist Series Eric Johnson Strat, very nice.

Does she play? Not really.

“Guitars are beautiful,” she says. “And, I like red.” She describes herself as a floral designer from Encinitas. She owns a red car, has red stuff. Red. She says she has a hobby: “I collect guitarists.” Does she have any at home at present? “Not any more. It’s an open market.”

Eleanor says Barney Roach, guitar collector and new Blitz Brothers bassist advised her to go with the Eric Johnson. She knows Roach via one of the guitarists she collected. In fact every guitarist, she says, is only six degrees of separation from Roach.

The first Amp Fest in 2006 was three guys: Roach, a record producer named Sean Cummings who is said to have managed Billy Gibbon’s guitar collection at one time, and Rick Gould. “The first one was so much fun,” says Gould, “we said let’s invite some friends.” Thirty-five guitarists showed up the next year. After that Gould pared down the guest list to 15 or so guitarists so that everybody could get a turn manhandling the amps and the gear.

Eleanor has brought a friend whose name is impossible to hear due to the amp-blasting: “My New Year’s resolution is to go to more live music,” she says. How’s it working out? “I’m gonna start that next week.”

Former New York Yankee Bruce Robinson shows up with his new CD and his pristine Gibson ES 175 vintage axe. “That shoulder flap on a catcher’s chest protector? I invented that,” he says over loudness and pizza and peanut M&Ms. “I’m more famous for my flap than I am for playing baseball.”

Six degrees: Robinson and Roach went to the same high school in La Jolla.

Around the walls in neat stacks are dozens of new and vintage amplifiers, their little ready lights glowing in the semi-dark. The brand names include sweet rigs by Dean Markley, Jaguar, Satellite, Vox, Fender, Marshall, and Jim Kelley who may well be the Big Kahuna of amp suppliers at this event.

Consider that the names of guitarists who love their Jim Kelleys include Bonnie Raitt, Vince Gill, Alan Holdsworth, Lee Rittenour, and Mark Knopfler. Jim Kelleys pack a big, lusty, original sound into a box the size of a microwave oven.

“I think the main thing is there’s not a lot of circuitry between the input and the speaker,” the Tustin-based amp man says. “One of the things I learned early on is to keep the preamp clean and let the output sector do the work.” Musicians covet Jim Kelley amps. “You can’t get a bad sound out of it. Building one is a de-construction process, taking away everything that sounds bad.”

There are racks of guitars at Amp Fest as well, the usual suspects: Les Pauls and Strats. A lap steel or two. Then, there are some novelty guitars like the one made from a toilet seat and another made from a cigar box with a broom handle for a neck.

Mariam Alpizar arrives with Chris Peters, her boyfriend. She says she was the first rock singer in Costa Rica. “Born to Be Wild – that was my song.” In a spanker of a yellow dress with silver baubles, stiletto heels, jet hair and coffee skin, she looks like a rock star. “I was 16, in a band called Iron and Fire.” She met Peters while in high school; the Peters family business is in Costa Rica.

“But my mother wouldn’t let me go out with him.” Was it his long hair? No. “He played guitar.”

But time heals all. For example Alpizar says the former bassist from Iron and Fire is now the Costa Rican Minister of Culture. She has new songs posted at ReverbNation.com LA Formula. “All the songs I wrote and arranged myself. And the one with the guitar solo? I played that. I took all my fingernails off.” They have since been replaced.

The Quilter brothers (owners of QSC Audio) are here with their old prototype amp and a slew of new high-tech high-output designs. “Quilter,” says Roach. “They made an amp for Richard Blitz. He brought it with him today. The very first amp they ever made? It’s that orange wooden case over there.”

When Joe Bonamassa finally sits down to noodle for a few short minutes, the cameras come out. People pose. Flashes ignite the purple and red-lit dark of the warehouse. If he minds at all, it doesn’t show. Joe is completely unassuming and like everybody else in the warehouse, steeped to the hilt in guitar geek-ness.

And even just screwing around Bonamassa sounds gifted. It is the screwing around of a gifted man.

“Pretty awesome,” says a guest. “It’s not every day you get to see Joe do his stuff.”

He plays for a few minutes then returns to the back room. Bruce Robinson joins the short line that has formed around Bonamassa, who is now being chatted up in turn by every other guitarist in the house.

“I’m gonna ask him if he’s a Yankees fan or a Mets fan.”

Also here today is a guy who attends just about every guitar idol show that books into San Diego. He's brought his ’61 Tele, slightly worn, but still a classic and virile as hell. Joe Bonamassa holds it and admires the heft and feel of the thing. It Might Get Loud plays on a large widescreen behind him with the volume turned off. More people bring Bonamassa their guitars as if in homage, or possibly to have them blessed or healed of ever allowing bad notes. He takes each one, and he plays unplugged for a few minutes. Somehow, he looks younger today than he did 12 albums ago.

“I’m friends with Rick Gould,” he says. “We go way back.” So what else brought him all the way down from Malibu on a Sunday afternoon? “We all have the same passion for guitars and amps,” he explains. “We can sit around and talk about this stuff for hours and hours.” Next stop for Bonamassa? “Lisbon. That’s where we’re starting our world tour.”

Rob Lawrence is next in line. He lives in Malibu as well. He’s a noted Gibson expert and the author of several coffee table books on the subject. Thankfully, he has arrived without his Marshall plexi. Last year, it was the loudest of amps at Amp Fest which is saying a lot considering the combined firepower that was on the warehouse floor that day. The sonic concussion coming from his speaker cab was borderline painful. But today, he’s brought something else entirely.

“This is the prototype of the Twin Reverb.” The Twin Reverb is a Fender amp prized by guitar players for super clean sound and high output. There is a distinct tone unique only to Twin Reverbs that defined generations of rock and roll beginning with surf rock in the 1960s.

“It’s from 1963,” says Lawrence. “I bought it from a guy in Van Nuys who didn’t know what he had. I paid $600 bucks for it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Bruce Robinson comes back out of the room. His ES 175 has been anointed. He can tell now people that Joe Bonamassa once played his guitar. But, did he get the answer he wanted?

“He’s a Yankees fan.” Image

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Tom Morey – the Boogie Board's early years

"I don't think it's just a fad"

Earplugs would be a good idea but nobody at Amp Fest has any. You’d think there’d be a little dispenser of them at the door, considering the combined wattage that awaits inside but no. No such protection for either the guests or axe-masters like Jeff Moore or Adrian Demain, Joe Bonamassa, or event organizer Rick Gould.

Gould’s a north county rock photographer and admitted gear geek who hosts the annual by-invitation gathering at an undisclosed warehouse location where no one will complain about noise or bleeding eardrums. For the 60 or so people crowded into Amp Fest today, loud is almost a religion.

Eleanor (she prefers to use her first name only) shows up in a red sweater with a red Stratocaster to match. But it’s not just any Strat, it’s a Fender Artist Series Eric Johnson Strat, very nice.

Does she play? Not really.

“Guitars are beautiful,” she says. “And, I like red.” She describes herself as a floral designer from Encinitas. She owns a red car, has red stuff. Red. She says she has a hobby: “I collect guitarists.” Does she have any at home at present? “Not any more. It’s an open market.”

Eleanor says Barney Roach, guitar collector and new Blitz Brothers bassist advised her to go with the Eric Johnson. She knows Roach via one of the guitarists she collected. In fact every guitarist, she says, is only six degrees of separation from Roach.

The first Amp Fest in 2006 was three guys: Roach, a record producer named Sean Cummings who is said to have managed Billy Gibbon’s guitar collection at one time, and Rick Gould. “The first one was so much fun,” says Gould, “we said let’s invite some friends.” Thirty-five guitarists showed up the next year. After that Gould pared down the guest list to 15 or so guitarists so that everybody could get a turn manhandling the amps and the gear.

Eleanor has brought a friend whose name is impossible to hear due to the amp-blasting: “My New Year’s resolution is to go to more live music,” she says. How’s it working out? “I’m gonna start that next week.”

Former New York Yankee Bruce Robinson shows up with his new CD and his pristine Gibson ES 175 vintage axe. “That shoulder flap on a catcher’s chest protector? I invented that,” he says over loudness and pizza and peanut M&Ms. “I’m more famous for my flap than I am for playing baseball.”

Six degrees: Robinson and Roach went to the same high school in La Jolla.

Around the walls in neat stacks are dozens of new and vintage amplifiers, their little ready lights glowing in the semi-dark. The brand names include sweet rigs by Dean Markley, Jaguar, Satellite, Vox, Fender, Marshall, and Jim Kelley who may well be the Big Kahuna of amp suppliers at this event.

Consider that the names of guitarists who love their Jim Kelleys include Bonnie Raitt, Vince Gill, Alan Holdsworth, Lee Rittenour, and Mark Knopfler. Jim Kelleys pack a big, lusty, original sound into a box the size of a microwave oven.

“I think the main thing is there’s not a lot of circuitry between the input and the speaker,” the Tustin-based amp man says. “One of the things I learned early on is to keep the preamp clean and let the output sector do the work.” Musicians covet Jim Kelley amps. “You can’t get a bad sound out of it. Building one is a de-construction process, taking away everything that sounds bad.”

There are racks of guitars at Amp Fest as well, the usual suspects: Les Pauls and Strats. A lap steel or two. Then, there are some novelty guitars like the one made from a toilet seat and another made from a cigar box with a broom handle for a neck.

Mariam Alpizar arrives with Chris Peters, her boyfriend. She says she was the first rock singer in Costa Rica. “Born to Be Wild – that was my song.” In a spanker of a yellow dress with silver baubles, stiletto heels, jet hair and coffee skin, she looks like a rock star. “I was 16, in a band called Iron and Fire.” She met Peters while in high school; the Peters family business is in Costa Rica.

“But my mother wouldn’t let me go out with him.” Was it his long hair? No. “He played guitar.”

But time heals all. For example Alpizar says the former bassist from Iron and Fire is now the Costa Rican Minister of Culture. She has new songs posted at ReverbNation.com LA Formula. “All the songs I wrote and arranged myself. And the one with the guitar solo? I played that. I took all my fingernails off.” They have since been replaced.

The Quilter brothers (owners of QSC Audio) are here with their old prototype amp and a slew of new high-tech high-output designs. “Quilter,” says Roach. “They made an amp for Richard Blitz. He brought it with him today. The very first amp they ever made? It’s that orange wooden case over there.”

When Joe Bonamassa finally sits down to noodle for a few short minutes, the cameras come out. People pose. Flashes ignite the purple and red-lit dark of the warehouse. If he minds at all, it doesn’t show. Joe is completely unassuming and like everybody else in the warehouse, steeped to the hilt in guitar geek-ness.

And even just screwing around Bonamassa sounds gifted. It is the screwing around of a gifted man.

“Pretty awesome,” says a guest. “It’s not every day you get to see Joe do his stuff.”

He plays for a few minutes then returns to the back room. Bruce Robinson joins the short line that has formed around Bonamassa, who is now being chatted up in turn by every other guitarist in the house.

“I’m gonna ask him if he’s a Yankees fan or a Mets fan.”

Also here today is a guy who attends just about every guitar idol show that books into San Diego. He's brought his ’61 Tele, slightly worn, but still a classic and virile as hell. Joe Bonamassa holds it and admires the heft and feel of the thing. It Might Get Loud plays on a large widescreen behind him with the volume turned off. More people bring Bonamassa their guitars as if in homage, or possibly to have them blessed or healed of ever allowing bad notes. He takes each one, and he plays unplugged for a few minutes. Somehow, he looks younger today than he did 12 albums ago.

“I’m friends with Rick Gould,” he says. “We go way back.” So what else brought him all the way down from Malibu on a Sunday afternoon? “We all have the same passion for guitars and amps,” he explains. “We can sit around and talk about this stuff for hours and hours.” Next stop for Bonamassa? “Lisbon. That’s where we’re starting our world tour.”

Rob Lawrence is next in line. He lives in Malibu as well. He’s a noted Gibson expert and the author of several coffee table books on the subject. Thankfully, he has arrived without his Marshall plexi. Last year, it was the loudest of amps at Amp Fest which is saying a lot considering the combined firepower that was on the warehouse floor that day. The sonic concussion coming from his speaker cab was borderline painful. But today, he’s brought something else entirely.

“This is the prototype of the Twin Reverb.” The Twin Reverb is a Fender amp prized by guitar players for super clean sound and high output. There is a distinct tone unique only to Twin Reverbs that defined generations of rock and roll beginning with surf rock in the 1960s.

“It’s from 1963,” says Lawrence. “I bought it from a guy in Van Nuys who didn’t know what he had. I paid $600 bucks for it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Bruce Robinson comes back out of the room. His ES 175 has been anointed. He can tell now people that Joe Bonamassa once played his guitar. But, did he get the answer he wanted?

“He’s a Yankees fan.” Image

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Comments
2

Rick has an amazing guitar collection.

Jan. 31, 2012

That he does. And, a pretty cool pile of amps.

Jan. 31, 2012

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