Builder's who think outside the box.

One of the more exciting things about working in our shop is keeping up with what all the builders are working on. A lot of times we'll catch word of a project one of them has in the works well before they hit the street and sometimes before a prototype has even been built. It's incredible the talent that some of the builders have for not only construction but coming up with new and innovative ideas. These guys are really capable of anything and we are always excited to see what shows up on our loading dock.

We particularly enjoy builders that cut their own path. These guys don't seem to follow trends, so what they bring to market is always something interesting. Their imaginations are incredible and the products they make never seize to amaze us. Honestly, it's one reason among many we love what we do. Here are a few builders that always think outside the box and produce great gear:

James Trussart Guitars

One of the most unique builders out there is James Trussart.  Almost on a daily basis we get calls from customers intrigued by these seemingly strange steel body creations. Most of the time customers just want to know, "do these guitars really sound good?" 

We get it...  Definitely a valid question. 

Popular opinion would have us all believe that a guitar made out of anything but wood can't sound good. We admit it...  Before we had a chance to play a Trussart we were quite suspicious, but, playing really is believing. A customer brought in a Deluxe Steelcaster Red Star one day, and after playing one, it was a given that we had to become a dealer.  James Trussart guitars don't just sound good, they sound amazing! Don't be fooled, the steel body is definitely not a gimmick. The subtle, almost resonator like overtones are incredibly musical and give the guitar almost an "alive" type of feel. This isn't just our observation either.  It's always fun to put one in the hands of a player that's never played one before. Most are absolutely blown away. Even when not plugged in, you can strum a chord and it's pretty apparent it has something going on that you normally don't hear in an electric guitar.

Not only are Trussarts great sounding instruments, the workmanship that goes into each guitar is incredible. Many of the parts are hand ground and each finish is completely unique, such as with the customized Bigsby on the Deluxe Steelcaster here.  James also uses top quality pickups from builders like TV Jones and Arcane. Each guitar is finished using a unique acid treatment that give the metal a beautiful patina and in some cases hints of rust. We find that the unique method of finishing the guitars is also a huge part of the whole experience. Like flamed woods in many other brands, the subtle variations of color in the steel bodies make the Trussart's almost seem like works of art. Trussarts are definitely in a class of their own. If you are even slightly interested, it is worth the time to take one for a test drive. We don't think that you will be disappointed. There is not a single person here at the shop that is not a fan.

Dr. Z Amplifiers

It's no secret that we are all huge fans of Mike Zaite's (aka Dr.Z) creations. Almost every one of us here at the shop owns one as our main amp, and a few of us own multiples.  Without tooting our own horn, we get the pleasure of playing a lot of fine amplifiers on a daily basis. You can probably draw a few conclusions from the fact that surrounded by all of these great tube amps, so many of us ended up with a Dr.Z as our "go to" amp. Fact is, he just simply makes great amps at very good prices!  The word is out and the popularity of the brand has exploded in the last few years. We're proud to say that in that time we have developed a close relationship with Dr.Z and it's an honor to work so closely with a master builder like the Doc. One of the biggest honors that we have had here at the shop was the opportunity to participate in development of one of Dr.Z's newest amps, the M12. The end result is nothing short of incredible and the feedback that we have gotten from players has been very positive.

The M12 is completely original and there is nothing on the market like it. The basic idea in a nutshell was to create a low-wattage amp with pedal users in mind. On the surface, it would seem surprising no one had done it before, but it makes sense.  There were definitely some challenges inherent to this task. The basic problem is:  How do you create a truly neutral sounding amplifier, one that doesn't sound too British, American, or whatever, yet has enough character to NOT be sterile and bland?  *AND*, how do you design it with low wattage and high headroom?  Truly a difficult task.  The perfect amp for this application would be one that still sounds rich in the way that a tube amp should, yet does not color the tone of your signal, thus the tone of your pedals. With the M12, Dr.Z put together a number of clever ideas to confront this problem. First, he selected an EF86 for the preamp section of the amp.  This provides a nice musical voice to the amp yet stands up to some of the stronger signal strengths from higher output pedals without overly compressing or clipping. For the power section, he selected EL84s (we assumed he would probably use 6V6's, but we were wrong).  Now, EL84's are great sounding tubes.  They have plenty of punch, dynamic and character, but they're not known for being neutral sounding nor having a high clean headroom threshold. To give the amp the headroom needed, Doc ran the power tubes at slightly less plate voltage than normal.  The end result is an amp that sounds rich, yet still has plenty of headroom even at 12 watts. For pedals, we sure nothing is better.

We have always known Dr.Z was a great builder, but working with him on the M12 really made us appreciate his mastery. To see an amp model go from an idea to a tangible product is really a special experience. There are a lot of guys that build amps, but few that are able to do what the Dr. Z does.

By the way, the M12 is only the tip of the iceberg for Dr. Z.  When it comes to thinking outside the box, we haven't even gone into the Route 66 or the massively loved Carmen Ghia.  We'll save that for another newsletter.  :)

Fano Guitars

From the first time we had an opportunity to play one of Dennis's guitars we were fans. A rep came by the store with a nasty looking SP6 in Round-Up Orange and we played on it for what seemed like hours.  Fact is, there are a lot of great builders out there at the moment making it an exciting time to be a guitar player. The choices are almost endless. That being said, there are few builders that do something truly unique. The vast majority of guitar builders either build variations or clones of the iconic classic guitar models that we have all grown to know and love. Don't get us wrong, there is a reason that these designs have endured as long as they have. They are great designs! There really is no shame in reproducing something that works. For that matter, we often find that the reproductions are better than the originals. Dennis Fano is one of those builders that we feel does something unique, but even more so he still pays perfect tributes to the classic designs. That is a tough line to walk, but Fano does it quite well and with style.

As crazy as it sounds, he creates guitars that are unique yet familiar.  
Yeah...  I suppose that's the best way to put it.

Dennis blends features from different classic designs to create something that is truly unique. Every model has familiar features but is different enough that it can't be mistaken for a clone. That's certainly a delicate balance...  Dennis blends classic designs from Fender and Gibson with attributes found on brands such as Rickenbacker, Gretsch, and Supro to name a few. The designs are so well thought out and put together that Fano's look like they could be contemporaries of the classics rather than inspired by them. Take the MG6, for example.  It looks like a cross between a Fender Mustang and a Gibson SG, but with P90's.  Awesome!  As cheesy as it sounds, Fano Guitarsare the definition of cool.  Seriously...  Dennis just seems to have an eye for what works and his designs are always tight and beautiful. We can say in all honesty he is a true original and it is always exciting to see what he will come up with next.

Goodsell Amps

Our shop is located about an hour and a half north of Atlanta, the proud home of Richard Goodsell, builder and designer of Goodsell Amps. It's been awesome to be in such close proximity to Richard and to see his work so up close and personal over the years. He's definitely a one of a kind and an amazing amp builder. For years, Richard was one of the most sought after Hammond organ repairmen in the country. For this reason Goodsell brings a lot ideas to amp building not normally associated with guitar amps. Many of the components that he specs are inspired by those found in organs rather than guitar amps. making each of Richard's amps pretty unique. One thing that we have also grown to love over the years is his unique and very musical tremolo circuit found on many of his models. It is difficult to describe as are so many things when it comes to tone, but it seems more lush and musical than a lot of other circuits found in guitar amps. It has just the right amount of "warble" if that makes any sense. Without getting to much in to the technical side, we can only imagine that the circuit is at least inspired in some part by the designs found in many old organs that have made them so highly sought after.

Richard's operation is a small one. He hand wires every amp himself and his designs seem to always be evolving. One thing about having an operation like his is even though it's a lot of work, things are done just the way he wants them to. If he decides that component (A) sounds better than component (B), out comes A and in goes B. Richard is a tinkerer and is always exciting to see what he has come up with. One of his more recent designs, the Valpreaux 21, has been quite popular not only with our customers but with many of the guys here at the shop. The design pays homage to some of the models made by Supro and Valco as well as a few Gretsch models. It's a very rich and versatile platform, which is powered by a pair of 6973's a tube rarely found in amps today. Paired with Richard's awesome trem design it's definitely worth a look/test drive.

It's also important to note that in the rare instance you'll need customer support from Richard, he's well known in the industry for being one of the absolute best in the country.  Pretty awesome dude for sure!

Tone King

All of us here remember the first time we played a Tone King amp. A Metropolitan found its way into our shop and we were completely floored by it. To this day it's a store favorite, and we highly endorse it.  Not only do we love the tone, but the look and aesthetic of all Tone King amps put them in a class of their own. Mark Bartel, the founder and sole designer, has come up with so many great designs over the years and we are always excited to see what he is working on. One of the things we hear about the most is how he handles volume in the Metropolitan.  He utilizes something he calls "Phase 4 Power Control".  This system allows a player to adjust the output of the amp from 0.1 watt all the way to 40 watts.  The things is, IT TOTALLY WORKS!  Mark spent years getting the design just as he wanted it. To him, attenuators and master volumes are good to a certain point, but if he really wanted to have complete control over the amp it would have to come in the form of controlling the power. The end result is an amp that can for all intents and purposes be "driven" at bedroom level. From the first time we played it we were believers.

Over the years, we have seen several more creations from Tone King and one thing that we have come to expect is retro styling with cutting edge performance. That is pretty much the personification of the brand if you will.  One of the newer designs the Falcon is pretty impressive for a number of reasons. Not only does it have three distinctive different voicing that span anywhere from Tweed to Blackface, but it also has Bartel's highly respected Iron Man attenuator built into the amp.  Truly impressive in such a small package.

Another interesting thing about Mark Bartel we should point out, especially since this article mentions "thinking outside the box", is the fact that he spends a great deal of time thinking INSIDE the box. 

What?  Let me explain... 

Mark is one of the very few who spends as much time with the actual speaker enclosures as he does on his genius circuit designs,
be it an extension cab or the combo box.  He tests, retests, and tests some more using various woods, dimensions, and construction techniques until he is satisfied with those that are worthy of the Tone King name. 

In conclusion...

Naturally, there are others who think outside the box, but we feel these stand out.  If you have any other brands, builders, etc that you think qualify, please either email them to us at or comment in the Facebook Comment section below.

Thanks for reading this far, if you even made it to here!   :)
Builder's who think outside the box.
Builder's who think outside the box.