What was your first real amplifier?
I was 15 and I wanted a Marshall. I had a job and I had a photo of Eric Clapton with a Music Man Stack hanging in my work area so I made it my goal to buy a new amp and for the money I thought the Music Man got the biggest bang for the buck. It was a HD 212 130. I liked the amp but it was a good clean amp, not really the Marshall tone I was after. So I eventually got a Marshall and it was a 1×12 100 watt combo nicknamed The Beast. I quickly outgrew that rig and built my own 4X12 cabinet, loaded it with Celestion G12s and ran the 100 Marshall chassis on top without a head cover. It definitely looked different.
I still wanted a better sound and had started using two amps at once having read about Alex Lifeson where one amp was overdrive and another was clean. This was a cool sound. I also wanted the early EVH tone so I started exploring that. Eventually after more amps, Modifying my own amps, a few good electrocutions, I decided to take electronics and learn a few things I needed to first, stop the electrocutions and second find that elusive EVH tone. What a journey it has been ever since.
Do you collect vintage amplifiers?
I was a poster child for obsessive compulsive vintage amp collecting. I’ve overcome that affliction by figuring out what the ingredients of the vintage amps were all about and how these attributes effect the behavior and harmonic content that differentiate one great amp from another. Learning these important details helped to close that chapter where you’re worrying you can’t get that sound if you don’t have the exact amp etc. Collecting and keeping old amps became unpractical at one point. You don’t want to risk damage because aged transformers and capacitors that are often to risky to use live or simply pushed to the full power limit needed to get them sounding good. Volume is always an issue with vintage amps but you (and everyone around you) try to learn to live with that issues for the benefits. The fact is Mojave builds all the best sounds I had in my amp collection. That being said, I don’t need a vintage amp collection because I achieved that sound without all the hangups of my vintage collection. If I didn’t have the Mojave line, I would be the Howard Hughes of amp collecting, locked in a room…. picture that!
How did your experience with vintage amplifiers impact Mojave Ampworks?
In general, it was the nucleus of vintage amps and our company, Plexi Palace that spawned the creation of Mojave Ampworks LLC. The writing was on the wall. Vintage amps were limited and going up in price, condition of amps were seemingly getting worse with respect to the selections available and with the advent of the internet, everyone wanted to get that proverbial “one amp” so you can’t have a demand without a supply. I could also see that there was a real need for reliable amps that had the sound and character of a vintage era amplifier without the hangups.
How did you get started working with amps?
It’s a labor of love really. If you actually enjoy what you do for a living, it usually means you will do it well. I feel lucky to be part of this modern age of amp building that follows on from a great period of creativity in the vintage era.
Do you remember the first amp you built?
Yes, EF86 based with just about everything and anything you could stuff into an amp. Then came the problem solving phase. That really helped shape our design philosophy, maximized efficiency and effectiveness so as not to have unexpected issues arise from over taxing a circuit. The “Swiss Army Knife approach” to amp building has it positives and it’s negatives. I like the idea of simple but highly effective. Nothing speaks louder then results rather then bells and whistles.
What was your approach to designing Mojave’s amplifiers?
I once read that a Ferrari engineer was required to have eight (8) functions for any part on the car or eliminate 7 other parts to the one made. That gave them less parts and better results and efficiency. I have tried to follow that philosophy ever since.
What makes a great amplifier?
Lots of things. First, sound and responsiveness as well as reliability. Parts quality and good tubes for Vacuum Tube amplifiers. Most of all, it’s the focus of absolute excellence in all aspects of the amplifiers performance with the fewest amount of parts needed to achieve the intended result.
Which construction details impact an amplifier’s sound?
Layout has an enormous effect on sound quality and noise. A poorly laid out chassis will result in unwanted hum, cross over bleed, oscillations and a host of unintended side effects due to neighboring wires carrying signals etc. Turret board amplifiers are by far the best system for avoiding these pitfalls. There is also a factor of heat and vibration. Guitar amps, especially Vacuum Tube amplifiers exhaust lots of heat so they need excellent ventilation. The vacuum tubes themselves are also a mechanical product and therefore care needs to be taken in how they are exposed to vibration to avoid “microphonics” from developing, or even shorted electrodes which cause fuses to blow. High gain amps also have to have a lot of care and attention put into them to prevent noise from developing from exposure to the AC heaters, high frequency noise that is common to guitar amplifiers. Good solid grounding is vital to avoiding several of these issue. Good mechanical design provides better dependability, also contributes to the reduction of noise and microphonic.
Vic in the early days of Mojave, surrounded by amps…
Are Mojave amps intended for touring musicians or home use?
Both. We expect the amp to perform flawlessly in demanding environments such as live performance and touring while at the same time, offering manners befitting a home user. By manners I mean low noise and good responsiveness and volume control which is important to users that are working close up to their gear. We also consider the Recording musician as a main factor in developing the Mojave product. Since Home Recording is now one of the biggest areas of music today, we believe in building the “Studio Secret Weapon”!
Your newest amp is called the Dirty Boy. How did that come about?
The Dirty Boy was originally Built By Alex Saraceno for his son Blues Saraceno. Alex had tried to incorporate all the possible facets of guitar amplifier features in one amp for Blues. It turned out his un-formal training was a a benefit in that he was not constrained by conventional wisdom so to speak. This product was raw and not fit for mass production since it was a custom amp and needed refinement. I proposed building the Dirty Boy and after discussing it, Alex Saraceno felt we were a good choice and after 15 years of people asking him to build this amp, we brought the amp to life. We made it better in a number of ways and were very carful to preserve the original sound and behavior of Blue Saraceno’s own Dirty Boy which was his main amp for recording such as the Hair Pick CD.
What does the future hold for Mojave Ampworks?
If I have it my way, you will see the continuation of the best guitar amp products possible and our commitment to not simply restate the past as is the case so often now, but our goal is to break new ground. We intend to create products that make a powerful impact on the users who buy them.