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The Journey…
My journey started over four decades ago as a Jimi Hendrix and Cream-loving guitarist. I had the same aspirations as many of you…to make it in music. The 1970s Detroit rock scene was vibrant and growing. Countless local bands, including mine, were attempting to make our mark on the world. At the same time, I got involved in the equipment end of things. Partly by default because I was the only guy in the band who had a knack for fixing things, and because I always had a passion for figuring out how things worked. 

A little history…
My interest in music, particularly guitar, probably started when I was around 11 years old. I was the kid who had to take everything apart. But the real story started when I was 12-13 years old. I used to ride my bike to the local Topp’s Department Store and buy every new record that had guitar, bass and drums. I still have most of the vinyl records. I vividly remember finding two new records around 1969 that really stood out. One was The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Are You Experienced) and the other was Cream (Fresh Cream). Those two albums truly changed my life. I know, today those are just old classics. Back then, they were the most innovative and radical guitar records I had ever heard. I knew right then I wanted to be a Rock Star. Needless to say, things did not work out exactly as I had hoped. Along the way, I really got interested in the gear. Of course, I couldn’t leave things alone and started really seriously studying how and why amps and audio stuff worked. This was way before computers and the internet so I would write letters to every amp company requesting schematics. Many sent them. Some didn’t. Needless to say, I couldn’t help myself so I started “tinkering” with my own amps. I really learned a lot just tinkering. Back then you were basically on your own because everyone was trying to figure it out at the same time. The industry was quite new and everything was in its infancy. There were no standards for anything. There was no such thing as a vintage “Plexi” Marshall. They were all Plexi Marshalls because they were new, and they blew up every day!

 Uncharted Territory…
So…like everyone, I was trying to figure it all out. At this point, I realized if I wanted to take this amp thing seriously, I should go to college and learn electronics. So I attended the University of Detroit engineering School. Unfortunately, tubes were already being replaced by solid state components. The professors in college barely discussed tubes any longer so, once again, I was on my own to figure it out. At the time, I was working at Detroit’s legendary Gus Zoppi Music on 8 mile Road. They wanted to have their own in house amp repairs so I set up the first service department there. Did that for quite a few years. After that I worked for a small company (Professional Audio Systems) who hand built high power solid state amps for sound reinforcement. There I learned the real world stuff like making metal boxes, silkscreening, wiring and soldering. The skills that were needed to make electronic things. All this time I continued to “fool around” with my own amps. One of my early experiments was taking my little Gibson amp and hooking it up to a load resistor instead of the speaker. I then took the signal from there and jammed it into the input of my 200 watt Marshall Major head. I found I could now get the sound of the cranked little amp at a more reasonable volume. Now I was onto something. As my desire for different tones grew as well as the need to have these sounds live, I took the same concept with the little amp and resistor, but used it with a Twin Reverb and a crude A/B box that I made. I put the overdriven Gibson amp into one channel and the direct path into the other. Now I could switch between the “high gain/cranked” Gibson and the clean Twin channel. It worked quite well for a long time. This was probably one of the first “channel switching” amps.

Seriously though…
In the mid-1970s. I opened my first repair shop. We specialized in repairing and modifying amps as well as keyboards and guitars. It was here that I really began to expand both my knowledge and skills as an amp guy. Boogie had just come out with their innovative Mark II models that had a clean and an overdrive mode but shared the tone controls. I thought this was too limiting. I wanted a tube amp with two totally separate channels but nobody made one, so I made my own. I thought, “what the heck, I can do that”. To my surprise it worked and sounded pretty good. I used it for many years in my progressive rock playing days. Other players heard my tone and I ended making amps for them. I guess you could say that was the beginning of my amp building obsession.

Early Inspiration…
My grandfather Ed Kreske, also a relentless “tinkerer” once told me "Don't be the guy who digs the ditches, be the guy who makes the shovels." As a 10-year old boy, I was yet to realize what a profound statement that was or how it would resonate throughout my career.

Why does any of this matter? As a relentless tinkerer, I aimed for new ways to get the tones I wanted, but that were not available in amps at the time. No one had yet invented the master volume control or designed a high gain tube amp. Like everyone else, the only solution for true tube saturation was to crank your Marshalls up to ungodly volumes just to get "that" tone. The world was just starting to discover overdrive pedals. A step in the right direction, but not the solution I wanted.
 
Fast Forward…
The obsession with amps began to really consume me and started to turn into what would become a full time career. I continued, relentlessly of course, to find new sounds and features in amps I would build. This led to the development of the four channel IE4 preamp and the TOL model amps, which were all hand built in our tiny shop in Detroit. The demand for me to modify and hotrod other players amps became pretty huge. Eventually, I found myself modifying my own amps to create new and different tones. My goal became to design a tube amp that would work for every player in every situation. The ingenious result, if I do say so myself, was the modular amps.  With this design, the power amp section stays constant while the pre-amps are modular, meaning they can be changed in and out of the amp with ease. This gave musicians the flexibility they sought to have totally different sounding channels in one amp.

Learning…
After all these years I find you never stop learning. I continue to study and tinker. For the past few years, I have taken to teaching others what took me 40 years to learn. I felt it was time to give back the knowledge and joy that I get from creating new things. I find it fascinating that we are still enamored with 60 year old tube technology. There is just something magical about it and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

Here are just some of the musicians and bands that I have had the honor of working with over the years:
Steve Vai, Linkin Park, Brent Mason, Tim Pierce, Peter Frampton, Dan Huff, Randy Jacobs (Was no Was, Boneshakers), John Shanks (Melissa Etheridge), Dave Barry (Cher / Janet Jackson), Wireworks Studios (Michael Wagner), Tommy Anthony (Santana-Gloria Estefan), John Kempainen (Black Dahlia Murder), Richard Maranon (Gloria Trevi-Luz Rios), Bruce Kulick (Kiss), Danny Jacobs (Cher), Dan Donegan (Disturbed), Keith Howland (Chicago), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Brian Monrony (Tom Jones), Andre Cotou (Celine Dion), Guns n' Roses, Offspring, Jason Aldean, Houston County, Tariq Arkoni, Anthrax, George Lynch, Breaking Benjamin, Melissa Etheridge, Jason Bonham Band, Bowling for Soup, Ty Tabor (King's X), Dug Pinnick (King's X), Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Nickelback, Duffy King, Indigo Girls, Green Day, Ted Nugent, Queensryche, Muse, Chris Poland (MegaDeath), Keith Kane (Vertical Horizon), Davey Johnston (Elton John), Chris Komozi (Michael Bolton), Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Michael Wilton (Queensryche), Wally Farkas (Galactic Cowboys), Kirk Hammett, Mudvayne, Sevendust, Dimebag Darrell, Nuno Bettencourt, Scott Tarulli and Gregg Marra….and many more. I do apologize if I did not include you in the list. This is all from memory. 

 

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