Set In Stone with STiFF: TheToneKing.com talks to Tony Krank about what’s old and what’s new
by Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com
When Tony Krank dropped his amps on the streets in 2003, they hit the pavement so hard that it measured on the Richter scale. The noise that ripped through the grapevine about Krank was just as loud as one of their amps, and it wasn’t long before everybody and their mother was talking about them. Then, under the weight of changes in the company and the loss of an icon, the roaring momentum that was Krank started to wane. Now, having moved on from the company that he founded, Tony is returning to his roots. And, as we talk about STiFF Amps, Tony Krank tells TheToneKing.com that he isn’t done making noise.
With humble beginnings, Tony started building amps in his apartment with whatever free time he had after a long day as a maintenance worker. A player since 1975, he was never satisfied with the tones that he was getting from stock amps. Hours passed while he modded his Yamaha and Marshall, using what he learned from books and from talking with friends. When asked what he dug most about working on amps, Tony simply says, “Nothing is set in stone. You can make it your own.”
After playing a few gigs, showing off his handy work, other players started offering him cash money for his amps. Finally, he took the leap and sold his Marshall and Yamaha. Figuring that if he could mod them, he could build them as well, Tony built his first amp from scratch out of an organ amplifier chassis and topped it off by pimping out his ride with vintage 50’s leopard fur.
After his newest creation caught the eyes of other players, demand started to rise, and Tony soon found himself building amps full time. Using Sovtek chassis, Tony built custom two-channel amps that his customers said, “cranked.” Inspired, Tony changed the ‘C’ to a ‘K’ and spray-painted the name on his amps in big punk letters. And Krank was born.
Work became steady, and Tony worked successfully on his own until 2003, when he decided to take on some investors to move his amps to the next level. Unfortunately, as Tony tells TheToneKing.com, what followed was the type of stuff that you usually only find in movies. Although, the good folks at TheToneKing.com advised me against going into the details, Tony confides that his company was “run into the ground,” by its investors.
During the time that tensions were building between Tony and the investors of the company that he created, Krank amps received a call that could change everything. Dimebag Darrell wanted on board as one of Krank’s signature artists. It was a dream come true for Tony who was a longtime fan – One of the greatest guitar players of recent times wanted Tony to build him a signature amp! Revitalized, Tony started working intensely with Dimebag on what would ultimately be called the Krankenstein.
During the interview, Tony starts to get choked up talking about working with Dime. Dimebag came out and worked with Tony one on one, designing the unique features that would go into the guitar legend’s amp. The same day that Tony Krank finished the Krankenstein prototype, Dimebag was killed on stage while on tour with his band Damageplan. He never had the chance to play his own signature amp.
Tony already had one foot out the door, and after the tragedy, things eventually got worse. So, Tony finally decided to leave Krank behind.
Frustrated with all of the turmoil that had taken place with his old company, Tony still yearned to do what he always loved to do – build amps. With the knowledge that he picked up at Krank, he has moved on and started another company – STiFF Amps.
STiFF offers three models of 100-watt heads – The Fist Pump, The 90-AD, and The Dirthead. 6L6 power tubes follow 12AX7 preamp tubes in all of the two-channel heads. Everything’s wrapped up in a steel chassis with a footswitchable buffered effects loop with send and return controls. All of the amps have the same chassis platform and the same clean channels but a different gain structure.
Tony describes The Fist Pump as being like the classic Krank Revolution with improved mids. He also explains that he remedied some of the quirkiness on the highs that was always present in Krank models. The Fist Pump has a super high-gain overdrive channel coupled with a clear clean channel.
The 90-AD resembles the Krank 1980. The 90AD resembles a mid 70’s classic hard rock gain structure with slightly less overdrive than The Fist Pump but still enough to take some skin off of your scalp. It’s also Tony’s personal favorite.
The Dirthead is for the guys who want to go to the darkest recesses of the metal spectrum. Plenty of gain matched with dark and evil tones. Even with that much gain, The Dirthead still resists the urge to be muddy and keeps the notes clear even as the player grinds at breakneck speeds.
Along with these three heads, STiFF is about to launch 20W versions called Little STiFFys. They’re the same gains just at 20% of the normal wattage. Even with just two knobs, a Volume and Tone, the little STiFFys still wail with their bigger brothers. Tony mentioned to TTK that when he tracked them both, “they sounded almost exactly the same.” Tony also mentioned that if players want a custom wattage, tubes, or just something a bit different, he’s willing to do that on any STiFF amp or pedal.
Oh yeah. Did I mention STiFF does pedals?
“I’ve been repairing Echoplexes and Space Echoes forever,” Tony responds when asked why STiFF puts out pedals. Initially, Tony wanted to do a Tape Echo, but knew that there would be inherent problems with it. (The tapes easily derail and can be difficult to work with for players) So, instead, he took the existing EP-2 circuits and tethered them to the Boss Delay circuit and tested it. “This sounds just like an Echoplex!” Tony exclaimed. He created the Psychoplex Tapeless “Tape” Echo with 825Ms delay time and a 12AX7 tube input buffer that runs on high voltage and moves into the delay circuit with an analog compander and analog recovery.
As a brother to the Tapeless “Tape” Echo, STiFF also created the Orbit Psychoplex Analog Delay. Boasted as a “Real BBD analog Delay,” the Orbit still offers the same features as the Tapeless “Tape” Echo, but with 650Ms delay time.
For Tony Krank, the ride has been a rough one. From humble beginnings, he quickly jumped to the top only to get knocked back down again. Now, like any good fighter, he’s pushing himself back up to get back into the ring. At The Tone King, we’ve always been fans of what he did at Krank. So, when we heard that he was going to put STiFF’s pedals into the ring for ’30 Pedals in 30 Days,’ we were stoked. With his new company growing, Tony’s out to show us he can still Krank ‘em out with STiFF.
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