The Godfather of Modern Amplification: TTK takes a look at James Brown and AmpTweaker

The Godfather of Modern Amplification: TTK takes a look at James Brown

By Marc Johnson for

What’s in a name? When The Tone King asked me to write a story on James Brown, confusedly I responded, “The Godfather of Soul?” But I soon learned that there is another, and some say that he is The Godfather of Modern Amplification. And, by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll never forget him.

Starting his career designing amps for Peavey in 1986, James made a name for himself by working closely with guitar greats like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani on their signature amps. As the lead engineer behind the 5150 project and one of the big guns behind the JSX, James was instrumental in cultivating the signature sounds for both of those legendary guitar players. He has also lent his expertise to a cornucopia of other great amps; including the Classic 50, the Classic 30, and the Delta Blues, just to name a few. In 2004, James went to work for Kustom Amplification as their Chief Engineer.

Now, James is applying his amplification experience to pedals with his new company, Amptweaker. To help foster ideas for the pedals that he was going to produce, James took advantage of Internet forums, email, and social networking sites to contact players and ask them what they wanted in a pedal. He sums up the concept of working with consumers directly by saying, “Instead of guessing what products might be successful, my plan is to get ideas directly from you.”

It looks like talking to the players may have paid off by bringing some really cool things to the table. After looking under the hood, TTK noticed that all of Amptweaker’s pedals boast some really innovative components:

1) A design that produces electronic asymmetrical clipping. Essentially, whereas most pedals use a single stage op-amp, which clips the same amount on both sides of the sine wave, Amptweaker pedals are designed to act like a real tube amp with asymmetrical clipping and multiple stages, which clips more off of one side of the sine wave, producing second-order harmonics. The result is a richer tone that is more “tube-like” and sounds more like a multi-stage amplifier since it cleans up nicely.

2) Like an amplifier, each pedal has its own effects loop that allows you to attribute other outboard effects to your Amptweaker in either the pre or post stages, allowing for a staggering number of options for tonal customization. Also, when you choose to bypass the Amptweaker pedal, it will automatically bypass those other outboard effects as well. 

3) A “Tight Control” which can be adjusted to compliment the player’s attack from a looser, spongier feel to a tight and aggressive ‘chunk’. Usually, this adjustment is done by engineers to signature series amps for the artists, but the “Tight Control” allows the player to dial it in themselves. Basically, your attack and your guitar will work in tandem with this feature to create your tone, giving you a truly unique sound.

4) Some convenient stuff like a battery on/off switch, removing the need to unplug the cable to keep your pedal from eating batteries and a side battery compartment with a magnetic door for easy access.

All of the pedals are hand-wired in the USA. Right now, James’ company has three pedals; including, the TightDrive, the Bass TightDrive, and the TightBoost. With all the options available, Amptweaker pedals are built more like amps.

Their flagship product, the TightDrive pedal is a gain pedal that seems to scream the word ‘versatility.’ The TightDrive is designed to give the player a variety of tones from singing blues to shred-your-face-off screaming leads. With the effects loop and “Tight Control” mentioned before, the range of tones is limitless.

The Bass TightDrive was developed when Greg Weeks tried out the guitar version at NAMM. After some subtle modifications, Amptweaker released a bass version of the pedal, which is currently being used by artists like dUg Pinnick of King’s X.

To accommodate guitar players looking for less gain and more volume, Amptweaker also has the TightBoost. This pedal also has a mid boost control that gradually adds a Parked Wah tone, making it easy to add a “vowel” tone to your boost. For the TightBoost, Amptweaker worked with some local talent during the 2010 Nashville Amp Expo to dial in on their favorite Parked Wah Frequencies. The two favorites were then incorporated into a switch on the pedal.

James Brown would probably attribute the success of the 5150 and the JSX to the artists that help inspire the tone of those amps. Now, he’s letting you be the one who inspires the tone. Even now, he is still looking for input and feedback on his pedals and amps, and you can contact him easily on his website. With everything that James is trying to do, from working directly with consumers, to putting tried and true amp design into his pedals, he is truly thinking outside of the stompbox.

Watch out for the reviews on the Amptweaker pedals when launches its “30 Pedals in 30 Days” in December.

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Filed Under: ReviewsAmpsPedals

About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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