Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hayes Amplification - Perfecting Pure Guitar Tone, One Amp at a Time

"I have seen many Fender Tolex amps over my time working with amps, and the work by David Hayes is arguably the best I have seen." - Myles Rose, from The World's Best Amps

David Hayes? Myles Rose? You may ask, just who are these fellows?

Myles Rose may well be America's guitar amplifier guru, having served many years at Groove Tubes as a designer, head tech, product development specialist, as well as being the co-author and technical editor of the Groove Tube Amp Book. After this distinguished service, Myles became a consultant to such amp builders as Dr. Z, 65 Amps, and many others. Mr. Rose is also the moderator for Guitar Player Magazine's online technical forum, Ask Myles Rose. When not running his current company, Guitar Amplifier Blueprinting, Myles can be found almost daily feeding homeless families in Los Angeles, and blogging eloquently about their plight.

David Hayes happens to be one of Myles's favorite amp builders. When asked about David's work, Myles says, "I try to avoid talking about David too much, because once the subject is on the table it is hard to stop. I could talk for 30 minutes on his construction alone."


Myles continued to say, "His work on restoration is not restoration at all, he takes things to the next level. Think of the Petersen Automotive Museum, where you see cars from decades ago in conditions exceeding that which they were in when they were originally driven out of the factory. David's Fender-style amps are always way above what was factory produced.

"I thought it was great when David started a slant on his own take on the classic amp circuits adding his own twist to things. All the magic of the past with a lot of new magic that fits into the total picture."

I take great pleasure in owning one of David Hayes's amplifiers, a creation he calls the BF-5E3. I call it, my Little Red Corvette.

David's designation perfectly describes the amp head. It is basically a cloned, updated circuit of a 50s era Fender Tweed Deluxe with the power of a newer blackface Fender Deluxe. It encapsulates all of the tones found in the amps used by such luminaries as Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Neil Young, and Billy Gibbons on so many great rock records, but adds the horsepower necessary to drive a band on a loud stage. David says this amp probably is pushing 30-40 watts when peaking. I will add that it is a very loud 40 watts.

I have already discovered that within this gorgeous red Tolex cabinet several brilliant single channel amps reside. I started off using the amp as shipped, with a NOS Philips 5U4 rectifier tube. This produced the tone of the gods, a corpulent and clear voice that sagged wonderfully, producing tones that, depending on which guitar I used, would range from a very Stonesy rhythm tone with a Fender guitar, to a picture perfect ZZ Top grind when I utilized my Les Paul.

This amp made me realize that I had to play up to its expectations, and not the other way around. Most generally, a player will play through an amplifier and try to coax the sound in his head to come out of the speakers. Not so much with the Hayes. It instantly made me try to play as well as the amp sounded. The tones were exactly what you visualize in your mind's eye, and it simply asked that the player play. This amp is an instrument in its own right, as much as any guitar.


Amazingly responsive, the BF-5E3 is brutally powerful, yet when the volume is backed off on the guitar, it cleans up beautifully and becomes a sophisticated blend of shimmering highs and warm lows. I found that the amp was brilliantly intuitive, almost as if it was getting to know my playing, and responding like a lover more than a machine. Then I had the misfortune that will sometimes befall everyone who seeks prime tone. The amp's 50 year old NOS rectifier tube gave up the ghost. Yes, sometimes when a New Old Stock tube is used it will simply fail. This tube died of a bit of dryness that caused a crack in the plastic housing on its underside. Simply a tragedy of time, no reflection on the tube's capabilities, just old age. I could not find a suitable replacement as quickly as I would have liked, so I opted for what was available, a very desirable high end GZ34 replacement rectifier tube. Rectifier tubes are notorious for having the ability to completely change the sound, feel, and response of an amplifier, and never more so than when the amp is top notch.

Incidentally, when I removed the rear panels to replace the tube, I was astounded by the neatness, and the beauty of the amp's interior. I have never seen more artful work, nor careful attention to detail. The beautiful point to point wiring, and the careful braids that had been tied were not only precise, they were also gorgeous.

Lo and behold, with the installation of the new tube, a new amp was born. Where previously I was engrossed by tones that harkened back to the vacuum tube glory of the halcyon days of Leo Fender, I was now thrown into the realm of the ultimate Bluesbreaker, Eric Clapton. The wonderful sag of the 5U4 had been replaced by a tone that jumped out of the amp with belligerence and a significant increase in midrange wail. Much closer to Jim Marshall's original update of an old Fender Bassman, the Little Red Corvette was now one of Big Daddy Roth's hot rod creations.

The amp still retained the ability to clean up when the guitar volume was reduced, still maintained the subtle nuances of the player's right hand, and still asked me gently and kindly to be a better musician. And, it is unquestionably loud enough to be a commanding voice on any stage short of Metallica's. While it is loud, beefy, and forceful, it probably wouldn't be fair game in the metal realm, but for any other style of rock, blues, country, or jazz - I cannot imagine a more toneful amplifier.

Myles says of Hayes's builds, "His one off pieces are works of art, and use top notch components, and an attention to detail of workmanship that is second to none."

I asked David Hayes about this amp's history, and he replied, "The BF-5E3, funny story. I had a 5e3 chassis but no tweed transformers and it was one of those days when I was in between builds and bored. Well I just happened to have a full set of Blackface Tone Clone Mercury Magnetic transformers and I said if the power tranny will fit, I can make the rest fit. It did, and so I started building to pass time and occupy myself. I figured the blackface transformers would be too powerful for the standard 5E3 circuit, so I made some upgrades right away. First I installed over-sized filter caps and upgraded the values of some of the resistors and caps. I had no idea what the amp would sound like or if it would even work, but when it was done I brought it up on the Variac and plugged it into my 1964 2X15 Fender Bandmaster cab and it blew me away. I could not believe how it sounded. I then hooked it to the 2 JBL D-120F speakers in my Fender Twin Reverb restoration and made a little video. Myles saw and heard this, e-mailed me, and said that to him this amp was the iconic example of true tube amplifier tone and that I should make a CD of this tone and sell it. That was all I needed to hear because Myles is to me the best tube amp guy on the planet."

David Hayes is a fiercely devoted man. He is relentless in his pursuit of guitar tone, and his desire is to build the best amps possible, one at a time - strictly to bring out the best in the music.

"I try to use the best quality parts that are available, such as transformers, resistors, and capacitors, and I am in this for the music and the guitar player more than I am for the money," said David Hayes.

When asked why his name was relatively unknown, and unseen on the pages of the industries many great publications, David had this to say:

"As for how I remain out of the pages of magazines, I turn down offers of free advertising and interviews, which is also why I haven't become a factory type builder, mostly because I want to stay small enough that I don't have to have anyone else building my amps like so many other amp companies. You see I care more about my amps being "My" amps so I can control fully each and every build and kinda choose who I build for and try to make the amp fit the player. I care more about music, tone and quality than I do money!"

David built two BF-5E3s. I have one, and he kept the other. I have heard a great many single channel amps over the years, and can honestly say that this amp sounds better than any other I have heard. David's words are not marketing rhetoric, they are his heartfelt mantra.

Not knowing the Hayes story, I asked David how he came to be an amp builder/restoration specialist. The tale he tells is straight Hayes - classic, rustically elegant, and to the point.

"How I became a builder? I have always been a repair guy - from a very early age I was fixing clocks, radios, TV sets and a lot of other things. In my teens it was cars, amplifiers, and most anything - then in 2004 I started buying old amps and rebuilding and restoring them to sell on eBay, and soon the word spread around middle Georgia that there was a guy that could repair tube amps, and I hooked up with a few local music stores. Well, my friends and customers said my work was second to none and I should do this full time, but I had no confidence in myself and was working in a junkyard doing mechanic work, welding and driving a big wrecker. This was a job to make up for the pitiful V.A. benefits that I was trying to live off of, as I am a disabled Veteran. One day my wife Jennifer said, "You need to quit that junkyard and stay home and do your amps." I told her I didn't think there were enough broken amps around to make ends meet that way, and she said, "Then build your own - all of your friends say that the amps you restore sound better than anything out there. I have a good job. We will be OK, and I believe in you." So, I picked the name Tube Master, dedicated my favorite amp to my wife by naming it the Hayes Tube Master "LIL JENNY," and said goodbye to the junkyard. Long answer, but this is what happened !"

Hayes Amplification is a small company, dedicated to one thing only - building great amps, one at a time. In addition to his classic remakes, and updates on legendary Fender amps, David also has built a series of Hayes Plexi's, including a recent delivery to one of rock and roll's greatest guitarists, Steve "The Deacon" Hunter. Hunter is, of course, the guitar star who played the lead licks on Aerosmith's Train Kept a Rollin', and wrote and recorded the classic intro to Lou Reed's Sweet Jane, with his cohort Dick Wagner

I asked Steve Hunter about his Hayes Amps, and he took time out of his busy schedule to tell me this, "The first thing you'll notice about Dave's amps is the workmanship, especially if you get to peek inside the chassis. It's a work of art. But, no matter how pretty things look on the inside, the amp still has to sound great. And Dave's amps do. They just plain sound great. Warm rich tone without ever being too harsh which is precisely the type of sound I always look for. Not excessively loud but they always manage to hold their own in just about any situation. Excellent with pedals. A true tube amp in every way, that will respond to your playing."

David speaks on the Plexi, and Hunter, "The Hayes Plexi came out because I had repaired a lot of Marshall amps and heard so many people say they wished they could find a Plexi like the first ones made, so I took what Jim Marshall did, and added a little more Leo Fender to it with the outside of the chassis, filter caps, and a cap pan like the Fender amps have, and added a little Hayes in the mix.

"I actually met Steve on Facebook. He liked my amps right away, we became friends and talked quite a bit about amps and music. At first I didn't make the connection that this was actually The Steve Hunter, "The Deacon of Rock & Roll," and one of my heroes on guitar that played with Alice Cooper. He had been one of the people that I considered a guitar god since I was 17 going on 18. I loved the song Eighteen, so this was like a dream come true, and such an honor to be doing anything with this man (who is one of the most humble, down to earth, nicest people I have ever met in my life).  Now, Steve has two Hayes amps - the Plexi, and the first "Purple Hayes," which is an amp that was built just to please my friends, who had said that with my name I just had to build an amp and name it that. I took my Tube Master "LIL JENNY" head with a 2X12 cab that was designed for Joey Thigpen, which is called the Hayes Tube Master LIL JENNY JT212. Anyway, I took this amp and made some changes in it to give it a little more growl, a little more punch, and a quicker breakup so it would be more aggressive and fit the name Purple Hayes!"

When I said that David is devoted, that is exactly what I meant. Sadly, several years ago, the real "Lil Jenny," was felled by a massive stroke, and David has added the job of full time caretaker to his resume. In addition to his work load of amp building, repairing, and restoration, he cares for his wife in every sense, and her recovery is always his first priority. That may be why Myles Rose had this to say:

"David - you are a great "amp" guy. I don't think anybody that has seen your work or played your amps could not easily see that and hear that with their own eyes and ears. What might be missed by some by casual observation is what a great person you are as well."

Even in speaking with Patrick Selfridge at Mercury Magnetics (the makers of the best guitar amp transformers on the planet), what was said about David Hayes was half amp worship, and half praise for the man, and probably a good place to wrap this up.

Patrick Selfridge said, "David Hayes is building some amazing amps. He is not building simple vintage clones like so many builders, but instead is making amps with his signature tone. David really sweats all the details, and it shows with the end result every time. We here at Mercury Magnetics are very proud to be a part of helping David shape his tone amp by amp. Most of all, we are proud to be associated with a great person on top of it all!"

It would be unwise of me to not thank David for allowing me to write about his work, as it would be to not write about what is the best amplifier I have ever played, let alone owned, The Hayes Amplification BF-5E3, my Little Red Corvette.

3 comments:

revrannulf said...
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Anonymous said...

For someone that's been playing Fender Amp's since I first played my Vibrolux in the 60's. I now play a Dual Showman & Couple that to a Peavey Ranger. I built my own Wah pedal as they lost their tone in mass production, so I located, bought & had to manufacture the 4uf electrolytic NP cap it required to sound right. I only use tube amps, as every tube has it's own voice. It would be a life's dream to play one of his amps. So do I have to move back to Cali & get in a soup line to meet him? He sounds like he's humble like Stevie was. I'm outside Austin now. Rest in peace Leo Fender.I've loved that sound since I was a young boy of 14.

Anonymous said...

It would be remiss of me to not Thank Mercury Magnetics for their wonderful article on David. I was only living in Austin a short time when SRV tickets went on sale for the Austin Opera House. It was located just off S.Congress, a few blocks from UT where I worked. I took a friend, another musician I worked with. I expected a nice auditorium, but to my surprise, it was rather small, and had old theatre style wooden seats. Stevie came out with short hair, which just blew me away. He was playing on a Fender Super Six. Above him was 4 Dual Showmans. He had a piece of plexi-glass in front of his SS. After his first set, they took a break, and I went up and asked him if he had just bought that amp, as I had just sold mine to Jason King. He said he had it a little while, so it wasn't my 6. I asked him about his hair, and he smiled, and said rehab.. I told him good luck. My friend, Jason King won the Austin Guitar Wars contest 2 years in a row, and they wouldn't let him enter anymore. Hope you enjoyed the tale with SRV in it! Peace!