Thursday, December 13, 2012

65amps and Dan Boul - A Bold Move Forward

Dan Boul is boldly taking 65amps to places the boutique guitar amplifier business has never gone, and his excitement and pride is palpable. He's exhausted from moving his factory, he's bubbling with enthusiasm at the prospect of taking his company and his amps to greater glories, and he's a little pissed!

I've been following the story of 65amps since 2007 - the year Dan Boul left his garage and became a full time builder. Boul's business partner, 65 Vice President Peter Stroud, Sheryl Crow's long time musical director raved about the amps when we met backstage at some faceless outdoor shed before a sold out show that year. He not only told me about these sublime tone machines, he showed me. His words were true, and the amps sounded like fire breathing 100 watters at a manageable stage volume. They defined tone in their time.

Moving forward to the present, Boul and 65amps have partnered with Boutique Amps Distribution, a company that has invested substantially into 65's future - a future that to Boul's mind has never been brighter.

In the years I've been following Boul and Stroud, here's what I've discovered. 65amps have never followed the pack. They have always had a vision and they have stuck to it with the tenacity of a religious zealot. They ruthlessly pursue the hallowed tones of the finest amps of the '60s and '70s, yet have been unwilling to remain tethered to the concepts of the past. Both are veterans of countless bands and have weathered the volume wars of years gone by, only to come to the realization that guitar amplification had to change. No longer is it viable (nor advisable) to submit your audience and yourself to deafening stage volume, yet the tones of tube amps turned to ten are still the apex of guitar tone. These fellows have completely changed the way amps are built, and have managed to capture amazing tone at reasonable volumes. Endorsees ranging from Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, Elvis Costello, Richie Sambora, Peter Frampton, to Saturday Night Live's Jared Scharff testify to the brand's versatility and quality.

So - why is Boul pissed off?

As is sometimes the case, when a competitor gets scared, they will resort to rumor manufacturing and spreading false scuttlebutt to discourage the progress of another builder. In recent days, some of Dan's competitors have taken to the amp and guitar gear forums with false rumors and innuendo. They're saying things like Dan has sold his company, the amps are being sent overseas, and that the new 'owners' will inevitably weaken the product. None of this is true, but let's look a bit deeper.

First off, Dan Boul still owns 65amps, Peter Stroud is still their VP, the staff building the amps is the same, and even Myles Rose, perhaps the planet's foremost authority on guitar tubes and tube amps is still on-board. That's the most important info I can impart - the patient is intact.

Yes, their shop is relocating to a much larger facility in downtown Los Angeles - they need the extra square footage to increase production. True, they have entered into an agreement with another company - this allows 65 to do things like maintain an inventory to meet dealers needs, increase their product line, buy parts and components at much better prices, and even decrease their retail prices - when was the last time you heard of a manufacturer doing that?

It could even be that Boul's detractors are just mistaken - they are assuming that what Dan has done is what has been done by boutique builders in the past. Quite often, builders have raised their brands to a certain level and then found themselves financially hamstrung, and unable to continue growing. 65amps, once again, has never been a follower - they have doggedly followed their hearts in their quest for tone. Dan Boul has put the quality of his product so far ahead of his own financial well being that it has consistently boggled my mind. I've spoken to him about this balancing act, and he has stayed the course and is now further delivering on his promises, and appears on the brink of doing something which only one manufacturer I can think of has ever done. He's about to make a boutique amp line a major player on a very unlevel playing field. It could actually be that the detractors are simply assuming that history is repeating. At least I'd like to think that, and not think that they are just sniveling shits. What's somewhat bothersome is the fact that those casting these aspersions are the same people who criticized Boul's decision to offer 65amps via Musician's Friend - a decision which made it easier on his customers, and not a bit harder on his dealers. They'll most likely carp no matter what he does.

Anyone who knows, or has watched 65's development over this last decade should know that:

a)  They are completely mad in their quest for tone.
b)  They have played fair, and are scrupulously honest business
c)  The company's biggest fans are its customers.
d)  If they say they are going to do something, they will most
     likely succeed.

The crazy thing is, I think this is just the beginning - I believe that this move will work very well, that 65amps will continue to be amongst the finest sounding, reliable amps on the planet, they will be easier to find, and perhaps even a bit more affordable - and I think that Boul may have plans that reach even beyond what we've seen, and that his vision may reach into wondrous areas that many haven't even considered.

Like I've said, I have been watching 65amps very closely over the years, and I have come to expect this from the people involved. They have consistently exceeded my expectations (which are almost unbearably high, as a rule), and they have regularly surprised me with their degree of inspiration and perspiration. These are some serious cats, and I think they make the world of guitars and amps a better place. I'm rooting for them to lead the way for many years to come.

I heard Dan say this maybe eight times yesterday - "It is in my contract - the quality of 65amps will never go below what it is today. I am still the owner of my company. The same people will be building the amps, nothing about that is changing!"

I've also learned over the last several years to trust Dan Boul and his vision. He has been a consistent winner, a diligent hard worker, and has earned the industry's trust. I wish I could say that about everyone in this business. However, I'll take what I can get. I think in the case of 65amps, things are just starting to get good - stay tuned.

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