Interview with Steve Fulton and Bill Webb
Spring 2002, regarding the development and design of the Eric Johnson signature amps. Conducted by Marcus Owens, transcribed by Paula Beard.
MO: Was the amp designed to get a specific vintage amp sound, or were you going for something more original?
BW: Yes. It's a vintage tone. It's a vintage-type thing, since these amps were like old Marshalls that's where we were going.
MO: What's the circuit design most closely related to, Marshall?
BW: Yeah, with our own little tweaks to it that make up for certain insufficiencies that Marshalls tend to have.
SF: Eric influenced the design, quite a bit actually. He was pretty intricate, even at his studio turning the resistors around and he says, "try this". It made a difference.
BW: Yeah, that, plus it's the way that the amp interacts with the Fuzz Face. Those effects...it sounds good on that "Wind Cries Mary" type of tone, and when you kick that Fuzz in it just makes it a real thick, creamy thing, not a "clacky" , clinky metallic-type tone that a lots of amps will do, or get real "spitty".
BW: The Fuzz Faces, they'll sound great for awhile, then they'll just go bad, and there's not a lot you can do about it.
MO: He's killed many of them. Just through years of use, they're gone.
MO: What controls is it?
BW: It's 2 volumes, volume 1, volume 2, treble, middle, bass, and presence.
MO: Options available for the amp? Reverb? Effects loop?
BW: We were thinking maybe not on this amp, just to leave it like it is. If they really, really want an effects loop...I don't know...
SF: They're gonna have to beg us! We want to stay true to the same amp Eric uses. We have found that even the best effects loop gives the amp a different feel.
BW: Yeah, that's really not what Eric uses and it's a signature model. We'd have to discuss it with him and see how he feels about it.
SF: That's really the whole idea, that's it's an Eric Johnson signature model amplifier.
BW: We make it the way we made his. It's tweaked to a certain level, let's not go as far as saying Eric will sit there and dink every one of them, but when it gets done and finished, it's pretty much like the one that goes over to his place.
SF: It should be pretty close to the original.
BW: He took his own speakers and put them in it, basically, and he found the right pair of speakers to go with it and the speaker cable, stuff like that.
MO: Did you use modern components or more vintage style components?
BW: A lot of new old stock stuff, stuff that's made "vintage-style" I guess you could say. It's new stuff but it's made the old way. Like the transformers are all custom-made, hand-made, stuff like that
BW: Yeah, point-to-point.
MO: What tubes are in there?
BW: Three 12AX7s and two 6L6s
MO: What brand of tubes did Eric prefer, and do you plan to offer these with the amp?
BW: The Electro-Harmonix 6L6s are the ones that he has in the amp, that we built the amp, tested the amp with. Actually, when he first had it and was taking it out, playing, rehearsing and doing gigs with it, it was an old set of junkers that I had laying around. He bought a new set and put it in there, I don't know, a few weeks ago, and he said, "Oh man! This is even better than it was!"
SF: Yeah, he started foaming around the mouth. [laughter]. We felt lucky to find a tube that Eric would like with that circuit.
BW: He was drooling and stuff, jumping up and down.
MO: What line voltage is he running?
BW: Just standard line voltage. 120, American voltage
MO: Fixed bias or cathode bias?
BW: Fixed bias, grid bias. Not cathode.
MO: We had a question about the speakers and cab. What type of speaker cab is best suited for the amp, and what did Eric like best?
BW: The combo is kind of how we voiced it, and he chose to use old 25s in the box, and the cabinet...we tried different sizes for portability and also just for resonance, to make sure it was deep enough to have the right kind of resonance. Then we started messing around with the back panels to get the bass response and the frequency response of the cabinet. We started trying out, actually took a cabinet and put two speakers in it, took it to his studio and was playing it, and his engineer, Richard was really digging it. He liked the way the cabinet resonated.
SF: The first thing that Eric liked was a 2-12 cab that was Intended for a combo. He asked me if I could try it out and seemed to really dig it. I think he wanted to start using smaller cabs for smaller venues.
SF: He bought a cabinet first, That was the first thing.
BW: Yeah. The way the amp came about, he heard of this experiment, sort of a one-off thing I did for a friend of mine built into an old in a Traynor chassis, and he happened to be there the day that I fired it up. I said "here, check it out", and he said "Wow, let's take this into the studio. Think this guy'll sell this piece of crap?" I said, "I don't know, this guy's really been waiting for this for awhile". He said "Well can you build one like it in one of your boxes?", so "OK, we'll do that" and it eventually became what it is now. His engineer, Richard, he's like Mikey. He hates everything! [laughter], so when he likes it...he said "You got a good sounding amp there", I knew we were really on to something!
MO: So was it an open or closed cabinet that he's using?
BW: It's a combo, 2-12 combo cabinet, and it works well with the 4-12 cabinet also. He's played it through that too. The main thing that he was looking for is a combo-type rig to use for smaller situations. Once he gets out on stage, combo amps provide less stage volume for Richard to deal with, so he's a _lot_ happier. He has much more control over the front house sound with these rigs.
MO: What Celestion speakers did you say?
BW: Some old 25s.
MO: Is that what you'd offer it with? Probably not.
SF: Not old ones. There's some exciting stuff in the future. I'd have to just say"25 watters" without getting too specific here as far as the speakers go.
BW: Yeah, stuff's not totally available yet anyway. He doesn't like the reissue 25s, he doesn't care for them.
MO: Is the amp available at all yet?
SF: Well, actually it is, but the turnaround is the question.
We're just getting started for a run. We've got a bunch of cabinets coming in a couple of weeks, transformers will be here in two or three weeks, and once we get all that stuff here...we've already started building some turret boards.
MO: It's already been covered about the amp being shipped to Eric's exact configuration.
SF: As for the amp itself, we've talked about being real specific about the windings for the heaters, and...
BW: [points up at the wall] That's a photograph of the internal side. We've got maybe 20 or 30 more photographs that we're going to blow up, and that will give us a complete "OK, let's see, this wire goes here, that wire goes there, this part goes here, this part goes there" so that when we're finished it will look exactly like that or as close as possible. Really, really close! For example, this wire's coming off here from the light bulb, the indicator lights, two wires come off and loop around and they go over there to that socket. Me and Eric dinked with that for about 45 minutes before we figured out where we wanted to plug the light in. It sucks power off the main line to all the tubes, so it has to be done a certain way or else it affects the tone. So if we make it like that, he's going to feel comfortable with it, and that's what we have to do, to go to that level of "get on with it" kind of stuff. We're kinda crazy!
MO: That's called "the patience of Job"
BW: As far as we're concerned, Job was a wussy! [laughter]
MO: When is the amp going to be available?
SF: It's available now, we're taking orders now.
MO: Any distribution plans? Will people have to come here to try it out?
SF: That's the deal, that could be a problem. It's going to be direct for right now. There are some snippets of Eric, some MP3s on the website. Actually, he volunteered to do it.
MO: That would be great though. Just set him up and let him play some stuff.
[Note: the snippets have since been posted to http:www.fultonwebb.com]
MO: What's the price likely to be?
SF: We had a discussion with Eric, and he's the kind of guy who wants to make things affordable. At first we agreed on a price, then he started thinking about it. He wanted to lower the price so more people could afford it and be able to enjoy the amp.
BW: We've been inside some of these other amps, the boutique stuff, and the quality of the components and the care of the way that they're made are just not on the level that we do ours. We charge a very reasonable price for the level of consistency in workmanship that we put into ours.
MO: What's the name of it?
BW: The model number is EJ-DR45 (Eric Johnson Dirty Rhythm 45) which is also known as "The Scrumptious Monkey".
MO: Are you putting a logo on it that says "The Scrumptious Monkey"?
SF: That's what's on his amp.
MO: Sounds like one of those old World War II bombers. [laughter]
BW: He came up with that, it was his idea. The one I'm working on right now is a model of his lead amp, and Eric wants to name it the "Viola".
MO: That's a pretty apt description, actually.
BW: Yeah, it's like a 900 lb. violin, pretty much.
MO: How much is the 2-12 combo?
SF: $2999 for a 2-12 combo. Considering that Eric's name is attached to it, and the integrity that he's brought about over the years, I think it's low. To me this is a very special thing that's happening, not just for us, but it's so cool that he actually got behind an amplifier.
MO: It is for Eric too.
BW: We kind of came across this thing, and to him it has the feeling and the response of an old amp, but it's brand new. The thing is, we make these, and it's like "yeah, go ahead and take them out on the road. You can have two or three of these and leave your old Marshalls at home". He's got his old hundred watts that he's got set up, like he pulled some out the other day and they'd been in the storage room for a long time. He pulled them out to do some tracks, and they're all [*messed up amp sound effects*]. I said, "Omigod, what's wrong?" He said these things are British, and just like having an MG, you gotta tinker with them, you gotta take them out and drive them, you can't let them sit.
BW: They don't like that. Any tube amp that's over 25-30 years old or so, they need to be taken out and run about every month. Turn it on, leave it on, maybe play through it a little or something. If you let it sit for a lot time it takes a long time for it to come back and you end up having to replace a bunch of stuff.
SF: Yeah, good ones have usually been used like hell.
BW: And they're getting fewer and farther between. That's why the speaker thing came up. He's going to run out of vintage 25s, old 25s, going to blow them all out or all going to be reconed. If there's some way that we can make an amp like the one that we came up with that has that old feeling to it. It feels like an old amp but it's all brand new stuff, and it's consistent from amp to amp and consistent every night when you plug it in. Also the speakers, if we get something worked out [with the vendor] where we'll have that feeling of the old broken-in 25.