In today’s Mojozine interview, we’re sitting down with Adam Palow of Tungsten Amplification to talk about his journey through the world of tube amps. Adam is a self-taught, highly-skilled builder, designer, and tinkerer of all sorts. We’re pumped to have him as a Mojotone customer, and even more excited to be able to have a chat with him.
And guess what, like always, we started from the beginning…
“I’ve been obsessed with sound since I was a small child and was exposed to FM radio in the mid 70's, but my obsession with music started around age 13 with albums like Appetite for Destruction (GnR) and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (the Cure). Though very different, each one featured a wide range of tones that inspired me to pick up my first guitar. Not too long after, I heard the Sex Pistols and that Steve Jones sound was seared into my brain for good.”
Naturally, I’m sure this hits home with plenty of us. So now that we know how Adam got into music in the first place, let’s dive into his gear journey. My understanding is that once Adam bought his first ever tube amp, he dove in head first and never looked back.
Let’s find out more about the mystical amp responsible for all of this…
“The first amp I purchased was a used 1965 Fender Vibro Champ that was regrilled and missing the faceplate. The glow of the tubes, the broken in alnico 8" speaker and the mystical tremolo cast a sort of spell over me & I could not stop playing the thing. I was 16 years old, and the entire course of my life changed that day.Not too long after, I acquired a 1970 non-reverb Princeton. Then there were Bassman, Bandmasters, Deluxe Reverbs, Twin Reverbs. It was the early 90's, and these amps were relatively cheap. $250 for a Bassman head was average then. These amps needed maintenance and I didn't know any qualified technicians, so I built a workbench and started reading books and internet forums. One of those forums (Music Electronics forum) had a "Tweed Amp Builders" section that was loosely moderated by Bruce Collins of Mission Amps. I learned so much by lurking on that forum and absorbing good info from the many members there. It's something that's lost a bit in the social media age, but the forums were a cool place to hang out with like minded people and exchange technical info.”
We know SO many DIYers who got their start almost exactly like this; their interest was piqued by an epic piece of gear and then they just started reading everything they possibly could and tinkering away at all hours of the day. We love hearing this kind of story.
Alright, so besides that first amp, what other gear kept Adam so fascinated?
“When amp prices began to increase in the mid to late 90's, I stumbled into the world of Hammond Organs and Leslie speakers. They sounded amazing, were extremely undervalued, and quite abundant on the West coast. This forced me to expand my electronics knowledge as well as reach out to master Hammond Organ tech, Bob Schleicher in Oakland, CA. At the time, I still knew comparatively little about electronics and Bob was extremely generous with his knowledge. I learned how to make a perfect solder connection by watching over his shoulder at his shop one Sunday morning.”
That is an intensely rad story to all of us here in the shop; what a cool mentorship.
By now you all know I like to ask our subjects how they overcome stress and periods of time where they find themselves lacking inspiration; so, let’s find out how Adam breaks through the walls…
“The only time I feel uninspired is when the business side of the business takes over. Inventory, paperwork, website management, it's just not my thing. I love to sit at my bench and build amps, that was the dream when I was 20 years old and still is now. In 2019, I got burned out, decided to take a break and went to be a grower for a local Medical Marijuana farm. Within the space of a year I got promoted, got fired, and regained perspective on just how blessed I am to be able to build these amps for players around the world. Over the past three years, I've built out five new prototype designs and have expanded my footprint beyond "just tweed," to the gray areas between late tweed, early Marshall, and some of the "off brands.”
Sometimes it does get hard to see, but we are all very lucky to be in this field and to help others find the sound they’ve been seeking out. And we all have different philosophies on how to go about helping others find their sound.
So what are the building blocks for our buddy Adam?
“My philosophy is pretty simple. To preserve harmonics and response, you just want a simple signal path. Every resistive element in line is going to affect your tone. I generally prefer tube rectifiers for the feel, and careful selection of power supply filtering is also crucial to right hand bounce. Amp design (which I am still a student of) is a tightrope act and balancing act at the same time. Anything you change on either end of the circuit can throw off everything else, and oftentimes in ways you did not expect. I like surprises and happy accidents, sometimes they are innovations.”
Love it. This is the way.
Alright, we have to wrap this up soon but I wanted to share some of Adam’s plans for the rest of the year because it sounds like he has some really cool ones in mind…
“I'm really focused on getting The Odessa Project amp line out into the world. It's a semi-custom amp that delves into the tweed/JTM/JMP gray zone. Each one is a little different and built with input from the player. I'm really enjoying the custom color cabs and grill cloths lately. Lots of new ideas percolating. Outside of the shop, my girlfriend and I own a small farm and nursery that specializes in superhot peppers, Hemp/CBD, and gourmet mushrooms.”
Yeah that sounds like a nice way to live, folks. Definitely make sure you check out Tungsten Amplification online here:
And if you’re looking for some new tunes, go check out Adam’s old band ‘Black Android,’ on Bandcamp.
We want to thank Adam for sitting down with us and taking time out of his day to share all of this great information. And thanks to all of you for tuning in – we’ll see you again soon!