In The Shop With John Manning

Written by
Logan Tabor
Published on
May 31, 2022 at 7:48:12 AM PDT May 31, 2022 at 7:48:12 AM PDTst, May 31, 2022 at 7:48:12 AM PDT

In our ongoing search for DIYers, artists, craftspeople, and tone connoisseurs of all kinds, it occurs to us that – although there is no shortage of talented and deserving individuals out there in the world – we happen to have quite a few tech wizards right here under this very Mojotone roof!  

With that in mind, it only seems fit for us to sit down and have a little chat with one of our very own master engineers, Mr. John Manning. John has been at Mojotone for twelve years now; he started out in our CADS department creating new parts such as chassis, faceplates (custom and stock), logos, eyelet boards, etc. He has since moved into a role where he is able to manage the ‘amplifier parts’ and ‘amplifier kits’ portions of our business.  

John is an extremely valuable asset to our company and he has a ton of experience all across the board when it comes to electronics, so why not have a quick chat, right?  

As always, we started at the beginning…

“I've been playing the guitar since I was twelve. I came from a very musical area, i.e. the foothills of NC. There was a big mountain music influence there. My dad was a mountain musician. He gave me my first acoustic. Meanwhile, I was more interested in the 90's rock coming out, so I wanted electrification. I jammed on every type of solid state rig, but saved up and bought a JCM900 half stack from the Musician's Friend mail order catalog. I was cooking then. I'm left-handed, so I was stuck using low-grade strats mainly. I've gotten used to it. I moved to Wilmington, NC for college, and kind of got sucked into a black hole. I've been here since, pretty much. I joined up with some guys who were eager to be on the road, and so we toured around the country in a van for years playing Thin-Lizzyish, Deep Purpley, Judas Priesty type of original music.”

I can attest to this story’s legitimacy…John is a Stratified lefty, and a rocker through-and-through. But how did he go from rockin’ the stage to rockin’ the tech bench? What got him interested in the inner-working of tube amps to begin with?  

“Ah, yes, 'twas while I was on the road when my 1979 Marshall JMP kept breaking down that I started to wonder about that type of stuff. I knew of no one who could fix it in Wilmington. I had some friends in Raleigh who took it to someone they knew to get it fixed. I was frustrated about that. I'm the kind of person who can do anything with their hands, so I decided to get down to the bottom of it myself. I went back to school for electronics engineering. I came out with the goal to do repair work in Wilmington. I started up getting good business, but honestly, it's not the most lucrative thing to do. I probably should have gone into power generation or something like that.”

An honest fellow it seems. Let’s see just how honest he is. If you’ve been following along with this series, you likely know that I like to find out how these deeply creative and skilled people overcome the dreaded lapses in creativity and motivation.

So here we go…

“Sure, I often ask myself what the hell am I doing here? I have to step out of the routine, the mouse wheel, and wander around for a bit. For music gear, I see a wash of an industry trying to grasp at one new feature or mod or angle to sell a new brand or product. Then I see that most people end up going back to what they know, the simple classics. Then the cycle repeats. For me, sometimes it takes hearing a familiar sound, or seeing someone I know start to get somewhere with themselves to get me back in motion.”

I think that probably rings true for many of us in this industry. It seems we constantly inspire one another, even when that wasn’t our goal. But hey, maybe any one of you reading this article has created something that helped get John’s mojo going again when he was feeling depleted.  

So we are starting to get to know John and figure out what his journey has been like thus far. Now let’s talk about some of the projects for which John has been responsible here at the Mojotone headquarters.

John, tell us what you did, big guy!

“Man, there are a ton of things. I was behind a lot of our branding efforts for some of our electronic components. I veered a lot of our parts sourcing from China to better quality manufacturers around the globe. I produced the BlackOut series of amplifiers which has been a success. If you're a veteran kit builder, you may have noticed a difference in the overall quality/approach to our kits over the past few years. That was me. I brought a bunch of new amp kits to the table, like the Vibrolux, Vibroverb, Custom 100, Custom 50, and the venerable GA-5. There's a new one I'm working on right now called the British 50W which is a late 70's JMP 2204 model. I think it's going to be a killer setup. There may even be a new move with vacuum tubes in the near future.”

…and a much-needed move that would be. John has really done a ton of great things for the company over the years, and I’m positive he’s being modest even in that giant list above.  

Let’s close with some words of wisdom from the venerable John Manning. Johnny boy, what can you say to help all of our beloved DIYers? 

“Make sure you are having fun. Don't get discouraged on how your work looks in the beginning, just make sure it works well and functions properly. If you're dealing with high voltage, treat it with respect. Don't build something that's going to be dangerous for someone else later on. That means, take your time with electronics. Start small, work your way up. Don't cut corners. Don't do it if you don't have time. Make sure that you are learning the hows and whys while you are going along.”

You can’t really argue with that…definitely solid advice. I suppose after this round we can get back to interviewing those followers of ours who do not operate within the Mojotone shop, but I feel like we can all gain something from John’s experience in the meantime.  

Check out John’s band ‘Mountain Thrower’ and show him some love. And if you happen to have dealings with John after reading this article, let him know you enjoyed hearing what he had to say. And as always, we appreciate you stopping by!