Stormhenge Custom Toneworks
It started with Mods. I modified a cheap guitar for Gabrielle Graves, and liked how it turned out. I modified her amp, and then another one, and amps for a few other people, and this gave me the confidence to try my hand at not just improving a guitar or amp, but getting them to sound a certain way.... the way I heard them in my head -- Before I knew it I'd become a tone chaser...
The funny thing about chasing tone is that you never seem to ever actually catch it. You just keep tweaking. It's taken me years of listening and learning and trying to figure out exactly what I really liked and wanted to have in terms of guitar tone, and all of that led me to build my first frankenstein guitar. She started out like this.
I played her unplugged, and she just sang! I'd never really played a guitar that sounded like it that didn't cost over $3000. So finding this baby on sale for under a grand made my day.
Thus began an 18 month journey of tinkering. I started replacing the pickups, the bridge, and the tuners - stripping off lacquer, paint and polyester, adding some of those things back, and then replacing the neck, until eventually that amazing sound I had first heard was utterly magical. I finally had a guitar that played like a dream, sounded exactly the way I wanted it to sound, and looked pretty cool in the process. I was giddy.
This is Lana. She's mine and you can't have her. This guitar was the rosetta stone. A frankenstein of different parts that came together to make a magical axe.
Bryan playing Lana through the SuperThump prototype when we were still trying to find the right speaker combos in the 412 sitting in the next rom. This one was close, but we'd finally find the right combination about 3 months later that we still use today.
I let my buddy Bryan play it... He couldn't put it down. Bryan, who was a long time, avid Les Paul player called it a Les Paul Killer; a guitar that has the balls and punch of a Les Paul, but with the playability of a Strat. He promptly asked me to build him one. So I tried to apply everything I learned making mine, cuz TBH I wasn't sure if maybe I just got lucky, but it turns out it wasn't luck. I had stumbled onto a special recipe.
This is Bryan, showing off his LPK - Les Paul Killer
I figured why stop there? If I could build my own dream guitar for far less than it would cost me to buy one, could I do the same with an amp?
I started tinkering in the garage with different circuits, trying to get a handle on just how high voltage amplifiers work. Having only ever played through one magical 1960's Marshall Plexi 100w, I knew I wanted something similar, but in a 50w form. So after months of research, and listening, and circuit theory study, I theorized that my dream amp would be a hybrid of a 1967 Plexi and a 1968 Superbass... So I drew up a circuit that combined my favorite parts of each and started ordering parts. I took me about 3 weeks to build, and when I finished it and turned it on, it didn't work... of course. Why would it? I had no idea what I was doing...lol
After about 3 months of monkeying with it, it finally came to life... and it was the most untamed, out of control amp I'd ever plugged into. I was used to a JCM800, which by comparison was a timid mouse, but this new amp, was like trying to ride a dragon.
At the time, Bryan was playing through a DSL with a Plexi-tone pedal from Carl Martin that we both loved. And I could get my amp to sound like the pedal, but when we put the amp into what would become known as "Van Halen Mode" we couldn't get the pedal to sound like the amp, so I knew I was on to something special, but it wasn't quite"there" yet. I started playing with different voltages, variacs, tubes, and circuit components and values until one day after soldering everything back together and turning it on... Something had changed, and it was magical! It thumped like nothing I'd ever heard before. And so became known as "The SuperThump."
This is Bryan playing it with his Les Paul while I was still tinkering with getting the amp where I wanted it.
This was the prototype in the half assed case I built for it...
And of course, I let Bryan borrow it over a weekend, and after playing it for one day, he wanted one too... So I built him one and made a few improvements.
This was the first day Bryan got to play his LPK through his new amp.
And here it is in it's case - SuperThump #2
What I learned through all of this, is don't be afraid to explore. I had never built a guitar before - or an amp. But I wasn't afraid of failing, because the reward was worth it. And now not only am I benefitting from my efforts but those around me who share my need for tone are too.
My continuing journey still reveals new things to me, I am constantly learning and growing in regards to my knowledge about sound, mixing, guitars, basses and amps... you can follow that journey here on my blog and you'll get to hear it on the new Gabrielle Graves record coming out in a few months. And stayed tuned to the Stormhenge youtube channel for news and updates and more videos of the things I make that make noise.