Turning back the clock
Each amplifier in Chris Dugan's living room has a story behind it. There's the amp from the public announcement (PA) system wielded by a Eastern European song and dance duo, which played shows along the East Coast mimicking American cowgirls; a motorola Hi-Fi amp used by the U.S. Military Signal Corps in the 1950s; and an amp that was once lodged into a grocery-store PA system. For Dugan, a Southwest Portland resident, the stories are the selling point behind his small business, Tube Goldberg. "I just haven't had the chance to tell people this stuff, and I don't know if they would care. But that would be the differentiating factor," Dugan said. Through Tube Goldberg, Dugan builds guitar amplifiers out of materials from products — such as film projectors, organs, record players and school intercoms — that used mini tube amplifiers to emit sound. He displayed them at the OMSI Maker Faire in September. Before this all started, Dugan had a standard,
cheap amplifier. But one day, while he was strumming his guitar, one of Dugan's friends reprimanded him for the mediocre sound emanating from his amp. Dugan went looking for a vintage, higher-quality amplifier, only to realize they were outside his price range. Alternatively, he found that objects with tube amplifiers, which were usurped by solid state amplifiers in the late 20th century, could mimic the vintage sound he was looking for. "And so I looked on Craigslist and I found this old tube amp that was like a PA system for a grocery store and, after looking up stuff on the internet, I figured out how to turn it into a guitar amp," Dugan said. "I thought, 'Oh my God. I can't believe this is so easy and so cheap.' It was instant gratification. But as I got into it, I tried more elaborate things and worked on the look of everything." To build the amps, he scrapped most of the excess materials from old soundemitting objects but kept certain components, such as the tube amplifier, gears and lights. He then added knobs and guitar jacks and replaced some of the internal components so that it is safe from electric shock. He buys parts from estate sales, junk shops and Craigslist and watched Youtube videos to learn how to assemble the amplifiers. The amplifiers vary in sound, depending on the nature of the product for which they were used. For instance, the organ amplifiers allow for a more varied range of sound than any of the other amplifiers. However, Dugan said that many of the am
plifiers naturally sound very similar to standard guitar amplifiers because the early Fender amplifiers were designed based on the amps within RCA sound projectors. "When you dig this out and take away the stuff that it doesn't need anymore because it's not try
ing to be a film projector, what you have left is an amplifier that inspired early Fenders as a circuit. It's not identical, but really close," Dugan said. Aesthetically, Dugan tries to fashion his amps to mirror the vintage amplifiers from the 1960s. "Sometimes you'll have an old speaker cabinet with a more modern amp packed in there and you can tell (that it is homemade)," Dugan said. "I want it to look like it was designed to be a guitar amp in the case, and I want it to all look age-appropriate. I want the knobs and the lights and everything to look of a similar era." Eventually, he would like to add features like reverb and tremolo to provide players with more sound control. "These are all volume, tone,
power switch and a speaker switch. I like it simple, but I'd like to have the knowledge to do that more complicated stuff," Dugan said. Though his amps were written up in Guitar World Magazine and he has marketed them to his friends in bands, to his surprise, Dugan hasn't found much of a market for the homemade amplifiers. But he's hoping that increased exposure could lead to elevated interest. Cost of production is also a factor. Dugan sold one amp through a guitar store but, after taking into account part costs and store commission, he wound up making only $25 for weeks of work. "I was sure there would be (a market) but there's not. It's just a matter of taste," Dugan said. "I think they look cool. I think they
sound cool. But maybe that's just me. Maybe I have specific taste." Dugan will occasionally perform at open mics in a singersongwriter style. He used to play mostly acoustic, but has added the amplifier to liven up his sound. Dugan has learned that with amplification comes power. "A guitar amp like this sounds big and dirty and there's a power to that music that you can't get strumming an acoustic guitar," Dugan said. "It makes music sound more powerful." To view Dugan's amps, visit his Instagram page at https:// www.instagram.com/tubegoldberg.