Robert, how did you come up with the brilliant idea to put amplifiers in all these objects?
I started doing this when I came across a blog article about a DIY beer can amp. I initially just wanted to try it out to see if I could do it and after some trial and error I made my first mini amp out of a Heineken 24 oz. tall can. That was one of the most difficult builds for me because of how delicate the can is. It’s very easy to crush it and dent it while working or tear the aluminum. When I finished that amp though I thought if I can make an amp out of a can I can pretty much make one out of anything. I’ve always had an interest in pop culture and advertising so many of my amps follow those themes. I like the idea of re-purposing an object and giving it a new function. An item that you have some emotional connection to can be a functional guitar amp, a piece of art, and a nostalgic conversation piece.
What’s your background?
I began this project a little over two years ago. I’ve been playing guitar for about 12 years, and have a B.S. in Business Administration. I wanted to combine my love of guitar and the unique hobby of amp building, so I started Artistic Amplification. From there a small business was born. There are many DIY people out there who build their own mini amps, effects pedals, and instruments, but I wanted to take it to the next level by using a wide variety of objects.
I mainly used online resources and self-teaching methods to learn how to build the amp circuit. My father is a retired mechanic and gave me a crash course in soldering and wiring. For me it was mostly a combination of patience, perseverance, and desire. I use the Ruby circuit via runoffgroove.com in my amps. One of the best aspects about these amps is their uniqueness in sight and sound. The shape of the object, the material it’s made out of, and the placement of the speaker all have a small influence on the tone.
What’s been the most popular piece you offer?
I really like to have a wide variety of designs, but one that is popular that I don’t mind repeating is the thermos amp. There are so many that people can choose whatever they’re interested in over years of Pop Culture. It can be something from a favorite movie or a character. It’s one of the designs that plays into the nostalgia factor of the amps. They’re also a personal favorite for me tone-wise. I like that you can remove the lid of the thermos and get more volume and more bite in the tone, or you can leave the lid on to muffle the speaker. Leaving the speaker covered gives it a heavier muted tone. The thermos encompasses many of the aspects that I think make offbeat mini amps interesting. It offers sight, sound, functional art, portability, and a conversation piece.
You also offer iPod/mp3 amps, how do those differ in design?
The iPod/mp3 amps are very similar to the guitar amp design. The main differences in the circuit are eliminating the gain control so you only have a master volume. The other difference is swapping the guitar jack for an audio input. You simply use an audio cable from the amp to your device to play the music through the amp. They also are powered by a 9 volt battery. I take the same approach to the iPod/mp3 amps and push the boundaries of what you can use to play music. There are so many devices that play music and different speakers for sale in practically every store, but having your favorite playlist play through Mr. Potatohead is a pretty unique experience.
Any thoughts of expanding and possibly designing your own circuits?
This is one of the great aspects of DIY type projects. There are so many resources available, if you have an interest in something and dedication you can keep learning and expanding your knowledge. I’d like to experiment with more types of circuits, and I know there are so many possibilities if I continue to learn and try new things. While my amps are very much functional it’s a unique experience playing a guitar through something so unconventional. That’s what makes them fun and interesting. I love to think of new things to repurpose and see the object through from beginning to end. Plugging into an old metal Exit Sign is not going to be like walking into your local guitar shop and plugging into a stack, but that’s the point and I think people realize that.
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Terry “T-Bone” Mathley is the host of T-Bone’s Prime Cuts on WICR 88.7 in Indianapolis. Editor for and contributor to Volume Treble Bass and Squeal Mouse Couch. Guitarist, Music lover, Music journalist, Detroit Tiger fan…