An ode to the past: Analog Outfitters ‘amps’ up sound
February 22, 2018
Standing around in a what seems to be a mess of wires, wood and vintage repurposed bits, Brian Perry and Jens Klingenberg have a profound ability to see the beauty in all things deemed no longer usable.
Perry, managing partner, and Klingenberg, production manager, are part of the Analog Outfitters team — an innovative company responsible for changing the way sound can be administered through the use of old organ pieces.
The organized chaos of old and broken appliances, ancient computers and antique radios lie lifeless, separated from each other in large black bins. Without taking a second glance, it’s easy to classify these pieces as junk.
In reality, there’s much more than what meets the eye.
Located in Rantoul, Illinois, their warehouse provides enough space to accommodate Analog Outfitters’ many roles, from woodworking to office spaces, and everything in between.
The brains behind it all: Ben Juday, founder of Analog Outfitters.
“I came to the University of Illinois for a graduate degree in geography; I wanted to be a college geography professor. I decided to sit in on a class just for fun, and it was the Physics of Electronic Musical Instruments. I just devoured the course,” Juday said. “I read everything I could find, and this professor, Steve Errede, and I became good friends. He basically took me under his wing and, on his own time, he gave me a lot of extra training and books to read.”
It was from this moment Juday realized perhaps the path he was set on wasn’t necessarily the right one him. After getting his masters from the University, he went home and made a plan.
He created a business out of a basement, which then blossomed into a storefront in Champaign repairing music equipment. For about 10 years, their main revenue source stemmed primarily from repair.
“Around 2012, I had amassed all this knowledge on how guitar amplifiers work, and so I just thought, ‘I’m just going to make one from scratch,’” Juday said.
Using a vacuum tube amplifier from an old Hammond organ and some science equipment, Juday created his first amplifier, which he said looked almost like a lunch box. Upon trying it out, Juday couldn’t believe his ears.
After showing Errede, who provided suggestions for some minor tweaks, they both knew Juday was on to something.
“We developed some other new products, some other amplifier models, and started reaching out to dealers, and then we went to a big trade show in Los Angeles they have every year called ‘the National Association of Music Merchants,’” Juday said. “All of a sudden, we had all these dealers in Europe that wanted to sign up, in Paris and Amsterdam and Sweden.”
Klingenberg, who’s originally from Germany, does most of the engineering and manufacturing work, while Perry handles the woodworking.
One of their newer products, called the scanner, is one of Juday’s favorites and a revolutionary piece from their collection.
The scanner is used to help distort the sound of the instrument is being played. A pedal, which is plugged into the product, allows the musician to control the frequency and speed of sound being played.
“Like a keyboard pedal that goes up and down, it’s really giving you a different RPM on the motor,” Klingenberg said. “It can turn faster or slower depending on how fast you want it.”
Inside the scanner is a complicated system of colorful wires and metal hardware. The line box, which is an old vintage part from the organ, helps produce this unique sound.
Klingenberg found a way to allow the musician to control the rate in which the apparatus spins around to generate vibrations, which he refers to as the pot. He explained how initially, they created the scanner with a set speed but quickly realized that to improve this product, people should have the ability to set the speed to whatever they prefer.
Thus, the insertion of the pot into the scanner’s design.
This scanner has even put the Analog Outfitters team on the radar of numerous famed musicians. Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones, Jack White from The White Stripes, Wilco and even Steven Tyler are several of many renowned names to use their equipment.
For Perry, his domain remains seen through his craftsmanship on the amplifiers.
The wood from the organ, usually a good quality maple according to Perry, is sanded down to remove the previous decades of wear and tear. Once the wood is sanded and assembled together, he creates his own special kind of finish that’s unique to every amplifier created.
“Every time I make a stain, I pretty much get rid of it cause I like everything to be one-off,” Perry said. “I’ll get someone that’s like, ‘I want something like that (amp). I really like that color orange’ and I have to be like ‘Too bad! It’s gone!’ I can always get something pretty close though.”
One of Perry and Klingenberg’s newest designs is a six-sided amplifier that exudes simplicity.
“Every amplifier has like a hundred knobs,” Klingenberg said. “So we were like, why don’t we build an amp that has only one knob.”
The only knob on the amp controls the volume, which also regulates the high and low frequency to ensure that it always sounds great, Klingenberg said.
For a guitar amplifier, there’s the power supply and the pre-amplifier section, which helps build the voltage of the signal in several steps, along with the volume and tone. Then comes the power or output stage, which Juday said is the final voltage stage and, lastly, the output transformer, a passive device that serves a similar purpose that the transmission of a car would.
“Think about your car, you can have the best engine in the world and the best tire, but if you have a crappy transmission, you can’t transmit that power,” Juday said. “With an amplifier, even though the transmission is a simple device, it’s a passive device that has electricity going through it to move a signal.”
Juday and the rest of his team are committed to reusing almost every part of the organ and take old road signs as the shell for their speakers.
“The world has no shortage of guitar amps, and as much as I love them and find them fun to build and I enjoy them, we got so much more traction out of this scanner than I ever would have imagined just because it’s so unique,” Juday said. “That’s the kind of thing I want to try next; another crazy product nobody can believe we built, that makes people say, ‘Who’s crazy enough to try that?’ Well, us.”