Never fear! Issue #23 is here! Inside? Shop tours with Cusack Music, Walrus Audio and New Vintage Amplifiers, an exclusive artist Q&A with Bonham guitarist Ian Hatton, reviews of the hottest gear and much more!

Our exclusive shop tour with Cusack starts… here.
Our exclusive interview with Ian Hatton is… here.
Check out the pedal philosophy of Walrus Audio… here.
Our gear reviews, including a look at the new Strymon Riverside overdrive, start… here.

Happy reading!

The Gearphoria Crew

Builder reigns in consulting, re-focuses on his products

Jon Cusack has a reputation in boutique pedal circles as the ‘go-to’ guy to assist with fixing a stubborn problem. He’s done it countless times, saving the bacon of his competition without fan fare… or many times compensation. But these selfless acts have come with a price — the growth and health of his own brand. That, he says, has to change…

“SOMEWHERE UNDER these floors is a drain,” says Cusack Music owner Jon Cusack pointing down. “I think it’s right there.”

The multi-building complex that is Cusack world headquarters near Holland, Michigan, has a lot of history, including a run as a hardware store, mechanic’s garage and an antique mall. The particular building we found ourselves in that moment did a fair span… as a mortuary. In the rafters above is where caskets would be stored. He invites us to take a look at the drain in a crawl space under the floor. We politely decline.

Today, the buildings are sprinkled with selective solder machines, substrate printers, pick-and-place machines, drill presses — basically all the equipment needed to not only manufacture his own pedal brands (Cusack and Mojo Hand), but more than enough hardware to handle a healthy crop of OEM work from other effects companies. Cusack, a twin by birth and an engineer/volunteer fireman by training, has built pedals for a wide swath of effects companies in the boutique business. Of course, as a condition of the contracts for the work, he is not at liberty to say just who he builds for, but suffice it to say most stomp box geeks have likely heard of them.

While the OEM work has allowed Cusack to keep a good workflow through the operation, it has also come with a price. Working with others, and sometimes consulting for others, has put a noticeable strain on the growth of his own brand. A few recent set-backs, including the loss of a top OEM client and a big chunk of cash to a consulting deal gone south, has prompted the pedal veteran to step back and reassess the way forward. While he genuinely enjoys coming to aid of others, he has come to realize it has hurt more than helped.

Check out the rest of our shop tour with Cusack Music here
Check out the Cusack website here
Check out the Mojo Hand website here

Colt Westbrook lets us in on company’s product approach

NEW PRODUCT launch day is always an exciting time around the shop for a pedal builder. Everyone is smiling, nodding, maybe a bit of high-fiving — generally a good time all around. That was the mood we found permeating through the Walrus Audio bunker in Oklahoma City a few months back. On the day of our visit, the crew was prepping for the demo video of their new 385 overdrive — a unique dirt pedal inspired by the amplifier section of a vintage Bell and Howell film projector. It has been a practice of the tone obsessed over the years to look at the amplifier section of just about any piece of electronics equipped with one to see if their was any mojo available that could translate well to voicing electric guitar.

Indeed various vintage radio kits as well as public address systems have been modified with aims of providing something new out of something old for the six-string faithful. The Bell and Howell projectors have been converted into guitar amps with great success after changing a few values and other small modifications. The Walrus crew became obsessed with the 385. They worked away at it until it was just right, and debuted the Projector overdrive at NAMM. There was just one, small problem.

“A friend of ours, Austin Hooks, in Los Angeles emailed us after the show and let us know he had that name trademarked,” reveals Walrus top man Colt Westbrook. “So we renamed it the 385 after the specific Bell & Howell projector model. We had guitarist Mason Stoops stop by with his projector amp set-up. I’m not a hype guy, but those amps sounded unreal. It was like having noiseless headphones on listening to pure guitar. Then he played this Fender Twin, one of my favorite amps… and it just sounded awful after hearing those projectors. Then, we put the 385 on the Twin and what it does is gives the guitar a beautiful, full frequency range.”

Check out the rest of our shop tour with Walrus Audio here
Check out the Walrus website here

Bonham guitarist talks on 25 years of the Mad Hatter album

BY THE TIME Jason Bonham, Ian Hatton, John Smithson, and Daniel MacMaster began writing and recording their second album, Mad Hatter, they were riding a wave of success. Their 1989 debut album, The Disregard of Timekeeping, resulted in the hit singles “Wait for You” and “Guilty,” and was certified gold in 1990. The band spent two years touring the album. Rock and roll, in all its “hair band” glory, was still going strong, and the group went into the new project confident and optimistic.

Unfortunately, the outcome was not what they expected. A lyrical and sonic departure from its predecessor, Mad Hatter received little support from the record label or radio, ultimately leading to the band’s dissolution. Bonham, Smithson, and Hatton regrouped with vocalist Marti Frederiksen as Motherland and released one album, 1994’s Peace 4 Me, before parting ways. Bonham and Smithson went on to other music projects. Frederiksen is an award-winning songwriter, producer, and musician. MacMaster released a solo album in 2005, and was working with a new band in 2008, when he passed away at age 39 from a streptococcal infection.

Ian Hatton, whose resume includes Paul Rodgers & Company, Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers, and Sarah Brightman, moved to New York in 1996, and began a successful career as a session guitarist, songwriter, composer, producer, and engineer. His scores include television programs for PBS, and films such as Sunset Edge, The Fence, West of Thunder, and Bard In The Backcountry, for which he received a 2016 Emmy nomination. He also spent five years as a consultant for Bose, where he wrote and produced 5.1/7.1 surround sound projects.

Twenty-five years later, Hatton looked back at the making of Mad Hatter.

GEARPHORIA: In an interview from years back you said, “On the first album we hadn’t played live together. All we’d done was write in the studio. Since then we’ve done nearly 300 shows, so it’s turned four people into a good, strong band.”

IAN: Obviously, we came out of it much more of a band. Myself and John and Jason had been playing together for a while before we got Danny. When it came time to do Mad Hatter, even though some of it was done the same way as the first album, we spent six months in Spain working on material as a band, so it was a different writing process. We got to set up and play, basically.

Check out the rest of our chat with Ian Hatton here
Check out Ian’s official website here

Nic Patullo was out of the amp game… until he was back in

Nic Patullo has a degree in criminology with a minor in psychology. Not exactly the pedigree for a career as an amp designer/builder, but a love for electronics and a mentor with knowledge to share formed the foundation for just that. Today, New Vintage Amplifiers are the ‘go-to’ tone machines for folks like Mark Hoppus and Drew Brown among others.

NO ONE EVER said the view from the underground couldn’t be rewarding. For some, in fact, it’s a luxury. Having carved out a solid piece of business with pro-players in bands like OneRepublic and Blink 182, most days amp builder Nic Patullo smolders away in his Duluth-area workshop — an extension on the back of his garage — with a build list of custom work. Some days that means a red tolexed Rogue 50 combo, others it could be an 80-lb, Undertow 300 bass amplifier in black. New Vintage Amplification has become a ‘speakeasy’-style custom shop for a swath of touring pros, and as long as that pays the bills, Patullo is okay with it.

Gravitating towards electronics at an early age, Patullo used to bring salvaged appliances back to his parents house and pull them apart to learn what made them tick. Soldering by age 13, he soon turned his attention towards guitar. Around this time, the home recording craze was starting to take off, but equipment was still pricey. Patullo elected to build some himself — microphones, pre-amps and other stuff.

In his 20s, Patullo befriended regional amp repair guru Walt Gorgoschlitz of Flatstone Amps. When the need for extra money hit, Gorgoschlitz also would build custom amplifiers. After his assistant got sick during a big run of amps, he asked Patullo if he would be interested in lending a hand.

“That is where I really learned my design aesthetic — lead dress, importance of components, working with high voltages,” explains Patullo. “I took that knowledge and ran with it. A few years down the road Walt decided to retire. Me and a partner bought him out. We ran it (Flatstone) for about a year and then parted ways. I had quit doing amps all together after that. Just walked away from it.”

Check out the rest of our shop tour with New Vintage Amplifiers here
Check out the New Vintage website here

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