Yes, Brad Whitford Can Solder!
Earlier this week we posted about how one of the simians behind 3 Monkeys Amps (Greg Howard) changed the tone of a reissue Les Paul to be like a real ’59 Burst for one of the other simians (Brad Whitford).
I’ve heard and played through 3 Monkeys amps, and can say without any reserve that they’re frickin’ awesome. Naturally I wanted to know more about the monkeys’ process, so here are a few questions answered by Greg. (Btw, if you have any Qs for the 3 Monkeys guys, leave ’em here as a comment and I’ll ask them the next time I talk to them.)
WoodyTone: What role does Brad play in 3Monkeys?
Greg: We use his ears and years of experience the most. Sometimes it’s like, “Llisten to this,” sometimes he has ideas for what he wants stuff to sound like, a tone he’s going for. He can be very specific – he can definitely tell you what he wants.
Ossie [Ahsen, the other monkey] and I both kind of know what [Brad] goes for, so a lot of the time we just build stuff. We have an idea about something Brad would like, build the amp, take it to him and get his opinion on it. Most of the time it’s spot on.
Are Brad’s ears then sort of the final word on what gets produced as a 3 Monkeys amp and what doesn’t?
It’s all of us – we all kind of agree on what makes the cut.
And it’s not just Brad. We’ll have other guitar-player friends come over to listen to stuff and say yea or nay. These are guys whose ears I trust. A lot of times the amp’s just sitting on the bench and they’ll say things like, “A little too much treble,” and Ossie will change out the values right there. That’s how things get honed in on.
Have any amps not made the grade?
We’ve rejected quite a few amps over the years. Some stuff ‘sounds’ great on paper, but when you build it it doesn’t translate.
Gotta ask: Can Brad solder?
He never builds any amps, but he could. He’s very hands-on in changing pickups in his guitars and that kind of stuff. Yes, he can solder!
The amps themselves – the tone controls on them are unusual. I take it that was a conscious change. Why – is the way 3 Monkeys does it better than the way it’s always been done?
It’s just a different way to do it. The bottom line for us is basically the dynamics of the amp. That’s why couple of our amps don’t have master volumes – because when you put a master volume in the circuit, it doesn’t sound right to us.
It’s all about being able to pick hard or roll the volume down and still have the amp sound good. You don’t want to just throw everything on 10 and go. That’s how we look at everything.
Sometimes [an amp] prototype has presence and mid controls, but by the time it reaches production those controls are gone because they’re not needed. We try to shape the tone into as few controls as we possibly can.
What guitars do you test 3 Monkeys amps with and why?
We use a wide variety of guitars for testing. Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, SGs and an EVH Frankenstein (homemade) are just a few. We use everything, from high-output to low-output pickups – as many things as we can plug into [the amps]. What we’re listening for are the characteristics of the guitar.
I’m a Strat player – though for some reason I have more Les Pauls than Strat – but then I’ll always have P90 SG Jrs from the ’60s. Ossie is a Les Paul guy, and also has a quite a few Teles. He thinks if [an amp] sounds good with a Strat, it’ll sound good with anything.
For me, I look for the 2 and 4 positions [on a Strat] – it’s got to have that chimey, chicken pickin’ kinda deal. Same with a Tele. So the amp works well for country players and blues players too, not just straight rock stuff.
We have a lot of country guys playing the Orangutan and Grease Monkey. We have guys who play alternative stuff, roots Americana stuff, a wide variety. We get guys in original bands, and guys in cover bands because they tell us they can cover everything they need to [with the amps], classic rock to pop.
Thanks much to Greg. If you haven’t plugged into a 3 Monkeys amp yet, check out their list of dealers. You can also buy a clone of the custom 3 Monkeys amp Brad Whitford uses on tour – also owned by Cesár Rosas of Los Lobos, another guy with great ears for wood.
Here’s a decent vid of the Orangutan combo. I’ve played through it – sounds even better in person.