Guitar Aficionado

Matt Bruck's Amazing Collection of Vintage British Amps

In search of a signature sound, he found a world of lesser-known amps from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.
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This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on comedian/podcaster/writer/actor/musician Marc Maron, former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and his new career as a solo performer and painter, the life and times of comedian, author, and guitar aficionado Dave Hill, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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MISSIONARY OF TONE: To develop a signature sound, Matt Bruck assembled an amazing and exhaustive collection of lesser-known British amps from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

By Chris Gill | Photos by Kevin Scanlon

“I thought I had it all covered,” Matt Bruck says as he relaxes on a couch in a large room that’s essentially a highly fortified security bunker in North Hollywood, California, surrounded by dozens of vintage British amps. “Before I started this collection, I had a ’68 Marshall Super Lead and a ’66 JTM45 with a Marshall JCM800 cabinet loaded with Celestion G12M 25’s. It was the mid Nineties, and I was playing in bands in clubs chasing a record deal. I prided myself on having a stellar tone, but I also wanted a unique sound. I wanted an enviable tone that no one else could replicate, at least in terms of the gear. As great as my two Plexis sounded, lots of other guitarists were using them too.”

Bruck wasn’t the average musician on the Hollywood club circuit during the Nineties. In 1988, he started working for Andy Brauer Studio Rentals. “I was a staff tech there,” he says. “We did session setup and cartage for the biggest session players, and Andy had an unparalleled collection of vintage guitars and amps that he rented to producers and bands making records in L.A. I drove a truck around Los Angeles all day carting and setting up guitar rigs for sessions in recording studios for guys like Steve Lukather and Dean Parks in between picking up or preparing rentals for upcoming recording sessions for everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Michael Jackson.”

In 1990 Bruck started working as a tech for Eddie Van Halen, and for the past decade he has played an important collaborative role in the development of the EVH brand of products, including the acclaimed, best-selling 5150 III series amps. Obviously, Bruck’s ear for guitar tone is developed to master’s degree level.

Bruck’s obsession with British amps began in the mid Nineties. “I stumbled across a one-paragraph article in a guitar magazine about Sound City amps,” he recalls. “I remembered seeing Sound City cabinets onstage with Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick, but I never knew much about them. I was immediately fascinated by their history. That night I found a classified ad placed by a guy in San Diego who was selling a Sound City cabinet, and the next morning I was driving 140 miles to go get it. It was an all-birch, rear-loaded cabinet with 50-watt cast-frame Fanes. When I got it home and put it up against my Marshall cabinet, I was stunned! Not only did the Sound City cab sound better, it sounded unique.”


Above: 100-watt Treble and Bass heads, 4x12 cabinet on left has cast-frame Fane 50-watt 122-14 speakers, 4x12 cabinet on right has Goodmans red-label Power Range speakers

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Above: (left) Treble ‘N’ Bass 50 MK II head on a late-Sixties 4x12 cabinet with pre-Rola Celestion G12M25 greenbacks; (right) Zodiac Tremolo Fifty MK II head on a 2x12 cabinet with Celestion G12M speakers

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That discovery caused Bruck to wonder what else was out there that he might not have known about. Soon he chased down another Sound City speaker cabinet for sale, which led to another revelation. “The seller also had this little 1961 Watkins Clubman combo, which I had never seen before,” he recalls. “I tried it, and was blown away. I couldn’t believe that such a little amp could sound so damn good! I realized that there was this whole world that I didn’t know about, so I started chasing down as much British gear as I could find and educating myself about it.”

Over the past two decades, Bruck has amassed one of the most formidable collections of British amps known to exist. While his collection includes numerous prime examples of highly desirable classics and rarities from Marshall and Vox, its most impressive distinction is the multitude of brands and models that are rarely mentioned in the mainstream, let alone known about by most guitarists, young or old.

“No one over here [in the U.S.] seemed to know anything about vintage British amps if they weren’t a Vox or Marshall,” Bruck says. “Information wasn’t easy to get, so I had to go to a lot of effort to learn whatever I could. It became a passion unto itself. I discovered Selmer amps, Watkins, WEM, Laney, Simms-Watts, VamPower, Jennings, Music City, and Dallas. One of the most illuminating parts was that there were all these speaker companies that I never knew about before. I knew all the mainstream names—Celestion, Jensen, and so on—but when I discovered Goodmans, Fanes, ELACs, and other British brands, I discovered a whole new voice. Then I learned about magnet composition and cones, and how the frames are made. I discovered the difference between stamped frames versus cast frames and how all this translates to sound.

“When I started noticing how each brand and each model has a unique tonal signature,” he continues, “I couldn’t break down the details of guitar amplification far enough. It went from learning about the tubes and the brands of tubes to the transformers and capacitors and what effect different circuits and components had on tone.”


Above: Simms-Watts A.P. 200 Super head, 4x12 cabinet with cast-frame Fane 50-watt 122 speakers with custom Simms-Watts labels

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Bruck started collecting well before the days of eBay and Google searches. “It was still the days of dial-up Internet!” he says with a laugh. “I had to establish human networks to find these things. I remember hunting down my first Watkins Joker. From what I know, Watkins probably made a hundred of them around 1960, and I was hell-bent on finding one. Somehow I found a shop in England that was selling one. I called the number, and the guy who answered was very nice. He told me to come down to the shop to check it out if I was interested, and I told him that would be difficult as I was in California. He couldn’t fathom how I found him halfway around the world. The concept of ‘global’ gear sales was unheard of to most back then.”

As Bruck plugs various guitars—a 1955 Les Paul Junior, an early Seventies Strat, a Les Paul, and an ES-335—into tiny combos and powerful heads from the Sixties and Seventies, it quickly becomes evident that many of these lesser-known amps were the source of some of the most-coveted tones heard on British rock records during those eras. And Bruck is using those amps to supply a distinctive sonic stamp to records being made today. “A couple of years back, I had a rental partnership with Dave Friedman for about five years or so. A lot of these amps were used to make a lot of records.

“Amps are half of the equation of your sound,” Bruck emphasizes. “Most players obsess over guitars, but they don’t pay nearly as much attention to the amp. They’ll collect 50 guitars but have, like, two amps. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to me amps and even speaker cabinets are like guitars. No two sound exactly alike. You can radically change the character of your sound by changing the amp and cabinet. The amp is quintessential—it’s the voicing of your playing. It’s a huge part of the overall sound. Maybe it’s because most people think guitars are sexier, but to me great amps are just as sexy.

“At the moment I’m in the process of profiling and modeling everything in the collection,” he concludes. “It represents an enormous amount of my life’s work, passion, and pursuit. My goal is to immortalize it all in a library of plug-ins for all guitar players to access, enjoy, and be inspired by for the rest of eternity. Most of it was here before I was, and I’d like it to be here for future generations long after I’m gone.”

Want to see more of Matt Bruck's vintage British amps? Order your copy of Guitar Aficionado's July/August 2016 issue today by clicking HERE.

This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on comedian/podcaster/writer/actor/musician Marc Maron, former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and his new career as a solo performer and painter, the life and times of comedian, author, and guitar aficionado Dave Hill, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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