Check out Dunwich Amps…
Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop
As the music industry continues to ignore and abandon fans of real music, it is no wonder that the underground continues to grow. If you haven’t noticed, “Stoner Rock” is growing in popularity. As more and more stoner and doom band’s popularity grows, so does the base of musicians who want to try to their hands at playing the fuzzed out, down-tuned riffs that we have all grown to love. This poses a problem to to the average, broke, stoner/doom riffmeister. The days of snatching up a “cheap” vintage Sunn or Matamp amplifier to wail on are long gone. These amps were originally used by bands because they were loud and affordable. As more people noticed the monolithic rigs of their new found guitar and bass heros, and with the rise of Ebay, these amps that were once considered second rate and undesirable quickly rose in price and became harder and harder to find. It is no surprise that the underground, or boutique, magicians of electrical circuit morphing have noticed the need and desire for gizmos and gadgets to replicate the sound of Matt Pike’s Sleep era amp rig and have started produce pedals to help achieve the trademark of the doom sound…loud as fuck distortion. However, it takes more than just a pedal to get the right sound and it is a lot harder to find an amp builder who know who the hell Matt Pike is and is also willing to build an amp that replicates the sound of his mountain of vintage Green amplifiers than cruising Youtube and Ebay for the right handmade stompbox. There just aren’t a lot of people who are willing to take on the task. With that being said, it’s time to introduce you to Nicholas Williams. Nicholas has a lot in common with the guys who write and perform the riffs that we have all thrown our necks out to while raising the horns. He loves a good riff. He wants it played LOUD. He spends his time toiling in obscurity. He has a day gig. He also takes full advantage of the modern day marvel that we call the internet to help reach people that would have otherwise not had access to the fruit of his labor. Rarely do the guys who make the equipment that make our beloved doom and stoner riffs a reality get the credit they deserve. Nicholas Williams is one of the bearded brethren and it is time to become acquainted with his company Dunwich Amplifiers and the sonic behemoth which he calls “The Wizard”.
Dunwich Amplifiers “The Wizard” Demo…
Mr. Williams was gracious enough to take time away from the mountain of amps that need built or repaired staring him down to answer some questions about his company and amplifiers.
IG: What made you want to start building amps?
NW: When I was in high school I was cycling through a number of different amps trying to find one that gave me the tone I was looking for. At the time I was really into a heavy, chuggy, tight metal tone, somewhere in between thrash and metalcore. I played through a bunch of amps (Peavey 5150/6505s, Marshall TSLs, ENGLs, ect ect) but nothing really gave me the type of distortion that I wanted. At one point, I saved up over $2000 to buy a used Framus Cobra head, but after about a month or so I thought it sounded like shit, akin to a mosquito swarm flying out of the speakers. I traded that for a VHT 50CL (now called Fryette Amps) and I really liked the sound of that amp at the time. However, I was not satisfied enough with the sound so I started looking into building amps to find my tone as an alternative to buying amps. I always had an interest in electronics, especially sound systems, and speakers so it was a natural extension of that.
As I began to research into building my own tube amp, I started my freshman year of college at UCONN to get my BS in Electrical Engineering. This provided me with a technical background on amplifiers (albeit solid state designs) and electronics. I setup a small shop in my dorm room and built a kit amp from AX84.com, an EL34 singled ended head with a hot-rodded 2203 (JCM 800) style preamp. That amp has a pretty heavy sound for such a small and simple package. However, since this was my first build I did not quite have the experience and knowledge about tube amp design to really get the kind of sound I wanted. The second amp I built, I took parts of a Soldano SLO-100 and an ENGL Powerball and mixed those together to make a 2 channel, 100W head which sounded okay. I got distracted by school when the build was about 75% complete and never finished it. To this day is it still lacks a wooden headshell and faceplates but I play it from time to time. I think the reasons I never liked this amp was due to the fact that my taste in music and tone had really changed since the high school days of nonstop Pantera, Slayer, and Metallica. I transitioned away from really fast, chuggy metal into the stoner/sludge/doom scene and this had a strong effect on the tone I wanted. Given this, I started coming up with a design on a modded OR120 (see below) and that was the beginning of the stoner/doom esque amps.
Once I built enough amps for myself, my friends started to take notice and began to ask if I could build some custom stuff. The idea of making a small amp company started when a friend ordered a custom Sunn bass amp and from there it has grown into something larger but not too large. In order to get some business I decided to go a little more legit with a name and a website. The business has mostly been fueled by YouTube videos and word of mouth in gear forums on Harmony Central, and on Facebook. I run the website and YouTube account by myself (excuse the bad website design) to keep costs low.
IG: Do you consider this a hobby or do you plan on making a career out of this?
NW: It is in between a hobby and a full on business. I am currently getting my Ph.D in Electrical Engineering at UCONN so there is no way I could go full time into amp building without dropping out of school. Besides that, I could not financially support myself with the money from each amp. I have tried to focus on providing musicians with quality, custom amp builds at a reasonable prices without any bullshit. I have about a 2 to 2.5 month turnaround times on each amp build so the labor costs are lower than if I was going at it full time.
IG: Why do you call your company Dunwich?
NW: For two reasons: 1. It has a nice, Britishy ring to it and that is an ode to all of the great British amp companies, and 2. At the time when I came up with the name I was heavily into the latest Electric Wizard release (Witchcult Today) and I borrow/stole the name Dunwich from their song with the same title. I was oblivious to the Lovecraft reference till afterwards when a friend mentioned it to me.
IG: What led you to build amps like “The Wizard”?
NW: I built a clone of a 70s Orange OR120 using a kit from Ted Weber (6O100) and modded it to have another gain stage (more clipping). It had a really heavy, foggy, doomy tone but it was such a tight, cramped build that I was not happy with the overall outcome. I decided to strip it down and build it to stock OR120 specs and sold it off on Ebay. I sort of miss that amp but I am glad it helped motivate me to make a better doomy sounding amp. I took the design from the modded OR120 and remade it into The Wizard which is a mix of a hot rodded and tweaked Orange/Matamp type preamp but with a power amp you might find in a Marshall Superbass using KT88s. The built in effects were a suggestion of a friend who asked me if it possible to do it inside of the amp instead of running a FX loop out into outboard pedals.
Another personal motivation to build The Wizard specifically was to jump start my own songwriting. I always wanted to be in a doom/stoner/sludge band but there was absolutely no scene in CT when I was in high school. By the time I was in college I was extremely busy and any idea of being in a band was killed. I have some songs and riffs leftover from that time that I would love to record using The Wizard. However, I am currently so busy with building amps for other people, researching for my Ph.D and finding time for my girlfriend that I still don’t really have time to record a song. Maybe when I get a hot second I might try to record a few clips. We will see.
IG: Is it a reference to the mighty Electric Wizard?
NW: Not consciously. It is more of a reference to the general idea rather than to Electric Wizard. I originally envisioned the amp to have a really evil looking, decrepit wizard on the front panel but I could not get anyone to make the graphics so I dropped the idea.
IG: Do you plan on making more amps directed at Stoner/Doom musicians?
NW: Yes. Besides The Wizard, I have another amp which could be perfect for a stoner/doom player who wants to stick to only pedal clipping rather than heavy amp clipping. It is called The Metropolitan, and there are some details up on my website. I came up with the idea for this amp after building a clone of a Sunn 200S for a local bass player. That amp was extremely clean with headroom for days and it sounded great when I slammed a fuzz pedal in front of it. The Metropolitan is sort of a take on the Sunn but with a whole different kind of preamp that has a pseudo-2 channel setup akin to a Marshall Plexi. I am in the process of building one now so I will have a demo up when that is finished.
I also have a vintage-esque Wizard with no master volume and a lot less amp clipping in the works for a guitarist who likes to use a pedal. The Wizard as shown in the video is not great for pedals because it has so much gain on tap that adding more on the front end drives it into blocking distortion (ugly, farty clipping) so I would not recommend it for someone who uses distortion or OD pedals.
Finally, I am looking into developing 200W and 300W versions of all of my head designs for the guitarist who wants that kind of over the top power. It is just a matter of getting a reasonable cost for transformers to handle that kind of power.I am also willing to build any custom idea a guitarist might dream up.
IG: What is your personal dream rig?
NW: I wish I could say The Wizard is my dream amp but there are still things I want to tweak and test on the amp. Maybe I will never be truly satisfied with any one specific amp. I sort of seem to have the motto that satisfaction is the death of desire and that not being completely happy helps me to develop better amp designs.
If I had to pin it down to something specific I might say a stereo rig with a Wizard full stack on one side and a 200W Metropolitan full stack on the other side. I have a few fuzz pedals in my gear bag (Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh and LSTR, as well as a homebrew Ge FuzzFace) which I could put in front of the Metropolitan. I think that a mix of The Wizard (which has tons of amp clipping) with The Metropolitan (which is all pedal clipping) would give me the heaviest tone possible. However, I doubt I could justify buying two more 4×12 cabinets as I do not even play in a band. I recently picked up a Gibson LP Standard + and it is a great sounding guitar. I would like to build a baritone Flying V with custom wound P90s also.
IG: Are there any bands playing your amps now? Where can we find their music?
NW: Currently, there are no bands who are playing my gear, just some solo users (mostly friends) who are using my stuff. However, soon I should be getting some gear into the hands of a couple bands so stay tuned.
IG: Who are your favorite bands? Albums?
NW: That is somewhat of a difficult question because they change over time. If I stick to just doom/stoner/sludge then some of my favorite albums are NOLA by Down, Vampire Circus by Earthride, Variations on a Theme by OM, In the Name of Suffering by Eyehategod, Come My Fanatics by Electric Wizard, In Return by Torche, God Luck and Good Speed by Weedeater, Dopesmoker by Sleep, and Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath. I guess this list could go on for a while so I will cut it there. I also like a lot of other heavy stuff, like Swedish melo-deth and thrash.
IG: If you could choose a band or two to tour with your amps, who?
NW: Electric Wizard even though I doubt Jus Osborn would ever leave his Sound City heads for one of my amps and Sleep. For the same reason, I also doubt Matt Pike would stop using Soldano or Matamp/Electric Amps for a Wizard.
IG: If someone is interested in buying one of your amps, how would they go about getting one?
NW: Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss you amp idea. I send out personalized quotes detailing all the costs and all the designs shown on the website can be tweaked to each individual customer. Finally, I would like to thank Ian for the interview. I really appreciate the help in spreading my name out there and digging my shit.