Shop talk with Ian Sefchick
This just in — guitar players are particular about equipment. But then, it’s deserved. Probably very few care that so and so’s drums are tuned to perfect fourths, or even at all, but when a guitarist gives good tone it can be a thing of beauty. The quest for tone is a fabled one that deserves its own encyclopedia set, but it’s always interesting to find a stringslinger who doesn’t just succumb to buying the most expensive gizmo advertised in Guitar Whack Off magazine.
Ian Sefchick, guitarist/vocalist of Creeper Lagoon, is a perfect example. The 26-year-old takes matters entirely into his own hands, building his own customized amps for himself and fellow guitarist Sharky Laguana.
How did you get interested in this?
It all started with this little music store in Cincinnati where I grew up. I was never happy with the amps I was using. I kept on trading amps at the music store going, “This doesn’t sound right,” and basically losing a lot of money very quickly. So finally, someone at the store said, “Why don’t you just have this tech guy put a master volume on your amp.” I thought, “Hey, that sounds neat.” So I took it to this guy, and he put in a master volume right there in front of me. But I still didn’t like the sound, so I called him up and he said, “Maybe we can just turn your Sound City amp into a Marshall.” I said, “All right!” So I watched him basically build this real simple Marshall circuit into my amp. And from that I got interested in learning how to do it myself.
And you taught yourself how to do it?
Yeah, I bought this book called The Tube Amp Book by Groove Tube. It has hundreds of schematics for all types of tube amps — Silvertone, Ward, real bizarre ones, plus all the Marshalls and Fenders. And I just started going to Salvation Army stores and picking up those big old console things with the turntable in them, like a big dresser, because they all had really cool little tube amps in them. So I’d take those out and just gut ’em and put in a circuit that was similar and had the same kind of power, and preamp tubes. Like a Fender Champ or something like that. That’s how I learned. I’ve been shocked quite a few times.
What kind of amps do you like to work on the most?
Basically tube amps. I can sometimes fix solid state stuff, but tube amps are really easy to work on. It’s simpler than a lot of people think. It’s basically three or four parts. It’s a resistor, a capacitor, a couple of inductors and the tubes. And some pots. That’s it.
What did you put together for your current tour?
The amp I’m using now is this Mod circuit design I got from Guitar Player magazine. And I tried it out and built it into a Fender Bandmaster chassis. I just pulled all the pieces out of the Bandmaster until it was basically the power and output transformers and built in this Mod circuit from the magazine. And it sounds really good, especially turned up. The distortion doesn’t sound too metal or too fuzzy. It’s kind of like a blues distortion.
Do you have a particular philosophy about amplifiers?
I’ve found that the simpler the circuit, the better the amp sounds. If you start putting in a bunch of bells and whistles, like Mesa Boogie … I don’t understand that stuff. It’s almost too complicated for me. Especially the new ones, there’s a million things you can do. Pull the knob out for brightness, for mid you can do a slope thing, and it’s like, you don’t need all that.
And turn everything up. I play all my amps in a live situation with treble, bass and mid all the way up. And if the amp has a master volume, that should go all the way up too. Just turn it up until the power tubes in the amp starts distorting. That’s where you get a very harmonic type of distortion. Now you can get the real preamp distortion with master volumes, but when that comes through a PA, it sounds really thin and metally. When you’re practicing at your house and you turn your midrange all the way down, you get a real a chunky cool sounding distortion. But you throw that up on stage and put it through a PA and it sounds like crap. So what a lot of people don’t know is, just turning the mid all the way up is really important for live playing. I think so, anyway.