Scot and Jim met in Little River, South Carolina to talk about the history of Evans amps, their research and development, their innovations, musical style and customer base, and their future.
The Evans name has been around a long time. Can you give us a brief history of Evans amps?
In the late 50’s, Jim Evans
was playing on the Louisiana Hayride, and he really couldn’t find an amp that was powerful enough and clear enough…that was
the problem back then…they had these killer guitars but they had to play through these really wimpy amplifiers. So, he finally developed
his own amplifier, and he would have people come up and want to buy them off the stage. Soon after, people would use the amps at rodeos,
for loudspeakers and PA’s! The earliest models came in a speaker cabinet, a head, and a reverb…all tube. And the price for one
was 650.00, and people lined up to buy them at that price….that would be an astronomical price today, probably four or five thousand
dollars. Jim had the company and at one point, around 1982, sold out to an employee, Darrell Stevens. Darrel and Brenda Stevens would
work jobs and then come home and build amps in the evenings and weekends. This moved the company from
When my dad and Tim went down there to buy the whole company, they had the truck loaded so heavy that they were blowing tires off this thing…they’d put brand new tires on it and be blowing them after going through about two states. They got it all back and we unloaded it. My dad was so smart…he had gone down there and figured everything out they did in one week. He figured out how to do it and remembered how to do it all, in one week. That’s how we started.
What’s your current role in the company? You’re the CEO…
Right. My mother and father owned the company, and last September my mother sold it out to me, so I own 100% of Evans Amps. I’m the president, and I’m also the grunt too. I’m the president, the shipping department, and the janitor, all in one! Someone told me I was the Evans amp builder for the universe.
Can you describe your facility?
Basically, my house is on two lots…I have one of the shortest commutes…I walk outside one door and walk right in [the shop]..it’s all under the same roof but the company’s on a different lot, and has its own address. Once I’m in my house, I can’t get to the company without going outside…so I can kind of leave it over there when I go home.
The shop is around 1500 square feet…something like that. It’s not that big…but the main thing is we need a long table to glue the amps [cabinets] on, laying the vinyl on. You need a certain amount of room but you don’t need a factory to build an amp….it can be done in a small area.
As far as big heavy shop equipment – sanders and the like – you don’t have a lot of that?
I’ve been getting rid of what I’ve got. A lot of that stuff I don’t even need anymore.
There’s a lot of cabinet makers that have missing fingers. Rich Raezor said he left the blood on the saw to remind him. If you’re cutting wood all you have to do is have your mind wander for one second. Like most good guitar players, I want to keep all my fingers on my hands! So I basically pay a cabinet maker to do it. And somebody that can do a better job than me…and then I don’t have to deal with all the sawdust!
What’s your favorite type of wood to use in a cabinet…what sounds the best to you?
The cabinets are matched to the speakers. I don’t just pick a size because it fits a twelve inch speaker. Whatever size it needs to be to get the maximum amount of bass without muffling the highs, is the size that it’s going to be. I use a certain wood that gives a really good punch. It’s designed to jar the floor and the walls and everything but not lose any upper end clarity.
Do you use your ear by itself to determine what is the optimal size for a particular amplifier?
Yeh, and I listen to top artists too. Not one person can hear everything.
Is there any engineering equipment that helps you determine that, or is it based solely on the human ear?
No matter what I can show you on a scope or blackboard, what’s important is if it sounds good. Playing music is maybe the same way…you could keep every music theory rule there is…or break every rule there is!...and still, if it sounds good, it’s good. You have to use your ears, and they have to be trained. That’s where I really have to take my hat off to my trusted endorsers that I rely on…they’ve been through it; they’ve dealt with all kinds of amps; they know every little pitfall. They’re not going to let me get to where it sounds wimpy or anemic. It’s like Ronny (jazz guitarist and endorser Ron Eschete) told me one time, “If I didn’t tell you the truth I wouldn’t be your friend”. Sometimes you have to take that brutal truth, but it all ends up with a better product, that’s the bottom line.
When it comes to top level, high-quality cabinets, people have different opinions as to what wood is best – solid woods, void-free plywood….what do you like?
I like the void-free plywood that’s furniture grade on both sides. That’s what I use. The reason I like it is that it gives the cabinet a good punch. And it really depends on the speaker…some speakers might need a different kind of wood or a different size cabinet…you really have to match it to the speaker. The size of the cabinet, and the type of wood, must be matched to the speaker. By being matched to the speaker, you will get the maximum amount of bass response without losing any upper-end clarity. There’s a point to where you can keep getting more and more bass, but then you start muffling the highs. I start backing off…I want to push the bottom as far as I can without muffling the highs.
So you’re listening, looking for that sweet spot, where it’s got optimal bass and optimal clarity in the high end…
Yes, that’s our thing.
Why should a player consider buying your products over another manufacturer’s amps that jazz players have traditionally turned to?
A lot of times it’s all about rehearsing and practice: If you have an amp that makes you want to practice, and if it sounds great, you’re going to want to rehearse more. If it just sounds mediocre, you might just decide to play your guitar acoustically on the couch! But if you get it really sounding good and get excited about rehearsing…
And another reason why…you can’t fix stuff you can’t hear. Depending on where you set the tone controls, with other amps, there’s a certain amount of distortion, where you’re getting sums and differences of notes, or it gets muddy, and if you can’t hear exactly what your technique is then you can’t fix it. If you can’t hear it you can’t fix it. That’s why I like the precision of our amps…there’s a certain amount of guys that don’t want to hide behind distortion. They really want to improve…they’ve got a great instrument, they spend a lot of time developing their skill, and they want people to hear what that sounds like. Those people, and anybody that needs to be clean at any volume and in the studio…my amp really shines, live and in the studio. That’s where the sheep and the goats get separated. It’s really not that hard to make an amp sound good in someone’s living room….but where it matters is when you’re on that hard gig where everything’s going wrong but the amp pulls you out of it….or you’re in the recording studio and the engineer just flips out because your amp is quiet and it sounds better than anything he’s ever heard.
My last question presupposed that it’s jazz players that are buying your amps. Let’s talk about styles and instruments. What all types of players are buying your amps and who are you targeting when you build them?
That’s a good question. This is related to the previous question. Again, [I want to build amps for] anybody that has a high quality instrument and has great technique –or maybe even is wanting to improve their technique- and they want everyone to hear what that sounds like. If you’re going to spend 10,000.00 for a guitar, you want it to be able to sound just like that guitar, or, maybe even enhance something about that guitar. So, with the Evans amps, you can make it sound like a big acoustic or, let’s say you want a little better balance between your E and A string, you can do it, and you could fully adjust this amp, and you don’t lose stuff when you do it. In other words, with a lot of amps when you get one part right then something else is wrong. So, there’s not like a single setting that everyone has to do….as if you put it like this and this is it….it all depends on the pickup, technique, and the guitar, and since the amp is so adjustable, there’s probably several settings that will work for people…and that’s a lot better than most amps. (Points to a different brand amp sitting in the room)…This amp has a good sound, but that’s the problem with it: it has a good sound and that’s it.
Part of that question was about style: Your amp is not specific to a certain style. Like, when you’re building an amp you don’t have the idea in mind that ‘this is a jazz amp’….
I’m thinking. what can I build that’s the best amp. I want to build the best amp. And as long as somebody has good pickups and a good guitar, it will work for a strat, it’ll work for a tele, it’ll work for a Les Paul, it’ll work for an archtop, it’ll work for electric keyboard, it’ll work for a fiddle…it’s very diverse. But what they all have in common is, at least without effects, they want to be clean at any volume. That’s the main thing, and they want people to hear exactly what it sounds like. In other words, with my amp, when you play your guitar through my amp, you sound like you….I pick up your guitar, I sound like me. And so with an Evans amp, that’s one of the main differences, it’s like everybody sounds like themselves, instead of everybody sounding the same. It let’s your personality really come through.
It’s whatever amp that somebody uses it for…in the same way that Steve Howe’s es-175 becomes a rock guitar, but it could be a jazz guitar, or it could be used for country. I think that a lot of people find it easy to put things in pigeon holes…saying ‘this is a steel guitar amp…or, this is a jazz amp’. Whatever you play through it, and whatever style of music you do, that’s what kind of amp it is. You can get a distortion pedal and play rock through it…or if you have clean parts you can play that…the cool thing about my amp is that so far on one has developed a ‘clean pedal’. What I’m saying is that you can make a clean amp dirty, but you can’t make a dirty amp clean.
It sounds like that theme [to make a clean amp with big headroom] has been around since Jim Evans started building amps…the idea that you want an amp that can be clean at any volume level.
And warm! Clean and warm. Yeh!
Who do you see as your competitors?
I basically don’t waste my time worrying about what my competitors do, because that’s the only way that I can end up making my stuff worse. So, basically I compete with myself. I’ve got that ’99 Evans amp that Nils used on the 99-2000 tour with Bruce (guitarist Nils Lofgre). Every now and then I check back with that thing and make sure that I’m still not losing anything, because that amp was pretty much – as far as the single chassis in the top of the amp- that amp, around 99-2000 was optimized about as good as it can be. And so now, I just try not to lose that. Now I have a digital power amp and digital reverb…..so, some things have changed, but the tone hasn’t changed. As long as you keep the tone, how you do it is fine. But the digital amp has allowed us to go with a lot lighter weight and more reliable amplifier.
Over the last 8 – 10 years, it’s not really the tone that has changed so much, but some electronic developments have allowed you top make a lighter-weight amp….
As soon as we got the company we immediately started making reliability and quality innovations…we had that single chassis and by about 2000 we had optimized that thing as far as we could. When we went with the split chassis it took us about 4 or 5 years to get that completely optimized. And then we went with a digital power unit and it took us about 4 years to optimize that. So, right now with what we have, I think what we have is better than anything that we’ve ever made….and that’s the way I want to keep it.
Your company, since your family acquired it, has been very interested in research and development…..
It just has to do with making things better and smarter. And what we do is we take the input from our artists….and sometimes you just gotta use your own ears. As they say, who you gonna believe, me or your own lyin’ ears?! Sometimes you just gotta use your own ears, but it really helps to have people get in the boat with you. I don’t do anything [without consultation of our artists]. As far as like Ronnie (jazz guitarist Ron Eschete)…I send him everything [for an evaluation]. Buzz Evans (pedal steel player) is another one. I really trust what those guys tell me tell me, cause I know they’ll tell me if I’m going wrong. And a lot of people in the music business will tell you what they think you want to hear…these guys, they love my amp and they love me too much to tell me a lie. So if they say I need to work on something I’ll work on it., otherwise, it’s like what Ronnie said about the last amp I sent him - he said ‘don’t change nothin’, don’t even change your shorts’!
Still with regard to research and development, what do you consider to be the innovations that you have brought to the Evans amplifiers?
Let’s just say that over the last 14 years since my family has owned the company, one thing we did was we went with a digital reverb, now we have reverb plus chorus, reverb plus flange with adjustable layout…that was a great innovation because, as much as I like spring reverb, they’re just kinda like a wetsuit with a hole in it, they’re just not designed to be used inside of amplifiers. If you want me to elaborate a little bit, they’re subject to mechanical vibration, they’re susceptible to magnetic fields, they’re susceptible to sound wave vibrations, and they’re not very reliable due to very small wires and the way those wires are connected. All of that stuff inside an amp. You got magnetic fields off the back of the speaker…you got mechanical vibrations and you got sound wave vibrations. So it’s kind of like designing a wetsuit that has holes in it….when you get in the water, you know….now with the digital you don’t have the reliability problems and you get a lot more adjustability out of it…and it might even sound better. The other thing like with the solid state…we added that Buff control…which is really a high end boost – the higher the frequency, the more it amplifies. What you got keeping you from having all the dogs in the neighborhood come around is the speaker is going to roll off highs at a certain point…you have to dump a lot in to get a little out…you know, those really high highs. But that is a really magical knob! That’s a great innovation.
The digital reverb, the Buff control…any other innovations you want to mention?
I like the tilt-back foot. It’s cool because it’s basically like having a stand. When you get an amp up in a chair you lose a little bass response, so this way you got your stand with you all the time but it also keeps some of the amp on the floor, so you get that bass that you feel almost as much as you hear. That’s a good innovation. That 15 foot power cord with the clip on it…man, you don’t care where you have to set up! Everybody is like “oh, I have to set up over here ‘cause my cord’s not long enough.” You can set up anywhere that anybody else can’t set up, and you don’t ever have to bring a power cord. We didn’t go for that detachable cord stuff….when you get to that gig and you don’t have your detachable cord with you ‘cause somebody helped you on your last gig….good luck finding a computer store open! The weight reduction….that’s cool…we’ve got the amp that weighed close to 60 pounds now down to 35….that’s a major improvement.…’cause all those pounds over 45 are the ones that hurt! Let’s see if I can think of any others….going back to the script logo, that was cool. Also, we’ve improved the headroom…basically now we’ve got more headroom.
The trend lately has been towards powerful lightweight amps….what problems has this presented and do you feel your amps meet those requirements?
Yeh, I think so…they’re really lightweight and powerful…like I said we took 25 pounds off one of them. We’ve got one amp that weighs 25 pounds and is rated at 200 watts (RE200 model). Really it has not caused any problems at all; it’s better, because the old fashioned way was very intensive in the raw materials…it had a big aluminum heat sink, there was a lot of copper and steel involved in the transformer….. it’s actually easier to make them with the digital amps…so it hasn’t really been any problem. Except for the R + D of trying to make it where it sounded as good or better than the old analog stuff, and believe me that wasn’t so easy…the analog stuff has been optimized for thirty-some years so if you jump out with something else, it’s going to require a little bit of tweaking to get it right. CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 2 of the INTERVIEW