Reinhold Bogner on the Future of Amps, Part 1

Reinhold BognerAt the age of 13, Reinhold Bogner created his first tube amp from old schematics and the spare parts that littered his father’s workshop. He has since created amplifiers for some of the most discerning artists in the world—and in 2008 partnered with Line 6 to take tube amps where no one had gone before.

You’re known for creating amps that are uniquely Bogner. What are your thoughts on creating new sounds versus “classic” ones?

We all started with looking at other stuff. Marshall, Fender, etc. And then you massage it and make it your own—there’s only so many ways you can think of to wire up a tube. That’s what I did, like, maybe 30 years ago. But there really is no one AC30 sound or Plexi sound because if you bring me three AC30s or three Plexis, they’re all going to sound different.

Before the ‘70s, most companies were all over the place. Most of those old amps had different schematics—not hugely, but slightly. There were supply shortages, different pricing. And then most of them, at some point, got repaired, modded, replaced with new parts. And amps age differently, you know? It’s different if you have an amp sitting in California for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, or in Europe. Humidity and stuff like that makes a difference.

So you never really copy a sound, you have to identify the thing that attracts you to a particular tone. What’s the essence? And that’s always somewhat subjective. And that’s part of why someone might choose one of my amps, because of the way hear I hear things.

Is it possible to create an entirely new sound that nobody has heard before?

Of course. But the problem is that it’s not just the sound that has to be created, we also need the hunger for the public to accept it. My experience is, I’m sorry to say it, but guitar players are pretty conservative. There’s nothing bad with an old Fender, or an old Marshall, but that’s pretty much all there is. There’s variation, degradation, but it hasn’t changed much. There’s always some tweakers, like Robert Fripp or David Torn, and then there’s people like David Bowie or Brian Eno that incorporate that in a sort of mainstream way. Those are very few and far between.

So for a new sound, there has to be the right artist. There has to be the right vehicle to make it acceptable to the people. Like, “Oh, that’s cool. If he’s using it, well, now I get it.” Otherwise people are like, “Wow, that doesn’t sound like the Beatles or anything.”

How have you navigated your way from resistance to acceptance, when making products that are so individual?

Well, when I first started making amps, it was easy. I did not have much resistance. But later on, I had some prototypes and some amps that were very different looking… and different sound-wise. They were never produced, they were too far off, it didn’t make any sense. And I learned from it.

I love to do those things, but now I walk the median, but I still push it a little bit. I want to keep my fan base happy and give them what they expect from me, but try to point them in a new direction without losing them. I learned to go a little bit more mellow. But it’s hard to shift perception. It’s probably like what you guys from Line 6 experienced when you invented modeling like 15 years ago. People were probably like, “What? A computer? It makes, like, sounds? You’ve got to be kidding.” It takes time.

Is that innovation what makes the partnership with Line 6 interesting to you?

I know that the future of amps is technology. I’m not blind. I love tube amps, but I see the problems more and more. It’s the environmental problems. It’s the production problems of getting tubes from other countries. It’s getting quality tubes. It’s weight problems and shipping to gigs. Those barriers are getting bigger and bigger every year, and technology gets better and better every year.

At some point technology will totally take over. And of course, there will still be people who have old Marshalls, but that will be a minority. So, that’s what I find interesting about working with Line 6. I can’t stop technology from moving, like, stop you guys from writing code. So I’d rather be part of it and learn something from it and go with it. I know it’s the future, so let’s combine forces and make it the best it can be.

Besides, I’m not making tube amps because I love tubes. That’s just the vehicle, combined with the guitar. I want to have good tone. That’s all I want. And if you can give it to me in my iPhone now, hell yeah, I’ll take it. That’s all there is to it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview, where Bogner discusses what makes a great amp, and how he overcame the challenges in co-creating the revolutionary DT series.