Pritchard Amps Top 10 Questions

Brian D. Johnston asks the founder of Pritchard Amps (solid state technology amps) to answer 10 questions related to his products and design manufacturing.

Ultimate Guitar

1. What niche in the marketplace was missing at the time for you to start up your company, and what general concept(s) were you bringing to the table?

Originally, in 1988, the problem was the lack of tubes. The PRS Harmonic Generator was to answer that problem. Once the Iron Curtain fell and East Block tubes became available, the emphasis had to shift to being simply the best amplifier there ever was. This is quite possible since the tube sound is not native to solid state and since special circuits independent of amplifying had to be used and since these circuits can be independently optimized for the desired character.

2. On a related note, what specific aspects or qualities within your product(s) are proprietary or unique to other brands or companies?

Pritchard Amps has or at least at one time had more amplifier patents than Fender, Marshal, SLM, and Boogie combined. These patents covered the creation of circuits to emulate triodes including harmonics and clipping, to emulate push-pull pentodes including expansive harmonics, to do power scaling via the Watts Knob, to emulate attack, and to emulate the interaction of the power supply with the push-pull output stage..

3. What did you find most challenging when entering the music equipment industry?

What is continually the most challenging is convincing players that the old saw that solid state amplifers had no tone. This was brought about by other amplifier manufacturers who over advertised their solid state amplifiers as sounding just like tubes. Later, a magazine article quoted one of the sales managers lamenting that there was a whole generation of players who were not offended by the solid state sound. MMMMM I wonder why. . . . .

4. What was your most difficult product to design and/or develop and why?

Pritchard amps were the most difficult to design and develop because of the following:

a. Engineering text books did not suggest how to design an amplifier for guitar players. In fact, their philosophy produced amplifiers that are cold, stiff, and thin where players want warm, resilient, fat, and full-bodied. This stemmed by engineering's assumption that human hearing did not produce harmonics, did not appreciate harmonics, and consequently did not need to do anything with them except for minimizing them. Hence the Total Harmonic Distortion and Intermodulation Tests. And the belief that those tests would tell you more than listening to the amplifier. In other words, the amplifier design for guitar players was an electronic enigma, which was not begun to be cracked until I realized that electronic engineering is not tightly connected to physics and rests on many approximations.

b. The language used by players to describe amplifiers is completely foreign to engineers. When Carlos Santana played through my very first amplifier prototype, at the old PRS factory on Virginia Avenue, he said that it was like white wine and not like the red wine he preferred. Since I had no clue, he said it was like glass, not like flesh. Then Al Di Meola said that my third prototype was dead and not alive. Another player suggested that some later prototype was not dimensional. Phil Zuckerman, who evaluated the later prototypes, and I had to really work to convey our thoughts. It was a linguistic mystery.

5. What is your most popular model or product, and why do you think that is so?

First, Pritchard Amps gives players two choices to form their purchase, the amplifier and the cabinet. So one picks the amplifier for its characteristics and the cabinet / speaker for its characteristics. Of the many possibilities the Sword of Satori in a single 12 cabinet is the most popular because it is quite versatile, light weight, and has great tone.

6. Which product are you most proud of and why?

Even though I am not a player, my favorite product is the Sword 4-10. For a 4-10, it is small, light, and looks great. But really, I do like them all. They offer the best of both worlds - an exaggerated version of the tube sound plus the light weight and reliability of solid state.

7. Which product did you think would have met your expectations for public acceptance but did not do as well and why do you think that was?

The history of solid state amplifiers is filled with failures. So Pritchard Amps has to overcome years of false advertising by amplifier manufacturers. Engineering may treat transistors and tubes with similar mathematics, but then engineers do not overdrive amplifiers on purpose. So it could be believed that they behaved similarly. But overdrive them and they are quite different. So basically all of my products had acceptance problems.

8. Which product exceeded your expectations for public acceptance and why do you think that was?

Really, none did. I was, however, quite pleased that some expensive, boutique tube amps were retired by my customers. That was quite gratifying.

9. Do you offer artist collaboration in product design? If so, what were the best and worst experiences (mentioning names not necessary)? If you only accept artist endorsement without collaboration in product design, what was the best experience you have encountered?

I do offer artist collaboration in tweeking their amps and may well adopt their view. But for the most part this takes real work and has not been used except for a few jazz players who did not like their amps so full-bodied because that character also brings up ghost notes, which some players find offensive. So for them, I just reduce the amount of harmonic generation.

10. Do you have an artist endorsement program to receive equipment or some other compensation? If so, what are the requirements?

I really do not have the advertising budget for an endorsement program. I tried once. It was a bad fit because we did not get much in the way of advertising and I sold no amps as a result. Instead, I offer a sales referral fee. But in the years that I have been making amps, that has been a real failure, too.

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