ANTh O NY “BIG TONY” LU
The Wonder of Tubewonder
This month I spoke with Aleksander Niemand
from Tubewonder about amp design and
Do you prefer custom designed or off-the-
shelf speakers, and why?
What’s the process for creating a new amp?
Are you trying to fill a niche or trying to
emulate something similar on the market?
ence on final tone cannot be emphasized
enough. It transforms the electrical signal
into mechanical vibration and colors the
sound much more than changing tube brand
or types of coupling capacitors in the amp.
My number one rule is “thou shall not copy
or clone.” To avoid this, one must be familiar
with all the classics. The creative process
starts with an “aural vision” and lots of time
with paper and a pencil. A number of circuit
ideas are computer simulated before even
turning on my soldering iron. Then, a physical prototype is built and verified against
simulated results. After that, my
testers play the amp. They’re good
players with great ears that cover a
wide range of musical styles. They’re
very critical and give me honest
assessments, and it usually takes
a few iterations before the amp is
Do you design the amp around the speaker
or design the amp and find a speaker that
We are a small volume custom shop, so
we typically look for off-the-shelf speakers.
With so many available, it would require
something very special to justify a custom
speaker. If I need a specific cone shape or
power/efficiency combination, then custom
might be necessary.
I look at the player, guitar, amp and speaker
as a system. No one designs a race car
around a particular tire – the driver, car body,
engine and tires are a system that must be
optimized for maximum performance. Once
on the road, the control is in the driver’s
How do you decide the power of the
amp and what role does the power of the
We target a niche of musicians who
have matured beyond the standard
tone palette offered by classic amps.
These musicians desire to create
their own tone with as little outboard
hardware as possible. I think our slogan
“Free Your Tone” says it adequately.
A 30-watt amp doesn’t cost that much less
than a 50-watt or 100-watt in materials. The cost is in labor. Output
power is dictated by customers’
needs. Speaker power handling is
dictated by amp power and certain
tone expectations. I prefer speakers
capable of handling at least twice the
amp power, but may choose speakers with different break-up behavior.
Speaker sensitivity is also considered.
A 40-watt amp can stand its own
ground against a 100-watt by proper
choice of speaker SPL (98dB versus
102dB is a lot).
Do you aspire to create a specific tone
when designing a Tubewonder amp?
If by “specific tone” you mean a certain
player’s tone or an iconic amp’s tone, then
no. My goal is to offer a versatile and playable basic tone that’s easily adjusted by the
guitarist. But there’s a paradoxical situation;
a guitarist trying a new amplifier initially
wants to hear familiar tones. My amps are
therefore voiced so that with all controls at
noon, several distinct and familiar timbres are
achieved just by operating the footswitch.
What’s necessary from the beginning are
great, loud, bell-like cleans that brings out
the strings and wood. Then all varieties of
distortion, sustain, etc. can be dialed to a
hands and feet. The same philosophy applies
to amps and speakers as parts of a system.
The speaker and cab must also match sonically. The materials, size, construction methods and shape of the cab all influence tone.
I’ve found that some speakers sound better
in certain configurations and not so good in
others (1x12 versus 2x12 versus 4x12).
You are not a player. Do you see this as a
How do you go about finding the
I study data sheets. They’re a good starting
point and help narrow the choices. Reviews
by pros and inside information from manufacturers are also valuable tools. When creating an amp and testing various circuit blocks
I use my test speaker. It’s an older Eminence
Legend 122 mounted in a closed, 25 liter
enclosure made from a round waste bin.
If the amp sounds good with this contraption, then we test with “real” speaker cabs.
Factors to consider are power, sensitivity,
size, weight and price. In the end, the sound
says yes or no.
I believe it allows me to concentrate on the
amp from a wider perspective. If I were a
guitarist, my own playing style and preferences may bias me. I feel I’m more open to
criticism and customer requirements and that
I listen more objectively. Let’s not forget,
Leo Fender and Jim Marshall couldn’t play
either. My father had a fear of flying, yet he
designed turbines for jet engines. I’d like to
think I’m in pretty good company.
For more information on Tubewonder,
please visit anacon-tech.com or see our
review of their Harmonic Control Amplifier
on page 122.
What role does the speaker play in your
overall Tubewonder tone?
Anthony “Big Tony” Lucas
is a guitarist and Senior Lab Technician at Eminence
Speaker LLC, where he specializes in guitar-speaker
design and customer support. Big Tony has been with
Eminence for over 10 years and is responsible for many
well-known guitar speaker designs.