BUILDER PROFILE > TOP HAT AMPS
A conversation with Brian Gerhard, founder and designer of Top Hat Amplifiers, is a lot like the first time you hear Bonnie Raitt, Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, or Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas—or any of the other studio and stage elite who’ve beaten a path to the Top Hat shop door. That is, you come away from the experience humbled and reminded of what it means to be a consummate pro: incessant attention to detail, relentless devotion to quality, and an unwavering excitement for the craft. With a penchant for quintessential Vox and Marshall archetypes and the classic guitar tones of players such as Jimmy Page (with whom he shares a birthday), Gerhard has taken Top Hat from modest beginnings to stages and recording stu- dios across the globe. Always the perfectionist, Gerhard says he approaches his passion with a practical purpose meant to aid working players, producers, and engineers who demand top-quality tones and reliable performance. He’s emphatic in his belief that each component—from glue and capacitors to tubes, speakers, and cabinet design—has such an impact that each demands exquisite attention. Premier Guitar recently spoke with Gerhard to talk about his early interest in hi-fi stereo equipment and how being a die-hard player informs his designs.
How did you first get into building
It was all from a fairly young age. I had
piano lessons in second grade, which
taught me how to read music. Then I
had to play my sister’s clarinet before
I could start playing drums from fifth
through 10th grade, when I switched
over to the guitar. At the time, I was as
much into hi-fi gear as music, and had
started building Dynaco [tube stereo
amplifier] kits with my brother around
the sixth grade. That led to three years
of electronics in high school and more
What were you listening to when you
switched over to guitar?
Very classic-rock sorts of stuff. I’m about
to turn 49, so I grew up with a lot of
Jimmy Page sounds in my brain, as well
as a lot of the ’70s and ’80s stuff. Early
ZZ Top, early Aerosmith, early AC/DC,
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the
Faces, and those great Rolling Stones
records—the usual guitar-rock suspects.
Was that around the same time you
started making guitar amps?
Well, I was interested in all of it. I had
a friend with a shop that did amp and
guitar repairs, so I built a lot of parts
guitars throughout the ’80s, and was
into all facets of guitar tone. For a while
Top Hat’s Brian Gerhard
says the Super Thirty-Three
is a bestseller because of
its authentic British tones.
Photo courtesy of Fat
106 PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2012