Sound Of Music

The list of items that have been proudly manufactured in the city of Jamestown in its 200-year history can now include custom-designed, handwired tube guitar amplifiers.

Vasa Tube Amps, which are constructed locally by Marty Johnson from largely homegrown hardware and components, are now available for purchase at Chautauqua Music, 110 E. Second St. in Jamestown.

Johnson, owner of Vasa Tube Amps, has been constructing his custom-made amps for roughly the past 15 years, and has sold primarily to local musicians. Regarding his product, Johnson said he crafted an amplifier that is not only unique to Jamestown, but to the industry as a whole.

“I’m not trying to mass produce and go regional or national; and I don’t even really advertise,” Johnson said. “I’ve sold about 20-25 of these amps, and my reputation has grown simply through old-fashioned word of mouth. I like to sell local and I like to sell direct. I think people like the fact that the guy who builds them lives right here in town.”

Johnson said the impetus for building his own amplifier came from his desire to have something that could evenly accommodate the tone and output of both his Gibson Les Paul and 12-string Rickenbacker guitars; adding that any amp he had tried up to that point could only handle one or the other. Approximately 20 years ago, he built his first amplifier using the knowledge he had obtained through his various shop and engineering courses during his time as a student of Jamestown High School.

Though he kept his very first amp for himself, Johnson shortly thereafter began making more amps in what would become known as the Vasa Tube Amps line. He primarily builds 20- and 35-watt amps, which he said are his bestsellers, but he also constructs a 10- and 40-watt version of the Vasa. On rare occasions, he will customize an amp, but added that this is not common for him.

“I used to have a really big regional sound reinforcement company, and so I knew how big of an amp it needed to be,” he said. “And when my first Vasa amp sold right away, I decided that this is something that I really wanted to keep doing; and it’s been going good.”

Despite the fact that he has sold his amps primarily to established musicians, many of whom spend time on the road, Johnson said most of the amps have remained local. The amps are sold exclusively through Chautauqua Music and, on more than one occasion, he will see an old Vasa amp returned to the store in exchange for a newer or larger model.

Among those respected regional musicians to have purchased and performed through a Vasa is former Big Leg Emma guitarist Kev Rowe, who had nothing but high praise for the locally manufactured amp.

“I’ve been playing on a Vasa amp for almost 10 years now, and it is one of my secret weapons,” Rowe said. “First of all, the craftsmanship is amazing. Each one is handmade and totally unique. And as far as sound goes, it’s the type of thing that only someone with 40-plus years of experience could invent – which Marty Johnson has. If I could own every model, I would.”

Johnson added that, in the unlikely event that an internal issue should arise with a Vasa, his amps can be repaired by a gear tech practically anywhere – which he owes to the simplicity of their construction.

“The parts are not exotic and the circuit is laid out logically; they’re fairly simple, so any tech who can fix a name-brand amplifier could fix my stuff,” he said.

Vasa Tube Amps are priced according to size and wattage. For more information about Vasa Tube Amps, contact Johnson at 665-4631 or visit Chautauqua Music.