Dick Boak started at Martin Guitars in 1976, and is well known in the guitar world. Before Dick began at Martin, he had been going through their dumpsters looking for scrap wood to make his own guitars. After some time, the folks at Martin saw his work and eventually, owner C. F. Martin III, saw his work and was so impressed, he told one of his employees to have him apply for a job. Dick was soon hired as a design draftsman. Throughout his career, he has held many diverse positions, but his favorite was leading the formation of Martin’s Artist Relations Department, and the conception of more than 100 signature guitar collaborations, with artists such as; Eric Clapton, Mark Knophler, Paul Simon, Steve Miller, and many others.
Eric Clapton and the 000-42EC Model
After getting phone calls about the guitar that Eric Clapton used for the MTV Unplugged show, he was permitted to contact Eric about Martin issuing a limited edition Eric Clapton model. Eric loved the idea and the final version was based on the guitars he used for the Unplugged concert. Martin made 461 copies of the Eric Clapton 000-42EC model and was sold out immediately upon release. Dick has worked with Eric on several models over the years. He was so grateful to Eric on the attention he brought to acoustic guitars and Martin, that he wrote a personal letter about him that was published in Acoustic Guitar magazine.
Mario Andretti and Other Interests
After 42 years with the company, Dick retired in 2018. His retirement party is a dream to some folks – the party was held at the State Theater in Easton Pennsylvania, and was called Boak’s Bash (see the video below), featuring Steve Miller, John Mayer, David Bromberg, and many others. Dick spends his time working on his illustrations and music. He was also asked by his neighbor, Mario Andretti, if he could assist in helping with putting his racing archive together.
A rockin’ custom guitar amp with swappable modules for a flexible sound
Who is Bruce Egnater?
Before we begin on the the Egnater Mod 50 amp, let’s get some history on Bruce Egnater, for whom the amp is named.
Bruce is from the Detroit area and was a guitar player in the late 60’s and early 70’s, aspiring to be a rock star influenced by his love for Hendrix and Cream. Things did work out for Bruce to be a rock star, just not as a musician. Instead, he became a rock star in the amp field.
Bruce became more interested in gear and especially amps. He was always tinkering with amps and looking for different tones. Bruce first went to the University of Detroit Engineering School and also worked at Zoppi’s Music on 8 Mile Road in Sterling, Michigan. He was working on amps and set up their service department (Zoppi’s is not far from where I once lived, which is pretty cool). After graduating, he decided to open a repair shop in 1975 fixing and modifying amps. He was playing around with various amps to understand them because amps were a new fad as nobody really had a lot of in-depth knowledge of them. One day, Bruce combined a small Gibson amp with a Marshall head and discovered that he was finally heading in the direction he wanted. Bruce used a load resistor from the Gibson and took the signal from there and put it into the input of the Marshall. Word got out about what he was doing and soon became in demand. To this day, his amps are still a popular item to have.
What is the Egnater Mod 50?
The Mod 50 is a modular, tube guitar amp head that Egnater no longer has in their production line. It is still a popular item in the used market for around $1,400. Unlike most tube amps, what makes this unique is that it has modules that can be swapped out for different tones that the player wants. For this discussion, we will be looking at the TD (Twin Fender Deluxe), COD (California Overdrive), SL (Super Lead), and EG5 modules. There are other modules listed below that can be interchanged. The amp allows you to plug in any two modules at a time. Each module has two channels and its own Master and Gain knobs for each section of the module. They both share bass, middle, and treble. I have provided a link to the manual HERE.
Jimi Alan (Rockslide Studios, Bubba Grouch, and Damn the Torpedoes) helped us to review his Egnater Mod 50 to get a personal perspective of what this amp is all about.
MUSICXPLORER — Jimi, can you give us a run down of the amp?
Jimi — Sure, the Mod 50 is basically a 50 Watt Power Amp. It’s not a metal amp, and as you mentioned, it has interchangeable modules that have some flavor of a circuit from another amp, but they always have the Egnater touch to them, of course. I have the TD (Twin Fender Deluxe), COD (California Overdrive), SL (Marshall Plexi / Super Lead), and the EG 3/4 modules. The amp itself is very dynamic, very touch sensitive, and if you play gently, it cleans up really nice. If you dig in, it gets grittier. I typically don’t even use the full 50 Watts of the amp. I usually run it half power or 10 watts. This allows me to get a little more power tube saturation. The Head has 5881 tubes, which are based on the “American” type amps. The tubes are a little bit more compressed and don’t have as much bite as the smaller EL34 tubes that give you a British-sounding type amp. The amp can also use 6L6 tubes, as well as others. The Pre-amp and the modules use typical 12AX7 type tubes.
Does the amp have any built-in effects?
Jimi — The amp has no effects, and it doesn’t have reverb either. It is dry as a bone, so you need to get a pedal if you want any effects. The amp does have a serial and parallel effects loop.
What are serial and parallel effects loops?
Jimi — The effects loops basically run between the pre-amp and the power amp section. The serial loop breaks the path and inserts something, meaning it breaks the signal path, runs through the effect, and then returns to the circuit. The parallel loop does not mess with your tone as the serial loop does. It sort of splits the signal and it doesn’t break the signal as an insert. The parallel loop allows you to blend in the overall amount of effects, whereas, the serial loop, you need to carefully set the levels.
Getting back to the modules — what do you like about the modules you have?
Jimi — The Fender Twin has a bright, clean sound, while the Deluxe is warmer and breaks up more. What I love about the California Over Drive is the way the notes just sustain, especially when I turn it up. It’s a very “creamy” lead tone based on the Dumble ODS and Mesa Mark IIc. You can get some killer feedback and it’ll go on forever. The SL is based after the Marshall Super Lead. It’s a great sound for rhythm and lead guitar and has great medium gain. It can get pretty hairy too. Very British. The E/G 3/4 module is based off Bruce’s signature, Tone of Life amps, and channels three and four, respectively. It’s not a bright sounding module like the Twin, but a darker sounding module. The EG5 is a super high-gain module, and I relate it to the Soldano. Great gain with clarity.
The other cool thing about the modules is that you can also swap out the tubes, right?
Jimi — Yeah, the modules can be interchanged with different tubes that can give you different feel and tone. For instance, I currently have Groove tubes in the EG5, and for my SL module, I have Chinese 12X7’s. I have JJ’s running in the TD and COD. Bottom line is that you will get something slightly different out of every tube.
Do you like any of the other modules?
Jimi — I definitely want to get the Vox module. It just has “that” sound and gain.
How did you come about having the Mod 50 as your main amp?
Jimi — I first had the Egnater Rebel and loved the tone of that amp. I soon as I tested it, I took the money out of my pocket and said, “It’s mine.” I then checked out the Renegade. The Mod 50 I have now was a fairly recent purchase, as I’d been looking for a long time. My Renegade took a shit on me at a gig. It literally caught on fire. Not a real fire, but smoke and fireworks. The area that my amp was in was dark, and I think it had something to do with the power, because the owner was messing with the lights, and all of sudden, I looked on the back wall where my amp was, and saw the flashing. It was like a Christmas Tree, Dude! I noticed a flash of light from the back wall where my amp was. I looked over and saw fireworks, sparks, and smoke everywhere. It was like a Christmas tree all lit up, but it wasn’t on fire. I mean it was smoking, and it was a lot of fireworks, but no actual fire. With that being down, it was motivation to really find and get the Mod 50.
That sounds pretty weird?
Jimi — I know, I’ll never forget it!
What drove you to like the amp?
Jimi — I love the fact the amp is a tinkerer’s amp, and the fact that you change modules and tubes. I also love the Egnater mid-range. There is something there that just really appeals to me.
Is there anything you do not like about the Mod 50?
Jimi — I don’t like that each module has to share the EQ (bass, middle, and treble). I am going to have Jaded Faith in Bordentown modify the modules. For example, for the twin side, maybe they’ll put another bass or boost knob. The other thing I don’t like is that the serial loop runs a hot signal, line level, to the effects. I recently picked up an Ebtech line level shifter to remedy that, though.
Egnater has discontinued making the amp, but it seems to still be popular on the used market?
Jimi — Yeah, they stopped making the amp in the early 2000’s to be more focused on a model that was more commercially viable. Used mod 50’s are hard to get. There is a new company called Synergy that is picking up where Bruce left off, and he had consulted with them when they started out. Synergy is now building new modules and amps and working with guys like Friedman and Metropolous. Some killer sounding stuff that is all compatible with the Mod series.
B’Man (59 Fender Tweed Bassman)
SL2 (Hot-Rodded Marshall Super Lead)
VX (Vox AC-30)
ERect (Mesa-Boogie Dual/Triple Rectifier)
Thanks, Jimi, for helping out with the rundown of the Mod 50.
Tom is an online guitar teacher who specializes in lessons in Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock. He is proud to say he has“The Most Authentic Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock Guitar Experience on the Web.” Tom was hooked on Skynyrd at 8 years old, as his father would always play Workin’ For MCA” (from their Second Helping album) in the car on the way to Little League.Tom was compelled to learn all five Skynyrd guitar styles.
Tom started the website over two years ago and currently has over 9,000 YouTube subscribers and two million video views of his lessons.
A point that Tom makes that may be often overlooked in Skynyrd is that the Stratocaster was a key element to the band, being Ed King or Steve Gaines. Their most popular albums are with a Stratocaster. Gary and Allen gave the band the guitar turbo engine, Ed and Steve primed it up with high-test gas and oil.
Bill knows a lot of people and has worked on guitars owned by Ace Frehley and Dez Cadena (The Misfits)
Who is Bill Baker?
Bill Baker, a guitar tech from New Jersey, works at Dave’s Sound Repair in Whippany, NJ. He has been fixing and playing guitars since he was a teen and has been working with Dave Hirsch his whole career. Bill is known for being former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley’s guitar tech and friend in the early ’90s and had a massive Ace collection. He fronted the Ace Frehley tribute band, Fractured Mirror. He also has the Ace Frehley Archive, a site dedicated to Ace Frehley. Further, he is known for his popular restringing video on YouTube. He has met and worked with a lot of people in the business. Bill has so many stories, so we have to do this interview in parts.
MUSICXPLORER — Bill, how did you become interested in guitars?
Bill — As a kid, I just loved music. My father had a couple of friends that played guitar and they would come over, and I would watch them and be fascinated by that. Later on, when we moved, the neighbor next door would sit out on his front porch, play bass, and jam along to records. I would watch him through the window of him playing. One time he told me to come inside and watch, and I’m like, “Well, you have got to teach me how to play.” So he gave me some lessons and kinda taught me how to get through the Eagles “Victim of Love.”
So you were learning how to play and fix guitars on your own?
Bill — Yeah, I started to take my guitars apart and put them back together. Back then you couldn’t buy a book on how to do that. I remember, I had this one guitar that didn’t work. It had these push-button switches that were very unreliable, and I sort of learned how to make a better contact using a soldering iron. So, I picked up little things like that along the way, but it wasn’t until I bought the first good guitar, a 62 reissue Strat. Demarzio. I made a stacked pickup that I put in the Strat. It kind of gave me a start on working on guitars.
When did you start to work on guitars for a living?
Bill — I walked into a music store in Morristown to get an amplifier fixed and told the owner, Dave Hirsh, that I work on guitars, and said, “I can do little repairs on guitars, if you need somebody,” and he said, “You know, maybe you could come in on Saturdays and do some things for me. I could use some help.” I started working for Dave one day a week, and then eventually turned into two days a week. Dave eventually moved to a bigger location, and I have been with him ever since.
So, you really taught yourself how to repair guitars?
Bill — Yeah, sometimes I would learn by doing. For example, somebody would come in and say, “I got a Tele and I want a Floyd Rose put in it.” I knew it was going to be difficult, and I tried to talk him out of it. I told him the guitar was going to get butchered up. He was still insistent on getting it done. I’d say to myself, “Okay, how am I going to do this?” While I had the jig to put in the Floyd Rose, I had to measure twice and cut once. I wish I had a picture of that because it was crazy to do, and stupid because it was an early seventies Tele that would be worth a pretty good buck now.
How did you start to figure out how to refret?
Bill — I was looking at other fret work jobs that other repairmen did, and I would see something that didn’t look right and I’m like, well, gee, I got to figure out a way to do this better. I saw a lot of bad refrets, and you know, there’s got to be a way to do it nice and clean. So, I decided to start on a Gibson Flying V that I had, and I refretted the guitar a few times until I got it right.
Bill — I went to the Guitar Symposium that was held at the Nazareth College, sponsored by Martin. There was a guy there who was cutting pieces of Pearl, and I was like, oh, that looks kind of cool, and I always wanted to know how to do inlays. I asked about it, and he let me practice cutting up the Pearl with him. I then decided I was going to refret that Flying V one more time. I cut out musical notes, and I inlaid them going up the fingerboard.
That sounds pretty cool!
Bill — It was, and I thought that guitar was going to be wonderful and it was going to be my guitar, because it was so cool, but then I realized I didn’t like playing it cuz the way the flying V sits on your body. So I sold it.
What’s your favorite thing about repairing guitars?
Bill — Probably my favorite thing is just seeing the varieties of different guitars, especially working on really cool guitars.
What is your dream guitar?
Bill — I love Les Paul’s. So my dream guitar would be like a flame top Les Paul with super jumbo, Dunlop 6000 frets, just one humbucker, and a volume control. But, I know the Gibson Custom Shop would probably want about 10 grand for it, so I’ll never have one.
That would be nice to have though. What’s your least favorite thing?
Bill — The thing that I like the least, is working on these Chinese knockoffs. They are low-end quality and because there’s a lot of problems with them. It’s hard to get parts that fit because a lot of these companies make up their own sizes, and the work and wiring are sloppy. I got a story about that.
Yeah, you have some good ones.
Bill — And they are all true.
Somebody brought me a Chinese counterfeit Gibson and the wiring was not shielded, so the thing is really noisy. The parts are cheap, and the guy thinks he got a great deal. But when I added up how much it’s going to cost him to put in better pick ups and pots, and all new wiring, it’s gonna be more than what he just paid for the guitar. Then the fret work is no good and the nut and bridge are just awful. I started adding all the stuff up to make it, and I said, “You should have just bought a used Epiphone and you would have had a much better guitar.”
What are the Pots?
Bill — Pots are the controls. That’s short for potentiometer, in layman’s terms.
You have a couple of videos that are pretty popular on YouTube about your “Z” method for restringing guitars. There is one that has over 15,000 views. How did that come about?
Bill — Is that the high-definition one?
Bill — I think on the first one I did, there were over 200,000. The video I did in 2008 was with the guitar that I bought from Dez Cadena of the Misfits.
Did you also work on Doyle’s guitars?
Bill — No, but I did work on the basses that Jerry Only designed that were made by CWF in Newton.
Cool. Have you seen the controversy on your method versus the Gary Brawer method?
Yeah, so it was on The Gear Page in 2017, and it’s also on the Seymour Duncan and The Right Brainsite. The debate is the over and under, one string at a time method, and yours.
Bill — Yeah, which I saw people call it the the “Z” method. Well, I’ll explain that.
Many years ago, Dave my boss, told me three fingers are good to wrap around the tuners. That’s what they had come up with, from when he was working at Robbie’s Music, back in the 70’s. That was kind of my rule too. When I first started playing, I had a Strat. Strats have those slotted tuners so you just kind of put it in and wrap it. I learned because of the tremolo that you had to stretch the strings out and get the slack. You couldn’t have too many wraps that couldn’t be sloppy. It had to be nice and neat.
The majority of the comments I have seen on the restringing videos are that people say that you shouldn’t take all the strings off at once because it messes with the neck.
Bill — Well, here is my opinion on that. When the guitar was made, did it have strings on it? No, it didn’t, so it’s OK to take them all off. Don’t take them all off and let the guitar sit for a couple of years, because the truss rod is pulling in the other direction. But, if you take it off for say a half hour, or an hour, or even a couple hours, or even if you have to do some major work, you have to take them all off. If you have to take them all off to clean the guitar and put the strings right back on, the guitar is going to go right back where it was. The truss rod was set for the counter tension of the strengths. Now, let’s say you had twelves on there, and you took all the strings off and you put on eights, the neck is probably going to be too straight. If you had eights on there, and you put twelves on, the neck is probably going to be a little too curved; but if you had tens and you put back on tens, then you’re going to be OK.
A Les Paul is different because of the floating bridge.
Bill — On a Les Paul, if you take all the strings off, the tail piece falls off, the bridge will fall off, and the little wheels can lose their their spot. So a safe way to play it is, change them one at a time. If you’re paranoid about anything going out of adjustment or whatever, just change them one at a time; but it makes it a little tougher to clean the guitar.
On a Strat, you wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Bill — If you have a floating tremolo on a Strat, it’s the string tension that’s causing the bridge to float. If you take them all off the bridge, it is going to lay on the face. If you have a Floyd Rose guitar and you take them all off, the Floyd Rose is going to flop onto the face or into the cavity, and it’s going to be a pain in the ass to put it back. So, what you want to do is, if you have to take them all off, and if you have a tremelo on a Strat, you could always stick a guitar pick under the back of the bridge, and it’ll keep it up where it was. You don’t really have to, but if you wanted it to be exactly where it was, you could do that.
What do you think about the other restringing method?
Bill — There’s nothing wrong with either — there are pros and cons to each one. I guess there’s really no right or wrong. It’s whatever you want to try.
What made you do the video in the first place?
Bill — The whole reason that I made that video was because when I was in my Ace Frehley tribute band, Fractured Mirror, we were going to play one last time at a KISS convention and the original guitar player, Mike, from that band showed up with his guitars, and he says, “Can you change my strings for me?” and I’m like, “Mike you’re 40 years old you can’t change your own strings?”
Bill — Yeah, I told him, I should make a video, so, I said, “Okay Mike, you’re going to hold the video camera, we’re going to use your guitars, and we’re going to make a restringing video.” I then transferred it to a DVD, and sent it to my friend in Australia who runs my website and he uploaded them for me.
We are running out of time for this part of the interview. But how did you meet Ace?
Bill — I had a table at one of the KISS conventions in 1990 and this guy was asking if anyone wanted to buy one of Ace’s guitars. I said, “Sure, but I don’t have the cash on me right now.” I told him about a Marshall cabinet I was selling, and he said that we could meet at his house to trade the amp and the guitar. He also said that he could have Ace meet with us to sign the guitar since he had to bring it to his house.
Sounds pretty cool.
Bill — Yeah, and when Ace showed up, it was kind of surreal. He was pretty cool about things, and then we all went out to dinner and had Sushi.
We will will continue this interview in another segment that will talk more about Ace Frehley, Dickie Peterson, and the bass guitars he and Bill made. We will also talk about Bill’s involvement with the Misfits, Volbeat, and other good stories. Stay tuned and subscribe to get the latest info on MusicXplorer!
Thanks, Bill — we surely will be talking with you again.