Talking Amps with Sergio Hamernik: Transformers and Tone

Why does it hurt when I play my guitar amp? Recent statistics have confirmed a steady decline in the annual sales of electric guitars since 2005 and it is no surprise guitar amplifiers have also suffered a similar fate. What is the root cause of this negative trend and can it be fixed? The demand is certainly still there as evidenced by the increasing prices for vintage gear and the growth of live music with often sold-out venues and tours. There is also a steady demand for recorded music and a concerted effort to improve the listening experience of consumers. Yet, the market for entry level guitars and amps remains uninspired. Potential customers are bored to the point of disinterest, feeling disconnected from the rich history of amplified guitar tone. Out-sourcing and off-shoring of operations has also taken a toll on the boutique guitar amplifier market with quality taking a back seat. If you take a look behind any of these imported guitar amplifiers, you’ll find disposal instructions validating the future of their purchase as inevitable E- Waste. How is that for a vote of confidence?

It is not a coincidence that this industry began its nosedive when this country’s preoccupation with cheap and dirty imported products took off full speed with the mega music store mentality trending to reduce musical instruments to a commodity driven by the lowest bidder. Has craft become an unnecessary expense? These statistics reveal that the average consumer is not happy going down that road.

It seems that not enough people understand the cosmic importance of transformers when it comes to delivering amplified guitar tone because all too often transformers in amplifiers are relegated to the typical bean-counter’s chopping block. Music and how it sounds to us is very much like food, the ingredients and how they are prepared really matter. The recipe for great sounding tone hasn’t been lost, just abandoned by short-sighted, penny-pinching profiteering. Perhaps the current bankruptcy hearings and bailout talks of larger corporations are a good indicator of things to come. This could usher in a revival of mom and pop music stores re-opening and hopefully working symbiotically with internet-based businesses. We need a new working environment to encourage and inspire the next generation of musicians with better sounding equipment. Choosing better transformers is a good start and will open the door to better tone since it has become obvious that ignoring this rule only leads to poor audio performance. Give the people what they want, and they will pay a little extra to get it without compromise. Not all food has to be cheap and fast, a discerning palate for tone goes a long way to maintain the dignity and essence of music.

Having amassed the largest data base of vintage audio replacement transformers, which even the average bedroom player can have equal access to, the history of Mercury Magnetics dates back to the early 1950s as being a resource for professional musicians, guitar amplifier collectors and as an OEM for some of the finest amplifiers being built today. Stay tuned for follow up articles detailing products and services available to any player needing more information about our various transformer brands, such as ToneClones, Amp-Savers and custom applications. Our efforts are primarily to dispel myths and junk science to help players and listeners get a clear understanding of what it takes to improve their experience.

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