Since relaunching Magnatone in 2013, Ted Kornblum and Obeid Khan have quickly revitalized interest in the company's storied name. While the duo has invested time exploring the vast history of the company (Read Pt. 1 of our interview), their new amps build off what made the original products a favorite amongst players and add even more.
In just two short years, Magnatone has already introduced three collections of American-made amplifiers to the world. The Traditional Collection's Twilighter and Stereo Twilighter are powerful American-sounding amps with vibrato, while the Master Collection's Super Fifty-Nine Head blurs sounds from both sides of the Atlantic. The Varsity and Lyric, which make up the Studio Collection, are small amplifiers that offer essential tones for tracking.
The second part of our interview with the Magnatone team finds Kornblum and Khan talking further about the need for respect when bringing back a beloved piece of gear. Giving readers insight into the thought put into Magnatone's relaunch, the team talks about product creation, marketing and the big things ahead for the brand.
How do you handle bringing a classic amp back to market? Is there a way to do it without enraging Magnatone loyalists?
Obeid Khan: You have to be delicate with the brand that already existed. That was the biggest thing. It started out as an engineering exercise, sourcing the parts, building the circuit, making sure all the features work right.
Ted Kornblum: We wanted to make it equally as good as the best amps of the era, which were the Fender Tweed and the Black Face Deluxe. The world doesn’t need any more guitar amp stars, nor guitar amp brands. We didn’t just want to be another guitar amp, but the vibrato separated us. We realized people only use vibrato for a portion of the song, but the amps have to sound great for the entire song.
What about in terms of marketing the amps? How do you do it with respect to the company’s history while still showing off the new features?
TK: I was in a bit of a hibernation period for about seven years before I told anyone about this brand. For me, I found it to be a little confusing. I was a little conservative, you could say… I really went with minimal advertising in the first year and at the first NAMM show, we didn’t have a factory. We were making them out of someone else’s shop, working out of my home office and basically coming to market with a full product line of seven different models.
Once we had all the bugs worked out, and could start marketing it aggressively, we focused on artists and live credibility. All of the artists we work with buy these products and none of them get them for free. All guitars players would love to have another amp, but if they really believe in it and they really want it, they will pay for it. I would say that a good part of the marketing awareness has come from Billy Gibbons… Not just in terms of the models he’s playing, but that he has said it's a highly credible project.
You've already accomplished so much in a short amount of time. Where do you see the Magnatone brand heading?
TK: For the next foreseeable few years, we have a few more guitar amp accomplishments we need to hit. There’s a void in the market when it comes to vintage, high-end boutique amps. There are a lot of vintage brands, but they’ve all been diluted by taking it to Asia over the years. In the boutique market, there is just a ton of those type of people.
We have a few more years of proving ourselves before we can replace [Fender]. We can’t replace Fender amps because you can’t say that a Fender amp is bad, they are great amps. However, the new ones aren’t what the old ones were. We have a couple of years of "nose to the grindstone," before we can takeover.
The stereo feature is also an interesting topic because we are one of the few companies who make a 1x12 model and then a 2x12 stereo. It’s just two extra sets of tubes and then you have a 2x12 with stereo and a vibrato. If Fender did a Twin like that, I don’t think the world would like it, so I think the stereo proliferation is one area I can see us going to if we wanted to do it.
They say that one amp sells for every 10 guitars, and Magnatone did really have a bunch of different products. A guy, Paul Bigsby, in 1956 built about five different models for Magnatone. They aren’t necessarily great guitars, but they are highly collectible and they pretty are expensive. I could really see Magnatone doing guitars. I do get people who come up to me with a smile and say, “Do you make guitars?”
I think we have the right structure and all the bandwidth we can handle. We’re making a few models under $2000, around $1500 and $2000, and that would be an area that we would like to try and hone in on. We want to make Magnatone more affordable for more people, but not by cutting cost or in terms of quality. We would like to make some products that are more affordable, but they are still made in America. That way the amps appreciate in value since they’ve been made the right way.