For many of us in the States, Labor Day is a long-deserved break from work in honor of the everyday workers who keep things up and running. It’s also a good opportunity to remember that for every big business or household name brand out there, there are dozens of small businesses led by passionate people who love what they do. 

This fact is especially true in the music gear world, and luckily, you can find quite a few boutique brands right here on Vintage King. So for this Labor Day, we’re highlighting some of our favorite small gear manufacturers here in the US. 

AEA mics (Pasadena, CA)

There probably isn't a mic that’s more synonymous with the dawn of recorded music and broadcast radio than the RCA 44 ribbon mic. AEA Microphones started as the go-to RCA 44, expanding the lifespans of countless mics long after RCA shuttered its microphone production in the late 1970s. Eventually, the company fully picked up the RCA torch with the AEA R44CE, a museum-grade replica of the RCA 44 that’s hand-built using one of the original ribbon corrugators from the RCA factory. Today, AEA offers some of the best vintage-inspired ribbon mics alongside modern ribbon mic designs like the R88. With lifelike clarity and immersive sonic imagery, AEA microphones bring out the best of any artist of any genre, from The War On Drugs to A Tribe Called Quest.

Fryette Amps (Hollywood, CA)

This company started life in 1989 as VHT Amplification, whose first headquarters was technically founder Steven Fryette’s dining table in his Studio City apartment. But even with the name change and several changes in location over the years, Fryette has always done what it does best: Make really loud tube amps. With amps like the PS-100 and PS-2A, Fryette specializes in multi-channel, multi-featured tube amps that are perfectly suited for shredders like Steve Vai or metalheads like Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher.

Chandler Limited (Shell Rock, IA)

If you want the classic 1960s tones of the Beatles and other Brit rock bands of the era, then book your ticket to Shell Rock, Iowa. Chandler Limited gained a following for their bang-on recreations of British recording equipment from the era, including the outboard compressors, limiters, and preamps found in the famed Abbey Road Studios. The company’s Abbey Road Series is so good, in fact, that the actual Abbey Road Studios uses them today—a fab full-circle moment.

Retro Instruments (Modesto, CA)

There’s nothing quite like a piece of vintage gear—if you can find it. In Phil Moore’s case, he built his favorite piece of gear himself instead. His recreation of the Gates Sta-Level compressor in 2006 was the start of Retro Instruments, and today the company crafts a wide range of vintage-inspired gear with slight updates to better fit modern creative workflows. Even with these changes, though, Retro gear sound and feel like their elder counterparts thanks to their classic enclosures and control layouts.

Mojave Audio (Burbank, CA)

When David Royer launched Mojave Audio from his Fullerton garage, he already knew that a microphone is only as good as its signal path. That’s why Mojave’s line of beloved tube microphones use some of the highest-quality components found at their respective price points, from bona fide Jensen transformers to military-grade NOS tubes. With build quality at this level, it’s no wonder why Mojave mics’ sonic transparency and analog warmth sound great on pretty much everything.  

Kali Audio (Burbank, CA)

Nestled among the hulking Hollywood studios in Burbank, Kali Audio reps local pride so hard that all of their speakers are named after California localities: Santa Monica, Independence, and Lone Pine. Equal parts experimental and affordable, Kali’s line of high-performance studio monitors and multimedia speakers are lovingly crafted in a workspace that prioritizes creativity and exploration. As Kali states on their website, “Taking the time and space to explore ideas as they come allows us to develop products that are innovative, useful, and deliver incredible value to our customers.”

Ear Trumpet Labs (Portland, OR)

This quirky microphone company began when software engineer Philip Graham built his first mic for his daughter using bits and pieces from his basement and hardware stores. Those roots are still reflected in Ear Trumpet’s industrial-style, handmade mics that are perfect for detailed and natural recordings. These tonal qualities are why you’ll probably see the Myrtle or Louise onstage with vintage-tinged artists like Sierra Ferrell, Andra Day, and Milk Carton Kids. Plus, as a way of giving back, the employees at the shop (including Graham’s daughter, Malachi) distributes 10% of quarterly profits to organizations of their choosing.

Death by Audio (Brooklyn, NY)

Named after the iconic and sorely missed underground venue, DBA is the embodiment of DIY, both in their business ethos and left-field approach to pedal design. What started as an anything-goes custom order service by A Place to Bury Strangers’ Oliver Ackermann evolved into a wonderfully chaotic line of pedals. From modern classics like ROOMS reverb to experimental boxes like the Space Bender, DBA pedals offer plenty of knobs, switches, and unmined tones to satisfy your inner shoegazer. 

Red Panda Labs (Detroit, MI)

Detroit-based Red Panda Labs has prioritized experimentation from the very beginning. The second pedal the company ever released was the Particle, widely considered the first granular delay pedals on the market. The rest of Red Panda’s lineup only gets more unconventional and unexpected from there, from packed-to-the-gills bit crushers to pedalboard-friendly mixers. If that hasn’t piqued your interest yet, the company is also a member 1% for the Planet, a coalition of businesses that donate one percent of annual sales to environmental nonprofits. Where else can you buy the craziest delay pedal you’ve ever heard while also helping the planet? 

Eric BrodyIf you’re interested in purchasing gear from any of the manufacturers mentioned in this blog, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.