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Krogh amps it up

Self-taught Jonathan Krogh has been part of the local music scene for about 20 years, with his custom-built amplifiers and guitars, and later as stage manager for rock and reggae concerts. The Catholic News chatted with him via email about his journey.

Q: At what age did you begin building amps and making guitars?

Between the ages of 16 to 20, I was very busy modifying and repairing guitars as well as amplifiers and building a few speaker cabinets. This was all learned from any electronics information I could find in books and magazines, and then from websites and online correspondence, of which there was very little on the internet at the time.

By age 21, I had accumulated enough tools and parts from doing repairs and salvaging old equipment to build my first prototype amplifiers from scratch. They sounded really good and sparked interest and credibility with the musicians and music store owners I was meeting at that time.

This instantly expanded the possibilities of building and modifying amplifier equipment to get the sounds and onstage reliability that guitarists want. That first amplifier still works perfectly and is in a studio being used on recordings.

Around the time that the first custom-made amplifiers were being built, I put any extra time and money I had into acquiring tools and materials to attempt building guitars, which was a huge increase in infrastructure for the fine woodworking and painting involved. The first results were good enough to persist, and I got a lot of encouragement from those who were familiar with my amplifier work. By then, I was still as young as 21 or 22.

Q: Did you come from a music/creative family?

My father Christen was an active singer in plays, concerts, and the music festivals, in an operatic baritone style, sometimes producing the shows himself. My mother Judi was a singer through to her teen years in her school choirs, as well a choir singing at social events. My aunt Ann played guitar and gave me my first guitar when I turned 16.

Sadly, my father passed away when I was only a year into my guitar playing. My mother was wholly supportive of my guitar- and amplifier-building efforts; she really perked up when I showed her the first guitar. My grandmother was delighted as well and told me that her uncle in England had long ago played and repaired organs for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Q: What prompted your interest?

As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated by guitars, but never played any nor owned one until I was 16. Any pictures or movies showing guitars, I would scrutinise endlessly.

The idea to build them must have been sparked by necessity. Since I am lefthanded, the guitars that I admired or desired to own were rare or did not exist in lefthanded versions and are hardly ever stocked by music stores. I thought that I would always have to factory-order lefthanded guitars.

It was only years later when I had acquired many tools and did correspondence with some guitar builders I met online, that I dared to try building them myself. The first guitar I built was righthanded so it could be sold to generate a cash flow to build more guitars, but I kept it.

Regarding amplifier building, the first amplifier I had blew up while playing it loudly, and I found that no electronics repairmen could help me. It was an obsolete ‘tube’ type amplifier, which has not been taught about in electronics schools for generations.

Realising I was best off learning to fix it myself, I scoured the internet for what little information was available at the time. After learning to solder and read schematic diagrams by myself, I was eventually able to fix it, and I continued finding those old amplifiers and refurbishing them, which I still do with great joy.

A few years of that activity gave me the resources to build amplifiers from scratch. These tube type amplifiers give the best quality of sound, and in my construction, I put a huge emphasis on reliability and ease of repair. I had the attitude that if I turned out to not be such a great guitar player, at least I would make the best of it if I had great guitar tone.

Q: How did your involvement in the music industry start and with whom have you worked?

After my prototype amplifiers were first put into music stores as demo items, I was visited 20 years ago by Nigel Rojas, who was then reorganising his band Orange Sky, and wanted to use my amplifiers.

I soon became part of the new organisation by attending shows with the band to make sure my amps were set up properly. Nigel wanted to have seamless trouble-free performances, which were rare with rock bands then. I became their full-time onstage technician, dealing with everything from preparing the instruments days before a show to setting up the stage, changing broken guitar strings and swapping out-of-tune guitars in between songs.

The concerts got larger, and they always got through the shows with minimal technical glitches. I had such terrible stage fright at the first shows, because I was being relied upon.

Eventually, I was made ‘stage manager’ by the band’s manager Joey Sabeeney which required more non-technical organising and on-the-spot decision making. Since then, I have done more or less the same role in most of the large rock and reggae concerts, and always happy to volunteer or help out at concerts of any size.

Q: Do you do custom-designed guitars and how big is the market for that locally?

Each guitar or amplifier I build is unique, and most of them are custom-designed. I work closely with the customer to fulfil their desires for its sound, playing comfort, and visual details. Even my amplifiers and speaker cabinets get custom-chosen upholstery and controls and logos.

It isn’t possible to evaluate the size of that market, because although they are specialty items, every guitarist eventually wants one.

Q: Do you have any other plans to grow your business?

I would love to grow to involve an export market, without sacrificing customised details and specialty woods and finishes and other things not available in mass production.