By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
While Vietnam caused schisms at a lot of dinner tables, the general didn't need his kids to tell him about the war. "He was a loyal Marine and servant of the nation, but I don't think he approved of the war, or certainly the conduct of it," Pat says. "He did his tour. When he came back—a broken man is maybe too dramatic a term to use, but his spirits seemed run down, and he retired thereafter."
He credits his dad with his steadiness and respect for skill. From his mom, Liz—better known by the pen name Suzie Q, used as a local newspaper columnist for decades—he got "a love of music, an interest in culture, a desire to have some fun as life goes on. She had a real joy of life and liked to laugh; my father would just wheeze a little."
One 1967 day, the bass player in Matt's rock band complained there was no decent amp around for the $250 he could afford, so Pat offered to build him one. He'd made several 5- and 10-watt amps by then, "and I figured I'd just use more of everything to make a 100-watt one," he recalls. It wasn't so simple, and by the time he was done, he figures he'd made 3 cents per hour on it. The result was the approximate shape and volume as a hulking Vox Super Beatle, which listed for $1,195. Unlike most of those Voxes, the $250 Quilter No. 1. is still operational and now sits in Quilter Labs' lobby.
Pat tried attending Cal State Long Beach for a while, but come June 1968, it was time to get a summer job. The previous summer, he'd worked as a dishwasher at Laguna Beach's long-gone Gayle Pike's Steakhouse and figured he'd have more fun and money building amps. After all, 20 years earlier, just up Harbor Boulevard, Leo Fender had started making steel guitars and amps in his little radio shop and had become a millionaire.
Pat rented a 20-foot-by-40-foot shop on Costa Mesa's Placentia Avenue, took out a license and a DBA under Quilter Sound Co., and got down to the business of losing money. Some of his amp designs blew up. Others had a high infant-mortality rate, conking out on gigs. He had a little problem with employees.
Matt and his buddies were building the cabinets while Pat wired up the circuitry. It wasn't exactly a production line. "We'd adjourn for lunch, smoke a joint and never come back," Matt says. "We only worked part of the summer before Pat got wise and hired some real people."
Pat eventually took on partners with more business acumen, and the company stayed afloat with investments from his mom and brother Charlie. Even once those bugs were fixed, he knew nothing about marketing. According to Matt, "Pat's business plan was: You make something good and hope somebody stops in to buy it."
* * *
It was around 1970 that I first met Pat. I'd seen his gear on stages, including at a mini-rock fest in a cattle field near UC Irvine. Quilter stacks brooded over the stage, and cloudy, suspect apple juice was passed around the crowd. So of course one had to check out his little Costa Mesa workshop, smelling of sawdust and solder, before heading over to the Groove Company on Harbor to buy some psychedelic vinyl. My friends and I thought Pat was one of the coolest things around. A hippie with a business! Making guitar amplifiers!
One day, I lucked onto a Dan Armstrong Plexiglas guitar cheap, but I play left-handed and upside-down and needed a strap peg drilled in the opposite horn. No music store would touch the job—"It'll shatter, kid. You can't drill this stuff." So I took it to Pat. I'd never bought a thing from him and didn't look like I ever could, and guitar repair wasn't his job. But he looked at it, pondered the molecular structure of Plexiglas for a moment and drilled a perfect hole, no charge.
Pat seemed like one together hippie guy to us. He felt otherwise.
"I was kind of fascinated by the hippie culture," he says, "but I have low blood-sugar levels, so I was never the kind of guy who could live on the streets. If I miss a meal, I'm useless. I admired people who lived rough and took things as they came, but the way I'm wired, I needed to have structure around me and an organized, consistent life. I tagged along with that culture, but never to the extent I would have been in a riot or protest."
I finally managed to buy an amp from him, a two-12-inch combo that sounded fabulous for a solid-state amp.
That "for a solid-state amp" proviso led to Pat becoming the Rip Van Winkle of the guitar-amp biz: When he launched Quilter Labs two years ago, it was after being absent from the business for more than 35 years.
That's because Pat had backed the wrong sonic horse. Guitar amps and most things electronic had run on balky, fragile, glass vacuum tubes since the get-go, until the magic little transistor came along. This was still the space age, when we all assumed new shit was better.