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Two years ago, Pat pretty much retired from QSC, and on that New Year's Eve, he launched Quilter Labs. Shortly thereafter, the five-employee company released the Micropro, which combined decades of Pat's work on replicating the qualities of a tube amp with state-of-the-moment Class D technology.
Know what to do when the party is getting late and you want your friends to leave? Explain Class D amplification to them:
Remember that tiny signal an electric guitar produces? An amplifier basically tricks some of your wall current into mimicking that signal. In all previous amps, the transistors or tube acts like variable resistors, meaning they place obstacles in the big signal's path to make it behave like the little signal.
In Class D, the amp's circuit is more like a switch opening and closing incredibly fast. It's either on or off, and it is a whole kaboodle more efficient. The trick, Quilter says, is "you have to switch on and off at hundreds of kilohertz, so these pulses can blend together and form smooth audio pulses at 20 to 20 K. Do this, and you have a device that's 90 percent to 95 percent efficient compared to regular amps that are only 10 percent to 15 percent."
At normal volumes, Quilter's amps use only about 15 percent as much power as a conventional amp, making it a lot more efficient than a Prius. That pleases Pat.
"We live on a finite planet with limited resources. Fortunately, there's no limit on knowledge. The kind of conservation I like is where it's all win-win. Use knowledge wisely, and you get a smaller, lighter amp that uses less power and raw materials, saves manufacturing costs, saves shipping costs and takes up less space."
The Micropro was intentionally designed to stand out from the herd. The herd didn't much like that, perhaps because musicians thought the colorful amp looked like something their daughter would take to glee club. It's been a slow take-off. While Pat doesn't like to say how much of his own money he has pumped into Quilter Labs to keep it afloat, it's safe to say it's more than I'm going to earn over the rest of my life.
This year, the company released its more conventional-looking Aviator line and is getting a lot more notice. It isn't just aging journalists singing the amps' praises now.
To me, Los Lobos are the Beatles that never broke up. They just keep on growing, changing, challenging and becoming ever-more soulful. Singer/composer David Hidalgo is my kind of guitar god, always emotional, inventive and articulate. I've seen him play through nearly every sort of tube amp over the years, but now he's working out with a variety of Quilters.
A musician friend had told him about the amps, "so I looked the company up and found they're only half an hour from my home. I've been using their amps ever since," Hidalgo says by phone.
"I like the portability"—for fly-to gigs, he just stows an 8-pound Micropro head in his carry-on—"the reliability and mainly the tone. Right out of the gate, it sounds great, with all the sound of a tube amp. It has enough power for whatever you need. Also, when we played the Greek, they have a 95-decibel sound limit. With most amps, it's really hard to get a tone at low volume, but the Quilter worked perfect there."
Deke Dickerson is another total amp hound, to the degree that he owns one of Elvis' guitar player Scotty Moore's über-rare Echosonic amps and several of the nearly as rare 1950s Standel amps favored by Joe Maphis, Chet Atkins and other hot pickers. He just finished touring the U.S. by Cadillac, using a prototype Quilter Steelaire amp.
"All I'm ever looking for is the qualities of the old tube amps I like, and the Quilters really nail that," Dickerson says from his Valley abode. "The Steelaire kept reminding me of my old Standel amps, in the sense it was loud, clean, had a twangy bottom end, and didn't fart out on the low notes, which is everything I liked about my old Standels."
If the company keeps winning over players at its present rate, Pat may be able to take another vacation in a few years. While he's the resident genius, he leaves a lot of the lifting to the rest of the crew, which includes CEO Chris Parks and COO Robert Becker, both of whom followed him from QSC and share his penchant for quixotic quests. Becker, for example, hopes to resurrect the Optigan, a weird 1970s budget Mellotron-like device originally marketed by Mattel. That, the Cyclops race car and other side-projects have been shelved for now, so they can focus on making a go of the amps.
For about 15 years, Pat was involved in being a mountain man, spending weekends with like-minded souls dressing and living as the rugged explorers of 150 years ago did. He learned to make his own buckskins, throw a tomahawk and sleep on the ground without whimpering, and he found out just how long it takes a guy to build a log cabin using only the hand tools of the 1800s.