Year of Bass Amplification: Ampeg with Dino Monoxelos
Continuing with our Year of Bass Amplification, we are honored to bring you Ampeg, including an in-depth interview with Dino Monoxelos…
Dino Monoxelos… some people refer to me as “the Ampeg guy” though. You can call me either… just don’t call me late for a gig.
How did you get your start in music?
I guess it goes all the way back to elementary school, playing recorder in music classes and then switching over to clarinet for a few years. It was definitely music education in public schools though that got me started. That and having older brothers and sisters, (I’m the youngest of 8 kids) and listening to all of their different influences over the years. After that it was straight into school bands, both IN school and with friends after school.
Do you play bass?
Oh yeah… I still consider myself to be a professional bass player over anything else. Between gigging close to 100+ gigs a year and being on the road demo’ing and doing clinics for Ampeg, the only time I usually don’t have a bass in my hands is when I’m home enjoying time with my family.
What does Ampeg build?
Ampeg builds a wide range of bass amplifiers, cabinets and combo amps. Everything from a $99 practice bass amp all the way up to what’s regarded as the holy grail of bass amplification, the Heritage Portaflex B15. We also build really cool basses and guitars as well and guitar amps from time to time, but we’re primarily a bass amp company. It’s what we started out as and what we’ve been known for over the years. I know there are a lot of older guitar players out there that will argue that fact and reminisce about their old V4s, VT22s and Reverberockets. Those were hugely successful amps no doubt. But again we’re most commonly known as a bass amp company.
Most recently we’ve gotten back into the pedal side of things building the SCR-DI, Classic Pre and Scrambler pedals, which allow players to put that Ampeg sound in their gig bags and pedal boards. Bass players these days want to be more and more portable, especially guys that do a lot of fly dates or traveling on a small tour. Not every bass player has the space in the band’s trailer to haul an SVT rig.
How did Ampeg get started building bass amps/cabs?
Well… I wasn’t around when this all happened because it was long before my time.
The founder of Ampeg, Mr. Everett Hull was a bass player and a tinkerer.
Mr. Hull needed a way to amplify his upright bass during a time when there was no such thing as a “bass amp”.
This was 1949 so big bands were pretty popular. And, if you’ve ever played with a 17-piece big band, you know it can be just as loud as a four-piece rock band.
He came up with the idea of taking the endpin out of his bass and installing a microphone on the end of it and then re-install it into his bass.
He started calling it “the amplified peg”. Hence the name Am-peg was born.
So, the amplified peg, plugged into a Michael-Hull designed bass amp, began what eventually became the Ampeg Bassamp Company.
And just for fun, the video version:
How did you learn electronics/acoustics?
That’s the funny thing… well not really funny more so than ironic… I have absolutely ZERO knowledge of the inner workings of an amp. I mean to say, I know HOW an amp works but I’ve really no idea how to physically build one. I know WHAT and HOW an amplifier should perform and sound as well as what features should be on it coming from years of experience of playing thousands of gigs on different amps. And, I try to convey those ideas as clearly as possible to our designers and project managers. From there they take it to the next level and actually make it happen. Even to this day, it still amazes me how an idea becomes a solid, working piece of equipment down the road of design, engineering and manufacturing.
Does Ampeg prefer an old-school approach or a modern, high-tech incorporation?
I think a little of both. We’ve tried to stay true to our old-school sound and approach with our tube amps. Heavy copper-wound, iron transformers and vacuum tubes in our “Classic Series” heads, such as the SVT-CL, SVT-VR and V-4B. But then when you look at our Portaflex Series, we’re using cutting edge, proprietary class D technology. As much as we’re always trying to innovate new products and ideas, we’re also drawn back to our roots and honestly, what we’ve been most famous for. Big butt-kicking bass amplifiers!
What do you feel are the most important characteristics in a bass amp/cab?
First and foremost, they HAVE to be dependable. Doesn’t matter if you’re making a living playing music or it’s something that you do part-time or as a hobby. The amp just HAS to work. Now, of course there are times when yeah, stuff breaks. These things are basic machines that sometimes will fail. That’s when customer service comes in and saves the day.
Second, it has to inspire you to make noise. It has to sound great! If it doesn’t sound right, let’s face it, you’re not gonna play it. Especially for young players that are just learning because they just think, “Well, this sucks… it sounds horrible, maybe I just wasn’t cut out to play bass,” and next thing you know, they’re putting the instrument down. I can tell you as a teacher, how many students I’ve seen want to give up their instruments because they’re fighting with sub-standard gear that doesn’t inspire them to want to pursue it further.
Other than those two things, everything else is pretty much icing on the cake. You can add and subtract features as you go but first and foremost, it’s gotta be dependable and sound awesome!
What are a few things you would consider that make Ampeg so unique?
Well, if you follow the history of the company or have been to any of my clinics, Ampeg was pretty much one of the first bass amp companies. Ampeg was building bass amps before there were solid body electric basses. A lot of what you see in todays modern manufacturers designs still borrow from Ampeg’s early days. The Portaflex fliptops can be seen in just about any design where the head physically attaches to the top of a speaker cabinet. Anytime I see a 210, 410 or 810 cabinet, lets face it, the SVT/810 rig again, was one of the first if not THE first amplifier to use a cluster of smaller speakers for bass amplification. I’d have to say we’re unique in that we were the first bass amp “only” company.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing Ampeg?
Oh boy… we could base an entire interview just on that subject alone. In terms of rock ’n’ roll, I think it really was the Rolling Stones that kinda put the SVT and amps of that style on the map and made Ampeg a household name in the rock business. Prior to that, the B15 was used by just about EVERY studio bass player from L.A. to New York and in between. As for “pioneers” of the bass… phew… who WASN’T playing Ampeg!!!
You’d have to have a look at our artist page on our website. And even that still changes from week to week.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find their perfect amp/cab?
Be patient!!! It takes a lot of time and patience, and unfortunately money too. Heck, I work for the company and I’m always experimenting with stuff and seeing how “this head” might work with “that cabinet”. I know what works for me though and THAT’s usually what comes out to the gig with me.
Seriously though, find out what your “bass hero” is using. If you have a player or a sound that just inspires you to pick up your bass and play everyday, find out what he or she uses for gear. You might not be able to afford the biggest or best that they’re using right away but, at least get into that particular brand and work your way up. I remember two of my earliest influences were John Entwistle and Stanley Clarke. Both of whom play(ed) Alembic basses! That was THE sound I was going for. Unfortunately at that time, I didn’t have the bread to buy an Alembic bass and my parents certainly weren’t gonna take out a second mortgage. But I worked my way up, trying out a bunch of different basses until one day, I could afford to buy a used Alembic. From that point, I was “in the club” and started to move up, buying and trading basses until I got what I really wanted.
Try not to let what I call “creature features” deter you from your decision either. What I mean by that is you might absolutely LOVE the way one particular amp sounds but, another brand (brand x) has a “flux capacitor” that does everything BUT make the amp sound great. Go for the amp that SOUNDS GREAT! Even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles or is a few bucks more or weighs a couple of pounds more.
Can you give us a word of advice to young electronics fans who are considering designing their own amp/cab?
Well… again, coming from someone who really shouldn’t be poking around a tube amp with a screwdriver but sometimes does… be careful!!! HAHA!!! I’ve scared myself more than a few times.
Seriously though, you have to ask yourself this one question… Are you designing it for YOURSELF or are you designing it for others? Or both (IE: to market and sell?) If you’re designing it for yourself, the sky is the limit! Have at it and don’t hold back. Just be honest with yourself and build what you need.
If you’re looking to get into “the business”, phew, it’s tough now. There are so many great companies and they’re all vying for market share, store space, artists, etc. Also, safety certifications have really become stringent from what I understand. Stuff that we built 40-50 years ago just would not pass safety certifications these days. But, if you really make a great product, and it’s accessible, I truly do believe that it will find its own way. Lastly, you may be the GREATEST amp builder in the world but you also have to have a good common business sense. Take some basic business courses in school or, if you have a friend that does have a good business sense, bring them in as a partner or at least ask for their advice.
What is the biggest success for you and for your company?
For the company, I’d have to say being in business for the last 68 years, and still building what I consider to be some of the best, kick ass amplifiers in the world. After that, I have to say earning the trust and the business of so many bass players, of ALL levels from around the globe that depend on the Ampeg sound for their livelihood, and/or their shear enjoyment of playing bass. That and having such a dedicated team of co-workers who all pretty much share the same vision of continuing to carry on the legacy of this iconic brand but also innovate with it too.
On a personal note, my biggest success really is being allowed to be a part of it all. I’ve been with the company now going on 15 years and then some. Like I said earlier, first and foremost, I’m a bass player. I’ve been an Ampeg player since day one so in a way, it’s like growing up and getting to go play ball for your home team! Ampeg has allowed me to get my name out to the world as a player and as “the Ampeg Guy” as well as brought me to places on this planet I never in a million years thought I’d visit. Like my Dad used to say to me… “You’ve done all right for a kid from Dracut, MA.”
Are you preparing a new model/new design or maybe some other bass product, etc. If not, what are your future plans?
Always!!!! But if I tell you, I’d have to kill you! LOL!!! No seriously… we are always scheming up new things. A lot of times though, they won’t even tell me what’s on the roadmap because they know I’ll get all excited about it and blab it to the public. I will tell you this though…. It’s bigger than an iPhone but smaller than a Mack truck… how’s that?
Anything else to share…
Be sure to keep in touch with all things Ampeg via our website… www.ampeg.com as well as our YouTube Channel, Ampeg.TV! And for up to date fun stuff with our artists and they’re “happenings” like us and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Other than that… PLAY MORE BASS!!!
Photos courtesy of Ampeg