Year of Bass Amplification: Teegarden Audio with Bret Teegarden
Continuing with our Year of Bass Amplification, we are honored to bring you Teegarden Audio, LLC, including an in-depth interview with Bret Teegarden…
How did you get your start in music?
I began piano lessons in the 1st grade. Music was important to my family and my uncle was a very talented jazz musician. My grandfather was an accomplished guitar player and played professionally in the Tulsa, OK area. While continuing piano lessons, I began playing trumpet in the 5th grade and played all the way through college.
In my middle school years, my father had an acoustic guitar that he would let me tinker with. He wasn’t a professional, but, he did show me how to play a few chords and riffs. I would sit in my bedroom, spinning my favorite LP vinyl records, trying to play along. For some reason, I was drawn to the bass lines. Maybe it was just easier! One day I took the two highest strings off the acoustic guitar, spread the remaining four out and proceeded to follow along with the bass lines of my favorite bands like Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Grand Funk Railroad, ZZ Top, America, Yes, The Beatles, and even Barry Manilow! (did I just say that?)
Do you play bass? If so, are you still an active player?
I play bass every time a new Fatboy Tube DI comes off our production line and I test it to meet my sonic expectations, but, that’s about all I play anymore.
Shortly after I started learning bass lines using my father’s modified acoustic guitar, he felt compelled to buy me a real bass. One of the best days of my life. I started playing bass with my church youth choir back in the small town of Sapulpa, close to Tulsa, Oklahoma. This eventually led to playing in real garage bands with friends from school. We even landed gigs playing elementary school dances or parties while we were still in junior high. We were terrible but as long as the drummer was going, the kids were dancing!
I still carried on with my participation in marching and concert band as a trumpet player but our high school jazz band/pep band afforded me the opportunity to spread my wings on bass. It quickly became the instrument I spent most of my time with.
Between the jazz band and accompanying the pop portions of high school choir concerts to playing in bands with friends, I had a bass around my neck most every day of the week.
My bass playing took me on to college where I played on a nationally syndicated television show which helped pay for school. My time there also provided me an outlet to work on the technical side of things within the television department. I spent many hours learning to wire patch bays and modifying gear. I left college early to pursue my music career playing professionally with a few Christian artists (I’ll spare you all the name dropping!). I also became involved in the Tulsa music and recording scene as a bass player and later as a recording engineer. I continued to play bass on numerous independent artist records, commercial and corporate film scores while engineering and mixing many of those projects.
My touring and recording work led to my move to Nashville in 1988 where I worked as an engineer/producer, primarily in the Contemporary Christian Music field (again, I’ll spare the name dropping). I spent 25 years in Nashville as a recording engineer until I decided to start Teegarden Audio. I became so immersed as a recording engineer that I pretty much laid down my desire to be a session/touring bassist. It can happen pretty quickly when you get an opportunity to record so many of the top bass players in Music City. I never lost my love for the bass guitar as an instrument though.
What does your company build? Do you limit your efforts to bass amplification exclusively? If so why?
Teegarden Audio builds (and plans to build) numerous devices for all of the recording process. From mic preamps & DI boxes to microphones, speakers, EQs and compressors.
Our very first product was The Fatboy Tube DI and though it doesn’t fall under the category of “Bass Amplification” it is related. Many players these days are moving away from large clunky stage rigs and prefer a more direct based approach. Mark Clay, bassist for the CCM supergroup Newsong, walks on stage every night, during their packed Winter Jam concerts, with nothing but a Bluesman Vintage Bass and a Teegarden Audio Fatboy Tube DI. His sound is massive, fills the arena, yet doesn’t get in the way of anything. No amps on stage. He needed a DI that didn’t just match the impedance of his guitar to the sound system but actually offered him the tone of an amp for the FOH as well as their in-ear monitors.
The Fatboy Tube DI can be used for any instrument but bass players seem to be drawn to it the most. Maybe it’s because I am a bass player and used a bass during the R&D process to fine tune the unit to what I wanted to hear as a recording engineer and former player.
How did you get started building? Tell us about your first build… what prompted you to do it? What were the challenges or lessons learned?
I’ve met a lot of people though my 35+ year career in the music business. I’ve use almost every piece of recording equipment made from the 50s to date and I’ve owned quite a bit of it over the years as well. We, as recording engineers and musicians, are always striving to be better with sound, even though the music industry as a whole is satisfied with the quality of phone/computer speakers and compressed MP3 files. Some say it doesn’t matter, but to me, the best sound you can start with is paramount, no matter how it ends up in the end. The better your beginning, the better the final result. It’s a law of nature that can’t be broken. You can’t recreate what is not there.
I got started building equipment through friendships with two gentlemen that spent many years designing and building custom audio recording gear in Hollywood through the 60s, 70s and 80s. Their creations were used on so many hit records that there would not be room to list here.
As you will recall, I had experience in college working with soldering irons and tinkering inside gear. I also spent time working for a company that installed sound systems in churches, schools and corporate meeting rooms. I had built and maintained a few recording studios over the years so it was a natural fit to begin building gear. The music business is evolving and changing. For older professionals I highly recommend being open to reinventing yourself. It’s OK if your role and contributions to the industry change with age. I saw my own career changing with the proliferation of home studios and the decline of physical music product sales. I still use my engineering skills every week but not to the extent I did in the 90s. The biggest challenge for me has been figuring out how to channel all my experience and skill sets into something that will benefit others. I feel I have found that with Teegarden Audio. I don’t necessarily have decades of experience working in the pro audio gear manufacturing business but I do feel I have contributions I can still make.
How did you learn electronics/acoustics? Did you have a mentor?
After meeting the gentlemen I mentioned above and after about 2 years of get-togethers, talking about their history of recording and gear, these gentlemen began teaching me the intricacies of their design philosophy and gear building methods. After I successfully built my first simple tube gain block I felt it was only a short matter of time (and money) until they would share a design of a product for me to begin building and selling. I expected I would be given schematics and blueprints to build some of the same awesome gear they had been telling and teaching me about, some of the same gear I had had the occasional opportunity to use throughout my recording career. Boy was I wrong! They forced me to go through the arduous process of learning how to draw schematics, learning the math behind circuits and component selection, learning to layout PCB boards, learning how to work with metal fabricators, learning the business side of ordering parts and inventory control. Nothing was handed to me by them. They wanted me to “own” my work. They instilled the importance of making my circuits and gear perform to MY standards, to MY ear, and my experience. I am truly thankful for their guidance.
How do you select the materials you choose to build with? Do you prefer an old-school approach or a modern, high-tech incorporation?
Part of my mentoring and education was about the importance of selecting the right parts for the sound you are after. Also, because of my mentors’ long time involvement in the industry, they had spent countless R&D hours selecting components for their builds. Hours were spent researching the best metals to use in enclosures, etc. That was one benefit they did hand to me. However, they did not allow me to take their word for it. I had to prove the sonic advantages to myself through my own listening tests. I had to use the prototypes in my own recording sessions.
A lot of what we do at Teegarden Audio has it’s roots in old-school and vintage design. We also incorporate many modern techniques as well. One aspect of our approach we are most excited about is our designs are not copies or clones of other gear whose parts have been unobtainable for decades. They are not inspired by adaptations of vintage gear that were mainstays in the market. We are finding new ways to bring the principles of Vintage sound into our new era of recording.
What do you feel are the most important characteristics in bass sound?
Sound and reliability are the only characteristics that are important. Like in a car race, the only important things are how well the car stays together and how fast it runs. The number of gages and paint color don’t matter at the finish line.
What are a few things you would consider that make your products unique?
Simplicity and character are what make the Fatboy Tube DI so unique. Sometimes I say it’s what it doesn’t have that makes it a favorite among session players and touring musicians. We don’t add feature for marketing purposes because more often than not, those features diminish the sound a device is capable of.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians using your products?
Since I have spent so many years of my career in Nashville, our local community was a fertile ground for the Fatboy Tube DI. As a recording engineer, I had worked with a good number of top bassists and other musicians. When I would call them to try out my prototypes, they didn’t hesitate. Session players like Gary Lunn, Matthew Pierson, Mark Hill, Jimmie Lee Sloas, Craig Nelson, Luis Espalliat, Danny O’Langherty and Jay Demarcus were early users and clients. You can hear the Fatboy Tube DI in concerts of Carrie Underwood, Reba, Rascal Flatts, Dylan Scott, Trace Adkins and many others. Keyboard players like Blair Masters, Christian Cullen and Chris Carver are using the Fatboy Tube DI on their keyboard rigs and analog synths. Some notable players and producers from the west coast like Jay Graydon, Todd Homme and Tony Espinoza have also added the Fatboy Tube DI to their arsenal.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find their perfect sound?
Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again.
Can you give us a word of advice to young electronics fans who are considering designing their own amp/cab?
The costs and time commitments will be more than you could ever imagine. My mentors constantly remind me, “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”
What is the biggest success for you and for your company?
Hearing reports back from users about how the Fatboy Tube DI has affected their playing and career are the best we could ever ask for. It was pretty fun to win the Vintage King Nashville Bass DI Shootout in 2016 where we were up against 18 other top level devices.
Are you preparing a new model/new designs?
We have a new solid state Active DI coming out this fall, called The Magic DI, which will sell at a more affordable price point of under $250. We have reimagined the 48v powered Active DI and feel it will be a game changer for many players and sound engineers. It is especially tailored for acoustic instrument pickups but sounds great on electric bass too. It would be perfect for bass players who desire a more hi-fi sound than they get with tube devices or are looking for the perfect complement for their upright basses. Our prototypes have been out on the road this summer with Kenny Loggins. He and his guitar player, Scott Bernard, are using them on their acoustic guitars. They love them and are saying they have solved their long time struggle with getting a great acoustic guitar sound live. I’ve tested it side by side with the Fatboy Tube DI and I have to say, while different, the new Magic DI is on par.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?
Green is my favorite color.
Visit online at teegardenaudio.com