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EBS 35 Years: Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

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EBS 35 Years: Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

EBS 35 Years: Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson Written by Joel McIver

Thirty-five years is a long time to be in business.

The Beatles only managed eight years. ABBA just about made it to ten. Even Led Zeppelin split after only twelve—and yet the unique creative partnership of Bo L. Engberg and Mats Kristoffersson, the CEO and Technical Director respectively of the pioneering amp and effects company EBS, is as strong as ever after a third of a century and counting.

“Thirty-five years? I can hardly believe it!” chuckles Bo when we ask him how he and Mats have managed to stay the course for so long. “You know, I’ve always had a voice in my head that said ‘Never give up—keep going!’”

Sound business sense and determination aren’t the only factors behind the company’s success, though. The fact that Bo and Mats complement each other so well, not just in business and product design but also in personality, has played a huge part.

“He and I are very different in every way,” chuckles Bo, “but we’re a very good team. I’m an extrovert, so I have no problem with meeting people, anywhere and everywhere. My other strength is that I can run the business efficiently. Mats is an incredible designer and builder. I’ve never seen anyone else like him. He can handle tubes, transistors, and digital technology—he has no limits.”

From this description by his effervescent business partner, you’d expect Mats to be a quiet fellow who keeps his own counsel, and indeed EBS’s design supremo is more reflective than outspoken. Dig deeper, though, and he admits that as a teenage electronics whiz, he once boasted: “I’m going to build the best bass amp in the world one day!”

Asked if he’s achieved this goal yet, Mats laughs and says: “I know we’ve made some incredible amps here, because some of the world’s greatest bassists tell us that themselves. Are they the best in the world? I’ll let those players decide—and you know what? There are still bass amps to come.”

EBS 35 Years: Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

EBS founders, Mats Kristoffersson and Bo Engberg at the EBS Headquarters in Stockholm, 2023.

EBS 35 Years- Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

The first ever EBS product, the famous EBS-1 preamp from 1988.

EBS 35 Years- Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

Billy Sheehan, Mats and Bo at the startup meeting for the Billy Sheehan Signature Drive in Billy’s studio in Sherman Oaks, California, January 2011.

EBS 35 Years- Interview with the founders of EBS, CEO Bo Engberg and Tech Director Mats Kristoffersson

04 The EBS Magni 502 combo. One of the most recent creations from EBS, released in 2022.

All images courtesy of EBS

The Early Days

“When I was a small boy, even before I started school,” begins Bo, “I had three big interests—music, electronics and business. I had no problem with the first one, but I knew nothing about the other two: I just knew I liked them. When I was a kid, music was the most important of the three. One of my friends at school made a bass guitar—a very bad one!—but I played it and I loved it.”

Like Bo, Mats was an early starter when it came to playing music. “I started playing drums when I was nine, and moved to bass a year later,” he remembers. “I went to a very good music school, and I moved pretty fast: I was playing jazz-rock and Santana covers by the late Seventies. I was pretty dedicated—sometimes I’d rehearse or play shows six days a week. It was tough, with 15 guys on stage and not much money between us all, but we had a great time.”

Rocking out was fun for Bo too, but he already knew he wanted to go into a music-related business rather than pay his bills as a musician. “I played in a weekend band, but it was just a hobby,” he says. “My first amp was a 30-watt Hagstrom with two 15-inch speakers. It wasn’t very loud, but it was fun. My bass was an Epiphone. I didn’t have any money, so that was all I could afford.”

And the name of his band? “We called ourselves Järngänget, which means Iron Gang, ha ha! Later I joined Stämmbandet, playing Chicago covers, and finally I ended up in a band called Moby Dick. After that I worked as a studio and production technician for a long time, around 15 years, but I was always planning to set up an electronics and audio company. One of my early ventures into gear design had already taken place in 1979, when I started my first company and developed a guitar amp for a Swedish guitar dealer, Jan Hallquisth. Jan’s nickname was ‘Halkan’, so that’s what I called his amp.”

The decision to enter electronics was equally easy for Mats, who remembers: “The moment came when I had to choose whether to enter a technical career or become a professional musician, but I always knew which way to go.”

Taking Effect

By 1985 Bo had plunged his savings into his company, Efekt Elektronik—misspelled with a single F because another company existed called Effekt Elektronik when he tried to register the name. He didn’t bother seeking out venture capital or private equity, preferring to finance everything himself and maintain complete control.

Meanwhile, Mats was hard at work studying electronics, and this was where the two men first crossed paths. “I had a dream in 1985,” explains Bo. “I wanted to create a kind of Kalman filter that reduces feedback from acoustic instruments and automatically tunes them by reducing their resonant frequencies. I asked two guys who knew electronics to come in and try to solve this problem, but it was too advanced for them.”

Fortunately for Bo and the future of the bass gear industry, the young electronics enthusiasts knew where to go for help. “They said to me, ‘We have a guy in our class called Mats Kristoffersson who helps companies out with this kind of thing’,” adds Bo. “They talked to him and he came by. I presented my idea to Mats, and he solved the problem—and then he said, ‘Okay, what’s our next project?’ That’s how we started working together.”

The turning-point came in 1988, when Bo told Mats about an concept he had for a bass guitar preamplifier. The idea behind the unit was to make a simple but incredible-sounding preamp based on the the highest-quality components available.

The initials of the new Efekt Bass System were soon adopted by users as the name of the company that made it, and so EBS was born, with the EBS-1 preamp its launch product. “After that, we changed our focus, because we now knew what we wanted to do,” nods Mats, pointing to a whole list of new innovations that followed shortly afterwards. “We were the first company to put a treble horn in a 4×10” cab, and among the first to put a compressor in an amplifier,” he explains, noting in passing that these features are now commonplace worldwide.

Milestones

By 1992 EBS had developed and launched several new power amps, including the EPS-600, EP-200 and EB-800, as well as several cabinet models and the 240-watt Taurus combo. The last of these was a dream come true for bassists looking for the perfect balance of portability and tone modulation.
“It was our first combo,” says Bo, “so we wanted to do something very special with it. We came up with the idea of filling it with effects—a compressor, octaver, and chorus. This was really new for bass players: they hadn’t seen this before.”

The Taurus effects were so popular that a whole new product line was born for EBS when Bo and Mats split the effects away from the amp and sold them as individual pedals. “People loved the effects that were in the amps,” explains Bo, “so I told Mats, ‘Why don’t we take them out and make separate pedals instead of having them built into the amplifier?’”

In 1995, the Fafner hybrid bass amp—a preamp and power amp occupying the same unit—was launched. Named after a fearsome dragon from Norse mythology, the Fafner quickly stamped the EBS name across this market sector, and returned in 2011 as the Fafner II Extreme Edition. A dual-channel beast, the Fafner II became widely used by bands across the genre spectrum: at one point, three out of the five nominees in the American Grammy Awards’ Metal Album Of The Year category were recorded with an EBS Fafner II, including the winning album—even though none of the bassists concerned were official EBS endorsers.
By the late Nineties, EBS equipment had spread across the globe and was available in Japan, the USA and most of Europe. When the company’s tenth anniversary came around, its catalogue included the Fafner amp, combos, cabinets and pedals—including the famous UniChorus, MultiComp and OctaBass—as well as all manner of accessories. An Anniversary edition of the EBS-1 appeared in 1998, the Classic-1, reminding us which preamp started it all.

In more recent years, EBS has developed the two popular HD360 and TD660 solid-state amplifiers. The HD has become a favourite with artists such as Tal Wilkenfeld, while the TD is often seen among backline rentals as well as on tour.

As the years have passed, EBS has continued to respond to the changing demands of the marketplace. The NeoLine cab series found a ready home among metal bands from Sweden and abroad thanks to their punchy response, while the EBS Classic line of cabinets and amps was immediately embraced by a new wave of classic rock bands who needed warmth, power and reliability from their bass gear.
Take note, too, of the remarkable technology behind the lightweight Class-D Reidmar range of amps, launched in 2011. In ancient Norse literature, Reidmar was the dwarf who slew Fafner, although in EBS’s case the two products coexist peacefully. Mats’s Soft Clip solution ensures that sound quality is maintained even when the automatic limiter that controls clipping is pushed to its limits, a formerly insoluble issue for Class-D amps.

These days, you’ll find dozens of EBS products ready for the world’s bassists. There’s no stopping EBS now.

The People—And The Future

EBS has an enviable range of high-profile bass players on its roster. Back in the early days, renowned bassists such as Stefan Brolund and the late Kofi-Bentsi Enchill were invaluable partners for EBS, for their feedback during the product development process as well as their roadshow appearances.
Two world-renowned bass players that you’ll see proudly using EBS pedals are Billy Sheehan and Stanley Clarke. Billy’s acclaimed Drive pedal is the result of painstaking research, with the great bassist and the company designers working together to build the ultimate overdrive. The original version of the Drive was introduced at Winter NAMM 2013, while the later Deluxe model added even more essential functionality.

As for the Stanley Clarke Signature Wah-Wah/Tone Filter pedal, which offers the player wah and tone filter options as well as the ability to approach the Clarke active tone with a passive bass, it’s the perfect synthesis of bass innovation and manufacturing know-how. EBS also released Stanley’s signature Acoustic Preamp in 2021, an essential unit for any upright bass player.

Other artists whose collaborations with EBS have been long and productive include the session great Tal Wilkenfeld; Henrik Linder of the unique Dirty Loops; and Prince’s former bassist Dywane Thomas Jr., better known as MonoNeon. The music of the pop star Harry Styles, who won a Grammy for Album of the Year in early 2023, also rests on EBS thanks to Elin Sandberg, a Swede who the company has supported since she was 17, just before she moved to the USA to study at Berklee.

If you’re an American football fan, you may have heard the EBS bass tone underpinning recent half-time shows led by musical director and bassist Adam Blackstone. Meanwhile, another high-profile EBS user is Alex Al, the bass player on the Arsenio Hall and George Lopez shows, who has played with a list of world-class artists such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, and Lionel Richie.

Sweden is known internationally for its heavy metal bands, and many heavyweight bassists from that movement, particularly its Gothenburg branch, trust EBS to deliver the low end. These include the former In Flames bass player Peter Iwers and At The Gates founder Jonas Björler. American metal titans Steve Di Giorgio of Testament and John Campbell of Lamb Of God also place their faith in EBS: it’s little surprise that the company is the main bass backline provider at the annual Sweden Rock Festival, the country’s biggest event for lovers of loud music.

Ask Bo to name a memorable EBS moment from the last 35 years and he’ll tell you about the night that the old millennium became the new one. “I’ll always remember December 31, 1999!” he tells us. “We were watching the Swedish rock group Europe, who were playing their huge hit ‘The Final Countdown’ on a boat in the middle of Stockholm. It was minus 15 degrees—really, really cold—and they were using the biggest amp rig that EBS has ever built. The sound was incredible, and it was a total validation for us of all the hard work we’d done to get to that point.”

It’s 24 years since that memorable night, but the mission to serve bassists’ needs continues as strongly as ever with the launch of the new EBS Magni combo, an amp for which your lower back will thank you forever. “The Magni is very loud, and very light,” confirms Mats. “It’s actually the lightest bass combo we’ve ever made, at around 15 kilos, or 33 pounds, and it has a double porting system so the sound will go everywhere. The drummer sitting next to you will say, ‘Hey, you sound great!’

Ultimately, EBS is able to meet the needs of a huge international community of bass players because Bo and Mats are the same people at heart that they used to be all those years ago—bassists who love music in all its forms.

“It’s simple,” says Bo. “EBS is staffed by dedicated musicians whose interest and focus is bass. Our company represents every imaginable style of music—rock, pop, blues, jazz, funk, Latin, traditional folk music and so on. For us, there are no boundaries. Music touches me, regardless of style, musician or lyrical message—everything from classical music to metal.”

Thirty-five years since Bo and Mats put their heads together and the EBS-1 was born, their mission is the same as it ever was. “As a bass player, you have a dream tone in mind,” says Bo. “That tone is what we’ll deliver to you. Just as we were in 1988, we’re at your service!”

Visit online at ebssweden.com

Bass Videos

Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

Bassist Derek Frank…

Many of you will remember the last time I chatted with Derek Frank was back in 2017. The main thing that impressed me was how busy Derek was and how he juggled playing with many huge acts.

Now, I am happy to hear that Derek launched a new album last March titled “Origin Story” where he digs deep into his roots and pays homage to Pittsburg.

Join me as we get caught up after all these years and hear the details about the new album, how Derek gets his sound, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Stephen Bradley

Visit Online:

www.derekfrank.com
www.instagram.com/derekfrankbass
www.youtube.com/derekfrankbass
www.facebook.com/derekfrankbass

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

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Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

Bassist Graham Stanush…

Return to Dust is keeping Grunge alive and well! They have a new self-titled album that went out on May 3rd, 2024 and will be super busy promoting this project in the near future.

Graham Stanush is the bass powerhouse driving their sound and adding vocals to the mix. Join me as we hear all about Graham’s musical journey, details about the new album, how he gets his sound and their plans for the future.

Visit Online:

linktr.ee/returntodust
instagram.com/returntodustband/
twitter.com/Returntodustbnd
youtube.com/@returntodustband
tiktok.com/@returntodustband

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes

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Interview With Bassist Erick Jesus Coomes

Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes…

It is always great to meet a super busy bassist who simply exudes a love for music and his instrument. Erick “Jesus” Coomes fits this description exactly. Hailing from Southern California, “Jesus” co-founded and plays bass for Lettuce and has found his groove playing with numerous other musicians.

Join us as we hear of his musical journey, how he gets his sound, his ongoing projects, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Bob Forte

Visit Online

www.lettucefunk.com
IG @jesuscsuperstar
FB@jesuscoomes
FB @lettucefunk

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

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Features

Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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