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The Unauthorized History of Trainwreck Circuits
This history will be made up by using both the recollections of Ken Fischer, founder of Trainwreck, and stories told by the voices in his head. Ken is a professional and is guided through the voices by Fireplace (Leona) a Len ape Native American Medicine Woman of the Turtle Tribe. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
The Childhood Years:
Sarah: Ken's mom was a typical housewife during the years he was growing up. He was the first of three children and was morn in May of 1945. He has a brother named Scott and a sister named Mona. Their dad worked as both a machinist and a mechanic.
Ken: I remember as a young kid my dad worked for American LaFrance. American LaFrance was to fire engines what Rolls Royce is to automobiles. Part of my dad's Job was to drive these fire engines to their new home. Often my dad would take me along on these rides. Back in the Fifties a fire engine held great wonder to the boys in Bayonne, NJ where I grew up. Riding on a roaring 12 cylinder monster, decked out in twenty coats of red lacquer, and chrome work deep enough to swim in really turned me on to things mechanical. Toys such as Erector Sets didn't hurt this fascination with motors and gears and such to be sure. My best friend Vinny had a fantastic set of Lionel "O" Gauge Electric trains. Here was the mechanical stuff I loved along with electrical wiring.
VG (Voices of Girls): At age 12 Ken moved to Colonial, NJ with his family. His dad made friends with an electronics engineer from Lockheed who lived two blocks away. Ken's dad would take him along to this "guru's" house. Pat had radio gear, stereo gear, and a Harley in his garage. Pat would give Lenny's boy boxes of electronic parts and instruct him on building all sorts of neat electronic devices to experiment on. At age 15 Ken took on two new interests, guitars and girls! While he was given a guitar and lessons, he wasn't given girl lessons. Then he went on to take electronics at the vocational high school. That's where he first met Dennis Kager (Sundown Amplifiers). Years later these two would work together at Ampeg in Linden, New Jersey.
Ken: One summer I got a job at Marcus Transformer company. They were in Avenel, New Jersey along with the RCA Tube Factory. Marcus made transformers for the big electric utility companies. While they made some "small" transformers, they also made power station transformers so large that they had doors and hallways built into them for service and inspection. After Marcus, I took electronics as my vocation and studied the subject for real in New York. Back then, every male had to serve in the military and when my turn came I joined the U.S. Navy.
Klaatu: I came to Earth to stop such nonsense, but Ken was out of the Navy by the time I visited your planet a second time. I found him working in Washington D.C. running a dry cleaning store. I got him a job with Diamond T.V., a sales and repair chane with stores in Virginia, Maryland, and the main shop in D.C. He became a T.V. repairman, on the road in both states and the district. This is hard to believe, but the T.V. repair industry is not always honest. Ken took a very dim view of this fact and soon left the T.V. repair game, Washington D.C. and moved back to New Jersey.
The Middle Period:
Ken: While I worked in Washington D.C., I lived in both Silver Spring and Wheaton, Maryland. Up the road from where I lived was a Yamaha motorcycle dealer. I had a deposit on a Rotary Jet 80. When I made the decision to move back to Jersey, I packed my car, picked up the bike and headed north. That Yamaha was my first motorcycle, but at that point it was just a new toy and I wasn't yet hooked. Back in New Jersey I moved back into my family home and just hung out and relaxed for a while.
After a while my cash was running low so I bought a newspaper and looked for a job. Ampeg was hiring assembly line help so I went down to Linden and got that job. After a couple of weeks the people on the assembly line to the higher ups, "Hey, this guy really knows electronics!" I was called into the front office and questioned. and the next thing I knew I was the repair tech for the final test room. Later I was indicted into the engineering department. I worked there a few years but quit the very day Ampeg was sold and no longer under the control of musicians.
Also, by this time I was hooked on motorcycles. While working at Ampeg, I saved the money I needed to buy a bright red and chrome BSA Lightning Rocket. Everyone wanted Triumph Bonnevilles back then but the BSA had the American LaFrance look of my childhood. As fate would have it my car died, so the money was split between buying a 1963 Ford and a Honda Superhawk. The Superhawk wasn't all that super, but I was hooked on motorcycles.
Victor Frankenstein: Motorcycles turned Ken into a real monster. He was in love with the freedom one feels when riding a bike. Unlike myself, he never had a mishap on his machines. Unlike myself, he never had to endure being stitched back together. Ken decided to use his skills and became a motorcycle mechanic. After all, every time you tune-up or fix a bike you have to take it for a test ride! What more could one ask for? He rode with guys who all had riding names. Ken's riding name was "Trainwreck."
Through the Seventies motorcycles were everywhere and he was kept busy. By the Eighties bikes had all but vanished from the scene and times were hard. Ken always did repairs and mods to his friends amplifiers and with some prodding from Steve "Whammy" Hayes, a local guitar builder and repairman, placed an ad in a local musician's newspaper offering his repair and modification services.
I started Trainwreck Circuits in 1981. By the time a year had passed I was doing too much business to remain underground. On March 12, 1982, I registered the Trainwreck Circuits name at the county office for such things. I started a Trainwreck business account at the bank, and got my state sales tax number. By the end of 1982 word of mouth about my repairs and mods was so strong, I stopped all advertising. At Ampeg I had developed my own troubleshooting system. This system works so well that on the average it takes longer to remove and replace the chassis from a combo or head than it takes to find the problem. With that edge, anyone who wanted to could wait and watch while I did their amp's repairs. Of course, if I had to order a part like a transformer, the amp would stay until the part came in. This "fix me while you wait" policy had people driving to me from hundreds of miles away, and soon set up appointments to handle this work.
I also was doing modifications, but had a real disdain for the typical universal mods being done at the time. I would work to give each amp the best voice it was capable of. That generally means having to engineer a different custom mod for each individual amp. Along about this time I got a call from "String King" Dean Farley. At the time he was a Groove Tubes salesman, Dean and Aspen (owner of Groove Tubes) set me up with a GT dealership. Thought brought in even more amp repairs and mods and I soon became a "tube amp only" shop. From that point I stopped all transistor amp, PA, and keyboard repair. Groove Tubes were the standard tubes in Trainwreck amps for years. When Aspen switched to the EL-34 from China, I started matching my own tubes. There hasn't been a tube from China to this day that I've ever liked. Groove Tubes always had good EL-84's and I'd recommend them for any EL-84 equipped amp. Grade #4 for a "Wreck," and grade #6 for a J.M.I. Vox.
In 1982 I ran across some NOS (new old stock) Ampeg 2 X 12 cabinets. They had no logos, so my friend Rich Levitch designed and made me the first Trainwreck logos. It's this logo that I've always used on my amps. When Rich designed the logo I wasn't even thinking of building amps yet. They were made to put on "Trainwreck" Ampeg cabinets! It would take a new friend to persuade me to build him an amp of my own design.
Casper McCloud: I came over from England to play John Lennon in the original production of "Beatle mania" at the Winter Garden. Marshall Crenshaw and I alternated, one of the other, playing John in either the early or late show each day. I left my J.M.I. AC-30's over in England, but did bring a J.M.I. AC-50 head. After "Beatle mania," L landed a deal with Atlantic Records. Janis Roeg, who worked for Atlantic, was best friends with Ken's sister Mona, and she arranged for me to visit him at his shop. Ken and I became friends. I told Kenny that I needed a high gain amp for my new album. Atlantic had purchased a new Boogie for me and whilst it had the gain, the tone wasn't the same as my AC-30's where were still back in England. I finished the album using the Boogie, but I worked with Ken on developing a high gain class "A" EL-84 amp for my personal use. In late 1982 he had a 15-watt prototype built on a gutted Fender chassis. By the first month of 1983 the 30-watt version built on his own chassis was complete. He named this amp "Ginger" after my wife.
When other players heard my amp they wanted him to build them one too. I wanted it to be called "The Kenny Amp," but he chose the name "Liverpool 30." He picked this name because the amplifier sounded like a British amp. He didn't foresee that people would connect Liverpool with the Beatles, and of course the Beatles with Vox. For year's people thought the Liverpool was a Vox copy, when in fact it is an entirely unique amp completely of Ken's design.
Ken: After I built the first Liverpool I got many requests from my friends to build them one too. The money from repairs and mods was far greater than the profit on a 'Pool, so I only built them in my spare time. My brother's second ex-wife Debi came up with the wood-burned faceplates. She's also the one who suggested using hardwood cabinets for the heads. She liked the looks of the hardwood Boogies that I worked on, and hated the looks of all the "ugly black boxes, " like Fender, Vox, Marshall and other classics! I decided to give them names instead of serial numbers to keep it on a personal level. In fact, many of my best friends I've met through selling them a Trainwreck Amp.
Les Krygier: I saw Ken's ad in a local musician's paper and had heard about his reputation, for hot rodding Marshall amplifiers, by word of mouth. I always had at least six Marshall Super Lead, Model 1959, 100-watt heads and scores of cabinets on hand. The sound I was going for at the time was the tone on the first Van Halen album.
Ken dialed that one right in, but said he though he could do better on the solo tones if he modded an amp just for lead work. With six heads I had nothing to lose, and within a few weeks he had developed a one channel, one input pre-amp and phase inverter for one of my heads. The modified amp had more gain on two than it did stock on ten. It was very thick and very loud, and harmonics literally jumped out of it.
When my band started playing the Marshalls were too loud. Ken converted them to 6V6 output tubes run on a variac at 95 volts. This was nice, but I really like the EL-34 sound. I had played his Liverpool amp and really liked it, but still wanted EL-34 power. By the first month of 1984 the Express amp was born. I bought two and sold all my Marshall heads except one that had been modded. Later I also bought a Liverpool head and a Strat with single coils.
Ken: When repairing and doing mod work on guitar and bass amps you soon find who stands behind their products with easy-to-obtain parts and technical support. I wish I could list all the companies from best to worst, but the worst are just so awful I couldn't tell you about them without being hit with a lawsuit. I can say I never had a parts of technical support problem with Mesa Boogie or Carvin. That's not to say there may have been companies like these two out there. I worked on several brands that I never needed factory parts or technical support from. The point is by the mid 1980's many companies started saying to me, "We can no longer sell you parts unless you become an authorized warranty service center." Imagine a company that won't sell your favourite tech the parts needed to fix your amp (even if it's out of warranty). Shows how much they care about you once they've made their sale! Sounds like a sad tale, but because they were giving me such a hard time about obtaining their parts, I stopped doing repairs and mods and went to building Trainwreck Amps full time. It looks like I even owe the "Bad Guys" some thanks!
About My Health
In 1988 I caught a bad case of the flu. This left me with chronic fatigue syndrome and a vestibular (balance) disorder. In July 1994 I added bleeding ulcers to this list. Kill the rumours, not me. I don't have AIDS or a brain tumour! The CFIDS and vestibular disorders continue. I build amps when I feel up to it. Who was that doctor who cured Leo?!
Derek Jan: Originally I'd go to Trainwreck to get my Boogie services. The Boogie was a good amp, but I was interested in controlling my sound from the guitar. On a large stage I didn't want to have to run back to a footswitch to go from clean to dirty.
Ken interjects: Boogie now makes amps you can control from your guitar.
Derek: I bought a Trainwreck Express first. If you ever listened to T.V., radio, or MTV, you've heard my Express! It was used on many major commercials, and I rented it to major rack artists who used it on their hit recordings. It was also a Guitar Player magazine product review amp. After a while I also picked up a Liverpool 30 and really got into the Class "A" EL84 sound.
Then one day in 1990 I was visiting Ken and saw a Trainwreck amp with four knobs instead of the normal five. When I asked him about it he said "This one's not for production, I built it for myself." I asked him to please build just one more for my personal use, and Ken agreed to do so. I'm always in major studios and on international tours, and everywhere I went people wanted a "Rocket" like mine. Blame me for starting the demand for the Rocket. It's become my favourite "Wreck".
Ken: There are lots of people who helped Trainwreck on the way to becoming what it is today. Too many to list here. I'd like to thank all the people who have helped me to build the Trainwreck name into what it has become. I'd especially like to thank the people who use Trainwreck Amplifiers as part of their musical creativity. Finally, you might ask why I did my own history and interview? SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT!
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