Amp-making a passion for Waterloo musician - Republic-Times | News

Amp-making a passion for Waterloo musician

By on April 18, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Pictured is Scott Kuhnert of Longbeard Amplification in Waterloo with his Boss Tom amp and several guitars. (Sean McGowan photo)

Not only does Waterloo musician Scott Kuhnert supply “Southern Illinois hillbilly sounds” as lead singer of The Coal Jimmys, he also helps other artists achieve a greater sound quality through a unique side project.

Kuhnert, 52, started Longbeard Amplification out of his home in 2015. 

With a background as an office products repairman, Kuhnert began modifying affordable silverface Fender amps for his own use, as the vintage products were out of his price range.

“I kind of got into this by accident,” he said of turning it into a business. “I had always, since I was a teen, done this as a hobby.”

Waterloo native David Anderson of Tritone Guitars in St. Louis put on a Tritone Expo several years ago highlighting area instrument manufacturers. Knowing Kuhnert designed his own amps, Anderson asked him to bring one to the event.

“I explained to him that I wasn’t in the business, and he said, ‘Well, maybe you ought to be.’ So I went and it turned out a lot of guys playing through the amps liked them,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This wasn’t what I expected, but I guess I need to learn how to open a business now.”

The business, named for Kuhnert’s love of turkey hunting, has sold about 25 amps over the years, with his main customers being from the St. Louis area. One such customer is Larry Rosenhoffer of local country rock band The Trophy Mules.

“I’m all about my passions. My problem is I always have too many,” Kuhnert expressed. “Turkey hunting is one of them.”

In keeping with the turkey theme, Kuhnert named his most popular amp the Lil’ Jake after a young male turkey. The Boss Tom is named after a big Thanksgiving Turkey and is going for $2,099.

Selling for $1,600, the Lil’ Jake was inspired by the Fender Princeton Reverb amp. Kuhnert said he and Anderson frequently hung out in the past and had a conversation one day about the Princeton being the best option for any style of music.

“We said the Princeton was the best except that it was a little underpowered. So there were things that could be improved and I set out to do that,” Kuhnert recalled.

With some circuitry changes and adjustments to the power, the Lil’ Jake was born. The amp helped Kuhnert’s business win the Made in St. Louis Tone Poll conducted by Tritone Guitars in  February.

“It was neat,” he said of the recognition. “It was a kind of verification that someone else likes what I’m doing,” Kuhnert said.

To design his amps, Kuhnert said he starts with a chassis and does the soldering by hand. His cabinets come from Greg Hopkins of Vintage-Amp Restoration in St. Louis. His face plates are also locally made.

Additionally, he installs Weber speakers out of Indiana, referring to the parts he uses as “top quality.”

“My thing is, I hate repairs. So I want to make an amp that I never get back in the shop unless it needs new tubes,” he said. “I try to overbuild the amp to where if somebody abuses them, they’ll still work.”

Based off a classic Fender design, Kuhnert includes modifications he said improves the tone of the amp. These vary from putting in soul switches to increase sensitivity to adding a dwell control to adjust the reverb settings.

“The problem with the reverb is it’s all or nothing,” Kuhnert explained.

Last year, Kuhnert showcased his amps at the National Association of Music Merchants in Anaheim, Calif., where famous musicians such as blind country guitarist Johnny Hiland and country artist Brent Mason played through Longbeards.

“You’re a little starstruck as a guitar player, but once you start talking gear, you’re just a guitar player talking about gear,” he said of his interactions with the national artists.

While he hasn’t yet sold to anyone famous, Kuhnert said he is in talks with some folks who “have been signed to good recording contracts.”

“It builds every year,” Kuhnert said of the business. “It’s something where I’ll be able to devote full-time to playing music and building amps when I retire (as a school counselor at Hazelwood School District in St. Louis).”

Kuhnert said amps are made to order and customers should leave eight weeks for delivery. For more information or to place an order, go to longbeardamps.com.

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net