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INSIDE: BENSON AMPS
The brainchild of Christopher Benson, Benson Amps may look like vintage-inspired clones, but what comes out is something all their own.
With wait times typically numbering in the months, each Benson is painstakingly built by hand to offer tonal color and control that extends well beyond their minimalist design. Custom circuitry and the top-end components ensure heirloom-quality sound across the entire catalog, from their one-watt Vinny up to their full-size, 30-watt Chimera and Monarch amplifiers.
Benson Amps offer a unique approach to boutique amplification that can only come from a singular vision, bent on making the functional and versatile unforgettable. We spoke with the man behind that vision, Chris Benson, who told us all about tone pirates, magical tone dragons, and how, when you get a Sonic Youth tape stuck in your Astrovan cassette deck, it’s really stuck.
What is Benson Amps?
A small American company that builds high quality and functional amplifiers and pedals for sound-obsessed guitar players of all levels.
Who is Benson Amps?
Christopher Benson and a small team of dedicated employees that work out of our shop in Portland, Oregon
.How did you get started building amps?
I got started by fixing broken amps that people had lying around, teaching myself by using the internet with the goal of saving some cash. I didn’t really get serious until I started apprenticing at Verellen Amps in Seattle, and eventually running the repair and mod shop there and later at Old Town Music in Portland.
When and how did Benson Amps begin?
I’m a relentless tinkerer, so it wasn’t long before cloning the classics gave way to messing around with my own circuits. This eventually turned into the Monarch, Tall Bird reverb, and Gnostic bass amp (which is now discontinued), all of which I built on a per order basis out of my garage for the first several years.
What inspired you to begin, and what inspires you to continue?
I’m a lifelong musician. I love to learn how things work, and I have opinions on how stuff sounds. Making amps that other players find useful and inspiring is insanely gratifying.
How would you describe a Benson amp to someone new to the brand?
The short version is that it is not a clone of any famous amp in history, but discerning players who use famous historical amps will find they compare favorably to the classics. They are really fun to play and are extremely responsive and touch-sensitive. They might be your new best friend.
How is a Benson amp constructed from start to finish?
We build pretty much everything by hand. We have our own cabinet shop where we do the woodworking, and we cover our amps ourselves in-house. The chassis are high-quality aluminum, and they’re made here in Portland. The amps are wired by hand, tested, and assembled by just a few people, including me.
What components, designs, techniques, etc., make Benson Amps unique?
Our designs are minimalist but very flexible and truly road-worthy. I’ve worked on so many amps doing maintenance and repair, have taken note of design and component choices that lead to failure, and have avoided those pitfalls in my own design. There’s also a few unique, semi-secret approaches that make our amps sound and feel the way they do. In summary: Easy to use. Great-sounding. Takes a beating.
How long does it take to make a Benson amp from start to finish?
Once we have all of the parts, and if the team is working together like a well-oiled machine with no hiccups (this never happens), the construction of a single amp takes approximately 16 hours of skilled labor from start to finish, in a roughly assembly-line-esque fashion.
What inspires your creative process?
I am quite obsessed with sound, music, and making high-quality expressions of both. I have a hard time cutting corners on important stuff, but I also don’t buy into chasing magical tone dragons. In other words, we are very evidence-based in the decisions we make. If I can hear a positive difference in using a different component or design element, I have no problem making that change to the line. The amps aren’t cheap, but they’re not really made to any limiting price point.
They’re literally just the best we can do with no compromises. That is reflected in the high price, but I think the sheer number of customers who hang onto their Benson Amps (the used market on them is tiny) attests to the level of satisfaction guitarists have with our stuff.
What is the spirit of Benson Amps?
A bunch of tone pirates sailing a ship made out of a Chevy Astrovan that has a Sonic Youth cassette stuck in the radio.
What is the Benson Amps mission?
To serve musicians by making high-quality, great-sounding, and aesthetically pleasing devices.
Where does Benson Amps go from here?
We’re always coming out with new amps, like our Nathan Jr., which will be an amazing grab-and-go, low-watt gig machine, a new hybrid bass amp with an amazing-sounding direct out, and we’ll be expanding our pedal range beyond the Preamp pedal.
Is there anything else you’d like for our customers to know about Benson Amps?
I’m surprised and grateful to have a thriving business, building gear that musicians love and use. It’s not easy work, but I’m so thankful for it, and I look forward to serving the musical community for many years to come.