ABOUT:: Billy Z
fender 5c5 pro mod
      ABOUT:: Billy Z's Fat Mod Marshall 2203
      ABOUT:: Jet City 20 Mod
      ABOUT:: Fender Bassman head Mod

I learned Electronics from my Father, who was an Electronics Technician for the Military. Around 1967, I became interested in electric guitar and started on the Bass, a second hand Harmony H22. Along with a Supro 1x15 tube Thunderbolt Bass amp, 50w, 2x6l6’s and Jensen speaker.

Of course these instruments occasionally needed some TLC due to the abuse they received while I learned “Tobacco Road” and “You’re Pushing too Hard” and other current garage band fare.

My father was very skilled at repairing and modifying these and other guitars and amplifiers, to make them play better, sound better and mostly LOUDER. He taught me which end of the soldering iron to hold, how to discharge the capacitors so I quit getting electrocuted when I poked around inside the Amps, (even though I was smart enough to unplug them first). We chiseled a Humbucking pickup into an old Les Paul Jr. and stripped the finish and filed the frets off a 1957 Strat to make it better (ha ha). At least I never sawed off the horns.

I discovered by accident that there were hidden tones in the Stratocaster, if you set the 3 way switch just right. My Dad helped me to add a switch so I could get all 3 pickups or any 2. Way cool. That was in 1968. Later, I saw G&L did the same thing on the Legacy in the early 90’s.

At first, all we ever had were tube amps. I had been using a 1965 Bassman with two 2x12 cabs, when the local music store friend called me in to show me the latest and greatest amp, totally new, the best. It had a footswitch and reverb, graphic eq, built in DISTORTION and 170w. You could conquer the world with the new Acoustic Solid State wonder.

All I had to do was trade in my old amp and a few hundred dollars, Wow. I now had it all, the best sound ever. I would be the next Jimi Hendrix. Only one problem, at the club I was playing (you could make a decent living in those days playing clubs), my sound was not happening. Actually, it was hard to play, did not feel right, I had lost my MOJO.

It was about 6 or 8 months before I began to question the Acoustic 470. I tried different guitars, speakers etc. Then one day while practicing at home on a little Supro 1x8 tube amp. I realized I loved the sound I was getting, what was different at the club? I had earlier acquired an old suitcase looking amp that said it was a fender, kind of small, 12” speaker , really old and ratty looking, for $25 in a pawn shop. It sounded really good at home. But, I thought it would never be loud enough at the gig. It was bigger than the Supro and out of frustration I decided “what the hell” I’m taking it to the gig. WOW, it worked and was loud enough, barely. The sound was even better cranked all the way up though. I was onto something. I still have that Fender Deluxe. I later acquired 3 or 4 more, but none of them sounded as Great as that pawn shop prize. I discovered my original one from 1957 had a P12Q instead of the more common P12R Jensen . It made all the difference in tone.

Anyway, over the years when ever I had a problem I would take my amp to a TV repair man, which was what they were called back then. Sometimes they fixed the problem more often they did not. But they always charge me a bundle. I figured I could do that and save myself a lot of money for nothing. Using what my father had taught me about Capacitors, Resistors, Transformers, impedance, voltage etc. I began to take apart my own amps and discovered I could usually fix them. I did need some test gear and Dad came through with a Simpson 260 meter and soldering iron and he explained the difference between electronic and automotive solder.

I began to experiment too. I wanted distortion, sustain, and tone. I got a 1966 Dual Showman. It was loud and clean. But I had an idea. What if I took one channel and ran it into the other channel? Hmm, how do I do it? With the help of a friend and a little coke, we came up with a MOD and it worked great. I could plug into the first channel and even adjust the tone and gain going into the second channel, we put a level control on the back of the amp and it totally exceeded my expectations. This was in 1972.

After that, I wanted to learn all about Tube amps. My mother was a librarian and she taught me how to use the library. We did not have an internet, videos, dvd’s, tablature, cell phones, voice mail, We had Libraries! I did a lot of inter library loans checking out books from all over the world even The USSR. You see, by 1972 it was all over for tubes, Solid state had conquered and tubes were never to be made again, they were obsolete. But, there were old dusty books in quiet forgotten places all over the world. And I read them, studied them, and bought them at thrift stores. All about tube electronics, and audio, sound, theory, speaker technology, Hifi, Tape recorders, everything. I was a voracious reader of all things to do with sound.

I did more experiments, tube swapping, speakers, resistors, capacitors, changing them adding them, rearranging them. All while listening to what happened. Always critical of the sound it produced. I did things that others said you could not do and found it worked as I thought it should. I learned to think for myself and not let others ideas or prejudices dictate what path I should follow. I listened and learned for myself. I know if it works or not.

I have learned to use the best components I can, I don’t believe in disposable anything.
I recycle what ever I can, I repair old speakers, and if I can’t repair them I recone them. I restore old amplifiers and guitars; keeping as much original as is possible. Even, two prong AC cords. Of course, I install 3 wire ac cords and I reccomend them. But, I have many old vintage amplifiers with 2 prong ac cords; they do however have good Power supply capacitors. Also, test for polarity when playing out at old miswired clubs. I have seen electricians insist on a 3 wire cord and leave the doghouse cover off the power supply in Fender amp(now that is dangerous). My god it was a dangerous world I grew up in, we did not wear helmets either. Ok, I digress.

When you bring me your Guitar or Amplifier I will always approach it as if it were my own instrument. I play test everyone before it leaves my shop. If I don’t like it, then it needs more work. I will be brutally honest with you, but it is all about helping you to get the very most out of your guitar or amp. So that you can play and sound your finest at all times and with confidence.

Billy Z
Bill Zumwalt Alaska