Builder Profile: Todd Sharp Amplifiers

The internet is flooded with music gear recommendations and advice from every corner of the industry. This is especially true for guitar players, with countless forums and message boards dedicated to debates surrounding analog vs. digital, vintage vs. modern — the information dump is vast.

The boutique amp market is certainly not immune to the chatter of the gear obsessed, but one brand's name in particular is being dropped more and more frequently from within the smoke–stained walls of Nashville’s honky tonks to the swankiest of Music City’s recording studios.

JOAT 20RT Head

Todd Sharp is the “the guy,” “the amp guru,” “the secret, but probably not for long.” So who is this guy? With a little research, I realized that though I hadn’t ever heard his name, I’d been listening to his guitar playing for years.

Before opening Nashville Amplifier Service in 1994 and then Todd Sharp Amps in 2016, Sharp enjoyed a fruitful career of touring and studio work. He leant his guitar chops to many artists, including Hall and Oates, Delbert McClinton, and Eric Clapton.

As a guitar player himself, it makes sense that he’s getting recognition from Nashville’s elite because he knows intimately what they’re after.

When I step into Todd Sharp’s shop on a Tuesday afternoon in Nashville, I’m greeted by the sounds of distant amplifiers and the clacking of bolts on wood in the showroom up front.

The showroom is where I find the man himself, piecing one of his creations together — a new combo model that will soon be ready to play. It becomes apparent that hands rarely stop moving around here, and Sharp continues to work as he tells me how this all began.

How did you first become interested in amps and building?

Well, I guess it started when I was around seven years old. In 1963, HAM radio was a pretty big deal — like Boy Scouts for tech heads — and I guess that’s what started me learning about electronics.

After a few years, I started playing guitar and lost interest in the HAM and circuit building. But I often joke that my first AC30 got me back into it. That thing used to blow up so often that I eventually started opening it up and trying to figure out what was wrong with it.

I started repairing amps for friends in Nashville, and I eventually opened Nashville Amplifier Service in 1994.

Todd Sharp

You spent a lot of your early career as a guitar player for Hall and Oates, among other artists. How has that experience from a player’s perspective informed your amp builds?

My approach to building an amp was always as a player. I wanted to make the best guitar amp I’d ever heard. I’ve seen a lot of other boutique builds (without naming names) that are basically clones of classic amps. Mine aren’t really based on any certain make or model.

When you repair amps for 20 years, you get a chance to see how similar most amps are in their design and tone paths. There are some slight differences, but going through them over the years, it’s amazing how similar they really are.

I always wondered why people hadn’t tried to tailor the gain structure and dynamics of an amp in different ways.

What’s a feature that is unique to your amps?

I try to build amps that allow that thing happening at your fingertips to come through." - Todd Sharp

My JOAT amps don’t employ a traditional tone stack. We could talk about bass, mid, and treble all day long, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the feel. That’s what players are after, that’s where so much tone happens. It’s in the touch.

I try to build amps that allow that thing happening at your fingertips to come through. The “Attitude” knob is a tone stack on a rotary switch that sets the gain and biasing in the first tube. Basically, it can adjust multiple parameters at once with a single control.

I also have a “Low Cut” switch, which changes the way the signal gets coupled in two places, and a “High Cut” switch placed at the end of the amp rather than in the preamp stage. I figured it was better to let everything go all the way through the amp before subtracting things.

With that setup, you are working with signal at a much higher stage, so it requires heavier components to handle that. This setup gives a unique type of natural compression to the amps, which is such an important aspect for a player’s tone.

Todd Sharp's Shop

Your reverb tank is a heavy looking piece of hardware. What’s going on there?

Well, if I had an accountant or business manager, they’d probably tell me I’m spending too much in materials [laughs]. But I don’t care about how practical it is, I just want it to sound amazing.

The reverb I build is actually two tanks with free–floating springs. It’s driven by two tubes rather than one and has a specialty wound transformer. That hardware is mounted on rubber shocks, making the whole piece free–floating as well. That additional suspension gives a really smooth plate sounding reverb, and I haven’t found a better sound yet.

Aesthetically, the amps look beautiful. Where did the design come from?

I like to joke that it’s not furniture, it’s supposed to get banged up and played. We use poplar and cherry for the boxes, and I like the natural finish look. We stain the poplar orange and the cherry red. We also have a blue stain and tolex finishes available, as well, though I think beat up wood looks cooler than torn tolex over time.

With the logo, I wanted something that looked sharp and crisp to go with our name. The squared–off boxes and radial cuts on the edges all lean toward that.

So what brought on the combo model, and how is it different?

JOAT Single 12" Combo

The combo is here to meet the demand for something a little more portable. I’ve gotten away with the head and cab setup for the last year and a half, and I still think it’s the best option sonically, but people aren’t always willingness to haul that much gear.

The major difference with the combo is that it doesn’t have our reverb built in. It’s just too big to make it into the box. We also use pine and a tolex finish for this model. The absence of the reverb helps bring the price down a bit.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much in line with the JOAT heads I offer now, which are in a 20, 30, or 45 watt option with the reverb and tremolo built in.

What’s the future look like for Todd Sharp Amps?

I don’t really know yet. My approach to a lot of this isn’t that practical, which I guess is obvious. I guess I plan to remain a guitar player who builds amplifiers.

So far, I’ve been building these really straight ahead amps for players who want great tone and response from their hands. I don’t know if I’ll ever be building lots of varied models or multi–channel amps. I hope to stay a small company that builds a few things really well.

I do have some ideas as far as other products go. For example, I may eventually build my reverb unit as a separate box. I also have a design for a verb, tremolo and EFX loop buffering box which I’ve been putting some thought into. For now, though, I just want to keep building the best sounding guitar amps I possibly can.

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