Gar Gillies and Garnet Amps: The Herzog

Zander's picture

Garnet Amplification is a company that we doubt most people have heard of, but Garnet amps have DEFINITELY made music that most people (at least in our western culture) have heard. Fender and Marshall are the big names in electric amplification. Of course, there are other names you're probably familiar with: Ampeg, Peavey, Line 6, Randall, Crate, Ampeg, Roland, etc... The reasons you haven't heard of Garnet Amps are numerous:

  • No top-tier music act associated with the brand
  • Ugly packaging
  • Place of origin
  • Country of origin
  • Lack of additional endorsement opportunities

These just are the first reasons that come to mind. Yes, for the record, I think Garnet has ugly amps.

Garnet Amplification's biggest name act is the "probably heard of" part: The Guess Who. Now if this was just another recounting of "Band Y used Equipment Z", the story wouldn't be nearly so interesting. You might also know that Randy Bachman was the lead guitarist for The Guess Who. One of the things you might not have known is that The Guess Who actually emerged from the wheat fields of central Canada - from Winnipeg. Here's the story of how "American Woman" came to sound like it does:

Gar Gillies was a 1930s/1940s musician. As he settled down, he lived in Winnipeg and opened a TV and Radio repair shop (sort of like Leo Fender did in the 1940s in Fullerton, California). It was an interesting accident that Randy Bachman did some rather costly experimentation as a boy learning how to play electric guitar. Not being satisfied with the sounds he was getting from his amp and guitar, he did something very dangerous (especially with vacuum tube amplifiers)... After plugging in his guitar to his amplifier, he plugged the output of THAT first amplifier into the input of another. After a few minutes of playing new sounds that he immediately fell in love with, the amps both blew up.

Fortunately, Bachman was not so embarrassed with what he'd done and he took the blown amps to Gillies' shop for repair. A friendship and eventually, a new line of amps was born. Most specifically, the plugging of one amp into another was the precipitating factor in the development of piece of equipment that lead to the world-famous sound of "American Woman": The Herzog. tells a much fuller story of Gillies, Bachman, and The Herzog.

Some food for thought: What makes the Herzog rather interesting from an amplification/overdrive/distortion pedal aspect, is that the construction of a Herzog includes a single 12AX7 preamp tube, and a 6V6 powertube. Most companies that have offered (Damage Control USA / Strymon) or are offering tube distortion pedals (AMT, ElectroHarmonix) have built designs that include only 12AX7 preamp tubes. The Herzog is almost like an old Fender Tweed Champ that has been tweaked in the output section with a power resistor or two to convert most of the current to heat and attenuate the signal back down to instrument-level (-10db). Without the power resistors, that signal could go to a speaker. In essence, it's possible to build a kit Fender Champ, and put in a switch and power resistors that will change its function from Herzog, to Champ, depending on whether it's to go into another amplifier, or into a speaker.

Here's a review of a Garnet Amps re-issue Herzog by Scott Faris:

Garnet Amps ended up amplifying everyone in The Guess Who. By endorsing The Guess Who, Garnet did end up getting access to a larger audience of buyers and Garnet amps sold all over Canada. The likely case is that Garnet COULD have been as big as Fender is now. However, Garnet closed its doors in 1989. As can be found on the company website, the Garnet company over-estimated its market, and built too many amplifiers. It went bust.

Given it's accidental birth, The Herzog is a very cool all-tube "vintage" effect that will eventually get built here for rental at Thermionic. We'll also get the schematic up in our Wiki for you to build your own... Not tomorrow, but we'll get it up... Eventually...

Gar Gillies' and Randy Bachman's Herzog Distortion Effect