Archive | TAKE 5 interviews

Take 5: Cliff Smith Audio – Amp Repair Service includes Lawrence

Amp burnt up

Amp need a little repair?

Not long after saying goodbye to Tom Wagner, Mass Street Music’s former go-to for pro audio/amp repair, we were fortunate enough to find Cliff Smith Audio from Overland Park to service our customers. While we knew his work was top notch, we came to realize there was much more to Cliff than just amp repair. An electrical engineer by trade (in the medical field, as a matter of fact), a musician by choice, and an audio guru by virtue of both, Cliff is a venerable encyclopedia of vintage amp and electrical knowledge. To him, your audio gear isn’t simply “electronics” – it’s an extension of your tone, and therefore, an extension of yourself.”

Cliff graciously took the time to answer a few questions for us. You might happen to see him in the store on Tuesdays, when he picks up and returns repairs, so be sure to welcome him and say howdy.

Graphic for Cliff Smith Audio Repair

This is not really Cliff, but he is a madman with the tools.

MSM: What do you think plays the biggest part in the tone that comes from your amp? Tubes, transformers, speakers, guitar, the player, something else?

Cliff: Outside of the player and the guitar (not going there!) in order of importance:

Speakers: Your speakers make the most difference, in terms of bang for the buck. In certain situations you can even double your volume level, just by changing types. Experiment till you find the ones for you.

Tubes: Different types of tube do have different sounds. I encourage folks to experiment with what they can. No one can tell you what is the right for you or your amp.

Output Transformer: It seems like the cheap small ones made in China sound about 60% as good as the bigger US made ones.

A good finger-jointed non-particle board cab will sound maybe 15% better than a butt-jointed pressboard cabinet.

Changing/tweaking these components can improve the tone maybe 5-10%. You can modify things farther, but you will be vastly changing the usefulness and versatility of the amp.

Power Transformer:
Least bang for the buck. Usually reserved for those with a blown transformer.

MSM: New production vs. vintage gear: what’s your preference? Any new manufacturers you feel are doing a good job replicating the sought-after tone and build quality of yesteryear?

Cliff: Like everything else in this disposable world, most things that were built years ago were made to last for decades. Nowadays, you must pay a big premium for new production gear to be made that well. There are quite a few manufacturers that are building quality equipment, but it is amazing to me how many of them copy the errors/shortcomings in the classic circuits. There are many improvements that can be made on these circuits that will improve noise levels and reliability without sacrificing the quality of the tone.

MSM: Tubes: NOS vs. new. What’s your take?

Cliff: My take is that reliability is the main issue with tubes. The greatest tubes in the world don’t do you any good if the amp quits working correctly. I stick with new tubes that are under warranty for the vast majority of my repairs unless the customer specs something different. I have had many “NOS” tubes over the years and in my experience they can sound very good, but it seems that a large percentage of them have issues with microphonics, and noise. These aspects are not detected with normal tube testers, but must be weeded out by ear. It can be a crapshoot, especially when buying NOS tubes on the web.

MSM: You have a quote on your website – “Great tone is not a destination, it’s a journey.” What does that quote mean to you?

Cliff: No matter how good your tone may be, it seems that most of us lust for better sound. Getting just the right sound is a process of learning and growing – it can take years, maybe your whole life! Keep experimenting until you find what works for you.

MSM: What’s one of the toughest amp or audio repairs you’ve ever run into? 

Cliff: Whatever amp I have on the bench that I am struggling with at the moment – changes all the time!

Cliff picks up and returns repairs from Mass Street Music every Tuesday. He’s even Fender certified (as well as Ampeg, Crate, Visual Sound and many more).  There is a $45 bench fee, which is applicable to your repair. Those in a time crunch can call Cliff directly at 913-912-7065.



Take 5: A few words with Brad Davis & Dan Miller

Brad Davis (left) and Dan Miller (right)

Brad Davis (L) and Dan Miller (R) are great musicians that give back tenfold in sharing their knowledge through workshops and books.

Extraordinary musicians and teachers Dan Miller (Flatpicking Guitar magazine) and Brad Davis (plays with just about everyone from Marty Stuart to Billy Bob Thornton), are currently on the road with their great workshop “Improving Your Rhythm & Timing & Developing a Groove” which they brought to Mass St Music on Dec. 4. The next day they stopped back by the shop and hung out for a while with boss Jim B., and were kind enough to share some thoughts with us on teaching and what’s in store for the new year ahead. While Dan did most of the talking in the interview, Brad had some very kind words for Mass Street Music at the end. They also let us shoot a little video of them – check them out here playing then moving into a great rendition of  ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’. Brad Davis also shows his stuff here on his new Daley guitar.

Anne: Besides playing and doing workshops together, you two have collaborated on two books, Flatpicking the Blues, and the Guitar Player’s Guide to Developing Speed, Tone and Accuracy – do you have any others collaborations in the works?

Dan Miller: Yes – we’ve been working on the Guitar Player’s Guide to Timing, Rhythm and Groove – it’ll be out as a DVD, book and CD in spring 2013.

Anne: Can anyone learn to play?

Dan: I think so – everyone learns a little differently. I taught martial arts for years and realized that some learn visually, some from listening and some kinetically – you have to move their hand into the right chord shape. With the right teacher, with the right amount of patience, and practice – you have to be willing to put the time into practicing – anyone can strum a tune, or accompany another musician. As long as you can get to a place where you’re having fun, it’s worth it. My goal is to teach them so they can get going on their own and keep learning. I like teaching fundamentals…finding melody by ear, creating your own solo – not copying others.

Anne: What keeps you teaching?

Dan: I’ve always loved it…passing on what we know to other people. It’s the most enjoyable thing I do and it’s great when you see the light bulb go on. I do about 70 workshops a year. Flatpicking Guitar magazine is on its 17th year – I’ve interviewed about 200 professional guitar players and asked all the questions about how others approach it. People seem to appreciate that I can speak from so many viewpoints because I’ve interviewed these folks.

Dan: (to Brad, still playing guitar) …You have anything to add?

Brad: No, you’re getting it man…I’ve been in a lot of music stores, here – the UK, and this is the coolest I’ve been to in a long, long time. You don’t want to leave, you want hang out for a while.

– It was great to see Dan and Brad. If you have the opportunity to take a workshop from them, or hear them play live, do yourself a good turn and go.



Take 5 – Interview with Seuf Guitar’s Dave Seuferling

OF-20 Blonde

OF-20 Blonde

(NOTE 2012: This interview was conducted not long after we began carrying Seuf Guitars back in 2009. In the past few years, due to name copyright issues, Dave has changed the name of his killer guitars from OF and SF to the current OH Series for ‘Old Hand’. Whatever you want to call them, we are proud to carry these amazing instruments. – MSM)

Dave Seuferling has been repairing and refinishing guitars for many years in Kansas City, and earlier this year he stopped by Mass Street Music and showed us a few guitars he had built. We took them on right away. These are relic’d guitars, strat and tele styles, his OF, or ‘Old Friend’ series (2012: Now ‘OH’ for “Old Hand”). Not only were they incredibly playable and resonant with a super comfortable feel, but these were relics with appearance details that rival real vintage. No kidding. Some even have finish checking, which seemed like an impossible vintage trait to recreate, but Dave did it.

Turns out that Dave’s background as a chemist in the Coatings field, plus his extensive repair and restoration experience helps him recreate authentic details like the checking and precisely matching original color finishes. We’ve been carrying his guitars ever since we got our hands on the first one. There aren’t a lot of them around – he takes his time crafting these beauties, and that care shows. They sound incredible (usually loaded with totally top-notch Lindy Fralin pickups), are a joy to play and really, a work of art to behold. Dave was kind enough to let us pick his brain about Seuf Guitars and his techniques (without giving away any trade secrets!) and has some good news for non-relic fans. Enjoy…

Finish checking of OF-20

1 – So many folks seem to think a relic’d guitar is all about the appearance – ‘beating it up’ a bit, but your guitars seem to go much further. What does relic’ing mean to you?

DAVE: It might seem like the relic is simply cosmetics, and obviously the appearance is important.  What I am trying to do is capture the essence of a vintage guitar.  Its about combining the tone and feel of “vintage” along with the look.  After working on a variety of vintage guitars, you begin to notice certain aspects that make them great.   A lot of that is the feel and tone, the fact that it is worn just right, the essence.  That’s what I am going for.  There’s a bond that you have with that old guitar. That’s why I call our relics the Old Friend (NOTE: 2012 – Now OH Old Hand) series.

2 – Your Seuf finishes look really natural when you’ve stressed them. What exactly is your background and how does that influence your finishes?

DAVE: I started out repairing and restoring guitars.  This gives a great perspective on finish color and appearance (along with wear marks).  I try to take a lot of pictures of the vintage guitars so we have a library to reference.  Being a coatings chemist helps out a bit, especially with finding sources for the old lacquers.  It also helps in understanding color matching and how coatings age, which is important to get the correct aged look.

Custom built Gold Top style

Custom built Gold Top style

3 – Not trying to get you to give away your secrets, but where do you even start when trying to create a finish color that matches, say, a vintage Fender?

DAVE: From the repair side of things, especially touch-ups and refins, you learn how to do this.  I had to study a lot of guitars and read a lot of books to understand how the different manufacturers painted.  It starts from the wood prep and continues all the way to the final polishing.  Matching the colors and textures requires using the original type of paint.  Most of the dyes and pigments used in the 50s and 60s are still available, but you have to really search for them.  Nitrocellulose and Acrylic lacquers are also available, but you have to chemically modify them to get it closer to the original paints.  So there is a lot of old paint technology in my shop.

4- Your Seufs have such resonant bodies and necks – what is your criteria?

DAVE: It starts with the wood.  Good wood is the foundation for tone.  In addition, I am a firm believer in thin finishes.  Very heavy finish looks nice, but it tends to dull the wood’s natural resonance.  The hardware is critically important.  Having a good bridges and saddles, a bone nut and well crowned frets all contribute.  I like to hear a bright, crisp ring in the “unplugged” guitar. The electronics should only flavor the tone, they don’t generate it.

Flynn's custom OF-20 12-string

Flynn’s custom OF-20 12-string

5 – Do you do custom work? Could I bring you my brand new tele for a ’59 relic job or something?

Yes, we relic other manufacturers guitars and basses.  For the most authentic ageing, it is best to stick with reissue guitars that have a nitrocellulose finish.  We have relic’d import guitars with poly finish, and they just don’t look right.  In some cases we will strip the finish and start over, which can be pretty expensive.

Custom '64 Strat style

Custom ’64 Strat style



6 – We’d love to see some Seuf basses sometime at Mass St.- any plans for something like that in the future?

Yes indeed, I have an OF-16 bass just about finished.  It’s an Ash body beast!

7 – Are you primarily interested in building vintage style instruments or do you have any crazy prototype instruments up your sleeve we might see someday?

I have a couple of designs out with players right now that I plan to release soon (these are new and shiny, not aged).   These have a much more modern style and tone, but are just as naturally resonant.

8 – Why aren’t you world-famous yet?

For what? 😉

OF-19 Burst

OF-19 Burst

neck wear

neck wear

Early Seuf prototype - '63 Strat style

Early Seuf prototype – ’63 Strat style



OF-19 Black

OF-19 Black




TAKE 5 Interview – Talking Guitars with George Winston


When anyone is asked about George Winston, the majority of folks may respond that they know Winston for his beautiful and unique piano music and extensive knowledge of the form. In truth, he’s also an incredibly accomplished guitarist as well as a harmonica player – and quite an authority on Hawaiian Slack Key playing. We were lucky enough to do a Take 5 interview with George in anticipation of his benefit solo guitar concert on Friday, October 30th at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City. Details of the upcoming concert follow the interview.

1. Some people might be surprised to know you’ve been such an active advocate for Hawaiian Slack Key music with your Dancing Cat Records label for over 21 years. I have several of the discs and didn’t realize you were the man behind the label! How did a pianist become such a Slack Key fan as to start a label?

GEORGE: Actually I am a solo instrumental player on the guitar and the harmonica as well as the piano. Many of the great Hawaiian Slack Key guitarists are influences and inspirations to my own playing, and about 40% of what I play on solo guitar is Hawaiian. I started the label to record much more of the music of these great players.

2. Has your interest in Slack Key influenced your playing of other instruments from acoustic guitar to piano and harmonica?

GEORGE: Very minimal on the piano and harmonica as far as a direct influence, but inspiring for everything I play.

3. You play an unusual Martin D-35 – can you tell us about that and why you had it modified as you have?

GEORGE: I play almost everything in Open G Major (C)-D-G-D-G-B-D from lowest Continue Reading →


Take 5 – Interview with Blazer & Henkes’ Rudie Blazer

Luthier Rudi Blazer

Rudie Blazer

One of today’s most revered luthiers and restorers, Rudie Blazer of Germany’s incredible  Blazer & Henkes Guitars will be visiting Mass St. Music on Saturday, Sept. 26th where he’ll join Jim Baggett and friends for a free Guitar Clinic focusing on Building, Restoration and Repair of fine steel stringed guitars. The clinic is free, and there will be plenty of Q & A time. We thought we’d get a jump start by asking Rudie a few questions –

TAKE 5 (plus 2) with RUDIE BLAZER:

1. I’ve seen you play a great rendition of “Blackberry Rag” and “Beaumont Rag” on What’s your musical background?

RUDIE:  Well, when I try a guitar, like on youtube, I usually play some G runs,  and then try a fiddle tune, to hear what it sounds like. As a kid I had to listen to a lot of classical music, and then it was  the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and after some time Doc Watson, and a lot of Bluegrass. As a musician I work in the local theater, and I play in a Western swingband, using a Gibson ES 125 and a prewar J-200.

2. How did you get into guitar building?

RUDIE:  After leaving school, and doing nothing but playing guitar all day, Continue Reading →