Good craftsman come from all over, but Minnesota is special. Firstly, lying in the heart of the American Mid-West, it is naturally suited to them. Like many vast, landlocked areas there are only two real seasons; winter and road construction. It is the long, deadly winter which breeds craftsmen. With very little else to do, Minnesota has amassed a collection of extraordinary artisans.
Tim Van Tassel is one of them and has been so for the last twenty years. He started by building amps and now makes exquisite VanAmps spring reverb units. His work marries informed, classic design with a lifetime of expertise. Tim builds his units entirely from scratch. He carefully picks out everything from the chicken-head knobs to the snakeskin and tweed covers
Tim Van Tassel
I first met him at a spot of his choice, a wood panelled bar at the Golden Valley Outlet Mall. He was wearing a maroon and blue shirt patterned with eerily realistic Gibsons, Fenders and Rickenbackers. To me, he looked like a more put together Brian Wilson. He was much more sane though, gracious and sober like many Minnesotans. Talking gear is a lovely thing and I could not help get the sense that, beyond my field of perception, our words were being silently sorted into circuits, resistors and wiring.
It is an all too rare pleasure to meet someone so skilled at their work and in touch with their medium. When I visited his workshop, Tim and I sat down and went over every aspect of what he was going to build for my company, Heritage Sounds. Working directly with the crafter means you have the chance together to make something wholly new. We included an extra output on each Solemate that supplied exclusively reverb for studio sends, which was satisfyingly unique. Best of all is picking out the colours; Elephant red, Western brown tooled leather, Marshall black and more. Each one an iconic representation from rock’s back pages.
My personal history with VanAmps goes back several years. I had come into a Sea-foam green VanAmps Solemate through a Liverpool based company that has since shut down. More recently, business between Tim and the UK had slowed, as guitar stores merged or went bust. Around 2009, I remember walking into a store in Denmark Street, London and finding that all the best boutique imports were no longer coming in. This is still largely the case. It is the greatest shame for me that our links are being cut off with companies like VanAmps, who present such compelling statements of diversity and innovation.
Meeting Tim reminded me that as musicians we often do not notice the craftsmen or seek out their stories. Yet our musical experiences are shaped by our relationship to their creations. It is to our greatest benefit to explore and seek out the unique worlds of the greatest builders, rather than needlessly choosing big brands. In doing so, I hope that we can bring a sense of depth and celebration to our musical identity and further the place of loving craft in our community.
Heritage Sounds supports and sell VanAmps Reverbs
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- Tim is a musician, teacher and occasional (ahem) entrepreneur living in East London. His band Look, Stranger! makes highly cerebral synth pop, which Tim sings in a smooth, yet manly falsetto voice. They have put out several EPs and singles to reasonable critical acclaim and utter popular derision. They are definitely going places.