City Paper is not for tourists
The death of tubes, those glowing bulbs found in all old radios and amplifiers, was first forecast in the late 1950s, as the electronics industry shifted toward transistors, which were cheaper, more dependable, and could produce more power with less distortion than tubes. But rockers have always had a skeptical view of fidelity in both romantic relationships and in tube amps’ sonic distortion as a prized quantity in rock and roll. Rock guitarists, unlike jazz players, never embraced the transition to transistors, even with the smartest electronics engineers on the planet having spent decades trying to re-create the tube sound using solid-state means. Until they get it right, there’ll always be a need for people who know the difference between a 12AX7 and a 12AU7. William Leaf, founder of the Kensington amp repair shop Prototypes, and longtime sidekick Tommy Lepson are still willing to troubleshoot that buzz in your Bandmaster or get you soaking in reverb from your Reverberocket again. Leaf says the name comes from the company’s original mission in the early ’60s: to build prototypes for inventors. But the shift to a repair shop began early on when a Chuck Levin Music Center staffer stopped by with a broken accordion that nobody else would fix. Then Chuck’s began sending its customers’ broken amps over to the shop. “Tubes aren’t going away,” says Leaf.