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Kickass Tube Amps Made from Vintage Radios? Square Amps' Matt Richards Tells All!

(Image credit: Square Amps)

WHO: Matt Richards, owner/builder of Square Amps
WHAT: Manufacturer of kickass guitar amps (often made from vintage radios), pedals, Bluetooth speakers and more
WHERE: Austin, Texas;
WHEN: Since 2013

Where’d you get the Square Amps idea?

I fell in love with radio at an early age while playing with CB’s my grandpa had lying around. That kicked off my interest in electronics tinkering. Fast forward a few years, and I started restoring tube radios for fun. One day I came across a big RCA tabletop radio and it just hit me that I had all the ingredients to build an interesting amp — so I did, and it turned out great.

Where do you find the vintage radios that become your amps?

All over the place: antique shops, eBay, HAM radio fests, garage sales, flea markets. The hunt is one of my favorite things about what I do. I enjoy meeting the people I get the radios from; they’re always interesting characters with great stories.

What do your amps typically cost?

The radio amps are $600 to $700 shipped anywhere in the U.S. The Doyle combos are $999 shipped; the solid state mini amps are $150 shipped and the Red and Scenic drive pedals are $125 shipped.

Speaking of which, do guitarists complain about being distracted by the glowing visual awesomeness of your Scenic Drive and Red Drive pedals? Also, what’s the difference between the two?

I haven’t had anyone complain about being distracted by the glow, but that re-design is still relatively new — so the jury is still out! The Red Drive is more of a wooly boost/fuzz; the Scenic Drive is a heavy fuzz/overdrive with a bit more presence and bite.

I have a few more pedal ideas in the works in the vein of old-school fuzz tones. Stay tuned for those!

Of course, all your amps are unique, but — in terms of tone — is there a unifying thread or quality?

The most unifying aspect of each build is the overall 3D meaty tone I get, no matter what size enclosures I use. That’s something I strive for in every amp I build — making the smallest amps sound huge.

Who’s using your amps?

Everyone from casual bedroom guitarists to Grammy-winning players. I’d say my main audiences are session guitarists and recording studios. My amps are extremely versatile, sound huge in the studio and really accent each player’s unique style. I have some guys who play out with them mic’d up in bigger venues as well and they really like the tones they have been able to crank out. All of my amps have a ¼ out for use with larger cabs for more volume if so desired.

Any famous Square Amps players/fans?

Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb (RCA Studio A Nashville), Sun Studios, Vance Powell (Sputnik Sound Nashville), Neil Fallon (Clutch), Justin Johnson, Rafael Moreira (American Idol, The Voice).

Anything else you'd like people to know?

My amps aren’t a novelty gimmick; they’re tone tools built to help guitarists achieve great tones in a unique package. Also, I’m not re-working tube radios into amps. I’m gutting the radio chassis and building a whole new amp inside from scratch. I use all new quality parts and build everything into the existing chassis and enclosure.

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.