Photo : Kumi Noro
Mr. Akima is a regular customer of our store as an artist and a very trusted amp engineer. He has been active with the legendary band "Marchosias Vamp," "AKIMA & NEOS," and now "Rama Amoeba. He also works as an amp engineer, maintaining, modifying, and building original amplifiers. He is a reliable amp master who adjusts amps from his perspective as a professional engineer and an artist.
Photo : Kumi Noro
I myself, who usually assist various customers with their requests, learned a lot from listening to him. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you. I hope this project will help all of you in your pursuit of the "ideal sound. Let's study together!
I was also working with Paul Rivera on something like a joint development project at that time."
-Thank you very much for your time today!
Akima :. It's nice to meet you too.
-What was it that made you become interested in the inside (circuitry) of amplifiers in the first place?
Akima :. When I first bought an electric guitar...I was in junior high school...electric guitars have volume and tone jacks on them. And electric guitars have a jack, right? I thought that if I plugged my headphones in there, it would produce sound (laughs). That was quite a shock to me and made me realize how ignorant I was. That was the beginning. Also, I used to be an audio fanatic when I was in junior high school. I was an audio fanatic. I guess that's how I got interested in it.
-Did you actually start opening the inside of amplifiers around that time?
Akima : Yes. At first, I fixed a broken shield and looked at the inside of the effector... I think I modified the guitar more than the amp. I changed single pickups and humbucking pickups. And then when I was in high school, music magazines like 'Rockin' f' had just come out. That was in 1976, when I was a freshman in high school, right? There were articles on effects pedals and how to make them. So I actually made effectors. I think the fact that I went to an electronics-related high school also had an influence on me.
-When did you start building, maintaining, and modifying amps in earnest?
Akima : I started to build and maintain/modify amplifiers in earnest. I was building my own amps when I was a college student. I was a bit of an amateur, but I also modified my own amps. After graduating from college, I joined "Kanda Shokai," and that was the time when I was most serious about my work, building Musicman and Maxon effectors, as well as Shure microphones. I did most of the maintenance work. I was also working with Paul Rivera (former Fender amp designer, later founder of the original RIVERA brand) on a joint development project. It was interesting to exchange ideas and give shape to them.
-Paul Rivera...that's amazing. What is he like?
Akima :. He was kind of a good-natured guy at all (laughs).
He said, "Everyone says the same thing. In the end, genre doesn't matter."
-How did you come to produce your original amps?
Akima : "It's the same for everyone. As for the original amplifiers, I didn't start out by saying, "Okay, let's do it! I don't know exactly when it started. At first, I was asked to do it by an acquaintance. Through introductions from acquaintances, I started getting requests from people I didn't know at all, and that's how I got to where I am today. The brand name "Akima & Neos" was taken from the name of my band at the time. In my mind, creating new sounds with an amp and writing songs are the same thing, so I decided to use the same name for the brand as the band name. The band is now Rama Amoeba, so "Akima & Neos" remains as an amplifier brand.
-I'm sure you get orders from a lot of different customers.
Akima : Yes. Oh, that's right. Everyone says the same thing. In the end, it doesn't matter what genre of music you play. So, what guitarists look for in an amp is almost the same. When it comes to sound quality...in terms of the texture of the sound, they all want to be able to "hear through" the amp. It doesn't matter whether it is jazz or heavy metal. When I talk with various people while playing music, it all sounds the same. I think the difference between genres is the difference in guitars. For example, jazz players use boxy guitars, and heavy metal players use sharp-edged guitars with arms (laughs). (Laughs.) There are also different types of pickups. So I think the genre is not the amp but the taste of the guitar. The difference between genres in what you look for in an amp is the degree of crunch. The degree of crunch just depends on the musicality. But the texture is the same for everyone. That was very interesting.
There is also a need for a sound with a mid-range. Even people who are OK with a don-shari sound with no mid-range come to me because they are worried that the sound won't come forward in an ensemble." They bring me CDs of foreign artists who say, "I want this kind of sound," and when I listen to them, I find that they are actually surprisingly not don't sound don'tshari. It may sound don-shy, but there is actually quite a bit of mid-range. After adjusting the sound and playing it through an amp, the result is often something like, "Oh, that's it" (laughs).
-It's interesting. The texture or tone you are looking for is the same, the only difference is the degree of distortion...
Akima : "I think it's interesting. There are also subtle American and British tendencies... I guess it's all about texture. I don't know if it's the difference in amplifiers, but rather the difference in speakers. American people prefer Jensen-type speakers, and British people prefer Celestion-type speakers. I think British people like beautiful sound, and American people are a bit wild.
There are some old Fender Tweeds. Those aren't that different from Marshalls."
-What kind of amps impressed you the most at times?
Akima :. There is a Marshall Bluesbreaker Combo, right? That has two 12-inch amps, right? The one I saw was a (vintage) diamond-shaped one with four 10-inch rounds. I think it is quite rare, but that Bluesbreaker sounded great. I think the circuit of the head is the same, so I think it's the difference in the way of hearing the sound between 2 12" and 4 10". If I were to use Fender, it would be like the difference between Pro Reverb and Super Reverb. So I think that four 10-inch speakers are a very good match for guitars. Two speakers are not enough. On the other hand, four 12-inch cavities are common nowadays, whether it's Marshall or anything else. I have an image that the low end of those speakers are too low-matching. I think they are more HR/HM oriented.
-Can you talk about the characteristics of vintage Marshalls, Fenders, Voxes, and Hiwatts? Of course, there are many different models, but what do you feel are the main characteristics?
Akima :. For example, you have the old Tweed period of Fender. That one is not that different from Marshall. Marshall made it based on the Fender Bassman, but it's almost exactly the same. There's only a little bit of difference. Fender went through minor changes like the white Tolex, and I think the black face is what established Fender. Of course, Marshall's JCM900 and JCM2000 are too modern, and are very different. I'm talking about the 1959s and other 4-inputs up to that point. VOX is a little different. It can't produce a big signal or a big output...to use an analogy, if the others are like trucks, it's like a light truck. But there are tones that can't be produced without it, and they are very delicate and contain a lot of harmonics. If I were to use an acoustic guitar, I would say that it has a great sound, with rich overtones. AC30, for example. High-wattage guitars are a bit different. It is totally different from a Marshall. It has a very distinctive low-mid sound.
American-made ones have the so-called American characteristics. They are lively and bright (laughs).
-You mentioned vacuum tubes. I would like to know the difference between tubes made in Europe and those made in the U.S., or the difference in vacuum tubes depending on the place of origin.
Akima :. Nowadays, we can hardly get the tubes that Europe and the U.S. used to make. It is hard to distinguish between those made in Russia, Slovakia, China, and other places like that. But, in terms of old tubes, I would say American Tube's 6L6 tubes, for example. Well, it is not only tubes, but also all parts. American-made products have the so-called "American" characteristics that you can imagine. They are lively and bright (laughs). European ones have a darker, thicker sound. There are also the characteristics of murad and the image of the country's character. I feel like it reflects that. German music has a linear feel to it. Japanese work is very good, but colorless (laughs). There is no color (laughs). It is interesting to look at the various types.
There is a tendency for each capacitor part to be like that. People who build or modify their own amps often use Sprague's Orange Drop capacitors in their amps because they are good, right? But I don't feel comfortable putting them in European amps, even though they may be suitable for American tubes. So even tubes and capacitors that are generally considered to be good may have some compatibility with the amp itself.
-I also think that speakers and enclosures are important, as mentioned at the beginning of the discussion, but there are times when speakers need to be replaced, for example. Could you tell us what you consider important when replacing speakers?
Akima : Yes. Even if the amp is in good condition, if the speakers are not suitable, the individuality of the sound, or rather, the influence of the speakers, is significant. Even with Marshall, depending on the speakers, the head may not be able to show its full potential. I think you have to put in speakers that match the head. For example, in the case of JCM2000, 900, and 800, just switching to Greenback or Vintage 30 will make them sound like something else. Even with the same amount of gain, the distortion is totally different and the sound is softer. Even people I know say, "The Marshall JCM2000 at that live house sounds great," but when I go to see it in person, it is often a very ordinary head. But when you check it out, you find that the cabinet is a 1960V, or the speakers are Vintage 30, and so on. You can't tell that at a glance. The only thing that makes people say, "This head is the best" is the difference in the speakers underneath, not the top. I think it's better not to disregard the speakers, but to be concerned about them in various ways. The stock speakers may not be the best, but they are not always the best. There are plenty of speakers that can bring out the potential of the head more. Guitars also have pickups that can be replaced. Speakers used to be very expensive, but now they are much more affordable. They are a bit big, so it can be a hassle, but I think it's worth it to try changing them.
There's a larger area where the parts are soldered together, so hand-wiring is much stronger in that aspect."
-Next, let's talk about the keyword "handmade. Your amplifiers are handmade, and what you call vintage amplifiers are also handmade, aren't they? Of course, there are many good mass-produced amps, but what do you think of the advantages or charms of handmade amps?
Akima : I think that handmade amps are good. It is easy to make a product with a printed circuit board, and if the same parts were used, there would not be much difference...theoretically. However, a printed circuit board has a copper foil like base, and electricity runs through it. Then you solder the parts to it. I think that the copper foil is very thin, and if you do part-to-part (point-to-point), the wiring becomes very thick. I think that makes a big difference. Of course, the wiring material also changes the sound.
When I think of electronics, I have an image of it being like a water pipe. The tone of a guitar is converted into an electrical signal, or voltage. When the attack comes in with a "bang", the amp (transformer/power supply part) needs a lot of current at the moment of playing. If there is no "bang" at that moment, the attack cannot be expressed. If that happens, the whole tone changes. You see this in synthesizers, too, with the attack/release. It is related to the degree of strength and weakness, so when you want the attack, the electricity must flow properly. The thicker the water pipe, the more "thump" you get when you want the attack. Another detail is durability. In fact, an amp head, or even a cabinet, generates minute vibrations when it is constantly being played. The area where the parts are soldered to the printed circuit board is large, so hand-wiring is by far stronger in this aspect.
-I am sure that vintage amplifiers are still in use, even though they are decades old, and sometimes I am moved by them.
Akima :. 例えばヴィンテージの60年代とか…60年代って言うと世間一般ではいわゆる骨董品じゃないですか。 The only place where these instruments are still in use is in the musical instrument industry. People are still using vintage 60's instruments. At that time, TVs were still using vacuum tubes, and color TVs were just starting to appear. So, when you think about it, most people would say, "That's a scary thing, you can't use such an old thing. But if you look inside an amp, for example, an amp that was released last year...hand-wiring aside...I would trust it a lot more than something like that. It's not that I'm afraid of it. It's almost always fixable. The printed circuit board amps sold today use a lot of specialized parts to reduce costs. It is the same as with ordinary home appliances: after 7 to 8 years, there is no warranty on the parts. Without those parts, you can't fix the malfunction. So it is doubtful if the products sold today will still be in use 30 years from now. On the other hand, I think that the products from the 1960s will probably remain. They can be fixed forever.
Vacuum tubes. I think they're very acoustic elements."
-While bass amplifiers have been greatly modernized in recent years, guitar amplifiers have always been dominated by tube amplifiers (even if the variety has increased), haven't they? What do you think attracts people to tube amps?
Akima : What is it about tube amps that attracts people to them? For example, an acoustic guitar has resonance not only from the strings but also from the body and various other parts of the instrument, and a lot of overtones are added on top of the actual sound, which is very pleasing. This is true of acoustic instruments in general, but with electric guitars, there are almost no overtones in the parts that are plugged out. It's a matter of course, but the harmonics and flavor of an electric guitar are largely created by the amp. It is only when the harmonics (overtones) are created that the sound becomes "oh, cool. So, an electric guitar and a tube amp are like two in one. I think the tube amp is what brings out the electric guitar's electric guitar character.
Distorting the sound is just a way of increasing the overtones. It's all about tone production. The vacuum tubes are also used to create the pleasant sound of overtones. Tubes are the only ones that can produce the flow from clean to crunch to hard distortion in a very smooth and proper manner. Transistors distort at a certain moment. Even when I turn down the volume on the guitar, the distortion remains. It's like a small distorted sound. So I think the only thing that really satisfies me is vacuum tubes. The overtones. There are different types of overtones, such as even-numbered overtones and odd-numbered overtones, and I think that vacuum tubes strike a good balance between a pleasant feeling and a wildness. I think that the vacuum tube is a very acoustic element. It has progressed and taken the form of transistors and ICs, but... in terms of electronics, it may be a smooth replacement... but from a musical point of view, it is not an evolution at all. Acoustically, it's not wrong to advance technology, but I don't think it's making things better at the moment. It's just becoming more convenient.
-I'm sure you have heard a lot of different sounds, but is there any sound that you would recommend that you think is cool? Do you have any recommendations for us? For example, I don't mind if it's a T. Rex or something like that, but...
Akima :. Yes, that's right. If I talk about the T. Rex, I get into a very maniacal direction... (laughs). But, when it comes to the sound of the center pickup of a Stratocaster, the sound of Mr. Utsumi at Carol's last show in the field! That was my fave. It's so cool! It's totally cool to listen to now. The amp is an Ampeg V4, and it's great! It's not too distorted, but the sound has a lot of extension.
-Last question, what is an amp to you?
Akima : I am a musician. Well, it's pretty much more important to me than a guitar. I write songs and play in a band because I have a message I want to convey, but it is not a place to express it. Anyway, the sound of the electric guitar is cool, and I write songs to make it sound cool. That's how I feel (laughs). So I feel that the amp is not just another tool to reproduce the sound of the electric guitar. The amp is very important, and I write songs and play in a band because of the amp...it's the opposite of normal (laughs).
-Thank you very much for the rare opportunity to talk with you today!
Akima : Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
Photo : Kumi Noro