Ben Fargen’s parents thought it was a passing fad when he begged for his first guitar at seven years old – so by the time he turned 8, and then 9, he was still asking,.The infatuation wasn’t going anywhere. So he did what any kid dreaming of rock-and-roll would do: He saved up his errand money and bought his own guitar. But it was the amp that his parents gave him to go with it that ended up shaping the course of his life. Today, Ben is a renowned boutique amp builder with famous clients, and amplifiers that ship all over the world.
Ben’s constant collaborator is his brother, Jeff Earl, who builds the cabinets for his amplifiers. Like Ben, Jeff is first and foremost a guitarist; the brothers grew up playing music together, with Jeff on bass and Ben playing the electric lead guitar. As teenagers, they started a band, but quickly realized that they would need equipment beyond their means to put on a proper show — including an amplifier. So they decided to build one together from plywood and simple hardware store parts.
“I still gig with the gear that I build; it gives me a real-world connection to it.” — expert amp builder Ben Fargen
Originally, Ben just used his custom amps for his personal gigs, but other musicians soon started taking notice of his skill. The next thing he knew, Ben was doing specialized repairs upon request. When repairs turned into full-blown amp building and he needed someone to build the cabinets, Ben knew just who to ask.
A wood craftsman by trade, Jeff had already been building cabinets for other companies, but when Ben approached him about working together, he stepped in immediately. “That was it,” Jeff says. “This is what I do. It’s what I love.”
Now, nearly 20 years later, Exclusive Amps is firmly established as an industry leader in customized amps. An aficionado of vintage sound, Ben specializes in vacuum-tube amps. “The tube amp has this throwback to the ‘50’s and ‘60’s,” he says. “It’s a little more raw, it’s a little grittier, it’s dynamic. It’s just kind of got a life to it.”
To hone “the sound,” Ben uses original parts from the sixties-era amps that initially inspired him, parts like solid-core and cloth-wrapped wire that were staples in mid-century amps. These variations don’t shield as well as modern wire does, but Ben prefers it anyway. He wants it for the sound.
Sound is his priority, and every decision he makes in constructing an amp comes down to the integrity of the output. “I have a recipe of parts that I use,” Ben says. The recipe has evolved over the years through trial and error, encompassing every resistor available — and some that aren’t, which Ben special orders because the manufacturers just don’t make them anymore. No detail is minute to Ben. “Craftsmanship is not just about quality,” he says. “It’s also about putting a little bit of yourself into what you do, making it more personal.”
So when we approached Ben and Jeff and challenged them to build a custom amp for blues musician Gary Clark Jr., based on the same Revel speakers available in the Lincoln Continental, they were intrigued. “We haven’t really ever worked with other companies who are bringing their own technology into the fold — specifically, Revel’s drivers and Lincoln’s aesthetics,” Ben says. “Not only are we wanting to roll in what we do on a daily basis, but respect and honor the design elements that Lincoln and Revel are bringing in.” In collaboration with the Lincoln design team and the engineers at Revel, they were able to do just that.
For Gary, Ben built a 50-watt amp, which is suitable for a small club or recording studio, using EL-34 tubes. “They have this chime and shimmer on the top end that just has a beautiful tone for cleaner work,” Ben says. “It’s a really familiar sound for most guitar players who love tube amps. It’s just a tone that you go back to time and time again.”
The amp is tailored to Gary’s particular sound, which spans a wide range of tonalities. “He’s going from this very vintage, greasy, kind of nasty tone that would be associated with a lot of sixties vintage amplifiers,” Ben says of Gary’s style. “And then I hear some of the tracks that are more refined, and he needs something a little more modern, a bit tighter.” So Ben created an amplifier that would give Gary a little bit of everything he needed in one package, allowing him to focus on what, according to Ben, he does best: “being a fantastic performer, singer and guitar player.”
And it takes one to know one. Ben remains a guitarist at heart, which gives him a unique edge. “I still gig with the gear that I build; it gives me a real-world connection to it,” Ben says. “I plug into it and play on stage, and then I can look back and go, I can refine this a little bit better for that guy that’s playing a gig in Chicago or New York.”
It’s this understanding of what true collaboration can sound like that Ben is chasing when he sits down to create each new amp. “When it happens right, and when it all comes together, there’s a magic moment, and it usually shows on somebody’s face,” Ben says. “They’ll close their eyes, they’ll look away, and they just kind of step back into themselves, almost as if nobody else is there… and that’s when you know you’ve got it.”
We collaborated with Ben and Jeff, as well as the Revel engineering team, to create a custom amp built from the same speakers available in the new 2017 Lincoln Continental, in celebration of music’s biggest night. For more information on our custom amp project, visit us here.