In search of boutique tone? There’s no better place than Tone Merchants in Orange, CA. I found this excellent shop online while surfing the web for a boutique tube amp, and recently had the fortune to visit the shop while I was on vacation.
Why is it so special? First off, Noel Evangelista, who runs the place is just a great guy. Very warm and good-natured – and definitely not someone who tries to be a salesman. In fact, when I was first searching for a tube amp, it was Noel who recommended that I buy a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe to get introduced to tube amps. Paraphrasing our conversation a few months ago, “If you’re new to tube amps, then you can’t go wrong with a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It’s a great starter amp – plus you get that distinctive Fender clean sound.” Based upon that conversation, that’s exactly what I did, and after a few mods, I’m absolutely lovin’ it!
Secondly, the shop is set up for hanging out. The main amp room is spacious with a couple of comfy couches in the center, so you can relax while you twiddle with the amps. The unsaid sales pitch is simply this: Let the equipment speak for itself. For serious tone freaks, that’s a powerful pitch. Words can’t convey what an amp or guitar does. You have to hear it.
Furthermore, unlike most music shops, Tone Merchants has a very select, very limited inventory of amps and guitars. You won’t find name brands like Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Vox, Bad Cat, Buddha, or any boutique amps that you might read about in Guitar Player mag. The stuff here is all boutique. I played two amps from Cornford and Faustine. Loved both, but really dug the Faustine which has a built-in reactive speaker load attenuator. That’s a very useful addition as well as being a fantastic-sounding amp. For guitars, I played a Heritage 535 classic made by some of the original Gibson guys, which was an even better-sounding ES-335. Real clean, deep tones. But the guitar that I absolutely fell in love with was a Suhr Classic. From a distance, it looks like a Strat with a dual-coil humbucker in the bridge position. But what sets it apart is the absolutely gorgeous, silky-smooth tones it produces. The one I played had an alder body with a maple neck like my own Strat, but the fret board was rosewood, which really smoothed out the tone (I love rosewood fretboards). Ahh… I want this guitar!!!
Anyway, I digress. Tone Merchants also gives clinics and small concerts in their sound stage at the back of the shop. It’s a great place for showcasing local guitarists. If you’re in the area, check out their concert and clinic schedule.
All in all, this is a must-see shop if you’re looking for boutique equipment. Also, if you want to play a Faustine amp, this is the ONLY place to go as they have an exclusive deal with Faustine amps.
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