- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - In a grungy basement on the Southeast Side of Evansville, a man, his wife and friends work together building and repairing guitar amps, pedals and pickups.

The “Tone Lounge” is what 42-year-old Tony Dorris calls his headquarters for Volition Amps.

The workshop has the scattered entrails of electronics, modified guitar effects pedals, machinery from the 1950s, guitars and a wall of vinyl records.

Since 2008, Dorris has applied a career of electrical work, a sharp ear and a keen attention to tone to his music gear.

“This is my life now,” he said while showing off some of his completed builds.

Repairs, new builds and modifications now keep Dorris in his basement as a full-time job.

Dorris, an Evansville native, has been playing guitar since he was 16, but his foray into tube amplifiers began six years ago, after he purchased for cheap what he thought was all-tube amp. It wasn’t the real deal.

“I just thought, ‘I could do this better. I could build my own.’” he told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1B1jPI0 ).

From the disappointment of that amp, Dorris created what’s known in the Tone Lounge as the “Frankenstein Prototype,” which combined parts of three main guitar amplification circuits: Fender, Marshall and Vox.

“My friends knew I was trying to do it. I don’t know how much they believed in it at first, but as I finished it, they were fighting over who was the next to play it,” he said with a laugh. “I figured I was pretty well onto something.”

Tubes are a key part of his operation. While most audio equipment is stocked with solid state transistors, vacuum tube-based amplifiers are the preference of many musicians for their warm-sounding quality.

Though he began with amps, selling his own guitar effect pedals and repairing and modifying pedals are a big chunk of Dorris’ operation.

Guitar effect pedals are boxes that affect the sound of an instrument to color the signal, such as distortion or delay.

Dorris does the tube amp repairs for Evansville music store Moore Music, which also sells his pedals.

Renowned blues guitarist Boscoe France, who was crowned the 2012 Guitar Center Battle of the Blues champion, is an avid user of Dorris’ amps and pedals. France was introduced to Dorris in 2012 at a “gear head” event at Evansville music venue Mojo’s Boneyard.

France said he’s worked on amps himself for years, had endorsements and worked with many boutique gear-makers.

“The bottom line is I have never been able to get what I get from Tony’s Volition amps,” he said.

That Volition is local is also important to France. “If I need service, Tony is there. If Tony needs feedback, I try and help,” he said.

Dorris deals mostly with local musicians who come to him with damaged goods or a need for a new sound.

“I try to take care of the guys who play live local music because I know it’s hard for them. They don’t make much money,” he said.

While this is now his full-time job, Dorris has aspirations of moving the operation into a building to vamp up production.

“I’m really hoping to get a group of guys together to really take this to the next level,” he said.

His guitar pickups - which take the strum of an electric guitar’s metal strings into an audio signal by magnets wrapped in thin copper wire - are hand-wound in his basement.

Volition pickups are used in some Harper guitars. The Boonville-based luthiers make high-end guitars that sell all over the world.

A Harper guitar stocked with a pair of Volition pickups is owned by famed country-tenor Vince Gill, of which Dorris is proud.

One of his proudest moments was watching France and guitarist Alonzo Pennington playing through his amps and pedals at Lamasco Bar and Grill.

“I’m proud of that. I guess it’s even better to know that you’re partly responsible for some of the goodness coming off the stage,” he said.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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