The Tube Collective
by Jill Bourgeois
There is a group of men who, when they are together, live in a
strange world of their own. They wear matching leopard-skin fezzes,
have fake Bulgarian names and feign Bulgarian accents. These men
make guitar amplifiers, guitar amplifiers as odd as themselves. They
meet in their garages and create these things out of old organ guts,
suitcases, and whatever else they can find that amuses them. This
club is called the Tube Collective and my dad is one of the members.
This particular meeting was held at the garage of Niels Nielsen,
founder and chief of the Tube Group. Dad and I arrived and were
greeted by the open garage door emitting a warm yellow light. My
breath rose in little white puffs and my sweatshirt, all of a
sudden, felt very thin in the chilly night air.
The garages that they meet in are like museums – messy museums, but
very interesting. Everything in them revolves around their hobby.
The guys in the club all play instruments, and when they get
together, they love to play each others amps to see how they sound.
The amps themselves are made out of the oddest things – things that
most people would take for junk. The guys all take great care in the
appearance of their amps as well. No two are ever alike.
Soon Niels himself came out to greet us. At first sight, you
wouldn’t take him for a mad scientist, but I quickly understood
where all the stories came from. He is eccentricity at its finest.
“Welcome comrades,” he said as he greeted us in his fake Bulgarian
accent. He proceeded to give me the grand tour of the garage, or the
“gulag” as he sometimes calls it. A small mountain of suitcases was
piled against one wall. The workbench was covered with strange
electrical-looking things that I was too afraid to ask about. There
was an old microphone rewired with new microphone electronics, I
looked up to discover that the rafters were filled with more things.
There were more suitcases, a lawn chair, and a huge Turkish rug.
Then there was Didi. She is the mannequin head that Niels bought at
a garage sale. Didi was named after a mysterious Bulgarian pop
singer about whom no one knows anything, except for the one vinyl
album on which she sung in the 1960’s. She wears a leopard-skin fez
that Niels made for her, as well as a fox boa. She is the mascot of
the Tube Collective.
Niels then showed me to the Inner Sanctum--a tiny room half-hidden
in the back of the garage. Dust covered everything. Old cobwebs were
strung in the corners, the floor was sprinkled with dust and bits of
wire and scraps of suitcases. Screws and bolts and half-finished
amps littered the workbench. Table saws and strange homemade lamps
sat glaring down at us.
As we emerged from the laboratory, the first of the group showed up.
They call him Wingnutski, he came wearing his leopard-skin fez and
carrying a previous creation of Niels – once a space heater, now a
black and red-flamed amplifier. Before too long, two other comrades
showed up. They were Johnski and Mikhail (who came sporting
leopard-skin earmuffs as well as his fez). Soon they all decided to
play some music, and the sounds of two guitars, a bass, and a
harmonica tuning up filled the garage. The frigid night air gave it
a raw sharp sound. The sight of four men in fezzes playing some
blues in a dusty garage on an autumn night felt slightly surreal as
I sat huddled against the wall, listening while I tried to stay
warm. The tubes in the amplifiers were glowing orange as they
played. One of the amplifiers, which was not quite finished,
crackled and popped like a log fire.
Many of the amps that the Tube Collective makes are composed of old
organ tubes and electronics, but sometimes they make them out of
other things like old radios and reel-to-reel tape decks. Mikhail
even brought the makings of one that was made out of an old jukebox.
I had to laugh at their reaction as he brought it out. “It’s so
pretty!” “Look at all those pretty tubes!” they all exclaimed. They
hooked it up and then marveled at the sound for a time. I was lost.
When they are done rewiring a “new” amp, then they find something in
which to place it. They put most of the amps inside old suitcases
out of which they have cut openings for grills. Then they paint them
and mount lights and knobs on them. Sometimes they paint their names
or logos on them or they attach a nameplate of some sort like “High
Fidelity” or “Galaxy.”
The guys played most of the evening while I sat and wrote and
enjoyed the music. The evening ended too soon, it was time to go.
The Tube Group packed up their instruments and amps and said their
goodbyes. Dad and I left soon after.
The Tube Collective is a very interesting group of men who enjoy art
and music and technology and have a club dedicated to just that.
They are strange, slightly eccentric men who make strange amplifiers
in their garages. To truly understand what they do in full, one
would have to visit one of their meetings for him or herself – a
trip I would highly recommend.
(Credits: Jill Bourgeois - Wr.121-10 a.m. -
10/15/07 - Descriptive essay. She got a "A".)