One of the great things about living in Champaign-Urbana is the access to cool shit. Analog Outfitters, in downtown Champaign, is a perfect embodiment of that. Analog is a full-service pro audio repair and service center that has worked with an extensive list of both local and national artists that includes Hum, The Giving Tree Band and Wilco. They'll be doing the backline for the upcoming Ellnora Guitar Festival and a handful of shows for the Pygmalion Music Festival at the end of September. These guys are doing things right and people are taking notice. "We're really reaching out to people who appreciate what we do," said Ben Hay, manager of Analog. "We are our own clientele. We work on it and play it," Hay added.
Hay has played in four different local bands, including Tree Thump, the only band I've ever seen play that has a didgeridoo. Hay also makes those. In fact, there isn't much he doesn't do. Being a part of that community of musicians has created connections for Hay and for Analog in the area. "We love our local people and we wanna gain more friends," Hay said.
Analog caters to vintage tube amp repair, Hammond organs and Fender twins and deluxes. Owner Ben Juday ("Jude") and manager Ben Hay are about the two nicest guys you could hope to meet. It's obvious that they love what they do and they're excited to tell others about it. They keep a casual atmosphere at Analog (AO), where they have a quote wall, huge cowbells mounted to the walls upstairs and an optional shirt policy when customers aren't around. Both Ben and Jude are both jokesters and just downright smart dudes at the same time. Even Jude's office pine air freshner is analog.
The business began originally in Jude's basement, when Pogo Studios was AO's only client for live sound. After six years above CV Lloyde they grew big enough to expand and relocate to their current warehouse location at 514C N. Neil St. Now they're building amps for bands like Wilco who requested two custom built Leslie amps, which don't come cheap. Jude says that there's a "mad scientist inside" the case that's 1000 watts.
Jude came to University of Illinois in 2002 with hopes of becoming a professor, pursuing what he thought was going to be a PhD in Geography. However, his interest in electronics led him to a course called The Physics of Electronic Music Instruments with Professor Steve Errede, who Hay now refers to as their "secret weapon."
Jude arranged a deal with Errede to just sit in on his class without credit and he fell in love with the physics of how amps, guitar pickups and vacuum tubes work. Errede has an extensive musical background, a certified "amp nut" himself and, according to Jude, "the smartest guy any of us ever met."
Hay was a wrestling recruit for the University of Illinois and a Biology major who found his way into the independent study Physics class as well and excelled. His advisors became suspicious of his sudden success in high-level physics, but he had just found his niche.
Both Jude and Hay designed and built a guitar amp from scratch and Errede became their mentor who was more than willing to answer their questions, give them books to read and even get them clients to start. "Every step of the way he has facilitated this whole enterprise," Jude said.
Errede is a modest genius who deserves his own story. He gladly shifts all of the praise back to the AO guys. "The real credit for their success over these 10 years has to go only to them," Errede said. "I love and respect and actively support what all of the people of AO are doing for the whole C-U community."
It's quite a commodity to have a resource such as Errede because, as Jude mentioned, you can't really go study abroad about vacuum tubes. "We have a whole industry focused around a technology that's been obsolete for 40 plus years," Jude said. But, in all the business that they've done, AO has had only one request for a solid-state amp.
AO's success as a repair business has allowed them to expand into research and development of new products and an Ebay account that now comprises about 30 percent of their business. They're embarking on a bit of a green movement where they design old tube amps out of old recycled Hammond organs and old speaker parts. Good wood from old organs equals good wood for new guitar amps. They've created some prototypes of their MIDI controlled B3 organs and are about to start taking orders for their new product that they plan to have on the market soon.
Jude gives a lot of the praise to Errede but also to his manager, Hay. "I can't do it all, so I hired Ben." Hay is a jack-of-all-trades who handles the daily management, takes care of the building and repairs, transports equipment and handles the tenant that they have renting from them. In October, they hope to open a storefront on Neil Street where they'll offer vintage guitar amps alongside their own custom amps. It's a period of growth for AO in an economy that obviously isn't the greatest and is a bit scary for entrepreneurs. But, when you do things well, you get attention and you increase your chances of becoming successful. "You gotta spin your wheels to move eventually," Hay said.
Analog Outfitters is on the move.