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Pritchard amped up about quality sound

December 20, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER | trishr@herald-mail.com
  • Eric Pritchard owns and operates Pritchard Amps next to his Morgan County, W.Va., home.
Trish Rudder, Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — It took 20 years of research and design to build the best amplifier for the best sounds because local resident Eric Pritchard says he will not build anything second-rate.

Pritchard owns and operates Pritchard Amps in the shop next to his rural Morgan County, W.Va., home. He designs all the inner workings of the amps and makes the cabinets that hold them for professional musicians or "serious hobbyists," he said.

Because of his love of music and his awareness that the musicians and engineers who designed amps weren't communicating, he began developing an amp design for Annapolis guitar maker Paul Reed Smith in the 1980s.

For the past five years, he's been designing and making his own.

Pritchard, 68, knows how things work. He designed circuitry for nuclear weapons for the U.S. Navy for 17 years after he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in engineering from the University of Maryland in the 1960s.

The two kinds of amps being made are the tube and the solid state. Pritchard said his challenge was to make a solid-state amp that was just as good or even better than the tube amp.

"These amps are so well made, they last for more than 20 years. With tube amps, musicians are constantly replacing the tubes," Pritchard said.

Pritchard gets help from his wife, Linda, who assembles the circuit boards and solders them in place.

"It's like putting a puzzle together," she said.

Another advantage to a Pritchard amp is the customized design of the cabinet in which the amp sits.

"It is built to survive accidents because the circuit boards are better protected," Pritchard said.

Pritchard makes a variety of amp styles and customizes them to meet a musician's needs, "to help them find the best amp for the sound," he said.

The utility inner workings and cabinet design of his amps are patent-protected, he said.

His clients are near and far, and include blues musician Paul Zuckerman of Winchester, Va., and Brian Kellner of the Bushman Brothers in England.

In Kellner's letter to Pritchard, he wrote:

"The test of a really great amp is if it were stolen, could you live without it? My answer is a big NO. I think Eric is one of the great amp designers of our time and most people have never heard of him. He is the first person to really crack the code."

"He was so happy with the results of Eric's design, he called Eric from England to let him know how much he liked it," Linda Pritchard said.

"He actually called me several times, and he wants me to go bigger as a service to musicians," Pritchard said.

Pritchard said big amp manufacturers did not design a quality product, prompting most musicians to avoid solid-state amps, he said.

Amp sales come from word-of-mouth by the musicians, and they call Pritchard or reach him through his website, www.pritchardamps.com.

"As the word gets outs, more musicians are calling me for information on what Pritchard Amps can do for them," he said.

An amp made by Pritchard costs $2,000 to $3,000, he said.

Pritchard Amps has received five Governor's Commendation awards for international marketing for exporting his amps outside the United States to Thailand, Australia, France, Russia and Afghanistan.

"Guitar music is where his heart is and he loves the challenge," Linda Pritchard said.

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