Matthew Miller greeted me with a smile on a quiet street corner in Northeast Portland. A short walk down the sidewalk and up a steep set of moss-covered steps led us to the front door of his home and production headquarters for Miller Ampwerks.
I was greeted by a happy and wiggly dog in a very cozy home.
There was what appeared to be wine fermenting on his kitchen counter and a french press full of freshly brewed coffee. Portland’s finest, I’m certain.
“want some coffee and then we can get started?”
I graciously accepted and Matthew pressed the coffee frenchly into a strong white mug. A man’s mug. “Good vibes now,” I thought. We made our way down a narrow set of stairs and into the lower level of his house. Matthew had laid out a beautiful set of amps for us to photograph.
As he walked me around the shop he told me he actually had a number of repairs in at the moment. Not for his own products, of course, but for all kinds of different gems. On his workbench currently was the chassis of an early Vox AC50. No one knew what was going on with this circuit but it was Matthews job to dig deep and figure it out. On a shelf to the side there was an old Roland Space Echo RE-201 that Matthew had been commissioned to fix. This is not something that just any old tech can get to the bottom of, I assure you.
As our conversation went on i learned…
…that Matthew did not have a formal background in the science of electronics wizardry…or even warlockery for that matter. Matthew’s background began at an early age when he felt a strong urge to begin deconstructing all of the useful things lying around his parents’ house. And while, at the time, I’m sure his parents SUPER enjoyed that…it led to something truly incredible.
It started with his father’s expensive Minolta SLR camera. And then it moved to Mustang transmissions, vacuums, blenders and eventually tube HiFi gear. At this point Matthew was a self-made engineer. And when it finally came time to begin constructing and deconstructing guitar amps, he had become familiar with hundreds of schematics for countless different types of electronic products. He was now ready to take on amplifiers, pedals and whatever else was thrown his way.
And then matthew explained something to me…
…in regards to his “process.” Rituals and such. He told me…
“I spend a fair amount of time visualizing the sound and design in my head beforehand. Often times, I have it all thought out pretty complete, then I just have to make it.”
You see, while Matthew does have his own standard production models under Miller Ampwerks (such as The Columbia, The Freemont, The Vortex, and The Pine Street) he also does quite a few custom builds. And when a customer comes to him with an idea of the sound and features they are looking for in their new custom-built amp…Matthew begins the design process not on paper, but in his head. He sees the circuit, component by component. And then once the mental circuit is complete, it is time to begin building.
what an incredible skill
Beyond that, the organization in his shop is outstanding. Everything has its own home. Resistors, capacitors, nuts and screws are all labelled and stowed for easy access. GOOD MOVES MATTHEW.
I’m going to wrap this up real soon…
…but first, I want to clarify a few things. The title of this article is “DIY 101,” for a very specific reason. And that reason is not because what Matthew has done is simple or basic by any means. Matthew Miller is a man who has been constructing, deconstructing, understanding, modifying, designing and manufacturing various electronic products throughout his entire life. Instead of going to school for electronics, the guy made his own school of electronics. He has spent years learning everything he possibly can about how this stuff works, because he was born with a passion.
I’ve worked in the industry for a long time now…
…and the people who have inspired me the most are the ones who HAD to just figure it out! I’ve had the pleasure of working with countless guys who have had no formal training in electronics and they are almost ALWAYS the best at what they do. The authorities, so to speak.
Matthew Miller is an authority
He makes a classy product with extreme attention to detail. He builds everything by hand in his workshop and takes extreme pride in his work. Apart from that he is, to put it simply, an extremely rad dude.
Shameless plug time. Ready? Yeah, you’re ready. Matthew gets a number of his faceplates custom engraved by the almighty John Manning in the Mojotone Custom Faceplate department. He also uses a number of our Mojotone Dijon Capacitors.
If you don’t know about Matthew Miller and Miller Ampwerks, please go get educated. An incredible human with an incredible gift. So, let’s all raise a glass and knock one back for ol’ Matthew Miller, a true tone hero.