As I walked through the door to his workshop, I was greeted by the gleam of a polished Jade Green ’65 VW Beetle. “This is going to be a fun one,” I thought to myself. I had received a text message fifteen minutes earlier instructing me to…
Just walk in the side door
…so I assumed it was safe to snoop around a bit while I waited. I had been an avid follower of Michael Swart’s work for quite some time but had never come across the opportunity to meet him–I didn’t know a thing about him. Poking my head around the room, it became clear that his tinkerings were not limited to his amps. A short row of motorized two-wheelers, including a gorgeous pair of Vespas (one matching the Jade Green Beetle), began to paint a picture of the person I was about to meet.
The work area itself was neat while neighboring shelves were stocked with the skeletons and shells of projects gone by. Test equipment old and new, homemade heat engines and half-populated project chassis’ were stored aimlessly around the workbench.
A pair of footsteps made their way
down the stairs that led to the second floor of his workshop. We shook hands, cracked a few jokes and he took me on the tour I had just finished taking myself on…it was better with a guide. There was a warm playful way about him. I felt like I’d known him for years.
“Just set up your stuff wherever you think you can and uhh…yeah…take some pictures…”
So I did. As I was unpacking all of my gear and scoping out the right shots, he began telling me how all of this got started…
Swart began building amps about 16 years ago when he finally worked up the nerve to build a schematic he’d found online. He was fascinated by the way it came together and by how much one could learn simply by following a wiring diagram. From then on, he was hooked. In an effort to create something he could use in his band at the time, he began experimenting with larger, more powerful circuits.
“I had never really thought about building for other people. It was just a hobby. People started noticing and asking questions, and it was always a proud moment to say I’d built it.”
So how did this hobby take the sharp turn from quirky pastime to world-renown boutique amp company? I’m glad you asked…
Swart told me that the push he needed to take his skills to the next level came when he was hunting down an old Tweed Champ on Ebay. Like so many others, he quickly learned how much people were willing to pay for these little firecrackers. A few short weeks later he found himself at a flea market biting his nails over a vintage Supro amp. I’m sure it would have been hard to just walk away from a gem like that.
“I took a chance and added the Supro to my collection…”
Good move, Swart…good move.
At this point I had taken a break to scroll through my camera roll…so here you go, we’ve all earned a break:
Alright that’s enough dilly dally…back to business…
Shortly after his acquisition of the Supro, he came to the realization that no one was really producing anything like it anymore. So instead of taking the traditional Fender clone route, he decided to rework this Supro amp into something he could call his own. With the help of family and friends he was able to create and build the circuit, furnish a cabinet and have a metal chassis bent to spec within a month.
“I put it on Ebay and it sold within a week. I was hooked. I was going to get paid to do what I loved to do.”
Today Michael Swart has grown his business into something that holds incredible weight in the industry. Anyone who knows boutique, knows Swart. And for good reason; he has put his product into the hands of numerous iconic artists such as Jeff Tweedy, Trey Anastasio, John Oates, Vince Gill, Keith Urban and countless others.
He uses a Mojotone BV-25M speaker in his Atomic Space Tone. He had been using Jensen speakers in this amp for a while when a friend suggested the Mojotone British Vintage Series (thank you, Dr. Friend).
“I was blown away. It sounded just right in this amp, so I kept using it and I still use it today.”
It was a pleasure for me to be invited into such a laid back and warm atmosphere. Swart himself is a witty little wizard person who makes you feel right at home…regardless of the fact that you’re in his shop taking pictures at 10pm on a Tuesday…
He is a master of his craft
…although he would never admit it. He has a beautiful family that keeps him grounded and busy. He is not afraid to wrap his head around all kinds of new ideas in an effort to constantly expand his knowledge of the world around him. It is obvious that the man spends hours on end tweaking his circuits; switching out resistors here, caps there, you name it. He cares for his work, he cares about his brand, he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it…and that is exactly what we love to see here at Tone Movement. So, let’s all raise a glass and knock one back for ol’ Michael Swart, a true tone hero.
I’m jealous! I have communicated with Michael but never had the pleasure of meeting him.
I bought a used Atomic Space Tone about ten years ago, the little tone monster sits atop the Fender Super Reverb 410 and the little ST gets more attention. My old ST has an8″ Weber speaker, wondering when he switched to MoJo?
I wish I had the money for his newer EL84 jewel, but had to settle for a Boogie – for the time being.
Swart’s the top of the tone in my mind.