Trust Your Ears, But Be Aware That They Can Fool You Cage Amplifiers opens its doors

Given the amount of equipment and product in the shop at Cage Amplifiers, the environment was surprisingly clean.  There were racks and shelves stocked with an encyclopedic selection of tubes, capacitors, resistors, brackets, nuts, screws and anything else one might need for a build.

There were notes of Dewey Decimal-esque classification here…but I had not the time to document the evidence…

The tidy shop in Damascus, MD, smelled like the inside of an old Hammond mixed with the melted transformer wax of an AC30.  All the woodwork was done right there in the shop, a job that spattered the scent of drying tolex glue and freshly cut yellow pine across the air.  A bowl of Atomic Fireball candy treats sat on a table in the corner…

                                                …need

Exploring the room further I noticed a number of wood-working templates (tuned to perfection no doubt), test equipment, amplifiers of all kinds and a really neat refrigerator.

 Pete built his first amp in 1977

…and when I say he built it, I mean he did everything.  He just dove right in…bent the chassis from sheet metal, built and covered the cabinet and even etched his own circuit board.

“I still have it, and it still works fine.”

It was not until 1998 that Pete formed The Audio Cage and began building as a business, but we’ll get to that a little later.  Right now, we are going to take a brief trip back in time to February 9th, 1964 where Pete recalls seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and being particularly moved.

“Even then, at the tender age of six, I knew that music would be a big part of my life.”

When he was 7, Pete began doing what many of us did at that delightfully curious age…taking all of his parents’ things apart.  Years of tinkering found him at age 11 with a “50-IN-1” electronics kit from RadioShack.

“My parents bought me one and I started building various things.  Soon I was building effects pedals from Popular Electronics Magazine.”

Pete obtained his amateur radio license in 1972 and began digging deeper into electronic theory.  Later, he would major in Electrical Engineering Technology at Virginia Tech where he would learn a great deal about the difference between theory and practice.

His first production amp, which would eventually become known as the Corsa, started out as a learning exercise.  Pete spent a year playing the parts swapping game with a simple circuit he’d built onto an old DuKane P.A. chassis.  He wanted to see how the different values and types of components affected the sound.  When he finally arrived at a sound he liked, he dragged the amp down to a local music store to show a friend.  His friend played the amp for no more than 5 minutes before requesting that Pete build him one…and so was born the Corsa. 

the current sentence will be used as a segue into more pictures…

Per the above, the Corsa is not based on any other circuit in existence, which is a rare find.  Pete seems to have developed a particular empathy towards the user that may be hard to explain…but I’m gonna try.  While he clearly understands the deeper implications of vacuum tube circuits, whoosie-whats and knick knacks, he still has a clear head about personal taste.  This is very important because so many players out there have a sound that they like or want–they aren’t necessarily looking to be turned on to anything else.  Pete seems to proceed with a comforting balance between the application of his experience and being understanding to another listener’s personal taste.  Pete doesn’t mind being an “under-the-radar” builder.  He would rather build an amp, from start to finish, for someone who knows they want the Cage sound than spend his time arguing with someone about why they SHOULD want the Cage sound.

“As a builder, I want to create amps that make a definitive contribution to the marketplace.”

Which, of course, brings me back to the idea that Pete’s Corsa is not based on any other circuit.  This, again, is nothing to scoff at…and personally I think it’s pretty rad.  Way to go Pete. 

I noticed a shiny award and a familiar band on the wall…

 

When I asked Pete about the award he responded…

“Vertical Horizon was probably my first big client.  I built amps and did service work for all four of the guys.  They were kind enough to send me my own RIAA Double-Platinum award for my work with them on the ‘Everything You Want’ CD.”

Vertical Horizon is just the first name on a long and “Tone Hero-worthy” list of big names that Pete has built or worked with or for.

How did the end of that last sentence feel to you?  Just Go back and read it again but really quickly and confidently…it’s actually kinda nice…

Part of Pete’s business is focused on vintage, all-tube guitar amp repair.  He keeps a comprehensive inventory of amp parts in stock at the shop so that he can be ready for whatever comes through the door.  Among these components are a number of Mojotone amp parts that Pete relies on daily.

aside from being an awesome dude

Pete is a truly unique member of this community we have here.  He is analytical, patient and true to himself as he produces his art.  If you aren’t familiar with his work, you need to be.  A big thanks to Pete for taking the time to give us this interview, and as always let’s raise a glass and knock one back for Pete Cage, a true tone hero.

one final note here

As I was leaving the shop, I noticed a notepad lying on the of corner Pete’s desk…and it was none of my business so of course I looked at it.  It was a list.  It read like a catalog of mantras collected over decades and saved for a time of need.  An entire business philosophy contained in 18 bullet points…

Logan Tabor

Logan Tabor

7 comments

  • Thanks for honoring Pete. What a tribute, to become aware of a great Tone Master. Those 18 bullet points are quite impressive. I especially focused on number 14, “There is no Best.” For me, that says it all! Personal taste, personal conviction, personal experience, the ingredients for Quality of Sound. Keep on Rockin’ Pete…Keep on Writin’ Logan!!!

  • This was an exceptional article and having known Pete from his work developing employees and managers in the private sector, I learned some new things about Pete–he is quite humble which is just one of his endearing qualities. I paused at the words, “under the radar” builder as this phrase aligns with how Pete simply seems to be everywhere. Just as he wants to create amps that make a definite contribution to the marketplace, which I think is a fact, Pete cares deeply about helping others develop to their highest potential. Pete is a true tone hero and I smiled broadly at his 18 bullets, subject to change. Thank you for writing this as it was a great read.

  • Great article.Thank you for doing all of these stories and introducing us to all of these great craftsmen.I enjoy reading about them so much. We need to give honor to these great ,humble guys.
    Thanks again.
    Will Wood

  • Pete has worked on a couple of amps for me. Top notch work, fair prices. Always some really cool amps in the shop for work.

  • I know Pete. He doesn’t know me, ’cause I’m just a local yokel. He went through a Deluxe Reverb for me once. Another time we had a good time cranking my tweed deluxe build during at least one jam. I was able to demo one of his amps – a four 6V6 amp called “Big Bottom” once- and it was awesome. Top notch builder and great guy all around.

  • Always love to hear about people that work hard and continue to develop their craft. Until reading this I wasn’t aware of Cage amps, but after getting some insight into Pete and the passion he has for what he does, I’ll definitely be checking them out! Loving these articles and thanks for turning us tone freaks on to cool guys like Pete Cage!

  • Over 15 yrs ago I emailed Pete for advice on building a guitar amp cabinet which he graciously responded to and had no hesitation in sharing all he knew including tips and tricks on applying tolex. Several years later I shipped my Vox Cambridge Reverb amp to him so he could put it back to stock specs after it had been horribly modified. He happened to own one that was stock to use as a reference although I doubt that was necessary given his knowledge of tube amps. When I got the amp back it was perfect -better than new – and let’s say that what he charged me in no way reflected the work he performed, i.e. he was generous beyond anything I expected. Thanks for putting the word out on a great amp designer/builder and a good man. It was nice to see that he is still kicking and blessing people with his gifts.

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