Out the window and through the wooden fence, a band of horses gamboled over a brilliant green hill. We were to convene with Phil Bradbury of Little Walter Tube Amps — a man I had heard many things about and had even had the pleasure of speaking with over the phone, but had never chanced to meet. It was down a lightly winding road wrapped around a network of foliate knolls ending in a shallow, pine-crowded dell where we first shook hands.
I entered the workshop and was greeted by a stoic group of amps and cabinets. In addition to his amp display there was a ton of other great gear. Dulcimers, steel guitars, organs, rack-mounted rocket ship control panels and at least one of everything else were all present.
Phil Bradbury was born in Houston, TX and raised in the coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia. Eventually he would graduate from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in mass communication. A 3rd generation coal miner, he returned to the mining industry after school to raise some money. In a spell of clairvoyance, he not only recognized a need to improve the company’s ability to track its own equipment maintenance, production and cost but also saw the coming of the PC and its relevance in this particular application. He had a program started by the time the public could purchase a computer. He and his wife, Carol, then founded Bradbury and Associates, Inc. and began providing off-site record-keeping services, selling software licenses and designing high-level software development projects for entities like Cummins Engine Company and Komatsu. Carol, ran the business side of things while Phil handled sales and new development — for the most part, this division of labor has carried over to Little Walter Tube Amps.
These days, Carol handles all of the quality control. She inspects every cabinet to make sure it is worthy of the Little Walter brand name before heading out into the world. Carol also handles all of the social media and, of course, the business side of things. And just like in the good old days, Phil handles sales and product development…and builds all of his beautiful amps by hand.
so how did you get the name little walter?
…I asked. Phil responded with a sufficiently cool story…
“…in the mining business, we were a very successful Non-Union coal mine, but every 3 years during the United Mine Workers Union contract renegotiations, our mines were picketed by West Virginia union miners. It got a bit ugly at times and every now and then there would be some gun play…so I carried a 45 caliber Thompson to work for protection. Following a rather harry close encounter, I was interviewed by a Lexington, KY TV station. The report was picked up and shown nationally. One of my foremen saw it and said he was going to start calling me ‘Little Walter’ in reference to Walter Cronkite. This nick name stuck and people in the mining industry started calling me ‘Little Walter.’ Years later, when I was thinking of a name for my amp line, I saw my old Motorcycle helmet sitting in my office with ‘Little Walter’ painted on the back of it…and that had to be it…”
Phil went on to tell me a number of fascinating stories about his experiences working as a mining consultant in South America and even more about his experiences in India working as a consultant on the Coal India Project. He seemed to be one of those magical people who history has run into around every corner. When I asked him about his philosophy on amp design, he gave me this:
“I believe that the U.S. amp industry has gotten away from the most important aspects of why you use an amp, in the interest of making amps cheaper, easier and quicker. I wanted to go back to the original design methods and utilize the best components available.”
He also made note of 3 distinct rules he set out to follow when he began building:
1) The shortest signal path is the purest possible tone
2) i would use 8-pin preamp tubes rather than 9-pin
in the interest of tone and dynamic
response as a priority rather than gain
3) build a chassis that sounds good with just a volume control
Later on, once rule number 3 had been actualized, he would add a single tone control so the artist could have some play but still maintain as much of their raw tone as possible. Some of his A-list artists have even remarked on this:
“If you want to hear what your guitar sounds like, play it through a Little Walter.”
“The difference between the Little Walter and other amps is that this amp is an instrument.”
– Paul Franklin
“My Little Walter Twin 80 was in the heat of Mexico to the cold of Canada, taken in and out of the semis day after day and it never failed to give me the best tone I have ever had…show after show.”
– Travis Toy
When these two hard-working people actually get a moment to break away from the workshop, they spend a great deal of their time on their motorcycles. Attending bike festivals, riding the Bluegrass Parkway and even building custom bikes are just a few of the things that make Phil and his lovely wife Carol a couple of modern-day outlaws.
There is no doubt…
…the fiber of Little Walter is woven from years of unique and significant experiences. These are some of the most intriguing yet down-to-earth people I have ever had the privilege of meeting, and I must say I find myself the wiser for having sat and listened to their stories. Phil, Carol…thank you.
Before I wrap this up, I just want to make note of the few select dealers that currently carry Little Walter products.
Area 22 Guitars – Brevard, NC
Soundpure – Durham, NC
The Guitar House – Austin, TX
Little Walter does do a majority of their business direct. Here’s why…
“I value having a direct connection to the artists that use our products. I feel it is important to know the venues, styles and equipment used by a player in order to select the perfect amp that suits their needs.”