Mercer student builds boutique tube guitar amplifier for revived Capricorn studios

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Mercer Music at Capricorn Chief Engineer Rob Evans plays a guitar that's hooked up to the guitar amplifier built by Mercer student Maison Clouatre

When Mercer Music at Capricorn opens its recording studios in January, a locally made guitar amplifier will sit alongside amps made by some of the best names in the business.

Mercer University student Maison Clouatre, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics, built a tube guitar amplifier for Capricorn studio musicians to use.

While mass-produced guitar amplifiers are made with printed circuit boards, Clouatre wired this amp by hand.

“Hand wired is special because every bit of the circuit is artisan made, and it does make a difference in the sound of the amp,” said Rob Evans, chief engineer and manager of Mercer Music at Capricorn. “You can tell when something is mass produced or a labor of love.”

In a hand-wired amplifier, “the full spectrum of frequencies flowing through the amplifier are allowed to breathe,” Clouatre said. “In layman’s terms, that translates to a very open and natural sound that guitar players love.”

The original Capricorn Sound Studios defined the Southern rock genre of the 1970s. Artists like The Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Charlie Daniels Band and Wet Willie cranked out hits from the historic studio.

After falling silent for decades, the studio was reborn Tuesday, Dec. 3, as part of Mercer Music at Capricorn, a multi-purpose, 20,000-square-foot complex that includes not only an active recording studio but also a music incubator, museum, and office and co-working space.

Musicians from across the country will be able to book time in two state-of-art studios: Studio A, the original studio that produced some of Capricorn’s biggest hits, and Studio B, a second, larger studio. A smaller mixing studio and two vocal isolation rooms also are available.

At the heart of the facility is a cutting-edge, custom-built API 40-channel 2448 Series console.

Musicians will have a number of guitar amplifiers to choose from, including those by Mesa/Boogie, Vox, Paul Reed Smith, Fender and also Roland Light Co. — the name under which Clouatre builds his amps. The moniker uses Clouatre’s middle name, Roland, and is a nod to his favorite inventor, Thomas Edison, and the Edison Electric Light Co.

A custom sound

Clouatre custom built an American-voiced amplifier that includes tube-driven reverb, an echoing sound.

He said he worked with Evans to build something that would fit the needs of Capricorn, marrying Evans’s requests into the total characteristics that Clouatre tries to embody as an amp builder.

Clouatre started hand-wiring guitars when he was about 15 years old. As a musician who plays guitar, bass, mandolin and piano, he wanted a boutique tube amplifier guitar for himself, but the price tag was out of his budget.

So he read a book and learned how to build one.

“A few months later, I had ordered my first bunch of parts and started soldering one together,” he said.

The back of the guitar amp

ABOVE: The back of the guitar amp built by Mercer University student Maison Clouatre. TOP: Mercer Music at Capricorn Chief Engineer Rob Evans, left, plays a guitar hooked up to the guitar amplifier that Clouatre, right, built for Capricorn Sound Studios.

That first amplifier took him about 120 hours to complete. He built it at his desk in his Habersham County home in northeast Georgia, playing The Allman Brothers Band’s “At Fillmore East” album on repeat as he worked.

He’s since made tens of amplifiers, including those for the Atlanta-based Whispering Gypsies band and Free Chapel, a megachurch in the Atlanta area.

Clouatre’s build-time is now down to about 40 hours, though he spent about 80 hours on Capricorn’s guitar amplifier due to the complexity and uniqueness of the build. He worked on it in his office in the Engineering Building on Mercer’s Macon campus.

Building guitar amplifiers led Clouatre to major in electrical engineering, but he views it more as a hobby than a future career. 

“My engineering that I focus on in school is purely theoretical,” he said. “I want to pursue a Ph.D. in control theory and teach at a national university.”

Clouatre, a Stamps Scholar, heard about Mercer Music at Capricorn from his Stamps adviser, who, knowing that Clouatre built guitar amps, joked he should build one for the studio. After learning more about the project, Clouatre reached out to Mercer President William D. Underwood.

“A few emails got sent around, and one thing led to another, and now I’m honored to build an amplifier for Capricorn,” he said.

Evans said he thought having Clouatre build an amp for Capricorn was a great idea.

“What a great way to come right out of the gate encouraging talent of all varieties to come to Capricorn, whether it be in engineering, songwriting, performing, producing or just as a fan,” he said. “Who knows — this could be the start of something big for him.”

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Jennifer Borage