Heather Coit/The News-Gazet

Ben Juday, bottom right, joins workers, from left, manager Ben Hay, repair technician Derek Taylor, Internet sales Tyler Chen and repair technician Jens Klingenberg, at Analog Outfitters in Champaign, Ill on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. The group repairs and restores organs, vintage music equipment, amplifiers and more.

Date of publication in the Champaign, Ill., News-Gazette: March 06, 2011

Balancing Old & New

Copyright 2011 The News-Gazette

CHAMPAIGN — First came the music, then the physics class, followed by the hobby of repairing and restoring vintage instruments.

Later came the sale of a Hammond organ to the band Wilco.

“Both Bens were both in my class ... and they were hard-working. I remember I liked their attitude and they were eager to learn,” said University of Illinois Professor Steve Errede, who teaches a class on the physics of music and musical instruments on campus.

Errede said he had “no idea” two of his students — Ben Juday and Ben Hay — would go on to create and, in the middle of a recession, grow a business that repairs and rehabs obsolete technology like vacuum tube amplifiers.

“We´re not your typical local business,” said Juday, the founder of Analog Outfitters, a nine-person company based in an early-20th-century building on Neil Street just north of downtown Champaign.

Established in 2002, Analog Outfitters sets up sound for live music events; offers “backline rental,” an industry term for renting amplifiers, speaker cabinets, drum sets, keyboards and other equipment for musicians flying in for a gig; repairs equipment at sound studios here and in Chicago; and repairs or restores new or old musical instruments, including Hammond organs and Leslie speakers as well as other rare finds. (Under wraps in one area of their warehouse is a Mellotron, a rare keyboard that can play back pre-recorded sounds.)

Added Hay, the company´s manger: “We wear a number of hats.”

In the building, they´ve devised a pulley system to haul the organs upstairs. They built a fold-out, Murphy bed-like contraption on which they photograph items like guitars or amps they will put up for auction on eBay. (It also doubles as a play area for Juday´s children when they visit the shop.) Their accountant, the only one on staff without a background in music, cooked hot dogs during the business´s open house “Hootenanny” last August.

Among other projects Hay has worked on, he renovated the upstairs level of the building where Analog Outfitters stores dozens of Hammond organs and speakers. The company bought its building, which was once a carriage shop, in 2009.

“I like old buildings and didn´t want to see it torn down,” Juday said. The company leases two office spaces in the building, added an apartment and is building one more. The rest of the space is devoted to their business.

About those tube amps

When you go to a live music show and feel shivers on the back of your neck, that´s the power of music, Errede said.

When you can recall your favorite music album but can´t recall the names of the five people you met at a dinner party, that´s the power of musical memory, he said.

“Solid-state amplifiers (used today) simply don´t provoke the same emotional response (as vacuum tube amplifiers). ... They´re not as powerful,” he said. “The sound produced by (vacuum tube amplifiers) is a delight to most musicians´ ears,” said Errede, whose main research focus at the UI is in high-energy physics.

Also a musician, Errede learned about repairing such old instruments when he was a teen and it inevitably fell upon him to repair his band´s amps (and ultimately teaching others, including Juday and Hay).

“There´s a subset of people who love them,” Juday said about the tube amps. “It´s a warmer sound. It´s got even harmonics. It´s more pleasing” than traditional, modern amps, he said.

“People really into guitars love ´em,” added Hay.

Both Juday and Hay are part of the group of analog aficionados. Juday and Hay are guitar players who have been active in the Champaign-Urbana music scene for a decade now and part of Mhondoro, an African music group, and Fotamana. Hay also is part of the didjeridu band Tree Thump and founded a company that makes the instrument.

Although Analog Outfitters technicians can — and do — install and repair the latest in sound technology, much of what they get their kicks doing, and where they´ve seen a growing interest not only among the local community but globally, is “obsolete technology,” like the amps, as well as the Hammond organs and speakers, Juday said.

“There´s a huge resurgence in analog (technology) ... because it sounds better, fuller,” Juday said.

Juday said the Hammond organ, which was often used not only in church music, but also favored since the 1930s among jazz artists and popular music groups like the Allman Brothers, is “an amazingly rich instrument.”

“Because they stopped making them ... not too many technicians are around. That´s where we come in,” Juday said.

Technicians at Analog Outfitters repair and restore the organs (they refurbished one at the House of Blues in Chicago), and ship them all over the world.

Spreading the word

Since the company´s beginning, they´ve built their business by word of mouth, locally and internationally. Their client list includes artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, B.B. King, Elsinore and Those Darlins.

“In a technical profession like mine, I depend on good technicians,” said Mark Rubel, owner of Pogo Studios in Champaign. “I like that they are nice people and are enthusiastic about what they do.”

In the last year, Analog Outfitters rebuilt a Hammond organ (and painted it purple) for Rubel.

Hammonds are “legacy instruments ... nothing sounds quite like them,” Rubel said, and there´s no way he could ship a Hammond to New York because of its immense weight, he said.

“Rebuilding a Hammond takes a great deal of knowledge. ... That´s something that´s rare. It´s fantastic to have a real specialist and real expert locally,” Rubel said.

Over the years, Rubel, who teaches at Eastern Illinois University and Parkland College, also has brought students to Analog Outfitters, where Juday has shown them how to fix instruments and accessories. Many of them have gone on to intern or work at the business.

“I´m just stunned at what they´ve accomplished and very proud of them and what they´ve been able to achieve. ... It´s fun to see them make a business out of it,” Errede said.

Heather Coit/The News-Gazet

Ben Juday, owner of Analog Outfitters, works on a vintage, vacuum tube mixer, as the much newer, solid state transistor mixer is seen in the foreground in Champaign, Ill on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. Juday, who said the older mixer offers a warmer, richer tone, repairs both old and new at his shop.

Heather Coit/The News-Gazet

Upstairs at the Analog Outfitters, rows of organs are found in Champaign, Ill on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

Heather Coit/The News-Gazet

Jens Klingenberg, a repair technician, calibrates a new compressor, which is used in recording studios, at Analog Outfitters in Champaign, Ill on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

© 2011 The News-Gazette