A Conversation with Jeff Earl, founder and owner of J Design Guitar Speaker Enclosures
Jeff Earl is the founder and owner of J Design Speaker Enclosures, a small family-owned and operated company dedicated to building high-quality, great =-sounding cabs that are durable enough to take on the road.
J Design builds each cabinet by hand using the finest woodworking techniques and high quality materials. And Jeff lives tone.
Q: Who is your biggest influence, in terms of getting into this business?
A: Ben Fargen. When I first started building cabinets for Ben, I started to learn about acoustics science and the math behind it. I wanted to design cabinets that didn’t just look good in paper, but actually work in the real world. You can do all the math and planning and built then build a cabinet, and it could turn out sounding flat.
Ben is my biggest influence … constant collaboration … shared each other’s input … different circuits and tones and playing styles into consideration, to see how the cabinet reacts to the amps
I experimented with different joinery, the baffling on the inside, different ways to brace the cabinets … I thought outside the box … I learned everything I needed to know and then just put it aside, and started to build what sounded good.
In late 1999, I started building cabinets, and went through a lot of trial and error; I wasted so much lumber building so many prototypes. I originally took a design for a way oversized 1×12, with the absolute largest dimensions, built it up and played through it with my amp. Then I started slowly cutting with my table saw, and tested the tonality as I cut, one inch at a time and eventually in 1/8” inch increments, all the way down until I had it where I liked the best. Once I found this design, I stuck with it. That was my 1×12 Vintage model design.
Q: What drove all of that experimentation?
A: Making a cabinet that sounded great for a variety of amps … because I wasn’t building exclusively for Fargen. I had to make my cabs work with all kinds of amps. Incidentally, this is when I started collecting amplifiers!
Q: What about your first build?
A: I built a base cab out of necessity when I was 13 years old. At the time, I wanted one of those Genz Benz bass 4×10’s which I couldn’t afford. My bass guitar teacher at the time in Chico, CA offered to help me design and build a cabinet. We would work on this after my bass lessons, and after 4 lessons we had a cab … it sounded killer!
Q: Who influences your guitar playing?
A: My absolute biggest influence is Eddie Van Halen. The first time I heard VHI and Women and Children First, I was just absolutely blown away at how he could get those sounds out of a guitar … all the weird squeals, the tremolo dives … those crazy sounds on Women and Children First … I had to do that. That got me started and that is the approach I took when I started playing. Also, Matthias Jabs from the Scorpions was badass. I remember the day that World Wide Live came out in ‘85.
Q: How do you approach the business today?
A: The most important thing I bring … I build a relationship with my customers to find out what they need. I want to know all about their playing style, the amps they use, the guitars they play … this all has an impact on the dimensions and speaker type that I build into their cabinet. I enjoy digging in with my customers and finding out … why?
My philosophy is to build cabinets at the highest quality that I can … as if I am building them for myself. That’s what I do with every piece.
Q: Which of your cabs stands out the most, for you?
A: One of the very first Old Dogs … it was featured in Guitar Player magazine in 2005. I built this stunning Monterrey Pine 2×12, with two Weber Silver Bell Alnico speakers in it. That cabinet sounded so badass, and I remember vividly how I tested it out. I was using my Fargen VOS through it, and that first chord … wow, I knew I landed on something badass. That cab is now called the California, and I’m still building them.
Q: You’ve built some very exotic looking cabs. Where do you find that incredible wood?
A: My neighbor owns the hardwood dealership in my town. He basically calls me whenever he has something coming in, or when he hears about something through the grapevine. Sometimes I’ll spend 2 or 3 hours to sort through a unit of lumber in order to find the right piece. Maybe it is a swirl of grain that goes around a knothole, or grains growing in different directions causing a little burl … I try to go for that one-of-a-kind aesthetic that hasn’t been seen before in a cab. I did an amp cab in Live Edge cedar; aromatic cedar … bark and all. I epoxied and sealed it all up. It was outrageous and beautiful. Sometimes I have no idea what I will wind up with … I go in there with an open mind, and I let the lumber direct me creatively.
Q: How about when you’re not building?
A: When not building … I am a songwriter. I like to write lyrics and although I’m a rocker at heart, when I write music, it comes out country! I am a member of the Nashville International Songwriter’s Association, I submit songs to be rewiewed, and I’m also an ASCAP member. I like to play guitar. I go hiking with my family, snow skiing, and camp and travel with the family … we load the camper on the truck and just go …