Creating ‘emotional translation devices’
To say Jamie Scott is passionate about his work would be a major understatement. Get him started talking about the equipment he creates with his boutique guitar amplifier company, 3rd Power, and he gets downright evangelical, exuding a mix of infectious enthusiasm and unwavering belief in the uniqueness of his product. To hear him tell it, he is not making electronic equipment so much as providing the ultimate conduit between the hearts of musicians and the ears of their listeners.
“What we make are emotional translation devices for musicians,” Scott says. “If we were an acoustic guitar maker, we would want that intimate relationship with guitar — contour body, vibration, inspiration — right? But I just happen to be fascinated with amplifiers, so I’m trying to create that environment electronically. And it’s in the [speaker] cabinet, the way they resonate, the way they tell the truth.”
Scott is preaching the amplification gospel from 3rd Power’s laboratory, a second-floor loft space with an open, industrial feel in the old Nashville Bindery building on Jewel Street, just a stone’s throw from the Douglas Avenue railroad crossing by Ellington Parkway.
Scott points at a computer screen, where he is designing a template for the chassis of his latest creation, the Citizen Gain 100 CSR, a mighty amplifier that combines the crunchy distortion of classic British amps with the big clean sounds of the most powerful American amps. He uses terms such as “capacitance,” “triangulate,” “crosstalk,” “fully shielded,” and “phase issues” to explain the various nuances involved in maximizing sonic clarity while avoiding potential electronic interference. He says that when he gets an amp design dialed in just right, not only can he hear it, he can “feel it, even
Scott’s explanation of his company’s name takes on a somewhat spiritual tone — which, when you are talking about harnessing electricity, a force that can’t be seen yet is clearly real, makes a certain amount of sense. “3rd Power is that exchange of energy, and if it’s done right, we can amplify,” Scott says.
And there’s another significant element to the 3rd Power moniker: When Scott started the company seven years ago, he turned heads by creating triangular speaker cabinets. In fact, Lenny Kravitz based his stage set in 2012 around Scott’s speaker cabinets. Watch videos of Kravitz from that period and you can see two large pyramids onstage, each pyramid created using nine triangular 3rd Power cabinets. (Nine … that’s three squared, in case you’re keeping score at home.)
“Lenny’s light rig, the set, everything was triangle-themed based on what they could do with the triangle shape,” Scott says. “Pyramids.”
The reason for the triangular cabinets? “No parallel walls,” Scott says. “It makes it sound more dimensional. Three sides, triangles, three-dimensional. They are amplifiers and they are powerful.” Thus the name, 3rd Power.
For practical reasons — transport, packing, and stacking among them — 3rd Power speaker cabinets are now rectangular. But if you’re thinking Scott abandoned the triangle philosophy, think again: “In our current speaker line,” he says, “triangle chambers are embedded inside the rectangle.”
Though 3rd Power has been around for a relatively short time, rock & roll has been in Scott’s blood since he was a toddler. His mother was what he describes as “a hippie costume designer” who made stage clothes for bands. One of his most vivid memories from childhood took place in 1969 at the Seattle Pop Festival, when he was just 3 years old. “I was sitting on the edge of the stage during Bo Diddley’s set,” he recalls. “I was within five feet of Bo, dangling my cute little feet off the edge of the stage. And I just looked up and watched him, and he looked down and pointed at me, and it was really pretty incredible.”As a teenager, after a few years devoted to playing football at his father’s urging — “I was miserable,” he says — Scott turned all his energy toward the guitar. In the late ’80s, things really took off when he and some friends formed a band called Vain. “We were signed to Island,” he says. “It was very California hard rock, and this was late ’80s. ... We came out of that Mötley Crüe, Van Halen thing.”
Eventually, Scott’s guitar chops became so formidable that in the mid-’90s, he was asked to audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s band. “I didn’t get the gig, or maybe we’d be having a different interview,” he says, grinning.
But the audition led to a moment of clarity. “I’m 27, sitting there at the audition, playing ‘Crazy Train’ with the band, hair down to my waist, leather pants, Les Paul down to here [points to his knees], just going for it, and it hit me at that moment: I am not this person on the inside,” he recalls.
“So I spun off from that, cut my hair, and started playing kind of an alt-country, Americana thing. And I land the residency at the Paradise Lounge in San Francisco, playing every Monday for two years.” Before long, he landed a gig with a band signed to Geffen Records, Big Blue Hearts. His tenure in that band included a tour opening for Joe Walsh.
So what leads a talented musician to swap his rock star ambitions for the amplifier business? “Somewhere along my evolution as a human being, this quit being about me,” Scott says. “I think it was probably getting married and having children. The fire in me to be a famous musician, it’s still in my core. But now, I feel like I can touch the music world in a far broader scope, if I make the tools that allow every musician to touch their band and their audience.”
It was the birth of Scott’s amp business that brought him, his wife, Nikki, and their two sons — Noah Caden, 14, and Lucas Jagger, 10 — to Nashville. (Yes, Lucas got his middle name from Mick Jagger, at his dad’s request.) Scott sent a prototype to a Nashville musician who was so intrigued by the product that he urged Scott to relocate to Nashville, and even paid for his move, found the Scotts a house in Franklin, and helped start the company. (The Scotts currently live in Brentwood.)
3rd Power’s first amp was the HD100, a high-gain amp (meaning lots of distortion for harder rock sounds). It was part of what Scott called the HLH (Health, Love, Happiness) series. Soon, he was working on amps with names like American Dream, British Dream, and Dream Weaver, which focused on cleaner sounds.
For several years he ran the company out of his home. But one day, Jimmy Frech, who runs the custom road case company Mental Case (see sidebar), came by Scott’s house/shop for a visit. “Jimmy had one of my amps, so he came by,” Scott recalls, “and the dogs are barking, and my house is just taken over by the amp company. After hanging out a bit, Jimmy goes, ‘We’ve got to get you out of here. We’ve got to get you in this new place I’m building.’ So he built this loft in his shop.”
Recently, 3rd Power began a new line, called Wooly Coats, based on lighter, more portable American combo amplifiers (meaning the amplifier and speaker are in the same cabinet) from the 1950s and ’60s. The Wooly Coats amps have become an immediate hit, and can be frequently spotted in East Nashville music venues being played by the likes of Jim Oblon and Derek Hoke. You may have also spotted them at Eastside Music Supply, the exclusive Nashville dealer for the amp line.
The rest of the 3rd Power line, meanwhile, can be found on stages and in studios all over the country. Unlike most amplifier companies, 3rd Power’s website doesn’t list the stars who use the amps — “I want everybody who goes to the website to feel like they are discovering 3rd Power for themselves,” Scott says. But the list of acts using 3rd Power amps is impressive; Besides Kravitz, it includes The Who, Little Big Town, Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Joe Walsh, Steve Miller, Anderson East, Mona, The Wild Feathers, and Jason Isbell, to name just a few.
“We have legends, and really cool, younger bands,” Scott says. “Some of my favorite people to work with are the younger musicians. ... They listen to old records, and that’s how they’re connected with very cool, old-sounding amps. And to make amps that really plug all of that mojo together, it’s flipping them out.”