By Angela Hayes
For The News Report
Jordan Chesnut, of Chesnut Family Music, has put our small town of Effingham on the map in the music industry with his superior boutique amplifiers.
When Samuel Music began shutting its doors back in 2013, Chesnut began seeing a spike in instrument repairs, like guitars and band instruments. It was the amplifiers that seemed to be a bit more challenging.
“I knew enough about amplifier repairs to be dangerous, and I knew that, and it made me nervous. After you get shocked a couple of times, you start losing your edge and confidence,” said Jordan.
To be able to help service the needs of Effingham’s music clientele, Jordan’s father sent him to Specimen Chicago School of Guitar Making, to learn the field.
“I got some amplifier training. We actually built an amplifier and I got addicted to the idea of creating your own tone,” he said.
Jordan had never been happy with the tone of amplifiers he had purchased. He had many guitars and many amplifiers, but just could not find that elusive tone he had been searching for.
“I thought after learning how to build an amplifier, maybe I can actually create that tone that I want. So when I got home, I sold all my gear – I just kept a couple of my guitars – and I started building amplifiers to search for that proper tone,” he said.
Once he finally accomplished that goal, it fueled his passion. Jordan wanted to learn even more. He returned to Specimen and shadowed his instructor, asking him every question he could think of.
When he returned home, he had run into a problem with an amplifier he was working on in his shop. He sent it to his instructor and the instructor could not figure out how to fix it either and sent it back.
Jordan did not give up and his persistence paid off. He fixed the amplifier.
“I am at my peak and now I just need to start creating my own circuits,” Jordan remembers thinking.
And create them he did.
His circuits are so unique, he epoxies the circuit boards so other companies can’t steal his designs.
Early on, his brother helped him get an order for several amplifiers. They were for churches and some other friends of his. He had the amplifiers sitting on the sales floor when people coming into the store showed interest in his work and wanted him to build one for them.
“That got me to the next level where I had a rotation of orders,” he said. “As they saw amplifiers go out on the sales floor, people would put money down for an amplifier to be built and that’s how we got to where we are now.”
Now, Jordan builds custom amplifiers to fit each and every artist’s individual needs. He takes pride in making sure the artist gets the exact tone they are looking for.
“A lot of times, when I’m building an amplifier for somebody online that can’t come in and try my stuff out, I will ask them – What kind of music are you listening to? Give me a list. Who are you inspired by?” Jordan explained.
Once he has that circuit designed, based on the artist’s information, he will send them a video or audio clip to make sure they are happy with the tone. He even goes as far as using the same guitar they have so they will know exactly what their guitar at home will sound like through it.
“I take things a little bit to the next level of being OCD about how I build stuff,” said Jordan. “When I tie my name to something, I want to make sure quality is associated with it when somebody looks at it.”
Jordan builds all the circuits by hand by himself. The only part of the process he will get help on is with building the cabinets. Even then, he still likes to set days aside to do the cabinet work himself when he is able.
But the circuit work is all him.
He has a particular way he designs and builds the circuits, which is what sets his amplifiers above the rest.
When he gets custom orders on circuits, that is when his excellence truly shows. He takes his time and really understands what his customer wants. There is no cutting corners or guess work on his part.
“I will listen to those artists repeatedly while I’m working on other stuff and it will be in the back of my head,” he said. “I’ve had dreams and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and realize, ‘Oh hey, that’s how I get that tone,’ and I’ll write it down or send myself a voicemail and go back to sleep.”
Once he knows the tone and what they want, he is ready to put it in a package.
“At that point I get a chalkboard – because I’m old fashioned – and just draw out how the circuit will work with what I know are solid circuits at that wattage,” said Jordan.
He explains there are only so many ways to get to 50 watts, but there are many different ways to change the tone though the circuit and that is the E. Q. section.
“If the customer says I want this tone at 15 watts, I’ll start with the power section of an amplifier that I know will be good and solid for that. It’s typically the E. Q. section where you get your trebles, base and your input. That’s where everything changes,” said Jordan.
Anyone owning a J. Chester Amplification amplifier will have that amplifier for a long time, unlike many of the cheaper amplifiers sold elsewhere. Not only are the circuits and transformers hand wired, but the cabinets themselves will stand the test of time as well.
Other cabinets are made of particle board and cheap materials. That generally results in them falling apart and breaking down not long after purchase.
A J. Chester Amplification amplifier is made of pine or birch finger joints and ¾-inch wood.
“If you hit one of these with a sledge hammer, it’s still going to hold together,” said Jordan.
There are big names in the music industry who wanted this kind of devotion to tone and own one of Jordan’s amplifiers. Tim Timmons, Luke Sullivan — who has played guitar and keyboard on tour with Kelly Clarkson, –Toby Mac, Chris Tomlin, Danny Gokey and Citizen Way just to name a few.
“If you listen to Christian radio, maybe a fourth of the stuff coming out has my stuff on it,” he said.
Jordan said it is pretty cool to have big artists use his amplifiers, but he has learned the best way to build an amplifier business is to work with the producers.
He started out growing his business by trying to get different endorsements from the “players” in the industry that were on tour, thinking his amplifiers would be out in front for everyone to see.
“I found out quickly that they’re great to get contacts with, but when you’re trying to grow your business, the best way to get your name out there is to go where the “players” are going in and out,” said Chesnut.
These musicians do things called fly dates. If someone lives in Nashville and they are playing in California, they are not going to pack up their equipment to fly out for one show. They will jump on a plane and pay to rent their backline.
Jordan gets his amplifiers to the producers so when an artist calls ahead asking about amps, the producer will inform the artist they have top of the line boutique amplifiers for them to use.
“I found out getting to the producers is important. That way they say, ‘Whoa, that’s a great sound on that album. How’d you get that?’ Well, they’re using my 21 watt amplifier right here,” he said.
Jordan Chesnut has come a long way. Graduating from Effingham High in 2006, he is Effingham born and raised. He has made some sacrifices to be able to do what he loves to do.
“My wife is very tolerant. When I decided to actually try and make a go out of amplifiers, I sold my truck and bought a bunch of resistors and compositors and I started walking to work,” he said.
His success is proof that it was a pretty good decision and the music industry is better off for it as well.
When asked where do you see yourself in five years, Jordan did not hesitate on his answer.
“I really like what I’m doing now.”