By Gregory Daurer | Nov 30, 2020
"We build small, powerful amplifiers that are portable, but also allow for the musician to sound the way they want to sound," says Henriksen.
In terms of Henriksen's first point -- portability -- his company manufactures one amplifier that measures 9" x 9" x 9", weighs around 13 pounds, and packs a whopping 120 watts of power -- which is enough sound to fill up a small club. "It fits underneath the seat in front of you on an airplane," says Henriksen. "So if you need to go play a gig that's a short flight away, you can take your equipment with you, instead of having to rent something. . . . To always have 'your sound' with you is of critical importance to our customers."
And in terms of sonics, Henriksen says discriminating guitar players want the sound coming out of their amp to faithfully convey the tones produced by their guitars. "The design approach is to leave the signal unmolested through the preamp process and not shape it," Henrisksen says. "Some amplifiers add so much of their own characteristic, it almost doesn't matter which guitar you're playing through it -- and that's a problem." That's especially true for guitarists playing expensive, hand-built, archtop guitars, for instance, which are often used in jazz settings.
On the company's website, there are glowing reviews for Henriksen amps from magazines like Guitar Player, Acoustic Guitar, and Premier Guitar. And there are enthusiastic testimonials from jazz guitarists Jimmy Bruno, John Abercrombie, and Bobby Broom. "We get compliments all the time," says Henriksen, who also cites guitarist Fareed Haque -- Henriksen says he's owned his albums since college -- as a friend and customer. "[Haque] said I changed his life, I changed the way he played -- just to be able to tour and gig with a tiny amp," says Henriksen.
The company was founded by Richard "Bud" Henriksen, Peter's electronics wiz of a father. ("No one, except the IRS, ever called him Richard," Peter says.) Over the decades, Bud developed modem technology for telex machines, designed a PBX phone switch system, and developed websites and databases. After his retirement, Bud started playing jazz guitar as a pastime. Henriksen says, "He found the perfect guitar, and then he set out to find the amplifier that he thought matched its quality -- and he just couldn't find a decent one for what he wanted to hear. He decided he'd just build one."
Bud recruited Peter, then working as a software engineer, to help him commercially manufacture his amplifier in 2006. Peter says Bud told him, "Everybody I talk to really likes this thing. I think it's a real winner. I would like to manufacture these, but I can't do it by myself." So Peter -- who, as a child, "stripped wires and soldered connectors together" for his father like some kids mow lawns -- partnered with Bud on his new mission.
After his father passed away in 2009, Henriksen continued to innovate. His most popular style of amp is named The Bud -- in homage to his father. "We made a major shift, says Henriksen. "When [we] started out, [my father] just wanted to build the jazz amp. When we pivoted to the smaller amp, The Bud, we realized what we had was the best guitar amplifier ever made for both electric and acoustic [instruments that utilize pickups]. Usually, you can get one or the other -- but there's nothing on the market that sounds great for both, and The Bud really does that. It's a really magical piece of gear."
Furthermore, with its two-channel design, a singer-songwriter has the ability to plug in both a guitar and a microphone. Or, as another example, two guitarists can play through it at the same time. In terms of the amp's features, Henriksen says, "We have everything you need -- and nothing you don't."
Henriksen estimates that the company has built close to 10,000 amps since it began. In addition to two versions of The Bud, there's a single channel, lesser expensive versions of The Bud called The Blu, as well as the company's "hybrid tube amplifier" called The Forte. Amps range in price from $850 to $1,899. Before COVID hit, the company generated $1.2 million in global revenue in 2019. There are dealers selling Henriksen amplifiers in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
At his assembly shop in Arvada, Henriksen puts the finishing touches on the amplifiers. The chassis work is done by Majestic Metals in Denver. And Henriksen employs speakers made by Eminence Speaker in Kentucky, as well as tweeters from Dayton Audio.
The company primarily relies on word of mouth from noted musicians and jazz guitar instructors to drive sales. Henriksen estimates that his solid-state amplifiers have been used on "hundreds and hundreds" of recordings.
Asked what he thinks Bud would appreciate about the company today, Henriksen says of his father, "I think having the world's greatest jazz amplifier carry his name, he would think that's pretty cool."
Challenges: A crowded market dominated by big companies. "We're up against well-funded competition," says Henriksen.
Opportunities: Henriksen says it will be eventually harvesting the fruit of the company's existing product development: "We have a ton of stuff that went through R&D already that we are just waiting to have the resources to launch." As examples, he cites "power cabinets, passive preamps, and a different version of The Forte hybrid tube amplifier."
Needs: "Capital," Henriksen says. "We don't own any machinery, so there's nothing to collateralize."