Vintage Guitar
April 2017

There's a healthy dose of do-it-yourself grit involved in learning to play an instrument, write songs, and create music. Search far and wide, you likely won't find a bigger DIY guy than Tom Scholz.

After his 1969 graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) with a Master's degree in mechanical engineering, Scholz became a product-design engineer for camera/electronics maker Polaroid. A big-time tinkerer, his free time was spent writing and recording songs; and it wasn't just him and keyboard or acoustic guitar. No. Scholz played guitar, bass, and keys, then recruited local talent to play drums and sing. By '74, he had a half-dozen songs ready for screening by record labels; CBS/Epic helped turn the tapes into Boston's self-titled debut and follow-up, Don't Look Back.

While making the albums, Scholz grew to appreciate the sounds made by a 100-watt Marshall amp turned up to its "sweet spot" - that place where tubes and transformers produce magical overtones that are such a part of loud rock and roll. But those tones come at a price, mainly ear-damaging sound-pressure levels. His fix was the first "power soak," a.k.a. an attenuator - a device that allows an amplifier to produce full-volume tone while sending less output signal to a speaker, thus making for a quieter studio/environment. It would be the first of many devices he'd create in the pursuit of consistent, usable tone.

In 1982, Scholz founded Scholz Research & Development to manufacture the gear he was developing, including amps (the best known of which are the Rockman series of headphone amps) and later, the Rockmodules line of modular/rackmount effects. All told, Scholz's name is on the patents of 34 devices. The company produced gear until being acquired by effects/accessories maker Dunlop in 1995.

And while some would see irony in the fact that, when asked his thoughts on modeling amps as part of his 2012 feature in VG, Scholz surprisingly described them as, "Useless," it's easy to appreciate that while the Rockman amps had a certain "cleansing" effect, their intent was inspired by a desire for every player to be able to consistently re-create their perfect tone.

Today, Scholz continues to play almost every instrument while writing and recording Boston songs. When time allows, he takes the band out for summer tours. - Ward Meeker