Made In Virginia 2013: Big Lick Amps, Salem

Big Lick Amps

Bill Robertson is a sonic time traveler. In his Salem workshop, attached to his high-end hi-fi store Uptown Audio, Robertson builds recreations of legendary Fender and Marshall amps from the 1950s and ’60s, under the brand name Big Lick Amps. True to the era, these are tube amps in which vacuum tubes are used to amplify the sound, rather than the cheaper modern silicon transistors. “The tube amp has a sound that you don’t get from solid state amp,” says Robertson, 49. “It’s a more harmonically rich tone.”

Robertson began building amps after relocating Uptown Audio from Roanoke to Salem in 2007. Though Robertson’s core business is selling and repairing hi-fi equipment, he found that he was spending more time repairing old tube amps than stereo equipment. “It’s hard to find someone who can do a good job on [vacuum tube repair] and not kill themselves,” he says. So Robertson started producing four different types of amps modeled after the Fender Tweed amps, which look like 1950s TV sets with their wide panels covered in brown twill material. He also produces five different variations on the meaty black-and-gold colored Marshall JTM amps. Robertson plays a little guitar himself, “but not well, I just learned a few chords.” No matter, because he’s giving other guitarists that sweet retro sound, and helping them look good too. $995 to $2,395.

View All the Made in Virginia Awards 2013 Winners:


Angela Bacskocky Bags, Richmond

Page Stationery, Richmond

Cestair Sheep and Wool, Augusta Springs


Reginald’s Homemade Nut Butters, Richmond

Good News Granola, Palmyra

Honey Habanero Sauce, Spotsylvania


Henderson Guitar Shop, Grayson County

Big Lick Amps, Salem

Cabin Creek Musical Instruments, Whitetop


Frierson Designs Surfboards, Virginia

Hope Springs Farm Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Orlean

BB Bat Company Youth Baseball Bats, Virginia Beach


Edmund Davidson Knives, Goshen

Natural Woodworking CO., Floyd

Old Dominion Leather Nectar, Lynchburg

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