Templo Devices Finally Made a Portable Guitar Amp Worth Playing
For most guitarists, playing through a nice amp means plugging into an outlet and generally remaining in a single location for the duration of a session. Battery-powered pocket amplifiers exist and street performers have pretty solid busking setups, but a truly worthy and ready traveling amp was still something that eluded much of the guitar world.
And then Scott Strange made the NOMAD and launched Templo Devices.
The NOMAD is a 50-watt battery-powered guitar amp that actually has all the bells and whistles one would expect from a professional-grade amplifier. It has enough inputs and power to successfully run an instrument, a microphone, and some pedals through it. You can run a direct line out for recording or hooking up to a bigger system. There’s native spring reverb and a quick charger, all in a lightweight package. And most importantly, it looks and sounds like a relatively nice amp should.
But Strange didn’t stop there. He went on to introduce the SPLYCE (a mini mixer that goes perfectly with the NOMAD) and a few pedals to round out Templo’s offerings — with the Reel Deal tape recorder preamp earning a following among overdrive fans for its unique sound.
Having just begun Templo Devices in 2019, the Canadian builder quickly rose to prominence as one of the boutique companies to watch — both for pedal fans and those interested in travel-ready amplifiers.
SPIN spoke with the innovator via Zoom to learn more about Templo Devices’ path to success and how Strange built all of his own favorite products.
SPIN: How did you first decide that you wanted to build a travel amp?
Scott Strange: Well, I was actually a professional magician until I was 23, and then I just decided I was going to hitchhike across Canada. I gave up magic and started traveling and playing music, because I just really loved the feeling you get by playing music with people. Compared to doing hard magic tricks, the emotional range for music is way wider. Really early on, I started modifying the instruments I was using to get the sounds and functionality I wanted out of them. I really liked effects, so I started messing with little battery amps and building effect pedals. I kept traveling and I made a little battery amp in a suitcase, and I kept trying to improve it. So over the course of about five years, I was just trying to build an amp for myself that served my needs — which was to play electric guitar with pedals while traveling. I just kept doing that, and then eventually I found a better version.
Then I started fixing things for people, and they started asking me for amps like mine. I wanted to be able to provide them, but I didn’t have the ability to make them, because mine was made of salvaged parts in a military enclosure. I didn’t think I could really offer something mass-produced, until one time I was on a plane and the guy next to me was an angel investor. He gave me his contact info, and I figured I’d start with a run of 50 or so just to see if I could do it properly. Then COVID hit and it was all I had to do, so I designed an even better version and really went for it.
When you first started making the travel amps, did you think they were going to catch on as well as they did?
It’s funny, because I never thought about it as a business. I always just solve my own problems, and then people come to me and go “Oh, I have that same problem. Can I have one of those?” When you think of a battery-powered amp or a busking amp, you usually think “It’s good enough for what we’re doing, but I wouldn’t use it in the studio or whatever.” I have hand-built tube amps that are the best amps on the planet, but when I’m traveling, I can’t carry those with me. Sure, I could carry them and plug them in occasionally, but it’s not worth my time or the hassle. I wanted to make an amp that I could literally play in the airport and then take it to my place and play that night. The power when you’re traveling to places like Mexico is unreliable, so sometimes you get a terrible noise when you’re plugged in. I wanted to solve all of those problems, where I could just play my sound anywhere with all my pedals. It just so happens a lot of other people are like “Hey, I have a different story, but that also works for me.”
And before we get into your pedals, I know you have the SPLYCE too that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the NOMAD. What inspired a mini mixer like that?
Well, a friend of mine played violin and sang, and he had a one-input amp. He asked me if I could make a little box that mixes a mic and an instrument without needing an extra power source or input. So I built this box, and he never ended up picking it up. I ended up using it for years, because I would do stuff like beatbox looping and then play over my own loops. Being able to just pick up a mic, beatbox into it, hit a loop and keep going without having to unplug anything made it so much easier. It’s funny, because I put an XLR input on the NOMAD for people to be able to sing and play at the same time. But in the development process, I’ve had some people go “Oh, maybe just cut out the mic if it’s too much hassle to build it and dial in the sound. It takes up too much room.” But I don’t want to be like Apple where you have to buy an accessory to plug in a mic. I wanted to offer as many problem solvers as I could.
So I have a friend, Dave, who helps with all of my stuff. He’s amazing with anything with a circuit board and he’s a genius, but he’s got very interesting tastes. We were on the phone all the time just working through issues and problems while building the amp and different products, because he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of this stuff. His tastes always pushed me toward weird old things, like we literally spent about four months during COVID down the rabbit hole of building vintage compressors. What happened with the Reel Deal was really funny, because I was on a break from developing other stuff, and I saw a Reverb ad or an eBay posting for some Danelectro boost that looked really neat. I’d always been looking for a nice overdrive sound for myself, and I didn’t really like anything I’d found. I’m a mostly-clean player, but I like a little bit of character.
I was looking through a few schematics [similar to the Danelectro] on a forum, and there was this one where a guy said he’d tried a bunch of others, but this was his favorite. So I built it right away, tried it out, and I just couldn’t stop playing it. It just felt good to play. I called Dave and told him to build the circuit and call me back, and so he did and said it sounded like crap. But then he called me back two hours later and goes “Oh, I messed something up. I shorted something out. It sounds incredible now.” Well, he didn’t say “incredible,” because he’s not a very enthusiastic guy, but he said it was “pretty good,” which means it’s amazing. So I thought I’d turn it into a pedal just for fun. Within about a week, I had the design for the circuit board, and I put out a run of them with some vintage transistors and resistors. It just blew up and people happened to like it. I think that’s my whole career so far. I make what I like, and I get lucky if other people like it. I guess vintage preamps are really hot right now, but I’m not really following anything at all. I’m just doing what I want and putting it out there.
How does it feel to see the success you’ve had with Templo Devices over the last few years?
Well, I’m super grateful and my mind is blown. I am bamboozled at the reception. I basically just started making stuff and selling it — like an Etsy thing — and you never know who you’re going to get as customers or what’s going to happen. People have been so great, so patient, so understanding for the most part. It’s just been a trip, because this is becoming a real thing that I can actually make a living doing. I’m incredibly grateful for that, because it’s just something I wanted to do for myself. So I’m trying to give something back and make these accessible for people. That’s my whole point. I want to make amazing sounding things that look cool, but are also accessible to people, because music is so important. My mission was to give to people and I think they’re giving back to me. I think that’s the coolest part about this. I’m just making it up as I go. I have no electronics training, but I’ve been working on this for nine years now and trying to make really good stuff.