Chances are if you are a conisuer of reviews or gear news that you have come across him. With over 13,000,000 views on YouTube, an active website full of reviews and in-depth reporting on manufacturers, The Tone King has shown that he is anything but a weekend blogger. I first meet Louis (The Tone King) at the NAMM Show, which is a place where a thousand or so manufacturers get together to show off all their gear. Of all the media people he seemed to have the most urgency in getting artist interviews and new product news. In fact, The Tone King claims that its coverage of NAMM is the fastest of any media outlet and given my experience it's probably true. I've seen him interview an artist and then the show ends, I grab some dinner and head back to the hotel and the interview is already up on The Tone King. We decided it was time to turn the tables and interview The Tone King.
When did you start playing guitar? Was there any particular motivating artist or moment for you?
I started playing guitar in the 6th grade. At the time, I was listening to Iron Maiden and the Scorpions. It was the height of MTV. Awesome guitarists, huge arenas, and killer hooks - I was blown away! Warren DeMartini falling through the ceiling during the Round and Round solo was amazing! Instead of watching TV, I was busy recording rock videos and watching Head Bangers Ball.
What motivated you to start "The Tone King?"
The Tone King started by accident. It was 100% passion driven. Ever since 6th grade, I’ve been into guitars. But, if I wanted to trade in gear, I was at the mercy of a store giving me a low-ball number or posting some newspaper ad. Because I was tired of getting burned on bad deals, I held on to everything. And, as I got older and made more money, I bought more gear.
In 2008, I put up my first video on YouTube. It was a shoot-out between 2 English-made Marshall combos. It was a great way for me to create a reference library of how my gear sounds, and there were tons of folks who shared the same interest and followed my channel.
When I wanted to build a website, I tried to think of a catchy domain name. In some of the YouTube comments people referred to me as ‘The Tone King.’ It just kind of stuck, and TheToneKing.com was born.
You've got some of the fastest coverage from the NAMM show, when did you first go to this crazy show and how overwhelming was the experience?
My first NAMM show was 4 years ago. It was nuts. And it all came about in a weird way. In 2005, I bought a Minarik Inferno from a shop in Vegas. Being a gear nut, I tracked down the makers of Minarik Guitars and befriended Bill and Mark Minarik. When they learned about my passion in guitars, my interest in making online videos, and the fact that I was New York based, they offered me a spot to be a rep for them.
I didn’t do a great job, and it was short lived. Although, because of my contacts, Sam Ash did bring on the Minarik line! That was a pretty big accomplishment for me, and I immediately learned how receptive people were to my enthusiasm around guitars. Later, I was invited to meet the folks from Minarik in person at NAMM, and I accepted the invitation. Camera in hand, I was shooting everything in sight, and it all went up on my channel. To this day, those videos from my first NAMM show are still top ranking on YouTube. Every year, I keep trying to outdo myself by getting more and better coverage. This year I had to bring in a bunch of people to help me out at the show. It was great! Everybody kept asking me about my entourage.
Do you find that certain manufacturers are more friendly and helpful despite the fact that you are not a print publication?
Absolutely. There are some companies that immediately recognized what I was doing and got on board from the very beginning. These companies saw the boom of video content and leveraged it right away. Anyone who had been paying attention to TheToneKing.com knew it was a good investment.
There are some companies that were late bloomers. But eventually, they came around. I think they’ve realized that what I do compliments their gear. Heck, who doesn’t want coverage! I also think that the dude-next-door sort of thing is important. I’m just another player who loves gear. And, I think people tend to gravitate to the way I look at gear. Every piece of gear I have, I worked really hard for. I can’t just tell someone to spend their hard earned money on a piece of gear if I think it’s crap. It also helps to let the manufacturers know that you want to make things easy on them. I’ve worked with over 80 different manufacturers, and not one of those arrangements are the same. Each arrangement is unique and is tailored for that individual manufacturer. Some may say that’s an inefficient model, but for me, I view it like a personal relationship. I am all about giving those who I work with undivided, individualized attention. It requires a lot of time, but when it’s a labor of love, it’s all worth it. I still talk to every manufacturer that I’ve ever worked with. And they still give me the inside scoop on their gear, either through NAMM coverage or through exclusive content on TheToneKing.com.
In your YouTube videos you have a small room stacked to the brim with Orange, ENGL, Bogner, Blackstar - of all the amps you have, which one could you not live without?
That’s tough. Every collection has its staples. For me it’s my Soldano and my JCM800. I bought those amps way before TheToneKing.com ever existed. There’s a personal relationship I have with those pieces. Then, there are those pieces of gear that I have come to appreciate simply by having an opportunity to play as many amps as I have, like my Orange Thunderverb and my Custom Audio Electronics OD100. They all do something different for me.
But, if I had to sell everything except one amp, I’d most likely keep my JCM800. That sound just brings me back to when I first started playing guitar.
Tell us about your BC Rich Leopard that is in so many of your videos - is that your favorite guitar? How many guitars in total do you own?
Wow! That Leopard guitar! I bought that from Ed Roman’s stock many years ago. The way it was told to me goes like this: When Class Axe days of BC Rich went under, Ed Roman bought out the remaining inventory. This gave the Class Axe folks the money they needed to pay of whatever loans were due. So, although Ed Roman was never an official owner of BC Rich, he owned everything that was once Class Axe. That guitar came from the Class Axe Custom Shop. It’s actually a pretty rough looking guitar, as it’s hand painted and is the furthest thing from a factory pristine piece. But, that’s what I like most about it. This guitar was clearly someone’s project, someone that was experimenting with different colors. It’s got leopard print with hot pink / hot blue lines separating it from metal flake silver, and even in the gold part of the leopard, it’s got gold metal flake. Its something you’d never find anywhere else, and it really became a trademark guitar of sorts. That is one guitar I know no one has. I just wish I know who painted it or who it was perhaps painted for. But I guess not knowing makes it that much more exciting.
Just like Eddie has is Frankenstrat, I have my TTK Leopard BC Rich guitar! I don’t play it every day, but I love owning it. I just had a pair of the ‘White’ Seymour Duncan Blackout Active pickups installed. That thing rocks so hard, it sounds like it’s on fire!
I hear that you had your own line of B.C. Rich signature guitars built with feedback from the Tone King community. What was that process like?
That was a very exciting process. I am very fortunate to have a fantastic relationship with BC Rich. They had so much faith in me and The Tone King community to put something like this together. Together, we built a guitar that was second to none in terms of quality and price point. We picked the Mockingbird body shape, which is probably the most popular and recognizable, along with premium components that all spelled metal! Full neck through design, mahogany body and neck, polished ebony fretboard, reverse gunslinger headstock, and a real Floyd rose trem. Coupled with controls everyone is familiar with. Les Paul style humbuckers – both of which could be tapped, 2 volume and 2 tone knobs, and a 3-way toggle.
It has a rock / metal style flamed maple trans black top, and even the back is trans finish. You can see the full neck through, and ebony stringers on the rear of the guitar. It’s a fantastic looking and playing instrument. I am so proud that the guitar we built really feels like the best of the best. We even went so far to have it built at their premium factory in Korea. You can’t find anything that would match that guitar in feature or functionality at that price point. I have always been a fan of BC Rich and was grateful that they were the very first company that acknowledged TheToneKing.com as a legitimate source for gear reviews and news. The fact that they stood behind the making of the TTK-1 that bears my brand just blows me away. Like many of my favorite rock stars, I’m proud to have my name associated with one of the best guitar brands in the business. That’s an accomplishment beyond my wildest dreams and imagination.
For more information on The Tone King, visit: http://www.TheToneKing.com