Ervin Williams has always had a passion for music.
At just 5 years old, he was already doing multitrack recording, his sister says, playing back clips of himself on the piano to add in another instrument. As a teen, Williams joined his school’s jazz band so he’d have an excuse to carry his guitar around campus, playing Metallica at lunch. He went on to manage his progressive metal band, Versital, while they were active from 1993 to 2001.
As an adult, Williams has maintained his love of rock and the mechanics of sound, starting his own custom amplifier business in 2009. Now, a decade later, Williams is launching a crowdfunding campaign to grow his amp line while maintaining full ownership of Dynamo Amplification, which he says is likely the only Black-owned amplifier manufacturer in the U.S.
Originally from San Antonio, Williams moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth region in 2003. Though he has worked in telecommunications for years, he maintained a keen interest in music. Williams was on lunch break at Verizon one day when he had the idea to launch his own speaker cabinet company — an idea that would evolve into Dynamo. Williams has a background in audio engineering and had already built some equipment for personal use.
“I had this idea for a speaker cabinet that I had used in studio that had a super high-powered speaker,” Williams said. “You could take the amplifier and crank it to the max, and this one speaker could handle the power. It made a huge sound and had just a wicked tone — it sounded better than anything else I’d ever heard. I’d seen people dragging the biggest equipment in there and not get that kind of sound.”
Williams wanted to create a similar effect with more portable equipment that could be used in stage performances. With just a drafting table and other supplies from Office Depot, Williams got to work experimenting with his prototype, the GTS. Over the next two years, he would perfect his product, drafting designs for the circuit boards and for the chassis, which he contracted local metalwork shops to build.
“It was two years of me building it, tweaking it, blowing up stuff and redoing it — every little thing about it, I wanted to be perfect,” Williams said. “I wanted to make the holy grail I had in my head.”
Williams began taking his equipment to trade shows across the U.S., continuing to design new models to add to his inventory. Dynamo began garnering attention in the music industry, with mentions in Guitar World, Premier Guitar and other publications. Williams says he was even approached by Guitar Center about supplying the music equipment chain with amps, but he didn’t have the capital to fund the project up front.
The amplifiers and speaker cabinets are currently only available built to order. Williams considered selling shares of the business to get the cash infusion needed to get a shop and hire staff so he could expand the business — but dropped the idea after discussions with industry pros led him to a discovery.
“I was curious if there were any other Black-owned [amp builder] companies out there, and I started searching and reaching out to people who would know,” Williams said.
Talks with major speaker supplier Celestion and Guitar World editor Michael Astley-Brown revealed that Williams could be the only Black amp builder in the guitar world.
“The rep [at Celestion] didn’t know any, and the Guitar World editor said he checked with his staff and everybody he could check with, and he thinks I’m possibly the only one,” Williams said. “I found a few artists that had their name on equipment other people had built, and I found one Black guy who built speaker cabinets and had some other designer build amps and put his name on them, but I couldn’t find any after that.”
Williams said he hadn’t often noticed other Black amp builders at trade shows or concerts, but he was still surprised by the news.
“You would think that out of all the Black musicians and artists since day one, there would be somebody who was building something — and there’s not,” Williams said. “It’s like, I can’t sell this off now.”
Instead, Williams said he is turning to crowdsourcing and considering pursuing a traditional bank loan to supply U.S. dealers with a line of Dynamo products this year. He launched a GoFundMe campaign in May with a $175,000 goal. He also is working on developing a line of bass amps to help fill what he says is a void in the industry.
Whatever is next for Dynamo, Williams said he has enjoyed the journey getting to meet some of his idols, including Scott Dalhover of Texas rock band Dangerous Toys.
“All my favorite artists I’ve ever had since high school, I’ve gotten to meet, and some of them are now friends of mine,” Williams said. “I always thought I would meet them, but I never really thought the way I would get to know them would be through my amps.”
Williams’ wife, Tameka, said Dynamo has been an outlet for her husband’s longtime love of sound.
“When we were dating, he actually made me a CD where he was playing guitar and singing Stevie Wonder,” she said. “He was always critiquing everything he heard, whether it was on the radio or him just playing his guitar. He’s always had a passion.”
Once he gets Dynamo established, Williams hopes to get back to his roots, getting his band back together and going on the road to tour while marketing his amps to fellow musicians. When the time comes, he says he’ll be ready.
“It [Dynamo] opens the door for me to get in with all these people so whenever we get ready to go on tour, these artists will be a phone call away to get added to somebody’s roster,” Williams said.
To learn more about Dynamo Amplification, visit www.dynamoamplification.com.