History of the Rock Block
My name is Kim Hardee, I started Surprise Sound Lab with my wife, Madalyn, in 2008. I'm an Electrical Engineer with 41 years of electronic circuit design experience and over 80 circuit patents. I've played acoustic guitar since college, and about 18 years ago I started playing electric guitar.

On the recommendation of a musician friend, I purchased a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe 60 watt vacuum tube guitar amp. I immediately found out how loud a 60 watt tube amp is -- way too loud for playing in my house if anyone else is home. I just couldn't get that output tube overdriven sound except at ear-piercing levels.

I started buying various distortion and overdrive pedals, but still wasn't happy with the sound. I also tried a few digital modeling boxes. They were fun with all the various built-in effects, but I still wasn't happy with the basic distortion sounds.

I learned about some of the vintage classic small amps and purchased a Fender VibroChamp and Gibson Kalamazoo. These small 5 watt amps are nice, but they don't have much gain, and for my needs were still too loud.

Then, about 12 years ago, I started reading on the internet about 1/2 watt guitar amps for practicing and recording. I purchased several of these amps thinking that they would be exactly what I needed. I won't name any of them since I don't want to hurt their business, but I found that they either didn't have enough gain, didn't have enough controls, didn't have enough clean headroom, didn't have quite enough power, had only one basic sound and/or couldn't also be used as distortion pedals. But I did determine that an amplifier with about 1/2 watt of clean power and 1 watt of distorted power would work well for me.

I decided to design my own amplifier, but first I needed to learn about vacuum tube guitar amplifier design, which wasn't too hard due to my background in electronics. I built 4 different prototypes and tweaked for about 1 1/2 years before I was satisfied with the sound. I let some of my guitar-playing friends try my final prototype, and they loved it. The first protoype was about 8" by 12", and I decided to try to see how small I could make it. After many hours of work and a custom printed circuit board, I manage to fit it into the current 3 3/4" by 5 3/4" size. To accomplish this I developed a new proprietary internal switching power supply which converts 12V DC to 320V DC. This regulated supply is so efficient that a noisy fan is not needed.

Based on the positive response to the prototype, We decided to start a small business selling these amplifiers. We named the company Surprise Sound Lab (surprising sound, get it), and named the amp the Rock Block since it's shaped like a block and really rocks.

Anyway, that's the story behind the Rock Block. So far this has been a lot of fun. I hope you like it.

Kim Hardee
Rock Block
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