Photo: Martín Rivero
As I enter the capacious and cozy interior of E3 Modern’s showroom on 300 South, lately made even more so by the addition of the “Boozetique” alcohol accessories shop, Josh Stippich is sipping a can of Uinta’s 801 beer. The space is brimming with local art. It’s appropriate, because he is one of the genuinely unique, local craft purveyors shaping not only the things they design and make, but also the local culture through their talents and abilities. He brings his designs of audio equipment and musical amplification to the Craft Lake City DIY Festival on Aug. 8 and 9 in the Science & Technology Building.
Before moving into the former Nobrow Coffee a year and a half ago, Stippich was always making stuff at his manufacturing shop, E3 Fabrication, in Murray for the last 13 years or so. E3 Modern fell into place about 18 months ago.
Stippich’s stepfather, Dave Allen, is a sculptor who has shown his work in A Gallery and Coda Gallery in Park City. His mother is a graphic designer, and his father was an HVAC tech. These unique influences combined to form someone who had an urge to build and design things—and what things they are! Clean in design, visually dramatic and imposing yet subtly stylish, E3 stuff—also going under his brand ElectronLuv—has its own, distinct look—a bit as if A Clockwork Orange was remade in present day.
Stippich got into building stereo equipment when he had a recording studio in Highland, Utah, back in the ’90s. He recorded Red Bennies, Stretch Armstrong, Ether and other notable locals. At the studio, he was just trying to achieve a certain sound. His early efforts have transformed into awe-inspiring, immense sound systems that often sell for five figures, and have been featured in high-end audio publications.
His inspiration goes back to the golden age of hi-fi—the ’60s—and there’s a lot of technique and craftsmanship involved in what he does. “There are tons of different disciplines that go into it: machining, welding, designing, electronics and engineering. You’ve got to combine them all, knowing materials and how to work with them and turn them into something.” When he talks about his craft, his eyes glow as bright as the red-hot tubes in his audio equipment, which he favors for their “warm, clean sound.”
“Craft Lake City is always trying to show people who are trying to make something a little different,” he says. The DIY Festival isn’t just about embroidered jackets and screen-printed T-shirts. “We actually use technology—we use computers to design this stuff, and we have computerized machines to help in manufacturing. Some of the technology is old, like tubes, and also record players and vinyl.”
His products are high-end for a reason. “There’s so much time and effort that goes into it, and the quality of materials—they’re expensive, and the components, they all add up. Any time you are making just one of something, it takes so much time.” Most of his work is done for special order.
It took years of experimentation for Stippich to be able to create these audio works of art. He says, “All I ever do is sit there and keep messing with it until I get it to where I want. For tube stuff, there is no school anymore. It’s basic electronics—you’ve got to just learn stuff hands-on. It’s kind of a lost art these days.”
He notes a resurgence in tubes in stereo equipment as well as guitar amplifiers in the early 2000s. He thinks he knows why. “The sound is just more natural, warm and organic-sounding. Of course, it’s going to produce a lot of heat, and tube stuff’s always heavier,” says Stippich. The resurgence of vinyl helped too. “I think the whole idea of just having a nice stereo to listen to, and the whole act of putting a record on, listening to it, looking at the big album artwork—there’s something special about all that.” His current listening includes a lot of old jazz and ’60s psych, and he puts on the latest Willis Earl Beal.
“Sometimes I joke that I like the stereo system more than the music,” he admits. The belt on this behemoth of a turntable is a piece of dental floss. His creations always seem to embody elegantly simple sonic solutions, and this shows his eye for design. “I’ve always tried to make things look cool and pretty,” Stippich says. “I’ve always liked Art Deco designs, like old steam engines and old cars.”
There are constraints. “There are certain dictates of physics that determine the shape and size of each horn for a given frequency you are trying to capture. You’re trying to tie it all together and make it work sound-wise and visually.” The size of his speakers actually makes them take fewer watts to power. It’s part of his simplicity of design.
Josh will be with E3 inside the DIY Festival’s Science & Technology Building at the Gallivan Center for the third year in a row. He says, “We’ll play some music and show some possibilities of making stuff—it’s a mix of old tech and new.” He’s excited to share a room with demos of 3D printers. E3 visually and aurally grabs you, which is perhaps a good thing. As Stippich says, “I never explain it as well as I should when we’re there, but we’re doing science.”
Visit E3Fabrication.com for more info on what they do.