Amped Up

Cigarette pack-sized amplifiers
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This story appears in the February 2000 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

They say too much TV rots your brain, but that's certainly not the case for 32-year old Bruce Zinky, whose "cigarette amp" raked in $700,000 in sales last year. When too many Get Smart episodes and James Bond movies propelled this electronic tinkerer/guitar player into an intoxicating whirlwind of shoe phones and martini transmitters, inspiration manifested itself through a mini amplifier housed in an empty cigarette pack, aptly dubbed the Smokey Amplifier.

"I've never smoked," admits Zinky, "but the idea of [an amp] that was the right size and resembled something completely different was perfect." After crafting a few prototypes for his guitar buddies back in the `80s, Zinky set aside the invention for a career with Fender Musical Instruments. In 1997, a friend grew nostalgic for the battery-powered amp, so Zinky, now equipped with manufacturing and buying know-how, and partner Annette Yurchak, 26, made Smokey Amplifiers into a business.

Luck stepped in when Zinky met Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who bankrolled the first production run by purchasing 100 amps. With the famous long-bearded rocker as their honorary endorsee, Zinky and Yurchak hit up guitar magazines and dealers. The partners used personal credit to finance additional manufacturing and paid off creditors with accumulated sales. With the launch of in 1998 and transactions with guitar retailers like Guitar Center, Smokey Amps has sold more than 50,000 amps to date, and has moved from a home office to a Flagstaff, Arizona, office and warehouse.

Because his product has generated some static from cigarette manufacturers, Zinky now announces by way of stickers that his amps are not affiliated with or authorized by any cigarette companies.

Edition: April 2017

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