Tattoo Artist Magazine

By Jay Brown As a machine builder these are some of the things I look for in a machine. And I am not saying that this is it, the gospel, this is just the way I look at it. So the other day I thought to myself, "Man, this would make a great article." As I started listing candidates for the article I found that the list got long really fast. Thus, I decided that I would stop at 28, because it’s as good of a number as any, and it was enough for a broad spectrum of builders. So here it is, 28 tattoo great machine builders... (If I missed anyone don’t be offended, it’s nothing personal, I just had to think of space. Maybe there’ll be additions in a future article?) So without further ado here they are, starting with historical builders, because they were the pioneers and should be recognized first, (plus I’m a history buff) and then moving to present day. Again this is not a Top 10 list, just a list of great builders, hope you enjoy…

PART II on expanded page...

Ernie Carafa I was taught machine-building by Paul Rogers in the mid 1960s. In the mid 70s I put out three machines under the name, Guideline Tattoo Supply. One was a pre-fab comprised of three parts, the other two were my Coleman frame and my Waters frame which were both cast. In the late 80s I went in with Paul on another Waters frame which we had cast. I still have some of those left. In 2010 I had sideplates cut for the Coleman and now fabricate it, also I put out another fabricated frame, which is a copy of another old Coleman. You can get in touch with Ernie at email: Todd Evans I built my first machine during my apprentiship. It was a "Jonesy," I still have it. Apprenticed on "Court Street" in Jacksonville, NC starting in 1976. I apprenticed for Ted Lee Lucas, he was taught by the Shaws… We made everything by hand…. Running your mouth about the business would and did get people killed and fist-fighting, knife-fights and gunfights were the norm…. I have had the privledge to work for some of the most influencial people in the industry. Without some of these people and many more not mentioned, a lot of you would not be here… It was not common then, and being tattooed was NOT socialy acceptable. Hell, neither were Harleys… I make about 20-30 machines a year, and my favorite machine I was involved in building was with Lyle Tuttle. We used my frame and the patented square coils. That machine is in Mike Skyvers museum on lease. I have machines in several museums and one of my first 10 funky looking C and C machines is in the tattoo archives from what I hear… Some are running and tattooing hard at 4-volts with the proper coil configuration. (At perfect "Ikon sell to anyone" specs for those who can't feel and hear them.) It was a pleasure to be with Lyle, and being one of the last two men to tattoo at #30 on 7th Street in San Francisco. I was in the museum during the 1989 earthquake that closed the shop. That job was problably the icing on my career. I had complete access to the museum, day and night and slept literaly on top of it in the upstairs apartment at the shop. All those machines to handle and study, but that was mostly what I was there for. I have the original patent on square coils, and enlarged head-square coils, and only make a few sets of them a year. I'm only tattooing Saturday and Sunday now, at Sacred Art in Tucson, Arizona: 520-622-7050. See more on my Facebook page. I have sold all my shops and am mostly concentrating on hard-rock mining and writing books that are not about tattooing. I have about 1,000 cores and maybe 50 frames left and that may be it. Except for this new machine design (coil powered) that has really been haunting me... John Black I started tattooing in 1976, well let's back up for a sec... I've been around it pretty much all my life. I got to do my first tattoo in '76, I was raised in an Underground State... So the information we got was guarded and passed down. It wasn't like it is today. But the making of needles and machines was some of the things we were pushed to know and understand, I started building machines off of Modified Supreme frames in the 80s... Making cut-backs. We hardly ever put a price on them we gave them to friends. Machine building was just another part of the job. I get asked about people that have influenced me. I can't name all the old greats because they were already gone. So my basic knowledge or people I gained information from was Leon Miller and Paul Rogers. I never got to spend as much time with these men as I would of liked to. When I was taken to meet Paul as a young man I never realized how fortunate I was until it was much too late. I was able to go to Jacksonville, FL only a few times. I wish now I hadn't of been so young, or at least old enough in tattooing to value the experience. I built with Wild Bill from Maine for a short while, we did some really nice projects. Then in '98 I just quit... I thought there was too many of us doing it, so I focused more on tattooing and the running of shops and building hot-rods. Fast forward to 2005, I was in a shop and the discussion of tuning machines came up with an apprentice. The next day I brought in a toolbox full of machine stuff and dialed in everybody's working line up. The next week the apprentice bought me a raw frame for my birthday and said build a machine with me. Well, I had forgotten how much fun it was. We were doing 3-piece frames the next week, In teaching him I found my love for it again and realized I missed it. I met Doug Leese a few years ago and he lit the fire under my ass. We have been doing all sorts of cool stuff... he got me back out there and has been like a brother to me. And as I get closer to retirement age I enjoy it more, I'm doing my own frame we call a Flashback because it is a blend of three of the timeless classics. But my love affair is with 3-piece pre-fabs, built in a Rogers' style, with an improved version of the "tube crusher," that don't crush tubes. I wake up and build for a few hours, then open the shop and tattoo all day. Then get back in the machine shed 'til the wee hours. I do this seven days a week... Sick or well. It's a passion, if I do have a day when I'm not working on machines I feel like something is missing.... Contact John Black at his e-mail:, or at the shop 843-569-0315. Mike Pike I think that it is agreed amongst the craft of tattooing that Mike Pike is one hell of a machine builder. I have personally used Mike's machines and use it as a daily runner, at the time of this article Mike was too busy to get me bio info and whatnot, cause he was up to his eyeballs in machines. Mike Pike machines are definitely ones that stand the test of time, with excellent geometry, which makes for one smooth running machine. Mike Pike has been a name in the crafts machine circle for quite some time, but the machines speak for themselves. Mike collaborate with many machine builders and is recently best known for his “Teacup,” as well as the return of the long shader. You can get in touch with mike at his shop Psycho City Tattoos, he’s been there since 1992. To get him thru the Internet try, or his Facebook page. Mike Godfrey Mike Godfrey is another builder who makes some great machines. Mike currently tattoos in Oregon with Jeff Gogue. He learned to tattoo from J.R. Grove, Mike Pike’s father. He was a student of Mike Pikes when it came to machine building, and collaborates with Mike regularly, as well as being involved with Outlaw Irons.Mike influences are Amund Dietzel, Paul Rogers, Clay Decker, Dan Dringenberg, Seth Cifferi, and Marv Learning Mike’s machines have more lines and movement in them, which is something I have always liked. Mikes machine designs are unique and you tell they are his, they have a distinctive style. You can get in contact with Mike at Gogue Art Grants Pass, OR  541-474-3904 or and Scott Sterling I have been tattooing for 29 years and have been building or rebuilding machines since I began. I started tattooing in San Francisco with Lyle Tuttle then went to L.A. to work with Cliff Raven at Sunset Strip Tattoo. I met Kevin Brady there and left to work with him in Indiana, but we were closed down shortly afterwards by the State of Indiana because we were not doctors. Then I worked for Sailor Moses in Mississippi for about five years, which afforded me the opportunity to go over to Florida and visit Paul Rogers several times. I left Moses to work with Mike Malone at China Sea where I started making machines on a more consistent basis in that Malone made the liners and I made the shaders. While in Hawaii I worked with Kandi Everett at Black Cat Tattoo, Lance McClean of Dragon Tattoo and I also worked at South Pacific Tattoo. People who have influenced me the most in Machine Building are Lyle Tuttle, Paul Rogers, Henry Goldfield and Mike Malone. The two machines I sent pictures of have been used by me more than any machines in my career. The liner I have used almost exclusively for over 20 years and I have not had to turn a screw on it except to replace a contact point after 19 years. The shader I have sued for 16 years. This machine has been even more reliable than the liner. Contact Scott at, Scott's machines are also available on the TAM Pro Store. Seth Cifferi In 1993 I began tattooing and started messing with my machines shortly thereafter. One thing led to another, and soon I was building and tuning machines for my friends, co-workers and peers. Focusing on the technical aspects of tattooing naturally led me to a thorough exploration of its mechanics. Early in my career, I was fortunate to meet some greatly influential artists and builders, who helped shape my overall approach to tattooing and machine building. Aaron Cain, Clay Decker, Danny Dringenberg, Mike Malone (RIP), Chris "Pee Wee" Levi, Matt Rinks, BJ Johnson, Brady Duncan, and my brother Adam Ciferri were among my earliest influences and continue to be among those I look to for inspiration, on many levels. Tattooing has taken me from my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, quite literally, across the world and back, to my current home of Portland, Oregon where I continue to build machines, and tattoo on a part-time basis. Contact Seth at the follow websites: [Editor's note: The list complied by Jay Brown will be broken up into four separate blog installments.] (Jay Brown is a tattoo artist, a machine builder and a contributing blogger for TAM. Jay can be found at A Fine Art Tattoo and Tattoo Machines by “Peg Leg McGee”

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Written by 24471382 — December 15, 2011

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