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Egnater Artist: Zak Stelmaszek — Lead Guitarist of The Fifth Way

Egnater Artist: Zac Stelmaszek

"The features offered on my Tourmaster Head are exactly what I need: from the power grid wattage selector to the switchable parallel/series effects loop –everything I could ask for and all in one amp!"

I formed my first band when I was 14 and started playing the current Seattle stuff like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.  We entered the school talent show and actually got laughed off the stage.  The rest of my band left the stage hanging their heads, but I was determined not to be discredited that easy.  I then threw my guitar up behind my head and started soloing.  The crowd loved it and I proceeded to play a few songs alone without my band and ended up making second place in the show.  After that day high-school was pretty easy as I was established the 'schools' guitarist.  The next year at 15 I hooked up with some older musicians and began playing paying gigs at the local bars in the UP -we mainly played southern and classic rock.  At this time I really started getting into Hendrix, SRV, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynard, and the Allman Brothers  I would write about opening up for National acts such as 'Slaughter, Tuff, Warrant and Bulletboys' in my 10th grade English journal.  I can imagine my Teacher thinking "yeah right"!  I played in cover/original projects throughout my days at the university where I studied Electrical Engineering at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  Bands included Cement Pond, Hot Pipe and Plug Nickel (Which for a brief stint featured local blues phenomenon ‘Motor City Josh’.  I also began teaching guitar and at one point had 10 students on my roster.  In 2000 I earned my B.S. in Electrical Engineering and moved to the Detroit area (Canton) to work for a wire-harness supplier in the automotive industry as an electrical systems engineer.  The rest of my family (that remained in the Detroit area) was always involved in the Auto industry.  My Grandfather and Uncle retired from Ford.  Another Uncle works for Chrysler, and yet another uncle worked at GM in the Flint area).

I met Bruce Egnater about six months ago when the amplifier I use (Egnater Tourmaster) ran into a transformer problem at a gig with my cover band “Cruizin’ Jupiter”.  Although Bruce designed the amp and carry’s his name all warranty service must be routed through the Egnater Corporate headquarters in California.  I decided to try to see if I could contact Bruce himself – and I did.  I explained to him how important it was that this amp was functional for my next ‘Fifth Way’ show and he said “Yeah, just drop it off at the shop and we’ll take care of it”.  So I did, and he had his technician repair it by the end of the week.  When I went to pick it up we talked for a while, I mentioned working on hybrid vehicles and he told me about his experience working in the auto industry years ago.  I have contacted him a couple times since then and he always returns my e-mails.  The Egnater amps are now one of the top sellers at Guitar center! Adam has also had his Marshall amps worked on by Bruce.

After moving to the Detroit area I soon formed the band Mad Carousel that played mostly covers and a few originals.  We established a pretty good following until our singer relocated to Austin, TX  for his day job.  Having had enough with covers I decided audition for an original project called ‘Courtesy Stitch’ (featuring Fifth Way Vocalist Tim Gossman).  It was a refreshing change from the covers and it was fun opening for National Acts like Vince Neil of Motley Crue and a few others at the Machine shop in Flint.  After a year of supporting the CD that Courtesy stitch had written and recorded prior to me coming into the band, I didn’t feel like my original ideas were being harvested into the new material so I left the band to join a cover band ‘Cruizin’ Jupiter’ to make a few bucks on the side. 

Also at that time I While playing with Cruizin’ Jupiter I got a call from Tim Gossman asking me if I would want to record a few of the songs we had been working on when I left Courtesy Stitch.  He told me had had lined up studio time a an awesome studio in Royal Oak named ‘Rustbelt Studio’s’ and that the owner had worked with people like Kid Rock and Shinedown.  Since he was footing the bill I had no reason to decline, so I brushed up on the songs and went in to record.  After discussing the studio arrangements with Tim, I found out that he was working with another guitar player (Now Fifth Way guitarist) Adam Trahan and Terry Freers (Ghosts of August) on Bass.  Tim liked the idea of having two Lead guitarists so we proposed I join them and look for a Drummer.  We recorded our first 4 songs at Rustbelt with studio drummer Jeff Fowlkes.  Jeff also hooked us up with Kid Rock’s Keyboard/piano man ‘Jimmy Bones’ who plays on a track “Never Gonna Be”.

To play live and finish the CD we needed a permanent drummer so after auditioning about 6 guys in the area we found Dave Reingardt.  We were impressed with the parts he came up with on the song that became ‘Lose Control’.

In our first year we played some great shows opening for Saliva at Harpo’s, Bret Michaels ‘Rock of Love Tour’ at the Machine Shop, 10 years at the I-Rock, Ashes of Soma and Alter Bridge at the Machine Shop. 

We opened for a local band ‘Paper Street Saints’ at the Magic Bag in Ferndale and had a great turn-out earning us our own Headlining show there. 

Terry left the band to put his full efforts into GOA –the project he started before Fifth Way.  So we found a young Bassist Nic Cole-Klaes to fill the slot.  Nic is on a scholarship to Columbia University in Chicago for Music.  He is still able to commute on the week-ends for Fifth Way Shows.

Fifth Way releases debut Album
After a year and a half in the studio Fifth Way released their debut CD ‘No Boundaries’ to a sold out crowd at the Magic Bag in January 2010.  Since the release we have played a very impressive roster of venues from Detroit to Sault Ste. Marie: The Blind Pig (Headliner), The Magic Bag (Headliner), Harpo’s, St. Andrews Hall (Headliner), Dream Maker’s Theater , The Hayloft, NYNY(Headliner), The Ritz, I-Rock, Crofoot (Headliner), Eagle Theater (Headliner), The Machine Shop (Headliner), Bay City State Theater (Headliner).  

Fifth Way has shared the stage with a variety of national acts:  Alter Bridge, Bret Michaels, Candlebox, Sick Puppies, 10 Years, Pop Evil, Saving Abel, Ashes of Soma, 3 Doors Down and Saliva.  Most recently Fifth Way was main support for TESLA at a sold out show in the 1,500 seat Dream Maker’s Theater.

I also went back to playing full time with “Cruizin’ Jupiter” ( and also teaching guitar.  Cruizin’ Jupiter plays roughly 150 shows a year –so any conflict with Fifth Way takes precedence and requires me to hire a fill in for the cover band. 

While playing a show at the Machine Shop in Flint one of my German co-workers told me “You are the Rampensau”.  I asked her what she meant (hoping it was not in insult) and she told me it translated to “Stage Tiger” in English.  The term is used in Germany for an actor in a play that may not have the leading role, but he plays his role to the best of his abilities stealing the show!  You can see from the pictures on Facebook and MySpace that my stage show is pretty active.  You can count on at least a couple ‘behind the head’ solo’s each time we play.  And if I can feed of the energy from the crowd, I’ll end the night spinning around on the ground and ripping the strings off my guitar.  Adam is the same way on stage and I think people really appreciate the energy we put into the show.  Nic is really starting to catch on to this and if he keeps it up he definitely pass Adam and I up as the RAMPENSAU. 

Tim has worked the word into the second verse of the song ‘Stomping Ground’:
“I am the Rampensau, attracting your attention – making your mind skip dimensions”

After working for 5 years at Yazaki as a wire-harness systems engineer I got the opportunity to work directly for Chrysler as an engineer on their Hybrid Vehicle program.  I worked there for 3 years and when the economy took a dump they offered us Buy-outs to leave.  I was scared that I would be laid-off if I stayed so I accepted a buy-out without having fully secured a new job.  I was really only un-employed for 1week before ESG offered me a position to work as the Senior Systems Electrical Architect for the Fisker – Karma Project.  Henrik Fisker is the CEO and they are developing the ‘Karma’ a luxury plug-in Hybrid sports sedan.  The Interior electrical system is being developed by my company ‘ESG’ and we are on site in Pontiac, MI along with other suppliers


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