Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Farewell Jack Richards

March 9, 2014
Jack Richards 1983 Pedal Steel Interview

Jack Richards 1983 Pedal Steel Interview

Jack Richards, without question the Godfather of Australian pedal steel guitar, passed away age 93 during the night Thursday 6th March 2014. Born 1921 in Sydney Australia, Jack also established himself as one of Sydney’s leading guitar professionals in the 1940’s & 1950’s, a contemporary of the top players of the time, including such names as Don Andrews, George Golla and Jan Gold.

Jack purchased his first steel guitar in 1937 for $3. In 1939 he purchased a new Rickenbacker steel and amp for about $115. At this time (like many in the Richards family) Jack was employed in the newspaper business, working for the Sydney Sun initially as a copy boy straight from school, then as a press photographer, having completed an apprenticeship.

The first pedal steel in Australia (built in a Sydney garage)

The first pedal steel in Australia (built in a Sydney garage)

Jack had a flair for photography, but had greater ambitions in the world of music, well beyond playing lap steel. With the engineering skills of another steel guitar enthusiast, Ivan Ive, the first pedal steel guitar in Australia was built in a suburban garage in Sydney (pictured at left). The steel and amplifier were combined in a single very impressive cabinet, with the initials JR part of the speaker grille. Jack evolved a new style of playing steel within a jazz and big band context together with a (then) young sax player, David Rutlege. Jack became the first person to play pedal steel guitar in Australia at a professional gig, in 1943 at the ‘Roosevelt Club’, a club for American Officers in Sydney during WW2.

In 1944, Jack was hired as pedal steel guitarist by bandleader Leo White for his 15 piece orchestra. In 1945, the same band landed a 6 nights per week 2 year residency at the very swank ‘Princes’ restaurant, at that time literally Sydney’s top nightclub/restaurant. During the WW2 years, Sydney’s nightlife and live music scene had ramped up considerably from the previous decade. In the Leo White bands, Jack also played conventional orchestral/big band style (archtop) guitar, becoming a proficient reader on both instruments.

After the ‘Princes’ gig finished, there was a slow downturn in the live music scene after WW2, as might be expected. Jack stayed busy doing most of the studio sessions in Sydney on pedal steel, also including programmes on both ABC radio & TV. An example is the hawaiian music sessions with Sydney crooner Johnny Wade, who had his own weekly shows on the ABC. Jack also developed his arranging skills during this period. Radio & TV shows were generally broadcast “live” to air with all musicians required to read charts. Definitely no miming back in those days !

The Kord King

The Kord King

During 1947 – 1948 production of the ‘Kord King’ pedal steel guitar took place in a small factory in Cremorne (Sydney). This was arguably the first production run of a pedal steel guitar in the world. The three main partners involved in this were Jack Richards, Ray Olson and Alec Iverson – all photographers and all steel players. My apologies for any errors and omissions in this story, there may have been others who contributed to this project. This time the pedal steel was not a huge console, but rather a portable instrument with a separate amplifier unit. The amplifier was built in another factory in Cremorne, details not known. The initial production run was 100 units plus some lap steels. The boys thought they had it made – that they would conquer the world, but it was not to be. The widespread use of pedal steel guitar in country music was still a long way off. There were only a handful of guitarists with the sophistication to use Jack’s jazz approach to the steel, and interest in Hawaiian music would ultimately wane. In retrospect they were about 20 years too early.

The Cremorne factory eventually moved to Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay, on a corner opposite The Oaks Hotel (then the watering hole for the large tram and bus depot right next door), producing cases for jewellery and cutlery, etc. At the time, we lived close by in Grosvenor Street. I don’t think this was a happy period in Jack’s life. After the business was wound up, Jack started ‘Guitar City’ with partner Roy Royston (plus a silent partner), primarily as a teaching studio, but was developed over time as a guitar and amplifier retailer as well. This was arguably Sydney’s first ‘specialist’ guitar shop. I can remember ‘Guitar City’ at three different locations in the Sydney CBD: Railway Square, Telford House and the Gibb & Beeman Building – the latter two both prime George Street locations. I believe that the original teaching studio was in Kirribilli/North Sydney, but have no personal memory of that. The business prospered during the 60’s explosion of guitar ‘groups’, with Jack & Roy selling out to younger owners in the early 70’s.

From this time onwards until his retirement from the music business at age 65, Jack continued teaching in the Manly area of Sydney, and held down numerous club and theatre/restaurant gigs around town. Jack is survived by three sons: Ivan, Trevor and Mark, one daughter: Karen, plus eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Thank you Jack for passing on the gift of music to me !!

Ivan Richards.

for more information ref the development of Aussie pedal-steel, please see the ‘history’ archive at my website:  http://www.ivanrichards.com

Jack Richards demonstrates the Kord King, Sydney Australia.

Jack Richards demonstrates the Kord King, Sydney Australia.

The Kord King was intended to be easy to transport to gigs.

The Kord King was intended to be easy to transport to gigs.

 

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Bondi Intermusic closes its doors !

September 9, 2013
Bondi Intermusic Oxford Street

Bondi Intermusic Oxford Street

Unfortunately folks, it is with great sadness and regret that we have to confirm that Bondi Intermusic of 362 Oxford Street Bondi Junction (Sydney/Australia) has closed its doors and ceased trading. For many years Intermusic served the needs of local eastern suburbs musicians specialising in guitars/amps/pedals and home recording, and also was a magnet for international touring bands, particularly from the UK, that often stayed in the Bondi area.

Yet another victim of the downturn in the music scene generally, plus the longer term after effects of the GFC, and the changing circumstances of musical instrument retailing. Intermusic always had a very friendly ’boutique’ vibe happening, and a sense of fun, so all the best for the future to Brent Williams, Bruce Thomas, Jono Clarke, Jimmi Ivanyi and all the other personnel who played a part in the Intermusic story.

inside Bondi Intermusic back in happier times

inside Bondi Intermusic back in happier times

Our own relationship with Bondi Intermusic extends back to at least 2003, at a time when we were establishing our custom amp service workshop as a full-time entity. Bondi put our FX pedals and amp services well and truly on the map by connecting us with Sydney’s musicians, both the weekend warriors and the top recording and touring professionals. Prior to this we were very much a regional service centre, virtually unknown outside of the NSW Central Coast. Thanks guys !!

Guitar Acoustics 1 Railway Road Meadowbank NSW

Guitar Acoustics 1 Railway Road Meadowbank NSW

But wait – there’s more !   Bruce Thomas, former guitar/amp/pedals sales manager at Bondi Intermusic recently opened his own shop in Meadowbank (Sydney), called Guitar Acoustics. Located in the corner shop position at 1 Railway Road, with ample parking in the street, Bruce’s shop is directly opposite the Meadowbank train station and also the TAFE. Only just established upstairs in the same block of shops is a guitar and music tuition studio.

Guitar Acoustics now open for business !

Guitar Acoustics now open for business !

Bruce Thomas is a well known identity from the eastern suburbs retailing and rehearsal studio scene, and we wish him all the best for this new venture. The location of the shop close to TAFE & music school at least guarantees some passing trade. Bruce has adopted a different approach from past retail experiences for this venture, offering primarily a range of acoustic guitars, ukuleles and accessories chosen for a specific price range.

inside Guitar Acoustics 001

Bruce will also be making available our custom amp and pedal workshop services available to customers as before, and in fact is already shipping amps to us in Wyoming for electronic repair work.

the guitar wall 002

guitar acoustics 007

Bob’s “Lil’ Buddy” amp returns to HQ for a complete overhaul

September 17, 2011

This is actually the very first amp I designed and built for Bob Spencer, a much loved and admired Aussie rock guitarist formerly of such bands as Finch, Skyhooks, The Angels, etc, and more recently RAW BRIT, as well as facilitator/coach on the Weekend Warriors programme in Melbourne. This amp was built back in 1997. We actually met in 1995, when Bob was recording the Temple Gods album, in a studio somewhere on the Hawkesbury River. He showed up at my house in Gosford at about 11 o’clock at night, to get a modification done to his AC30 clone amp (built by Ross Nichol in Melbourne, I think ?). This is how you meet guys like Bob !!

This was at the time when I was working from the kitchen/family room of our house in Wyoming (NSW) – there were amps waiting repair from one end of the house to the other, and amp parts stored in every room of the house – even under the kids’ beds, etc etc. Not the ideal way to live, and eventually I rented my current workshop space. Anyway, Bob made himself at home in the kitchen, my wife made us cups of tea, and I got on with the job. Bob obviously liked what he saw and heard, and kept making the trip up to the Central Coast whenever he needed something done to his amps and pedals.

Bob was living in Katoomba (NSW) at the time, in a charming house built 100 years ago or so. Once he discovered I built amps/pedals/power supplies, he started getting stuff custom-built. First up, he ordered  two rack-mounting preamps – the first enabled him to switch between a Hiwatt voiced preamp and an Ampeg voiced preamp. The second one enabled him to switch between two AC30 voiced preamps. Bob was the first customer to purchase my first two successful pedal designs in 1997 – the Rich Drive and the Rich Fuzz. We kind of agreed on what we were looking for in a pedal, as well as what was missing from commercial pedals, and a lot of collaboration went into those two pedal designs, especially the Rich Fuzz. I love that kind of stuff ! Both pedals are still available today (2011), and the designs have not been altered in any way, although the cosmetics continue to change.

Bob was building a home-studio in the house at Katoomba, and ordered a low powered amp (6V6 output valves) to drive a 1×10 cab housed in an isolation box. I originally built a switchable 8W/4W push-pull amp, based on the designs I was using at that time. This was well before the current craze for low powered amps. We soon realised, however, that a mere 8 watts wasn’t driving the chosen 10-inch speaker hard enough to achieve the optimal recording results when mic’d up ! There is definitely a lesson there for everyone. The power output was increased to 12 watts, and then 15 watts, substituting different transformers. The circuitry itself stayed the same. Why is the amp called the Lil’ Buddy amp ? It’s because at that time I was calling everybody my little buddy – regardless of how tall they were. Something to do with a 70’s TV situation comedy called Gilligan’s Island. Thankfully, I have stopped doing that.

This amp was used for recording of course, but also gigs, rehearsals and teaching. I recall seeing Bob’s blues band in a pub at Crow’s Nest (Sydney) years ago, using the Lil’ Buddy driving a Wasp 250 watt/4 x KT88 amp used as a slave, into a pair of 2×12 cabs, loaded with Etone speakers (from Peakhust/Sydney, no longer manufactured). What a sound ! Some noise complaints, though. How rude ! At the beginning of this millenium, Bob & missus relocated to Melbourne and also ordered firstly an 85 watt/4 x KT66 amp which is currently Bob’s stage amp, and secondly a 28 watt KT66 amp. Both amps were custom designs employing baxandall EQ, and other features unique to Bob. The Lil’ Buddy amp fell into disuse for many years.

So where do we stand right now ? Well, Bob and Paulene are in their new residence in Melbourne, and Bob is setting up a new home studio and is preparing to do some recording, so there is a valid reason to refurbish this amp and bring it into line with the current Richards amp range. Although this is still a custom amp, it will be somewhat similar to our Blue Mood models. As you can see from the photos, new component panels have been pre-wired to install in the chassis. The amp also has received a new output transformer (a critical component in any valve amplifier), new pots/jacks/capacitors, and so on, plus a bit more attention to electrical safety issues, in line with today’s compliance environment. The power transformer on the chassis was the third such unit, this one giving us slightly over 15 watts rms.

Some of you will have noticed a Headphones switch on the rear panel – unusual in a valve amp – this switches the ouput to a resistive load and attenuator, so the amp can be operated safely but at headphone levels. The Headphone jack can still be connected to a speaker in this mode of operation. So who is the guy playing the Craig Upfold custom Tele in the first photo ? This is Jonny Gardiner, creator of the Rock God Music School here in Wyoming, and also the singer/guitarist with successful Sydney-based band The Nevilles.

Jonny was kind enough to give us his review of this amp after the update was completed. These are his impressions:-

“this amp has the warmth of a Vox but with more clarity (and also more gain), ie the individual notes really ring through ! this amp’s forte is those delicious sounds inbetween clean and dirty, ie the crunch sounds ! a satisfying aspect of the amp’s performance is that you can control your dynamics with pick attack ! (ie the amp has great touch sensitivity)”

To finish off the blog, we have a photo of Bob playing with RAW BRIT in Melbourne with his Richards 85W/4 x KT66 amp head. Some great live videos of RAW BRIT in action have been uploaded to youtube.com, so you can check out these great players doing their thing.

Introduction.

April 18, 2011

HI !     This is Ivan Richards and I am now inroducing myself for the first time on my new BLOG.

I come from a musical family going back several generations. My great grand-parents emigrated from London, England to set up in Sydney as music and singing teachers. My dad, Jack Richards, held down some of Australia’s top pro guitar gigs during the 40’s and 50’s, co-founded Sydney’s first specialist guitar shop (Guitar City), was responsible for arguably the world’s first production pedal steel guitar (Kord King), most definitely played the first pedal-steel in Australia, and is the Godfather of Aussie pedal-steel.

My obsession with all things to do with music and audio electronics began in High School where I was exposed to the guitar music boom of the 60’s and was influenced by some slightly older pupils at that school who had become very sophisticated in the field of electronics to the extent of creating an in-house radio station. I couldn’t wait to finish school and start learning some practical hands-on stuff. I joined the then PMG Department, later known as Telecom/Telstra as a technician-in training and became part of the last generation to be trained in vacuum tube (valve) technology, which was still in widespread use. This training was to become invaluable later. I had access to cupboards full of valves, resistors & capacitors and started trying to build my own guitar amplifiers. I worked my way through the technical career structure, qualifying as a Technican (Telecommunications), then being appointed to positions including Technical Officer, Senior Technical Officer, Technical Specialist/Designer of Audio & Data Services (Analogue & Digital), Customer Project Manager. During all this time I was operating my amplifier business from home, after-hours, and building up a customer base as well as accumulating years of hands-on experience. When the opportunity arose I left Telstra and became a full-time musician and amp tech.

So that brings us up to April 2011 !  Apart from gigging professionally (guitar & vocals) based here in Gosford NSW,  I operate my own one-man workshop specialising in the repair, restoration, modification and custom design/manufacture of valve (tube) musical instrument amplification. I also design and manufacture a range of analogue guitar FX and splitter/signal routing pedals. I am pleased to say that my pedals have been purchased and are being used by the creme de la creme of the Aussie contemporary music scene.

I have been servicing valve (tube) audio equipment now for over 30 years and have worked on most brands and models from the late 50’s/early 60’s to current production. I can restore your amp to correct and original working order, removing unwanted and often dubious modifications and correcting previous servicing mistakes and poor workmanship. I also service some solid-state equipment, please contact me for details.

Quality workmanship and components will always be my first priority, with a strong emphasis on electrical safety.

I have also been playing guitar in bands and duos for over 30 years and have always designed, built and used my own amps and pedals. All this experience has given me the edge when it comes to working on your gear !!

Please check out my low-hype, information-rich website for further details of products and history.

Ivan.