Our FoundersDenis Tremblay
"I sought an enterprise to explore the more purely musical side of my technological soul. And here we are, building guitars, amps, and other worthy musical technologies.
Perhaps it will be history."
My earliest musical memory is hearing my mother singing Jimmie Rogers’ songs, complete with the blue yodel parts. She was a talented singer who had grown up in the 1930s listening to clear channel broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry and the WLS Barn Dance. She gifted to me a lifelong appreciation for Americana and folk music. Thanks Mom.
I rattled around living the usual sort of small-town life until the fateful day my older brother brought home 45 RPM records of a hot new British Group…. It was 1964 and popular music had just turned a corner.
I have always had a deep interest in machines and technology: I drew futuristic automobiles on scraps of paper whenever I could. I read science fiction from the classic era.
When I discovered “The Boy’s First Book of Electronics” at the public library I knew I had found my calling. I never looked back. I built my first working electronic device when I was thirteen—an amplifier for a salvaged turntable.
1967 saw the release of “Sargent Pepper”, “Are you Experienced”, “The Doors”, “Surrealistic Pillow”, and on and on. This music was part of the social scene for my friends and myself; we anticipated each release as though they were cultural sign posts. I guess that they were. My best buddy’s older brother was a music teacher who introduced us to all sorts of musical wonders.
A couple years later, at the invitation of my 8th grade teacher, several other kids and I brought our favourite records to school for a music sharing and appreciation event. After a few albums of bubblegum hits I got to play my fave. The reaction was dramatic if a bit disconcerting: it was probably the first time most of my classmates had heard anything even remotely like “Led Zeppelin”. I guess it challenged their expectations.
By now, my musical journey was well under way with explorations through prog rock, contemporary folk, psychedelia, soul, and blues. If it had something to say, I listened.
I distinctly remember hearing Brook Benton’s version of “Rainy Night in Georgia” over the radio for the first time. Like the joke from the Steve Martin movie, when I heard that, I knew for the first time that there were people like me out there. I still play that song on my guitar whenever the mood strikes me, although a bit closer to Tony Joe White’s version of his own song.
By the time I was seventeen, I built my first guitar amplifier worthy of the name. 35 Watts of 6L6 power built on a Hammond chassis, with power and output transformers salvaged from a scrapped juke box, all housed in a rectangular box approximating the amp “heads” I saw in magazines.
The circuit was largely my own, at the least the preamp portion. The power amp was a typical hifi design from the era. At the time I had never seen a schematic for a commercial guitar amplifier. These were certainly not published or widely available outside of approved service depots. I went with my best guess and it wasn’t far off the mark. I connected it to a friend’s homemade four twelve-slant front speaker cabinet; it made a sound that could be described as having a solid presence.
One day, we happened upon an Electro Harmonix single transistor level booster called the “Ego”. By accident more than intent we had entered the wonderful world of amp overdrive. We were stunned by reliably getting tones like those on our favourite British rock recordings. Sound as solid as a wall. It all started there folks.
Soon afterwards, I was studying electronics down in the big city of Toronto, 350 miles from home. On my own in the big smoke. In the spring of 1975, I bought a ticket to a new kind of movie theatre down by the water at Ontario Place. They were showing a film called ”North of Superior”. I was curious and expecting maybe a light documentary about back home. I was never more wrong. When I left the world’s first IMAX theatre I had changed. I had seen and heard the future. More on this later. . .
Back home in the late 70s, I continued my interest in audio. After bouncing through the usual dead-end jobs, I landed at an outfit called “Professional Sound and Acoustics”. The name says it all. They sold high-end hifi and ran a PA system rental business. I was the fixit guy and did the occasional live mixing gig.
Around this time, I had been volunteering with the Northern Lights Festival Boreal doing one thing or another. The NLFB is one of the longest running music festivals in Canada and featured folk and roots music before roots or Americana music had gotten the name. It was, and still is, wonderful. Performers ran the gamut from Jackie Washington to Buffy Saint Marie, with numerous francophone acts and folkies ranging from stars to obscure. Eventually I became technical director—a volunteer position.
Around this time I built my first Frankenstrat from the remains of several guitars and the contents of my junkbox.
It worked pretty well, but not very pretty in any other sense. I had been modding guitars for friends for a while, adding extra turns to pickups to hotten ‘em up, rewiring, shielding, all that stuff.
Sadly, all things must end. The local economy sank out of site and Mary Beth and I decided to move south to Toronto. I answered a newspaper ad (remember those?) for a technical position with Capitol Records Canada and got the job. Sold a car, borrowed money from my dad, and hit the road.
I was with Capitol for about a decade. This was the tail-end of an era when it was expected that the technical staff would design and build dedicated gear. I designed and built a mastering console; assembled and wired the mastering suite; wrote software for a production line QC system based on Audio Precision analyzers; and even wrote control code for packaging and manufacturing equipment.
But times change. I heard a rumour of a new compact disc manufacturing plant coming on line at Sony Music Canada. Ever one to want to be part of the future, I applied for a position. Despite arriving late after getting lost on my way to the interview, I got the job.
At around this time I also had been volunteering for the local Toronto Section of the Audio Engineering Society. I was eventually elected Chairperson.
This was something of a peak period in the music business. There were signs on the horizon of a storm brewing though. Personal computers could now be equipped with reasonable sound cards, and music playback was not all that difficult to set up.
It soon became apparent that some folks cared very little for the niceties of ownership of intellectual property and what was euphemistically called “file sharing” took off. The music business had a Wile E Coyote experience, sailing over the cliff edge and hovering for a moment. I took advantage of the pause and stepped off the ride. Bills had to be paid, life had to go on. I bashed around several software development jobs in the industrial automation world. Like the rest of the tech scene of the time, most of these businesses have since evaporated or morphed into something else altogether.
And then…and then….
I was connected by a headhunting agency to a Canadian tech pioneer assembling a development team to launch a new technology. I was offered a position with IMAX Corporation. This felt something like winning a prize, a place at the most iconic motion picture business in Canada. Perhaps the world.
I had the privilege to be on the team that developed the IMAX digital projection system. This became a big success for the company and I had the opportunity to progress through several positions before moving on to pure R&D as a Senior Research Scientist. I became inventor or co-inventor on many patents and generally had an interesting time investigating new technologies. But like so often before, it comes time to change things up. I retired—sort of—and began to organize an enterprise to explore the more purely musical side of my technological soul.
And here we are, building guitars, amps, and other worthy musical technologies. Perhaps it will be history.