01 Nov The Schaffer Vega Diversity System – Update
Update: Our Own NitroAngus23 has pointed out to us that a brief article has been published on the official AC/DC site. Without permission, I am reposting here:
AC/DC Trivia: Angus Goes Wireless!
In 1977 Angus was first introduced to the brand new technology of the wireless guitar system. The New York Palladium 1977 concert would be the very first time Angus would use the brand new wireless guitar transmitter. Before this, Angus was limited to the length of the guitar wire, so stage crew used to guide the guitar cable behind him during his audience walk about routine.
The very first system was a Schaffer-Vega diversity system, which was a bulky system, the transmitter was usually duct taped to Angus’ guitar to avoid any movement or disconnection from the guitar jack, at one point it possibly even being implanted into the cavity of his Gibson SG to help with stability of the unit during Angus’ wild stage antics. Angus would continue to use these systems for at least a decade or more. More recently, Angus (and Malcolm) have been using the Lectrosonics wireless guitar systems on stage.
Bon Scott told in an interview about his first encounter at the New York Palladium dressing room “I walked into the dressing room and there was Angus at one end playing his guitar and the amps at the other. No cords were connecting ’em! It was amazing to see. And Angus had this ‘Cheshire Cat’ grin all over his face and evil thoughts seemed to be going through his brain as to what havoc he could wreak with this evil little invention”….
Angus eagerly stated in an interview in 1977, “When we get back to Europe the first stop is gonna be London… No one will know what’s hit ’em!”
Well folks, now’s the time talk in further detail about the (in)famous (the “in” is because it’s hard to find!) Schaffer Vega Diversity System.
The What??? This was Angus’ wireless system that he began using back in 1977 and continued to use for several years there-after.
This is what it looked like (bottom right of this publicity shot of the time):
and here’s another picture I cropped out of a larger (uninteresting) one:
I know, it’s too small! however these are ALL I could find on the entire net! So, just to be able to see what they looked like, and hopefully discover which “features” they had.
Before I continue, a bit on the story of how it was invented:
Of all the things I admired about Kenny (Schaffer, SD) was his imagination…but he didn’t just dream, he turned his dreams into reality. He conceived, designed, built, and sold the first wireless guitar (system, SD) and wireless microphone that forever changed staging and the way music was performed.
Ken remembers, “The idea to make the first wireless guitar stemmed from Lynne Volkman being my girlfriend… Lynne was the first female tour manager in rock ‘n roll, doing everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Who, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Lynyrd Skynyrd… (For Peter Rudge and Nat Weiss)…. of course, up until then tour managers were always guys (who’d bring their girlfriends out for weekends). As I was Lynne’s boyfriend, roles were reversed., so instead of the tour manager’s girlfriend flying out to join the tour on weekends, it was me! If you go to http://www.nutcom.com/nyer and browse for “Rolling Stones,” it describes how Ace Frehley (Kiss) got electrocuted and I came to invent the wireless guitar/microphone.”
Kenny, I remember introducing you to Maurice and Verdene White of Earth, Wind, and Fire, as well as producer Tony Camillo (Gladys Knight and the Pips) who became a couple of your good customers. […]
So, why should this unit be so important? In the words of Tony Platt (Back in Black sound engineer) from several interviews regarding the Back in Black recording,
We ran his (Angus’) rig wireless (Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, SD), so I had different setups in different rooms. There was a live-ish room down at the end of the studio and another setup in the main room. We just kind of blended the sound together in different combinations. He always felt more natural using a wireless, but in NYC (some editing took place there) we didn’t have the wireless setup so we had to try to match a few sounds.
The wireless has filtering in it, and it added quite an edge in the middle area. We had to tweak it a little to try and match, but I was always aware that it wasn’t quite the same sound.
From this, it’s easy to understand why this may be an important component.
I believe it can be simulated. We know from another interview (with Eddie Van Halen) that the unit had a built in compressor (probably to avoid a sudden increase in signal strength destroying the equipment) and also, we know from Angus himself that… (from a Steve Rosen Interview):
Yeah, I use the Schaffer-Vega. I’ve been using that since ’77. On the receiver you’ve got like a monitor switch you can boost the signal and in the transmitter you’ve got the same sort of thing. You can really give a guitar hell with ‘em. I have used the remote in the studio and it worked really good.
Right, so now the picture is clear: we need a sort of volume boost active in the midrange freqs, and also a compressor possibly, to try and simulate a Diversity System such as Angus’.
Well, searching deeper, I googled “changing” names of the manufacturing company that was only initially called Schaffer-Vega (by reading the story of Ken Schaffer, it is known that he hadn’t patented his invention and Vega started doing things independently). It later became just Vega or Cetec-Vega. Now, searching for Cetec-Vega Diversity System (“Diversity” relates to the fact that this transmitter/receiver used a Diversity model incorporating “different or diverse” antennas, from a concept developed in the ’30s), one can find quite a number of interesting pieces of equipment scattered around.
For example, I found this one (and others) on eBay:
Now, if you want my opinion, while this is definitely a later model, I don’t think much has changed “audio/sound” processing wise with these.
Noting Angus’ reference to the “monitor” volume, when looking above at the picture you will see… that “monitor” volume knob. Probably identical, or at least quite similar, to the one Angus used in sonic terms. Also he said that there was another one on the transmitter, this was probably used to boost the signal thereby compensating for loss of strength over distance . Interesting!
So I thought, why don’t I buy one of these – now cheap – pieces of crap (in at least working order) and try to use it? Or at the very minimum I could have an expert open one up and SEE what audio processing is done by them; this would allow “us” to replicate the audio circuitry and be 100% sure that we have found this “lost” portion.
So I am presently trying to buy two of these, making sure that both include the transmitter (most of these have only receivers now; still good, it’s probably the most significant component to examine; for 50 to 100 USD bucks it is an experiment that is worth trying, don’t you think?).
As of this moment I think this little study will be pretty useful, at least that is until I find a complete Schaffer Vega system (and I’d buy one immediately) it’s the only missing link I need to debunk the whole sound chain!
SD out 😉