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Ken Schaffer’s First Post: Hello, SoloDallas.com!

13 Jul Ken Schaffer’s First Post: Hello, SoloDallas.com!

Gentlemen of the Quest,

 

This may be redundant – or ironic – but allow me to introduce myself.  Hi, I’m Ken Schaffer. This is my first post to SoloDallas. I designed and built the SVDS in 1976, had a ball introducing just about every band to it… and, 5 years later, disappeared from rock to develop other kinds of technologies. I stepped away from SVDS in about 1981 and went on into other hot pursuits such as satellite earth stations, Soviet-American breakthroughs and more unconnected tasks.

 

So maybe you can imagine my surprise when after 30 years I got some timid letter from one Filippo Olivieri…

 

Though this is my first post, that isn’t to say I’ve not been lurking with admiration – since the day 2 years ago when Fil first wrote me in search of an SVDS to test the hypothesis that “anomalies” produced by the SVDS were, in fact, an important component of Angus Young’s tone.

 

Each of us who have followed SD know that Fil, Franz and several others have been committed to their dream of figuring out the secret of Angus’s sound (particularly on “Back in Black”).   Fil’s letter to me, 30 years later, came as a total and not unpleasant surprise.  (Somehow, it seems I can’t get rid of rock n’ roll and it can’t get rid of me!)

 

Astonished at his commitment to get it right at any cost to reproduce a Replica – in particular,  what was to become the Gold Tag limited edition – I promised Fil my support of this insane project – in spirit, permissions and in the few ways I could advise “along the way.” Very early on, I emphasized to Fil that the “cost” of duplicating the SVDS’ packaging would easily double the cost of replicating its sound.  But, no matter: such was his regard for every aspect of the genre of classic equipment that subsequently seems to have gotten shipped off to, and lost in, Asian factories. From those first days we agreed that the Replica be as (audio) precise and as perfect as humanly (after 35 years) be possible.

 

You’ve followed the meticulous notes that Fil, Franz and others have posted along the way as they sought to reach this goal. After a few challenges, puzzles and frustrations, they sent me a circuit diagram – complete with oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer traces – that were perfect-to-the-Angus-original. The moment I signed off, they proceeded to inventory the components (many of which are now obscure) and to get the circuit boards cut. (In this, my input was minimal.)

 

To duplicate equipment that was 35 years old (those parts didn’t come easy or cheap) all for the sake of art…  I came to understand that Fil long ago committed to play like that, too – without any aspirations to become a rock star himself, only added to my respect for – faith in – the project! Sincerity and dedication evident from his first letter brought me to conclude that Fil was nothing if not an “isolated obsessive.”  Just like me. (As a side note, Fil understood and loved the odd term: I confess I stole the line from Sting, who used the term in describing me in a Rolling Stone interview a couple of decades before.)

 

“Isolated Obsessive”: composers, poets, inventors – people whose hearts, souls and fingers are somehow inhabited by bizarre ideas few (if, sometimes, any) other people imagine exist. Spending years and tens of thousands of dollars to dissect the “secret” of somebody’s guitar sound (here, Angus’s in “Back in Black”)” being a stellar example – I never imagined someone could give it up to such an odd obsession. Like me and Morse Code: when I was 11, I finished 2nd in a high speed Morse contest – I came in 2nd – unlike a gifted guitar player, I couldn’t make a dime or get laid with this ‘talent’ – and when the old guy who beat me died, I had no one I could talk to. Yet it’s was and remains “my thing.” So, yeah, I understood how somebody can be so obsessed by X or Y or Z.

 

One thing I’ve come to know is that super-creative people don’t have great ideas: great ideas have them. This crazy great idea of finding Angus’ secret had Fil.  I promised to help Fil where I could. Of course, over the 2 years that passed since Fil’s first timid letter, I’ve also gotten to know Franz (banane!), who soberly took the helm as the Replica’s project manager and saw the project through every kind of hurdle – design, parts acquisition, keeping everyone well-behaved and everything in focus – with an extraordinarily wise and kind tone of voice… the voice of reason and often the respected mediator in bringing peace to decisions that otherwise might be argued ad infinitum.

 

I’m proud to sign my name on the dotted line for what has been realized.  Fil’s (original SVDS) “Definitive Back in Black” recording became the piece of music I’ve played more than any other in the year since he posted it. I play it for my friends, and I’m proud of being somewhere in the chain with that sound. it’s so right.

 

Aside from coming out of lurking and (finally) sending this personal hello to the SD community I have a confession to make to the many of you who are waiting for your Gold Tags. Forgive me please – definitely forgive Fil & Franz – but, in the interest of making the Replica hit the spot, I had to butt in and insist that a small “cosmetic” matter was settled.  The guts and electronics may have been settled weeks before – but to keep the Replica’s design goal exact, there could be no cosmetic shortcuts. In this case the holdback was (only) a bezel encasing the front panel meter: no one made equivalent bezels anymore!  (Hey, almost nobody made analog meters anymore!)  It took a former NASA engineer, Bob Bishop, in the States, to nip the problem – which he did using resources not commonly available.  Diagrams, drawings and measurements made their way between Fil in Rome, Franz in Vienna, Bob, in Washington, DC, me in New York.  Bob was successful in arranging custom fabrication for the correct bezel.  (Custom fab of parts like that in small (100 +/-) quantities isn’t easy or cheap!) Fil & Franz agreed to swallow this unanticipated and not trivial additional cost – and, take the shots for some small but painful delay.

 

Some of you may be pissed that “this” was behind the slippage… if you’re not an IO, it may seem like such a stupid matter – it wasn’t stupid for me… nor Franz, nor Fil.  And, I hope, not stupid for those of you who appreciate the authenticity of a true Replica.

 

The SD web board has been one of the most pleasant, informed and congenial boards I know of.  I’m happy to finally come out of the cold and say hi to you guys.  All of you, from F&F to every one of you who have contributed – you’re terrific.

 

I preferred to stay invisible all this time – I wanted to see what you guys could discover and implement on your own. And you nailed it.  I’ll be lurking from time to time – I won’t be a regular contributor to SD, but I’ll be there – simply for the pleasure of seeing this community transform a series of question marks into exclamation points. You’re a great team, guys!  Clearly, Frank Zappa’s famous words,  “most of my audience wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them on the ass” doesn’t apply to you.

 

Someone say hello to Angus for me! Is it possible he, too, lurks?   ;”)

 

Congratulations and best wishes,

 

Ken Schaffer

 

 

 

 

 

avatar
Ken Schaffer
ks@solodallas.com
23 Comments
  • avatar
    Jake
    Posted at 12:54h, 13 July

    I just went to see AC/DC last weekend (July 4) at Wembley stadium. What a show!! My first time ever seeing Angus and co. live. It was an unforgettable experience. But what I was wondering whilst I was enjoying the show was: Is Angus using the SVDS replica with his live rig? Was the beautiful sound that I was hearing indeed boosted by this new replica?

    • avatar
      Ant
      Posted at 09:21h, 22 July

      JAKE!!! Me and Jay were there too! where were you? we were at the front facing the elevating platform Angus goes on

      I can most certainly say he was using it iv listened back to my videos and other on YT and its there

  • avatar
    RiffRaff
    Posted at 13:52h, 18 July

    People, don’t forget that a great sound mostly comes from your fingers. I hope you don’t expect to sound like Angus Young when you get this product. At least not before you’ve practise up your skills alot. Im pretty sure it can sound bad in wrong hands. Me myself needs to practise alot aswell.

    Just a little reminder. And Im really looking forward to hear people play with the SVDS, and eventually have one myself. It sounds great on the videos that Fil has posted.

    • avatar
      sellen
      Posted at 11:50h, 20 July

      Very good point!
      The main reason i signed up for this was really to support the dedicated guys making this SVDR and hopefully my early 80’s jmp 2204 will get some even better AC-DC tunes.

    • avatar
      banane
      Posted at 22:28h, 21 July

      That’s only partially true.
      Like Fil said: “Style comes from your fingers, Tone comes from your gear”.

  • avatar
    MisterScary
    Posted at 01:06h, 17 July

    I’m glad the bezel issue was worked out. I’m also a perfectionist and would definitely prefer to have that bezel encasing in place. The analog vu meter wouldn’t like right without it.

    Thanks for taking the time to painstakingly recreate the SVDS. I know the Schaffer Replica will be well worth the wait!

  • avatar
    wilson
    Posted at 06:03h, 15 July

    Hi Mr. Schaffer!

    your post got me speachless :). I Have said this many times before but I just want to say it once more: Thank You so much Fil, Franz, Mr. Schaffer and all the others involved that I don’t know for the hard work and dedication to this project, so much appreciated! :).

    Greetings from Finland :)

  • avatar
    cocker611
    Posted at 22:56h, 14 July

    I Just Want To Say That I Truly Appreciate The Hard Work And Dedication To Get The Replica As Close As Possible. The Wait Has Been Hard No Doubt But Im More Confident Than Ever That The Replica Is Going To Kick Serious Ass! So Thank You To Fil,Franz, Ken And Everyone Involved. I Truly BelievE The Replica Is Going To Be A Legendary PedAl. Thanks!

  • avatar
    highvoltageRnR
    Posted at 18:30h, 14 July

    As I am unsure how often it happens, I am amazed, and so grateful, that fate overcame the irony and brought all the right “isolated” obsessives together.

    Your words and actions show that you wear the IO label as a badge of honor, as you should.

    Your dedication to this project has been truly inspiring.

    Thank you all.

  • avatar
    sellen
    Posted at 16:47h, 14 July

    Ken, Fil And Franz thank you all for your dedication and hard work. I’m very exited to get this SVD gold tag unit. That it have taken a long time only shows dedication and love for the final result.

  • avatar
    Reynolds_wRap
    Posted at 07:20h, 14 July

    Greetings from upstate NY

    I don’t post much, but I must give a huge Thank You to the one and only Mr. Schaffer! I searched a couple years ago for an original schaffer-vega wireless but could not, but I’m glad Solodallas got his hands on it and this community is doing what they’re doing.

  • avatar
    depuis1899
    Posted at 22:04h, 13 July

    I won’t say much, hard to express my feelings right now, but…
    Thank You Mr.Schaffer, thanks a lot ! And welcome of course :)

    And you too Fil & Franz, after all you’ve done, we’re finally here. Thanks a lot ! :)

  • avatar
    Ant
    Posted at 21:59h, 13 July

    Mr Ken i seen you were online and thought you had somthing brewing for us! :)

    Thank you for all your support in this project and for many of us IOs, i hope we all find many answers to many new questions that will be asked here at SD, cant wait for the new discoveries that will come when we all get our replica.

    BIG Hello from me in England!! 😀
    your forever patient fellow 😉
    Ant

  • avatar
    rjofig
    Posted at 21:43h, 13 July

    As a member of this site for a long while, I was absolutely certain you folks were aiming for the best possible, dotting all i’s, crossing all t’s and not cutting any corners.
    But to hear your testimony, Mr Schaffer, wow!!! All I can humbly say is: thank you so much for bringing the SVDS to existence – it has in its ways influenced the lives of many! – and thank you so much for graciously working with these two tone geeks Fil and Franz to bring it back!
    Cheers!

  • avatar
    AngusRudd1019
    Posted at 21:32h, 13 July

    Mr. Schaffer, I am happy you let Fil and his team do what he is doing and I also thank you for making such a legendary tone that has lasted the decades. Also, thank you for passing the torch to Fil and allowing him to keep the Godly Tone alive!! If I find out Angus is really lurking on this website, my head may explode.

    • avatar
      AngusRudd1019
      Posted at 21:44h, 13 July

      I got a question guys, will the XLR and Mic/Line Switch not being included effect any tone possibilities with the replica??

      • avatar
        SoloDallas
        Posted at 22:06h, 13 July

        It won’t, really, mate (affect the sound). Although it was two distinct amplifiers that accomplished that (if even my memory serves me right) that is, the front and back outputs, we studied them both. The back output was meant to be as “just like the cable” output. It was meant to be as transparent as possible, and it didn’t add “power” i.e., no clean boost. Nothing. The sound was still influenced by the “sensitivity/compressor” knob on the transmitter though! So it WAS compressed but not clean boosted. It is CLEAR that Angus DID use this feature: we even see this in one of the very few images we have of Angus with the SVDS. However, it is fully replicable with the volume knob of our replica, because the volume knob (just like the monitor output knob of the front panel on the original SVDS) is an amplifier that will go from… 0 (read ZERO!) to full boost. That is, if you close that knob you will NOT get the sound out of the Replica, or the SVDS! Same thing. Identical thing. That also means that you can simulate the “as cable, no boost” signal type by finding a position on the Replica output knob that is really pretty much in output as a cable would be. And it will be sounding identically to how the XLR of the back panel output sounded. Which is why we chose not to replicate also the second amplifier, thus saving on cost :)
        Regarding the microphone switch, I did try that several times on my original SVDS units, but with the GUITAR X10s (black knobs) I never heard a difference! As I don’t think that difference would have resulted with those. I think that maybe with the levallier (microphone) transmitters you would have heard it (making it more appropriate for the voice to have it on mike). Hope this answers your (legit) doubt :)

        • avatar
          AngusRudd1019
          Posted at 23:47h, 13 July

          Ahhhhhh I see. Well as always, really looking forward to the replica!! Cheers Fil!!

        • avatar
          Spellbound
          Posted at 23:50h, 13 July

          Fil,
          I’ve been talking to AR about this for a few months now. It never occurred to me (until now) that the transmitters were why you didn’t hear an audible difference between them. Using the Mike/Line switch on some other Vega units, I’ve noticed a MASSIVE change in tone, with the Mike being much more “sparkly”, and the Line being a lot more boosted, but without the “grain” of the 1/4 output. Of course, I was using Vega units with the gain pot, instead of a sensitivity knob!
          I’ve been doubtful about the responses I got the first time this was brought up, because I was given the same old “different circuitry, different tone between Vega units”, but I thought people were misunderstanding what I was saying. Turns out I was the one misunderstanding!

  • avatar
    andre peralta
    Posted at 21:27h, 13 July

    Welcome Mr Schaffer, you have been the most important person in this project (altough i didn´t have anything to do with it but i will have my replica so i need to speak :) ) because without you, angus and many other rockstars wouldn´t have that awesome tone! thanks for everything!

    • avatar
      SoloDallas
      Posted at 21:31h, 13 July

      Andre I actually agree with you. This was exactly my thought – and Mr. Schaffer hadn’t ever realised fully – how much the SVDS influenced (and changed) some players’ ways. Not only it DID influence the sound (in a good way) but also, it finally let people express onstage in a more free fashion. Additionally, it was even safer, as a problem onstage had been electrical shocks! Kiss – the band – knew something about it… ! :)

      • avatar
        andre peralta
        Posted at 03:15h, 15 July

        OF COURSE, going wireless onstage meant something really new and totally awesome! it gave the rockstars of those times the how can i say it? ability to express a lot more and be more interactive with the crowd (angus comes to my mind) thanks for all!

  • avatar
    SoloDallas
    Posted at 21:10h, 13 July

    Ken – Mr. Schaffer – although I’ve spoken so many times with you via email, Skype and even on the telephone (this obsolete tool) it still thrills me to say this now: welcome here.

    With the most sincere respect and admiration yours,
    Fil :)

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