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,