Tag Archives: public address system history

Altec Public-Address in the Seventies

Above: this one caught me by surprise.  Neil Young endorses Altec PA kit in 1971.  We see the Altec 1210A console and 1205A powered speakersApparently Don Ellis and Merle Haggard were also endorsers at the time. 

Today: some early ‘seventies adverts for Altec PA gear.  Altec equipment was no longer state-of-the-art studio gear by this period, but they seem to have enjoyed continuing success with sound reinforcement.  For a full catalog download that discusses much of the equipment featured, click here and visit this earlier post.

Above: The Altec 1217A.  Powerful enough for ‘Boogie Rock.’

Above: Altec’s young and photogenic employees circa 1974

Above: (it’s 1974): ‘Rock’s grown up.  The Group’s grown up… Altec was there when the magic of rock and roll arrived. Woodstock.  Monterey.”

Heil in the Seventies

From Wikipedia:

Bob Heil (October 5, 1940) is…most well known for creating the template for modern rock sound systems. He founded the company Heil Sound in 1966,which went on to create unique touring sound systems for bands such as The Grateful Dead and The Who.  He invented the Heil Talk Box in 1973, which was frequently used by musicians such as Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and Richie Sambora, and is still in use today.”

Bob Heil is a great American inventor.  I’ve written about him before on this site; click here for an example.  Here’s a quick look at some of Heil’s products from the mid 1970s.  If anyone out there is still using any of these pieces, drop us a line and let us know…

The Heil HM88 Stereo Mixer

The Heil HM1000 Stereo mixer with optional plug-in phaser.  Wow can you image.  What would the modern equivalent of this functionality be?  Built-in AutoTune?

The Heil HM1200 console with +/- 22DB equalization.  Good lord.

The Heil Talkbox, the first of its kind.  The bio-mechanical translation of a vocoder: pitch and formant information are supplied as distinct elements and a unique hybrid results.

Webster-Chicago: Because Shouting Is Outmoded (1939)

Download the 24pp 1939 Webster-Chicago Sound Systems catalog (in two parts due to size)

DOWNLOAD PART 1: WebsterChic_1939_1

DOWNLOAD PART 2: WebsterChic_1939_2

Products covered, with text, specs, and photos, include: Wesbter-Chicago Super-Fidelity Mixer W-4004, amplifiers W-4030, W-4070, W-4030; remote mixer controls W-903 and W-902; W-975, W-945, W-930 .W-920, W-830, W-814, W-808W-929, W-820 mixer/ amplifers; W-200 microphone matching transformer, W-1260 record changer, plus a host of speakers, intercom equipment, and microphones (appear to be re-branded Bruno, Turner, and EV units: W-1224, W-1245, W-1236, W-1242 and W-1243).


Above: from page 2 of the catalog.  The year is 1939.   “Why Buy Sound Equipment? Because shouting is outmoded.”   The ‘sound of tomorrow’ is electrically amplified sound.  Shouting is a thing of the past.  The sound of one human’s voice can now easily reach many tens of thousands of assembled individuals.  The first recorded use of sound reinforcement (i.e., a PA system) was the inauguration of Warren G. Harding in 1922 (Bushnell, Ferree 2011).  This was incredible technology at the time, technology that has given musicians infinite new possibilities for performnce.  Technology that would also be used to devastating effect in Germany in the 1930s when one bitter man would be able to stir the passions of thousand of assembled individuals in ways that would have been impossible a mere decade early.  Before the PA system: before electrically amplified sound: there were real physical limits to the dissemination of a vocal performance.   That limit is no longer.

Above, Webster’s ‘super-fidelity’ high-power system intended for multi-speaker distribution in arenas ETC: no low-impedance voice-coil output is even offered on this unit.  It does, however, offer two-band EQ and dynamic expansion/compression.

Above, Webster-Chicago’s most modest PA system, the 8-watt W-808.  This was the first piece of antique audio equipment that I ever purchased: $75 at a multi-dealer antique shop on Wickenden st in Providence RI.   My system came with an American D-4 dynamic mic, which I still own and which still works fine after all these decades.   The amplifier and speaker worked too, although I could never figure out why there was a strong slightly off Bb bass-note that went along with everything that I played.  This was several years before I had any awareness of filter caps, of course.



Out-of-print Book Report: “Professional Rock And Roll” (1967)

Download a six-page excerpt regarding ‘the sound system’ from “Professional Rock And Roll” (Ed. Herbert Wise, Collier, 1967):

DOWNLOAD: Professional_Rock_And_Roll_Excerpt

Very much along the lines of “Electric Rock” (1971)  and “Starting Your Own Band” (1980), “Professional Rock And Roll” (h.f. “PRR”) is especially interesting in that it was published a mere three years after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, an event which is widely considered to have marked the beginning of The Sixties Rock Era.  In such a short span of time, enough of an industry and codified set of working-practices seems to have formed around young teen-oriented electric-guitar-based groups to have resulted in the large paperback that I now hold in my hand.

“PRR” parses the idea of what it takes to be a ‘professional rock and roll band’ in some interesting ways.  There is the chapter on PA equipment, with the various above-illustrated items discussed (BTW, I still regularly find most of these items at the estates+fleas, so points to the author for accuracy), as well as a chapter each on Electric Guitars and Keyboards.

Above: the three types of Electric guitar: ‘Early,’ ‘Solid Body,’ and ‘With Accessories.’

Above: The Rock Organ Player

We also get chapters on putting a band together, chords, songwriting, lead-singing, hitting-the-road, and managers/agents/publishers.  Somewhat more surprising is the in-depth chapter on how to locate and buy stage-clothing and the chapter on light-shows.

I think it’s somewhat interesting to learn how important the idea of visual-accompaniment-to-music was in those early years of the Rock industry.  We’ve been told so often how MTV changed the visual/sonic balance of musical-signification so drastically, to such varied effect as manufacturers’ increasing the size of their logos on equipment (E.G., Zildjian Cymbals) and even the barring of rock-stardom to homely female performers (I.E., the Janis-Joplin-wouldn’t-have-made-it-today assertion).   I can’t really say that this changes the argument, but it’s worth consideration.

“PRR” also has a number of charming anachronisms, such as the diagram above.  The authors felt it necessary to explain how a group should properly stage their gear on BOTH of the common types of stages: the theatre-type stage (band faces the audience) and, of course, the round stage.  Wow.  Were rock-shows on round-stages really that common in 1967?  I’ve performed probably a thousand shows since the early 1990s, in venues as small as basements and as big as 10,000+ festivals, and never once on a round stage with the audience on all sides.  Crazy.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about “PRR” is the subject that it totally omits: there is nothing offered on the subject of recording.  Not demo recording, not studio recording.  No mention.  Also lacking is a chapter on promotion and publicity.  To most musical groups today, these seem to be the central issues that occupy most of their energy:  thanks to all of the incredible, affordable audio-recording equipment and software we have now, recording and composing music have effectively become the same task; they are inseperble activities.  Likewise, the public promotion, marketing, and branding of a musical project can now begin as soon as the first track is mixed down.

*Is there a similar book to “PRR” published for the modern musical era?

*If a high-school age band were today to study and implement the ideas in “PRR,” could they generate a 1968-type garage-rock group?

*Did anyone reading this purchase “PRR” as a young musician?  Did you find it helpful?

Next up in this series: “Making Four Track Music,” John Peel, 1987.

PA systems of the Seventies

Gibson GPA-100 PA system circa ’73

Seems like ‘100 watts’ was the likely answer to all yr PA system needs in the seventies.  I can’t imagine how folks were using SVTs and Twin Reverbs side-by-side with 100 watts for vocal reinforcement but i guess you use whatcha got!  Old guitars amps, keyboards, pedals, guitars…  they all seem to become ‘collectible’ or ‘vintage’ eventually.  Old PA systems… not so much.

Shure Vocal Master.  Goddamn they made a lot of these things.  Some are still in use.

Ovation IC One Hundred PA System

Randall RPA-6 PA system. 

The Yamaha Ensemble Mixing system.  Model is EM-90 I believe.  I bought one of these for $100 at a guitar shop in Hollywood about a decade ago.  It’s a powered mixer/PA head with a built-in analog beatbox and a great-sounding reverb tank.  The high-impedance instrument inputs also distort pretty nicely.  AKA the-KILLS-in-a-box.

Helping you come to terms with the possibility of imminent demise

Download the 1965 and 1968 Altec ‘Airport Sound Systems’ brochures:

DOWNLOAD 1965:Altec_Jet_age_sound_systems_1965

DOWNLOAD 1968: Altec_airport_sound_systems_196X

What purpose can programmed sound serve in our environment?  Communication of information.  Entertainment.  Marking boundaries of different spaces.  All of this happens in the environment of an airport.  We need to know if there has been a gate-change for our flight.  We enjoy some sort of distraction or amusement while we wait.  We expect one sort of sound in the airport bar, and another at the gate.  OK.  So…  inform, entertain, delineate.  But how about… changing the mental state of an unsuspecting listener by lulling them into an acceptance of their relative insignificance in the universe in order to help assuage their fears of possible imminent death?

(web source)

Here’s how Brian Eno, composer of ‘Music for airports,’ widely considered to be the first ‘ambient music’ album, explains his project:

“… Whenever you go into an airport or an airplane, they always play this very happy music, which is sort of saying: ‘You’re not going to die, there’s not going to be an accident, don’t worry!’ And, I thought, that was really the wrong way around, I thought that it would be much better to have music that said: ‘Well, if you die, it doesn’t really matter.’ You know. So I wanted to create a different feeling, that you were sort of suspended in the Universe and your life or death wasn’t so important. …” (source)

Talk about turning the problem on-its-head.  I should say at this point that I am an unabashed huge fan of Brian Eno; IMO, there is no one person in the history of recorded sound that has been as able to imagine and exercise new potentials for audio.  Anyhow…  if you feel that his statements in the interview above seem somewhat grandiose/flakey/pie-in-the-(or falling from the)-sky-ish, I offer this personal anecdote.  I recently played the opening of  ‘music for airports’ for my students in my Soundtrack class (‘The Soundtrack’ is a course I’ve been teaching at the University which gives visual arts and communications students an understanding of the creative potentials of audio in their work).   We were discussing the programming of audio in public spaces – shops, restaurants, etc.  I played 5:00 of “Music for Airports” and asked what they music made them think of.  Several immediately responded, ‘death.’ OK, I replied…  how do you feel about this death?’  “Okay” was the reply.  Well done Eno.

It’s kind of hard to believe that there were so many airports in the US in the late 1960s that Altec published these 6pp and 8pp catalogs.   While there are no claims in these publications that these Altec systems might be used to effectively assuage customers’ fear of death, they do offer the following:

Lack of reliability (in an airport sound system) can cause not only inconvenience but actual danger and panic in some cases.  This is why Altec Lansing, pioneer in integrated sound systems, has stressed aerospace-level reliability in every… component.”

Altec stresses here that lack of reliability, such as it might result in the mis-cue of important verbal flight information, can potentially cause danger and panic.   Eno took this one step further by understanding that the music-programming of the environment can also have a dramatic effect on the mental state of the customers; and he systematically set out to design sound-pieces that maximize the potential of the sound-system to comfort those customers.

Products discussed include the Altec 650, 687, and 695 microphones; various compressors and power amps; and audio-signal distribution equipment. ‘Case studies’ which catalog various successful Altec airport sound-systems already in use are provided as well.


Takin’ em to Church (with Altec)

Download the eight-page 1966 brochure “Altec Sound Systems for Houses of Worship”:

DOWNLOAD: Altec_Worship_1966

The text above is taken from page 2 of this royal-purple-colored document.  The logical inference would be “As You Are To God, Your PA System Can Be To You! (with ALTEC)”

Been thinking about the voice/sound of God lately.  Our recent purchase of a massive Hammond Organ/Leslie speaker system at Gold Coast Recorders has led me to consider the features/tones/visual considerations that Hammond’s designers implemented when they designed these incredibly complex electro-acoustical devices.   The large Hammond Organs of the 1950s were designed (and commercially successfully, I might add) to replace the pipe organs which had functioned as a sonic {analog/representation/index/or-what-have-you} for religious expression in the Christian church for hundreds of years.  Notice that I say sonic  representation, as opposed to musical representation.  We experience the Hammond Organ/Leslie system as being impressive and one-could-say ‘godlike’ in it’s sonic attributes, even aside from any particular piece of music that’s performed on it.  The unusually deep, pure bass tones of the footpedals; the cavernous Hammond spring reverb system; the swells of the footpedal; the visceral emotional response that the Leslie speaker creates by way of it’s manipulation of the Doppler effect.

Sound systems in churches face certain special design requirements; this 1966 brochure from Altec addresses some of these concerns.  Low distortion, extremely high speech intelligibility, uniform coverage, and minimal visual presence; and all of this must be accomplished at a moderate overall acoustical volume.  Combine these sonic requirements with the fact that the sound system will often be operated by church members, ie., volunteers, ie., not-professional engineers, and you will find that operational simplicity is also necessary.

Given the large number of old Altec mixers on eBay with a stated provenance of ‘from an old church,’ I feel like Altec was probably pretty successful in their church-marketing initiatives of the 1960s.  From what I can gather, Peavey seems to be a leader in church audio today.  It’s interesting to examine the various products in their Sanctuary Series and note the differences between these and their standard nightclub PA line.

To my readers out there:  do any of you operate sound systems in churches?  Are there any special techniques in mic’ing, mixing, or processing of audio in the church environment?  Does anyone attend a church that is still using old green Altec PA kit of the 60’s?

Carvin Mixing Consoles 1979

Download a fifteen-page scan of the mixing consoles on offer in Carvin’s 1979 Catalog:

DOWNLOAD: Carvin_Mixers_1979

Above is the playing-field of the flagship Q1608, a Quadraphonic console with 16 inputs and 8 outputs.  Other mixers on offer: the Carvin S1800, S1200, MP1000, MC1000, SP600, S600, MP600, MC600, and MP410 mixers.

Above is the MP410, a lil dude with 125 watts (into 4 ohm), a graphic EQ, and a built-in Hammond reverb.  Seems like a pretty good little keyboard amp.

One of the most repetitive selling points in this catalog is the alleged superiority of the new differential  input stage relative to input transformers.  Both methods certainly have their benefits; nowadays, input transformers are almost universally used as a selling point rather than a liability.  I personally prefer transformers, and use the Jensen 115 (click here to download details) for most of my builds.

Tomorrow: Carvin guitars of 1979.  If you’ve been enjoying this series, check out the very comprehensive Carvin Museum.  The Carvin Museum does not offer full catalog downloads as I’ve been doing, but they have done an admirable job of scanning and indexing every Carvin catalog from 1955 through 2005.

Carvin Guitars, Amplifiers, and PA equipment: 1973 Catalog

Download the thirty-two page 1973 Carvin catalog (presented in two sections):


DOWNLOAD GUITARS: Carvin_1973_part2

Products covered, with images, specs, and text, include: Carvin Lead amps LM1000, BL1250, FR1200, LP600, SM450 and TM565; Carvin Bass Amps ABM850, BM900, BM355, and FH2500; Super Amps SBL2000, SLM1600, SABM1800, and SBM1900; Combo amps VTR-212, ML212, and MB212; Tube amp head VTR2500 and TV2500; Solid-State heads ST4000, ST2400, B3000, B2000, and B1500; Carvin P2500, P4500, and P5000 PA heads; plus numerous speaker cabinets and components.

Guitars and bases include: Carvin AS50B, CM95, SS75B, SS65B electrics; Carvin SB60, SB40, and AB45 bass guitars; DBS98B and DTS90B doubleneck guitars; PRO-S8 and PRO-D6 steel guitars; plus more.

Above, some of the new offerings for 1973: we see a Folded-Horn bass enclosure (popularized by ACOUSTIC corp in the early 1970s); we see a return to tube amplification in the form of the VTR2500 amp head (seems similar to Ampeg V4 of the era); and we see a larger PA head with 8 inputs and some sort of quasi-notch filtering: power output is 170 watts into 4 ohms.  Can anyone hear the singer?

1973 Carvin AS50B.  AFAICT, this instrument uses the same body as the earlier OVATION “Tornado” guitar.

The 1973 Ovation SB60.  Identical to the cheaper SB40 save for the 1.5lbs heavier maple body. We’re near the start of the unfortunate ‘heavier-is-better’ guitar trend of the 1970s.

Doubleneck guitar/mandolin has been replaced by doubleneck guitar/12-string guitar.

Guild CopyCat tape echo has been replaced by Maestro ‘Sireko.’  Anyone out there have any experience with the merits of one vs the other?