Issue 86

Issue 86

Issue 86

Maggie McFalls

Welcome to Copper #86!

A week or so ago, here in Boulder we said, "it's May, so winter's over---right?" Then we had snow.

I won't second-guess any more, but I am hopeful. Temps in the 80s would tend to indicate that we're done. REALLY done.

We'll see. ;->

In our regular columns, Dan Schwartz fills us in on bassists he loves (other than Jack Casady!); Richard Murison asks a fundamental, troubling question: "Does Science Have to Make Sense?"Jay Jay French continues his walk-around at MunichRoy Hall runs into yet another beautiful young woman with problems; Anne E. Johnson’s Off the Charts brings us back-catalog works of Howard JonesWoody Woodward writes about one of the most influential guitarists ever---Django Reinhardt; Anne’s Something Old/Something New reviews recent recordings of works by Corelli; and I overthink things in The Audio Cynic, and continue with part 2 of the history of Empire in Vintage Whine.

I'm happy to present an unusual article about unusual variants of the guitar, written by our friend Don Kaplan. I think you'll learn a lot from it---I certainly did.

We continue with excerpts from Michael Stuart Baskin's memoir, 363 Days in Vietnam: A Memoir of Howitzers, Hook-Ups, & Screw-Ups From My Tour of Duty 1968 to 1969; I continue with part 2 of my look at this year's Munich show. Industry News continues (and perhaps concludes) the sad story of Thiel Audio. 

Copper #86 wraps up with Charles Rodrigues in a discount mood, and a Parting Shot from down under by PSer Travis Townes.

I'm happy that our friend Christian James Hand is doing well and is busy doing live sessions all over the country---but sad that he's no longer going to be able to contribute to Copper. Best of luck to you, MC Skullcap!

Cheers, Leebs.

Marked Down

Marked Down

Marked Down

Charles Rodrigues

Thiel: the Final Chapter

Bill Leebens

At Copper, we’ve followed the slow-motion demise of Thiel Audio for almost two years. As we’ve mentioned before (perhaps ad nauseam), the company of that name whose junk/assets are now being auctioned off is not the same as the company  founded in 1976 by Jim Thiel, his brother Tom, and Kathy Gornik. The company whose affairs are now being thrashed out in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee was the resultant of a Nashville private equity firm buying the Real Deal Thiel in 2012. Hopes were high that Thiel’s heritage of unique designs, bespoke drivers, and beautiful cabinetry would be preserved and nurtured with an infusion of capital.

Sadly, that was not the case. In short order Thiel’s woodworking facility and incredible stock of veneers and hardwood solids were dismantled and sold off, and the company’s HQ was moved from Lexington, Kentucky, to Nashville. There were bold statements about a new factory being built there; that never came to pass. Eventually, a line of rather nondescript products were shown, using off-the-shelf drivers, Chinese cabinets, and featuring none of the traditional Thiel design elements.

A succession of five CEOs, none of whom came from the audio biz, passed through the company during its five-ish years of operation. I was bitterly amused to see that the company’s final CEO, Elyse McKenna, is now a mortgage loan originator in Nashville.

All the stages of the company’s decline have been faithfully and factually reported by Ted Green on his Strata-gee.com website. Many thanks to Ted, one of the few reliable sources of info on the business end of the audio business.

Ted’s story on the Bankruptcy auction is here.

Rather than link the reader back through our succession of stories on Thiel, excerpts follow below. There is some concomitant duplication of links.

RIP, Thiel Audio.

Copper #40  8/28/17:

Thiel Audio: For many observers of the audio industry, few things have been as painful to watch as the de-evolution of Thiel Audio following the death of founder and designer Jim Thiel and the sale of the company by Jim’s partner, Kathy Gornik. The company was built upon Jim’s unique drivers and alignments and his brother Tom’s exquisite cabinet-work; in recent years the company divested itself of all machinery and facilities in Lexington, Kentucky, meaning that the company could no longer repair or refurbish legacy models. [As we later learned, this was not the case. Longtime Thiel employee Rob Gillum continues repairing and updating vintage Thiel speakers, as detailed in the excerpt below from Copper #52—Ed.]  As incredible customer support had always been an earmark of the brand, that did not bode well.

It recent years the company has offered fairly conventional speaker designs, apparently made in China [ I’ve since been told enclosures may well have been made in Indonesia, with at least some assembly occurring in Tennessee.—Ed.] A number of sales managers have come and gone, and the company just announced its fifth CEO in four years. The new CEO is Elyse McKenna, a Twitter-savvy veteran of artist agencies and web-marketing companies. We wish her and the company well, but the name Thiel has little meaning for audiophiles these days.

Copper #51  1/29/18:

For Thiel, the end has come—or, as Ted Green bluntly put it in his Strata-gee newsletter, “Thiel is toast“.  The company struggled following the death of designer/cofounder/namesake Jim Thiel in 2009, and following the sale of the company by cofounder Kathy Gornik in 2012, the company of legend went away, piece by piece: unique topologies, custom drivers, bespoke woodwork—all disappeared, replaced by generic off-shored products and ultimately, a small Bluetooth speaker. Five CEOs in five years couldn’t have helped.

Even if you didn’t love the sound of Thiel speakers, you had to admire the company. Jim was a kind, patient man with a brilliant analytical mind, and was capable of articulating his ideas better than any engineer I’ve ever known. His brother Tom left the company years ago, but was responsible for the company’s legacy of amazing cabinetry and inventory of exquisite woods and veneers. Kathy, cofounder and Jim’s partner, was a savvy, driven businessperson who kickstarted sales by driving a speaker-filled station wagon all over the country. As one of the few female company heads in consumer electronics (much less in the little world of the high end), Kathy was constantly scrutinized and recruited for leadership roles in all manner of organizations. I’m proud to say she was one of my mentors.

Anyway: gone. All gone.

Copper #52  2/12/18:

In Copper #51 we wrote about the demise of Thiel Audio. The reality of the situation was that the Thiel that was important to audiophiles and music lovers, died long ago. The company that recently went out of business merely carried a familiar name.

There is good news coming out of that demise, however. The service department of Thiel was the only part of the “real Thiel” that still remained in existence, and it has been run by Rob Gillum, who started with Thiel in 1981. Gillum recently purchased the service department, parts, materials and all, from Thiel. The thousands of Thiel speakers out in the world can be maintained, repaired and updated—Gillum is working on what he calls “hot rod” kits to upgrade the performance of old models—by the leading expert in the field.

Our friend Ted Green at the Strata-gee newsletter delivered the full story here. A website for the new/old venture, Coherent Source Service, can be found here. 

Copper #72  11/19/18:

Chapter 7 filings are seldom happy endings; rarely does any creditor receive enough of what they’re owed to make them happy. In the case of Thiel Audio, it’s just the last stop in a long string of indignities for a once-storied audiophile speaker brand. Back in Copper #51, Industry News looked at the shutdown of Thiel and pontificated, “…gone. All gone.”

That was premature: now, with the filing of Chapter 7, it could be said that Thiel is going, going…

The actual bankruptcy filing can be read here, and is alternately horrifying and fascinating. Assets are listed as about a half mil in furnishings and artwork, along with several hundred thousand in inventory. Both numbers seem, to be charitable, hard to believe. The biggest creditor is Chinese speaker OEM Meiloon, owed $1.6 million; industry insiders who have worked with Meiloon have expressed astonishment at that number, given the company’s normally-tight terms.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One hopes the Thiel name won’t be added to the likes of Acoustic Research, Advent, and other once-great brands, as a brand name misapplied to cheap accessories sold at Best Buy or Amazon.

[Thanks to longtime Thiel employee Gary Dayton for helping fact-check all this material—Ed.]

Archangelo Corelli

Archangelo Corelli

Archangelo Corelli

Anne E. Johnson

Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713) had a pretty sweet deal. As a violinist and composer, it seems he was beloved by everyone in Rome with the money and power to help him, a couple of cardinals in particular. He ended up with his own orchestra of about thirty string players, something very rare in the Baroque period. As a result of this situation, Corelli is the only important Baroque composer to have written nothing but instrumental music.

But he earned that special consideration. Everything he set his hand to in music, he altered forever, from the technique of playing the violin to the structure of the concerto and sonata genres. And his music is gloriously complex, almost single-handedly bringing about the start of the High Baroque period. Without Corelli, there would have been no Bach. It’s no wonder his music is still performed and recorded frequently.

There’s been a focus lately on Corelli’s works for violin, including a fascinating experimental recording by Baroque violinist Susanne Scholz and harpsichordist Michael Hell. For their album L’immagine di Corelli, on Querstand Records, they prepared with intense historical research, including edited scores and treatises by some of Corelli’s violin students (the most famous is Francesco Geminiani). Scholz recorded using an array of violin bows to see how it affected ornamentation, and Hell used four different harpsichords.

The album includes six of the 12 Opus 5 Sonatas for violin and continuo. The playing is detailed and thoughtful, yet unabashedly emotional – an unusual combination, especially for performance based on such committed academic rigor. As you can hear in the opening Adagio of the sonata Op. 5, No. 3, in C major, the expressiveness is blatant. As for the ornamentation, Scholz’s florid passages are as clear as they are quick, and Hell decorates in waves like wind through a wheat field. This performance can’t help but stir poetic imagery in your mind.


The second-movement Giga of the Sonata No. 9 in A Major proves a playful romp, with Scholz practically winking and grinning as she makes us wait the tiniest moment for each phrase to get rolling. Notice also how she carefully avoids exact, metronomic rhythms; that slight swing and unpredictability is a performance-practice element called notes inégales (unequal notes), and when done correct it breathes life into courtly music that otherwise sounds stuffy.


Another lively and original approach to Corelli’s string writing can be found in the album Marais Meets Corelli (PAN Classics), featuring viola da gambist Jakob Rattinger and violinist Lina Tur Bonet, with Nadja Lesaulnier on harpsichord. “Marais” refers to Marin Marais (1656-1728), who worked with Lully at the royal court in France and specialized in the viola da gamba.

The album is evenly divided between works by the two composers. To represent Corelli, they chose some of the Opus 5 Violin Sonatas. Here’s the Vivace from the Fifth Sonata in G minor. Compared to the Scholz/Hell recording, there’s more of a sense of abandon. You can again hear the sought-after unevenness and micro-pauses that define a good period performance. With the gamba doubling the bassline (a normal but not required feature of the time), the sound is much fuller. On the other hand, the ornaments aren’t as detailed.


Rattinger, Bonet, and Lesaulnier have gained attention among early-music fans for their YouTube folia throwdowns. A folia is a simple bassline/harmonic pattern that was commonly used as the foundation for both composition and improvisation in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This album includes a set of folia variations “after Marais and Corelli.” The over-the-top flourishes by these three first-tier Baroque specialists are as wild and intricate as the improv in any jazz session.


It’s easy to forget that, in Corelli’s day, instrumentation wasn’t fixed the way it has been since the late 18th century. Any instrument that could play what was written was welcome to do so. Hence we get an album called Solos and Concertos Fitted for the Flutes, on the Arcana label. Among the works offered here are solo recorder versions of the now-familiar Opus 5 Sonatas, usually played on violin.

Soloist Marco Scorticati is joined by harpsichordist Davide Pozzi for the sonatas. Here’s the Sarabande from Op. 5, No. 7 in G minor. While Scorticati’s sound is gentle and pure, his instrument simply doesn’t have the expressive capacity of a violin. For me, the real treat is the thoughtful keyboard playing of Pozzi, who takes a more contrapuntal than chord-based approach to his part (which Corelli wrote partly in the shorthand known as figured bass, and is therefore open to interpretation).


For the modern listener, Corelli is probably best known for his concerti grossi, a genre he helped to invent. Really, a concerto grosso is just a trio sonata with extra instruments: a bunch of short movements in contrasting tempos and styles. Scorticati is the director of the ensemble Estro Cromatico, which plays three of the 12 concerti grossi that Corelli included in his Opus 6. By definition, a concerto grosso includes an ensemble plus a “concertino,” meaning two or three soloists given special parts not shared by the string orchestra. In this recording, of course, they’re recorder players (Scorticati plus Sara Campobasso).

Here’s the opening Adagio-Allegro of Op. 6., No. 4, in F major. The virtuosity of the soloists is both impressive and charming, and the ensemble gives unobtrusive support, but there’s a stasis – a lack of motion – that bogs down the musical phrases. Note the very active gamba part (here played on cello by Michela Gardini); one of Corelli’s important innovations is the use of a moving bassline that participates in the counterpoint rather than just supporting chords.


A more satisfying interpretation of Corelli concerti grossi can be found on a recent release by the Freiburger Barockorchester, led by violinist Gottfried von der Goltz. The album, on the Aparte label, includes Op. 6, Nos. 1-5 and 7, plus a sinfonia without opus number that Corelli dedicated to “Santa Beatrice d’Este.”

The first Opus 6 concerto, in D major, opens with a Largo-Allegro. It was common for the first fast movement of a Baroque sonata or concerto to have a short slow intro. In the Largo’s unaccompanied violin duet, von der Goltz and Petro Müllejans delight with their aerial gymnastics. But at the 0:58 mark, the texture changes completely as the orchestra enters.

Freiburger Barockorchester takes pride in its “expanded continuo” section, meaning it includes instruments of a wide range of timbres to provide the bassline and underlying harmony: lute, harp, harpsichord, and organ, plus cello. That combination provides a richness that counterbalances the violin soloists and deepens the sound in a breathtaking way. For Corelli’s sake, I hope his own orchestra in Rome sounded this good.

Munich, Part 2

Munich, Part 2

Munich, Part 2

Bill Leebens

For all its admirable efficiency, there are some peculiar oversights in the presentation of High End, as the Munich show is called. If you look at the show website, you’ll find brand lists and exhibitor lists, but no maps of the MOC (Munich Order Center, oddly) where the show is held. I don’t think you can get a feel for the show without understanding the layout. So—forgive the wrinkles in the diagram from the show brochure—as I said, the website’s got nothin’!

The diagram—übersicht means “overview”—makes it appear as though all the areas shown are on the same level. This is not the case. Halle 1 through Halle 4 (Halle, obviously, means “Hall”, with the plural being Hallen)—are all at ground level. Up one level are the first of the Atrium floors; A 3.1 is above Halle 3, and A 4.1 is above Halle 4. A 4.2 is, logically enough, one level above A 4.1. So: Hallen 1 and 2 are one level high; Halle 3 has two levels; and Halle 4 has three levels. Think of the Atriums (Atria?) as layers of a layer cake, stacked on top of Hallen 3 and 4, and you’ve got it, minus the buttercream frosting.

Now, the Hallen are open exhibit floors, as you’d see at most trade shows, or the main convention center at CES. Because of that, exhibitors have limited ability to present live demos without annoying the neighbors. Sprinkled throughout the Hallen are freestanding enclosed demo rooms quaintly called “cabins”—and that’s what they resemble. Acoustically, the cabins aren’t terrible, and most veteran exhibitors know how to best treat and utilize the space. Due to their limited size, cabins are generally utilized by smallish companies; for bigger demo rooms, one has to go to the Atrium levels.

Here you can see Finnish loudspeaker manufacturer Penaudio‘s open display and their cabin listening room —you can see the door peeking open on the right. It’s not a perfect arrangement, but it is better than most small hotel rooms as used at many audio shows.

The Atrium display rooms are bigger, but are greenhouse-like, with large windows that present acoustical challenges. Worst of all are rooms on A 4.2, with vaulted ceilings which can create a massive bass suck-out. Many of the higher-end companies exhibit on the Atrium levels due to the larger spaces, and most have to utilize extensive acoustical treatment in order to create decent listening environments. You’ll see a wide variety of diffusors, reflectors, and absorbers in pictures of those rooms. Here you’ll see big diffusor panels in the room of Troy Audio, which makes large, highly-efficient loudspeakers using modern versions of Altec drivers made by Great Plains Audio:

To summarize: there are three types of exhibit space at the show: open booth space in the Hallen; cabins in the Hallen; and the enclosed demo rooms on the Atrium levels. Moving on, let’s stroll around die Hallen….

PS Audio is in Boulder, and a number of other manufacturers of high-end audio products are nearby. Sadly, we’re more likely to see our colleagues at shows, than we will while out for a beer. Here’s the booth of our Boulder friends at Ayre:

Around the corner in a cabin, Hungarian company Taylor Acoustic showed their lovely speakers powered by PS Audio gear. Those mice? They’re damping devices from Swedish company Entreq, filled with lead shot!

In another cabin nearby, the Aries Cerat folks showed their tube amps and horn loudspeakers. As you might guess, the cabins presented a tight squeeze which sometimes made photography awkward–not to mention the complete lack of natural light.

Outside in the “open” space, personal audio leaders Astell & Kern had an impressive display:

Chatting outside the Soundsmith cabin were owner/chief engineer Peter Ledermann and composer/pianist/record producer David Chesky. Inside the cabin, Peter gave his usual stunning demos using a system completely designed and built by him—from cartridge to preamp and amp and speakers. There’s some kind of magic in the tiny Dragonfly speakers—the power and low bass are startling. A highlight this time was an original lacquer of Blood Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel”—the dynamics were unbelievable.

Every show has several exhibits that are puzzling, for one reason or another. Reed, from Lithuania, showed their very attractive tonearms and turntables—but why on earth would they need that impressive diffusor wall on an open-air, static exhibit? And what should we make of their slogan, “For Painting on Silence”—?

Here’s another baffler: recently, SME, producer of world-class turntables and tonearms, purchased what was left of Garrard, reportedly including a stock of parts for the old 301 idler wheel table. At Munich the SME display included a number of impressive SME products, including a new model or two. And then, there under a big acrylic cover was a Garrard 301, with an apparent replica of an old SME 3009 tonearm. I was told the unit was 12,500–whether pounds or Euro was unclear, and the spokesperson seemed unsure of pretty much everything. Is it new? Well, uh…Is it assembled from old parts? Well, uh….

I’m guessing it’s made from old parts, as finish was not stunning. Perhaps at some point, we’ll get the straight story. Meanwhile, I was so rattled that I didn’t photograph the new SME products—which should’ve been the real story!

A company called Shenzhen Viborg (?) showed some impressive-looking tonearms which seemed to mimic elements of older, better-known arms. I see some Ikeda, some SME, maybe some EMT….

A company called Arya Audio Labs showed an interesting AMT-like driver licensed from an American designer. It can be arranged in segments to provide controlled dispersion all the way up to omni. I have no idea how it sounds: the display was open-air, with the drivers plunked unceremoniously atop some nondescript floorstanding speakers, and the crew seemed to be having a great deal of trouble with set-up. It may well be very promising, but sadly, I couldn’t tell from the display.

Italian amp makers Pathos have a full range of products, all featuring beautiful build-quality and a unique aesthetic. You either love it or hate it. The heatsinks which spell out “PATHOS” are a little amusing.

More collegial schmoozing: two from Part-Time Audiophile (Panagiotis Karavitis, left—“Dr. Pan”, if you can’t handle Greek; Publisher Scot Hull, right) with industry vet David Solomon, currently traipsing the world for Qobuz. Hull was nearly stuck in London due to a passport nearing expiration….

Speakers of all types, shapes and sizes could be seen on the main floor. The colorful little Danish Babushka Jern (“iron” in Danish) speakers featured cast-iron housings that were dead, dead, dead–and allowed a very big sound. I wonder about the new wall-hangers—a simple nail in sheetrock won’t hold them up! There’s also a cannonball-like subwoofer which wold break your foot, should you bump into it in a dark room. And, oh—see the hammer on the table? Attendees were encouraged to bang on a chunk of the cast iron enclosure material—though not the finished speakers.

You may recall the enormous ESD horn speakers with field-coil drivers from last year’s RMAF report. Shown in a big room there, I complained that the tinkly cocktail jazz demo music never conveyed the dynamic power these speakers are presumably capable of. Would you believe these were shown in one of the cabins at Munich? It’s probably a good thing that once again, they didn’t really let these things rip—it likely would’ve blown the walls off!

Rarely seen in the US, French brand Cabasse has…err…their own way of doing things. Most models feature coaxial drivers in a spherical enclosure. They range from mid-sized floorstanders…

—to big and even bigger eyeballs. Personally, if I were listening to these things I’d feel like I was being stared at all the time.

It was definitely interesting to see a cutaway of one of the big eyeballs. This looks like a triaxial driver arrangement.

Sooner than one would expect, the end of the show day comes. And then it’s back out into cold rain, with hopes that the next morning would be sunny and clear.

Fretting and Harping About Guitars

Don Kaplan

When I was a teenager in New York during the 1960s, hundreds of people would gather around the fountain in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park to play their guitars and sing folk songs made famous by the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Some guitarists strummed their instruments using picks. Others used their fingers or fingernails to pluck the strings individually, a style known—appropriately—as fingerpicking. Whether strumming or plucking, everyone competed for attention: Whoever attracted the largest audience of locals and tourists won pride of place, at least until another performer caught the audience’s attention.

If a harp guitarist had been present that performer would certainly have caught the audience’s attention based on the instrument’s looks alone. Harp guitars have unusual designs and are built with two necks: one fretted (stopped), the other with “floating strings”— strings that aren’t fretted and look like those found on a harp.

One of National Public Radios’ Weekend Edition essayists saw something called a harp guitar at Gregg Miner’s Museum of Vintage, Exotic and Just Plain Unusual Musical Instruments and described it as a “combination guitar and wooden shoulder-mounted grenade launcher.” [Tim Brookes, Weekend Edition, August 26, 2007]. Museum owner, musician and historian Miner clarified: “To qualify as a harp guitar…it has to have at least one floating string….The strings don’t just have to be basses; they can be treble strings or mid-range strings strung across the body, attached to the treble side. There’s a wide variety of harp guitars, and that’s what makes it both so difficult to describe and endlessly fascinating….” [www.minermusic.com.]

According to some accounts, the harp guitar (as it’s called today) dates back to the mid-1600s in Europe. Other researchers claim it evolved at the end of the 18th century when European luthiers (makers of stringed instruments) were looking for ways to replace the standard guitar because of changing tastes. The first true harp guitar was produced in Paris around 1773 by harp maker François-Joseph Naderman. “It had six standard fretted strings and six open bass strings. Each bass string had a thumb lever, located on the back of the peghead, which raised the pitch a semitone. Naderman called his instrument a ‘Bisex’ meaning double-six. Instruments of this sort were then termed bass guitars.” [Duncan Robertson, Frets Magazine, Nov. 1979]

By the turn of the 20th century harp guitars were becoming common in America as well. They had steel instead of gut strings, were loud and could be heard above smaller instruments, were visually interesting, favored in vaudeville acts, played at home, and used to perform a wide variety of musical genres. As fashionable as they had become harp guitars vanished quickly by the late 1920s because of new trends and technological advances in making instruments. The demise of vaudeville (replaced by movies and radio) and the Jazz Age preference for piano and drum accompaniments also contributed to the decline of these unusual guitars.

Harp guitars have recently been revived by musicians who use modern fingerstyle technique. Modern fingerstyle is based on fingerpicking but includes innovative effects and places a greater emphasis on the bass as the foundation for the music. Fingerstyle enables the player to produce a more expressive, richer sound that isn’t possible on traditional guitars.

Mark Vickness, a contemporary fingerstyle musician who performs on a variety of custom made guitars as well as harp guitars explains that “Modern fingerstyle guitar is a genre that traces its roots back to a few early proponents, most notably Michael Hedges. The idea was to expand the musical vocabulary for the steel string acoustic guitar by employing percussive techniques, broader use of harmonics, unique tunings and better ways of amplifying the acoustic guitar to produce a richer, more layered, orchestral sound. That initial idea continues to motivate players to come up with new ways to push the envelope including the use of various effects and looping.” (Looping occurs when a pedal enables the musician to record a musical passage and then play it back repeatedly on a loop. Once it is played back, most loop pedals allow for overdubbing new passages over the first one.)

Vickness’ recent album Places has been described by a reviewer at The Rocker magazine as “a master class in modern fingerstyle acoustic guitar.” [the-rocker.co.uk/ 10/4, 2012; selection on YouTube] Another reviewer was impressed by Vickness’ ability to “make his guitar sound like chimes, an old clock, a dulcimer and even a sitar.” [Andrew Sammut, All About Jazz, 2/17/19] And a recent critique of a performance at Berkeley, CA’s historic Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse noted “There is a tremendous freedom in fingerstyle, as pretty much the whole guitar can be used. The musician can create harmonics by simultaneously picking or pulling the strings on both the body and the fret board, while using the body of the guitar in a percussive manner. Because of all the sounds being emitted from one guitar, there is a sense of depth and fullness in the music created. Being witness to this technique is an amazing thing, as watching a musician create such sounds is a somewhat magical as well as breathtaking experience.” [April 10, 2019]

Other popular modern fingerstyle artists include Michael Hedges, Michael Manring, and Muriel Anderson. Michael Hedges (1953-1997), like Vickness, was classically trained and especially influenced by 20th century composers including Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, Anton Webern, Steve Reich, and Morton Feldman. Hedges, one of the most influential fingerstyle artists, applied unusual techniques to the steel string acoustic guitar like using right hand hammer-ons (a method of sounding two notes simultaneously while plucking a string only once), using the left hand for melodic or rhythmic hammer-ons and pull-offs (resulting in a ringing sound after using a hammer-on), slapping the guitar body percussively, and unusual strumming. [Examples of Hedges fingerstyle guitar playing can be found on YouTube.]

Michael Manring harp guitar (Source: Steve Hoffman Music Forums)

Michael Manring, who plays electric bass as well as guitar, used to tour with Hedges. And, like Hedges and Vickers, Manring also has a solid musical background. He is recognized as a technical virtuoso and uses the electric bass guitar as a solo instrument in unique ways. He usually plays a fretless bass which enables him to change tone and pitch just like on an acoustic bass. One of his techniques involves using mechanical devices to change the tuning of one or more strings while playing a piece.

Manring is said to do “things on the electric bass that haven’t been done before, are nearly impossible, and (are) illegal in most states.” [Contemporary American folksinger/songwriter John Gorka as quoted on CD-Baby] When he performed with Vickness at the recent Freight and Salvage concert he was described as “a legend, playing fingerstyle with a bass instead of a guitar. Using loops, pedal effects, and his bass, he created wave after wave of sound that lingered and floated into space….He is a true magician of sound….” [Carolyn McCoy, The Bay Bridged, April 15, 2019]

Muriel Anderson is one of the world’s foremost fingerstyle and harp guitarists, and the first female to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship. She usually plays a nylon string guitar and a custom 21-string guitar which has both nylon and steel strings.

Her CD Nightlight Daylight was chosen as one of the top 10 CDs of the decade by Guitar Player Magazine. According to her biography, “Muriel’s unique approach to the instrument virtually transforms the guitar into a lyrical choir, then a marching band, then a Japanese koto, then a Bluegrass band, one minute launching into a Beatles’ tune and the next, a Spanish classic.” And according to the Chicago Tribune, “Acoustic guitarist Muriel Anderson… has justifiably gained a reputation as one of the world’s best, and most versatile, guitar instrumentalists.” [July 29, 1997. Musical selections can be found on YouTube and her website.]

Notes for a 2017-2018 exhibition of harp guitars at the Museum of Making Music state that harp guitars “traveled through time, crossed continents and oceans, fell in and out of popularity, and defied standardization. Ironically, in today’s world of advanced technology and endless multi-string guitar options, harp guitars are technically no longer necessary; however, their popularity is on the rise.” Fingerstyle guitarists have been innovating, playing and recording “under the radar” for over 50 years. Some of the foremost players from the late 20th century continue to perform while new artists use harp guitars because they are attracted to the rich sound. Thousands of harp guitars already exist in this country, and dozens of luthiers still make them.

For additional leads and music samples check out the websites provided above as well as on YouTube. You may be surprised at how much information is available. Those folks who gathered around the fountain in Greenwich Village every Sunday certainly would be.




Roy Hall

She looked so summery, that I had to talk to her. I was on a bus changing terminals in the interminably slow London Heathrow airport and she was standing next to me texting furiously. Her name was Esther and she had just arrived from Israel en route to Miami.

She was 28, with windswept light brown hair that was blond at the tips. Her shirt was blue denim, tied at the midriff, her skin brown, her teeth white and her cut-off jeans were so full of holes they barely covered her. She was so youthful and full of life that I felt particularly old. My Hebrew is rusty but hers was quite good and thankfully, we soon changed to English. She was returning home after 10 days in Israel where her Israeli husband of two years had just informed her that now that he had just received his green card, he no longer wanted to be with her. But I am getting ahead of myself.

She looked like she had just stepped off the beach —which was in fact the case. Raised Jewish in Puerto Rico, her mother, a practicing Christian, was apparently descended from Jews and felt it important that her daughter be raised Jewish. She now lived in Miami and was seriously considering becoming an Orthodox Jew. This was startling because judging by the way she looked, she had a long journey ahead. Knowing she was an eater of kosher food, I teased her about the seafood bar in terminal three. When we finally exited the bus, the crush separated us. I checked in, left my bag and decided to try out the seafood bar. Serendipitously, as I entered, she was passing by and I asked her to join me. She looked at the menu of crustaceans and to my surprise she agreed. Ironically, I told her eating with me was, “Beshert” (Hebrew for ‘ordained by god’) and over the second glass of wine and definitely un-kosher seafood salad, she told me her story.

Three years ago, she had met this Israeli man and fell in love. He was handsome and romantic. His wooing was skillful and his adoration hypnotic. They married and had a dreamlike honeymoon in the Maldives. They stayed in an ocean villa with a private infinity pool. Sex was astonishing and she felt she had met the man of her dreams, a man to have children with. He was in sales and made lots of money; she was studying nursing and working at a local hospital. They had visited Israel a few times and each visit drew her nearer to Judaism. This visit was to help her decide if it really was for her.

Then the bombshell hit. He told her that he didn’t want to stay married and that as he was cutting his trip short, she should just stay in Israel, become a citizen and convert to orthodox Judaism. This stunned her because she suddenly realized that he had never loved her but just used her for the green card. While we were talking, he was texting her and to mitigate the hurt he suggested that they go to Vegas at the weekend where he would buy her a Louis Vuitton bag. Her anger towards him was mounting. It seemed to override her emotional hurt but then she started to cry.

“Why did he do this to me? I love him so much and I thought he loved me,” she sobbed.

When the crying stopped, I suggested that she dump him immediately and get a divorce, which apparently takes 31 days in Miami where she lives. I then recommended that after the divorce she call ICE (Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) just to mess with him. Her laughter brightened up her face and her white teeth gleamed through her smile.

She stood up, kissed me on the cheek, and disappeared into the crowd.

The Munich High End Show 2019, Part 2

The Munich High End Show 2019, Part 2

The Munich High End Show 2019, Part 2

Jay Jay French

Before I go any farther down the High End show rabbit hole, I left out one turntable.

This one was perhaps the most over the top of all.

The reason why I didn’t mention it at first is because I didn’t see it. I came a little late to the unveiling and by the time I got to the room it was shrouded once again.

The table was the TechDAS Air Force Zero.

Apparently the Hideaki Nishikawa (he of the once “super table” Micro Seiki company) designed TechDAS Air Force One Premium weighing in at nearly 100 pounds and costing about $100K just…. wasn’t enough.

He had to design something that just did everything better.

Deeper depth, better blacks, quieter… eh…quiet…

Get it?

There were improvements to be made and he made them.

The new table is called The TechDAS Air Force Zero.

It comes in at 771 lbs. (not including power supply and air pumps) and costs approximately……….. $420,000.00!

It comes in 13 shipping crates.

There are 5 platters weighing in at 260 lbs. total.

Yes, but most would just buy a house! You read that right.

Don’t ask me how it sounded because I didn’t hear it.

Don’t ask me if it’s worth it.

Does it matter?

I suppose it does but any sane person would just buy a vacation home…but then again…if you have to ask…

Michael Fremer told me it was the best analog he ever heard. It damn well better be….lol.

Now, moving on I heard some great systems.

Big horns in a big system from Cessaro.

The giant Tune Audio Avaton horns from Greece.

I was pleasantly surprised by how good the audio showrooms sounded as I’ve been to many shows in hotels and the sound was really not good. On the super hi-end side, these rooms sounded very good.




Air Tight


Electronics companies D’Agostino and Audio Research shared a room.

The D’Agostino gear is about as over the top as the TechDAS gear.

Dan’s super mono blocks are 300k for the pair and look like what a Harley Davidson as audio gear would look like.

Big horns from Avantgarde—but not their biggest!

Audio Research looked great and people were talking about them very highly, but sharing a room with the monster D’Agostino seemed a little unfair.

The speakers in the D’Ag room were huge Magico’s.

It just made for a very testosterone-driven performance.

D’Agostino wasn’t playing nice with classical of even Miles, they were playing Daft Punk techno and pumping it!

Another room that was beautiful but was just showing their gear was McIntosh.

Say what you want about Mac, I will just tell you that people who want Mac, buy Mac, and Mac knows exactly who wants it and how to present it.

Even if you own the craziest expensive gear from D’Agostino, Burmester, Simaudio-Moon, Chord, Gryphon, Pass, Absolare, Air Tight & Audio Note, there is just something about that blue light and green glass of Mac gear that just screams luxury.

Kind of like your dad telling you about a Rolex or Patek watch.

Been around forever and always a coveted brand…

In the more affordable category I saw some great turntables from EAT and Pro-ject and heard some great music in the Elac suite. Elac has a $500 speaker that is a world beater. VPI was on display in various rooms with Harry and Mat Weisfeld in attendance at the show.

Jozefina Lichtenegger of EAT and Pro-ject w/ the Pro-ject Yellow Submarine turntable.

Josh Bizar from Music Direct was at the show and I was able to talk to him about the Mobile Fidelity 35th Anniversary vinyl release of my 6 million selling Twisted Sister album, Stay Hungry.

Thanks for the lunch Josh!

All through this experience I was with Ken Kessler who knows, well, everybody and he made the trip very special for me.

KK, Tim de Paravicini smiling (!?!), the author.

I saw Bill Leebens on the first day but this show is so big that you just have to be lucky and run into people you know.

Besides all of the usual hardware, there were tons of ancillary items such as record cleaning machines, super plugs, isolation devices, an incredible record weight that picks your arm up at the end of the record (I bought one!), cartridges, prototypes of gear of every description, audio and record stands, headphones, tape decks and reel to reel tapes, and lots of vinyl for sale as well.

Every room seemingly had a turntable and at least one streaming device. I did see CD players but not a lot of them.

On the super expensive side of digital, both Esoteric and dCS were on display, as was the ROON system.

There were some cable companies but not as many as I thought I would see.

There was a lot of Nordost, Audioquest & Transparent in use, and Wireworld was present as well.

I went to dinner one night with Ricardo [Franassovici, of Absolute Sounds, a UK distributor—Ed.], the biggest name in importers who is up there with Mike Kay and Harry Pearson as that small group of movers and shakers in the industry.

And….more photos coming!

The Madness of Crowds, the Wisdom of T-shirts

The Madness of Crowds, the Wisdom of T-shirts

The Madness of Crowds, the Wisdom of T-shirts

Bill Leebens

It has probably become evident after 85 (!!) of these columns that I distrust snap judgments. Unfortunately, I also distrust my inclination to distrust snap judgments. As you can imagine, this is a problem.

After decades of attempting to be rational and logical while barely containing a boiling cauldron of emotion beneath that thin veneer of Spockishness, I have come to the conclusion that my subconscious mind may be a lot wiser than my conscious mind. The subconscious mind takes in and processes massive amounts of data and impressions in milliseconds. If I were to attempt to subject that information to my usual categorization, list-making and outlining….well, the time for a decision would’ve passed before I’d even decided upon my organizational strategy.

I have also admitted to myself that in spite of that distrust of snap judgments, my initial impressions of people, projects, whatever, are often correct. The purest reactions come before the filtration and editing that comes from considering the opinions and beliefs of others around me.

That doesn’t mean that I have wholeheartedly abandoned my prior constraints and given way, willy-nilly, to a newfound, gushy emotionality. It’s a struggle for me to just accept my initial takes and not lapse into an endless loop of self-analysis and appraisal.

There are dozens of versions of this t-shirt, which perfectly captures my mindset—so apparently I’m not the only one prone to this problem. Or issue. I don’t even know what to call it:

So what, you may well ask, has this got to do with audio? An excellent question, and thanks for interrupting my loop.

Well—can you think of anything this side of politics that is as overexamined and nit-picked to death as audio? I’m not even talking about the big, theoretical issues in audio; those have gone largely untouched since the early days of Western Electric, aside from some rare, useful forays into psychoacoustics.

I’m talking about the endless loops you see on forums, the back and forth angsting over “should I clean my amplifier’s output terminals with Deoxit, or something else? Has anyone out there A-B’d the difference in sound between the two?” Or, God help us, “which is better? Silver or copper in cables?”

And of course the whole cable debate alone is able to cause most forum websites to stall out permanently. The ironic part of all this is that much of the “debate” isn’t really overthinking, it’s dogmatic recitation of something somebody else once said somewhere on the internet. We attempted to resolve some of these non-debates by running articles on the actual physical and electrical issues involved in cable design, but as meaningless debates generally do, the whole “all cables are the same” stuff is still busily pulsing across the ether. Oh, well.

Funny thing: I came to the internet in the late ’90s, and you could take entire threads from Audio Asylum of that era and post them on some forum today, and they’d blend right in. It doesn’t seem to me that much has changed, or any of the issues resolved.

One of the few phrases I recall from high school German (other than “the grass is high and thick”, always a useful one) is an all-purpose answer to almost anything: “Es kommt darauf an”. Meaning? “it all depends”. My pat answers to almost all things audio are “everything matters”, and “it all depends”. Spike those speakers or damp them? It all depends. Which is better, USB or S/PDIF? It all depends. Do different cables make a difference? Everything matters.

Such answers do not make for lively debate—mostly, they just foster annoyance. But, for a chronic overthinker like me, having a few reliable reductionist koans to fall back upon is useful. Seriously, though: much of audio is trial and error. There’s no way to analyze to death a particular combination of gear, accurately predicting results without trying it. Few questions are as simple as “do FLAC files sound better than MP3s?”, and yet, even that is debated ad nauseum. Dude: try it, and see. Just freaking TRY IT. The end.

There are two schools of thought regarding group thinking: the first, as propounded by political scientist Philip Tetlock in his very interesting book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, says that given the same data, a group will reach more accurate conclusions than an individual. Tetlock staged trials in which individuals and groups were given very specific questions in which they were asked to predict outcomes of current issues in international politics. The best, most meticulous individual forecasters were dubbed “superforecasters”, and yet, their percentage of correct outcomes rarely exceeded those of groups consisting of not-so-super forecasters. And when the superforecasters were gathered into groups, their accuracy improved—once the battles and ego issues were resolved.

This all took place in carefully-controlled circumstances, with individuals who devoted a great deal of effort to their forecasts. I can see how things would improve if group members were thoughtful, and truly dedicated in their work. While there are extraordinarily-dedicated amateur audio reviewers, they are the exceptions—and I’m not sure that the pile-ons and flame-fests of many audio forums could be said to represent such groups.

What about a group of average schlubs gathered at random off the street? As a teenager I concluded that any human endeavor involving more than twelve people was screwed from the outset. In the decades since then, I’ve concluded that the actual number is far lower than that—say, four or five. Beyond that, says cynical me, things get crazy.

The second school of thought regarding group thinking runs along those lines, and is most famously represented by Charles Mackay’s 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, regarded as a seminal work in crowd psychology and economics. (A variety of editions of this work are available free online if one is inclined to read a 400 page book on a screen. I am not, but if you do so, be sure to find a replica edition complete with the original engravings.) Mackay writes about beliefs in alchemy, witch hunts, the Crusades, and economic bubbles such as the Dutch tulip frenzy. His description of financial bubbles has made the work of significance to economists and investors, and should give one pause about some of today’s markets.

Do we ever have mass hysteria in audio? I think of the wholesale abandonment of LPs for CDs, the ready acceptance of certain questionable audio codecs or processes, and perhaps even the latter-day resurgence of vinyl as examples of group behavior in audio.

The irony of latching on to a popular t-shirt slogan as an example of wisdom is that it’s an example of groupthink, as are internet memes. So now I’m back to square one.

…Or am I overthinking it?

Oy! More Bass!

Dan Schwartz

An ultra-recent debate between Uncle Bill Leebens and myself gives rise to this particular column. I expressed exactly zero interest in a somewhat prominent bass player. Leebens responded: “You don’t seem fond of any bassists other than Jack Casady.”

I couldn’t let that assertion go unchallenged. The list of bassists I love is long — a bit shorter if we separate the player from the music they play. Admittedly, most are from the period that inspired me to start playing, which does worry me a little. Nostalgia? Something about the time? Or just that I was young and impressionable?

I’ll discount the last, and for that matter, the first, as well: I didn’t love all these players back when they came to prominence, but have grown to love most of them over time, though their playing is sort of rooted in something similar to my own. But one thing they have in common is…nothing at all. Except:

You know that feeling you get when you’ve eaten a very satisfying meal? Not stuffed, but so flavorful and just-right feeling? It’s kind of like that, the feeling I get when I hear one of these guys play. And interestingly (or not, but it is to me) I only get that feeling from hearing bass players. I first thought about this about twenty years ago, when I was backstage at De House ob De Blooz with Jack Casady and his fiancé, Diana. She had asked me how I met Jack — I told her, and that’s when the analogy to a really good meal came to me. It’s almost an identical feeling, a feeling of satisfaction. I always get it when I hear Jack. But I noticed it afterwards with certain, even many, players.

With Jack, of course, most of his recordings, but in particular the first, live and self-titled Hot Tuna record.


Then, in no order:

McCartney. Not at first, but boy, when he got there, he really got there! Especially on “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”. Oh my god; it’s so fat and heavy. (And not recorded at Abbey Road.) Also notice that the bass generally is most complex and interesting on songs that he’s not the lead singer on: give him a Lennon or Harrison tune and McCartney gets really going.

Phil Lesh, and I probably wouldn’t love his playing but for the fact that he plays with the Dead, but he wouldn’t be playing bass if not for the Dead either. His phrasing is so weird, but beautiful. And I especially love his playing on the album colloquially known as “Skullfuck” (what the band wanted to call it) or “Skull and Roses”, but released as Grateful Dead. Boy, I just LOVE his tone on that one.

James Jamerson. Who doesn’t love him? All the great Motown tracks, all played with just one finger. (And Jamerson’s heir, Bob Babbitt.)

Donald “Duck” Dunn, the Stax/Volt session guy: simpler than Jamerson, and more satisfying to me to hear. Is anything more perfect than the bass on “Dock of the Bay”? Allegedly guided in his parts by the truly great guitarist, Steve Cropper, but who knows?


Trevor Williams. You haven’t heard of him? He’s the bassist in a favorite band from the time (more-or-less), Audience. Now that we’re all happily streaming, listen to the LP House on the Hill. (Also note their brilliant instrumentation: nylon string guitar, bass, saxes (and flutes) and drums.

Of course I love the early prog players, Greg Lake and Chris Squire: Lake on “Take A Pebble” and Squire on “Heart of the Sunrise” are prime examples of that feeling. And my ultimate prog guy, Ray Shulman of Gentle Giant, on just about anything. But to really get that ate-a-great-meal feeling, “Aspirations” from The Power and the Glory.


Danny Thompson, of course. I devoted a whole column to him a couple years ago, but again, if you want to hear definitive Danny, “No Love is Sorrow” from The Pentangle’s Solomon’s Seal. But that brings up the bassists in “competing” bands: Ashley Hutchings in Fairport Convention (later Dave Pegg), and Ashley Hutchings in Steeleye Span, replaced by Rick Kemp when he departed. All are very good to great.

And Rick Danko’s playing on all the Band’s records is perfect. (Not to mention his singing).


Tony Levin: particularly on Peter Gabriel’s “On the Air” from his second solo album, and the first album from the resuscitated King Crimson, Discipline. Listen to “The Sheltering Sky”. Sublime. Oh, and also on Joan Armatrading’s Walk Under Ladders, in particular “The Weakness In Me”. A beautiful song, beautifully played by all.


Whoever it is that’s playing on the Stones early albums, up through Exile On Main Street. I don’t know if it’s Bill Wyman on “Satisfaction” (I think it is) or Keith Richards, but it’s fat and it’s great!

In another kind of music: Miroslav Vitous: he’s sort of my god of exploratory music. Listen to him on the early Weather Report albums. Holy Jesus. Especially on I Sing the Body Electric, their second (half) studio record. But all three bassists the band had on their first eight albums are great: Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, and of course, Jaco Pastorius. Though I know I’m repeating myself from an earlier column, I do think Jaco is more significant on Joni Mitchell’s albums, and WR is suffering a bit in their compositions by the time Jaco joined. Zawinul seemed to have evolved out of his earlier exploratory phase, and I think the music is the weaker for it, though it was, of course, super-popular. Speaking of Zawinul, his self-titled solo album has amazing bass playing on it, courtesy Vitous and Walter Booker.


I really love Glen Moore’s playing: he was bassist first in the Paul Winter Consort (briefly) and then Oregon. I mean, I REALLY love his playing.


Dave Holland, who plays on so many great records: then and now.

Stanley Clarke, though I believe I’m repeating myself that it’s only his early upright playing that I’m really fond of. His huge hands and small bass make his electric playing too facile and technique-oriented for me.

I know that a few really significant bassists are left off of my list: Jack Bruce, John Entwistle to name two. They’re great. But for whatever reason, I’ve just never had the same feeling from them.

The other thing that all these guys seem to have in common is that they don’t have a show-off technique. That strikes me as a waste of good energy and is entirely inappropriate to music and bass playing.

Okay, Bill? See, there is more in my world than just Jack Casady!

[And I got a column out of you. So there—Ed.]

Does Science Have to Make Sense?

Richard Murison

The origins of science, and the scientific method, have to do with attempting to understand the world around us. Why things fall when we drop them. How to throw a rock so that it hits a target. Why some things float and others don’t. Why ice forms and why it melts. How to transform base metal into gold.

The original purpose of science was to make sense of the world. It was more than just curiosity. If we wanted to build a tall building, would it be possible to determine how tall we could make it before it fell over? If we wanted it to be a square shape, how would we lay it out? How much stuff can we pile into a boat before it becomes unstable and tips over? Even back in the stone age, there were people around who knew enough about these problems to be able to address them.

Originally, these were considered to be matters of philosophy. But as time passed, the study of such ‘practical’ philosophical concerns became a discipline unto itself, practiced by a very tiny cadre of serious experts. And study it they did…from all angles. Even the great Sir Isaac Newton devoted a considerable portion of his energies to the search for a way to transform base metal into gold. And though he was (naturally enough) unsuccessful in that particular endeavor, it didn’t deter him from actually publishing a recipe or two!

But as time passed, the steady accumulation of knowledge began to build impressively – so much so that as the 19th Century drew to a close a certain amount of hubris began to pervade some parts of the scientific community. Haughty claims were made that we now knew everything there was to know about physics, and going forward it would just be a case of putting that knowledge to useful and practical use. But the dawn of the 20th Century first introduced some disturbance to that arrogant posture, then kicked it in the nuts, and finally blew it out of the water.

The first disturbance was the discovery of the atom. Not that it happened overnight, but with Rutherford’s discovery of the electron a number of things were able to fall quickly into place. Previously it had been held that matter was more or less continuous. A small lump of iron was just a smaller version of a big lump of iron, identical in every way, and that was all there was to it. But now we were learning that all matter actually consisted of tiny building blocks called atoms, and that it was not possible to break an iron atom into smaller pieces and have those pieces still comprise iron.

Along with this discovery was the fact that atoms themselves were composed of further constituent parts – protons, neutron, and electrons. The trouble was that you couldn’t hold any of those exotic objects in your hand. You couldn’t even look at them under a microscope. All you had to go on were the results of a number of complicated experiments, which in total suggested only one possible set of interpretations.

This was a major turning point for science as a discipline because it was no longer describing the world we lived in, as we perceived it. We could never hope to observe an electron (for example) the way we can observe a bowling ball. Our interactions with electrons would be limited to experiments in which we were obliged to assume we were experimenting on electrons, and the things we would observe would then either confirm or deny some specific theory on the nature of electrons. This level of abstraction is commonplace in scientific thinking today, but left many people at the time disturbed by the apparent lack of direct meaning in terms of the real world. Today, the extreme indirection that characterizes the frontiers of theoretical physics can often be almost impossible for many non-expert observers to grasp.

Nonetheless, it soon became apparent that, provided we could place an abstract experiment in some practical real-world context, and interpret our experimental outcome in the light of some aspect of real-world relevance, we could learn to live with it. So, even though we cannot interact personally with atoms, everything we learned about them would continue to marry perfectly with everything we knew about the properties of materials made from these atoms. In fact, it would even enable us to explain many of the things we thought we already knew but couldn’t otherwise properly account for.

So that was the first shock to the system – that our universe is comprised of things we can’t actually see or touch. But that’s OK, because at least we understand the relationships between those constituent parts and the bits we can see and touch. And it all starts to makes profound sense, once you get comfortable with it.

Then the second shock to the system came along right behind it. Einstein’s theories of Special – and especially General – Relativity. These introduced concepts that simply couldn’t be reconciled with any normal view of the ‘real’ world as we experience it. Time passes at a different rate if you are in motion, or experiencing gravity. Likewise, you get heavier the faster you go. And, most perplexing of all, things which were observed by one observer to have happened simultaneously, can be inferred by a certain other observer to have happened one after the other.

This presents yet another level of difficulty to the skeptical observer, and particularly to the one expecting the world to conform to certain degree of homespun common sense. We are not being asked to interpret the results of an abstract experiment in the light of the universe we know and understand. Instead we are being asked to accept that we do not actually know and understand the universe after all. Fundamentals like the steady passage of time are no longer fundamental. General Relativity so thoroughly re-wrote the rules of the universe that even today there are still predictions arising from his theories that await experimental confirmation.

And, thus far at least, every last prediction of General Relativity, bar none, that have been testable, have been proven true. On a mundane level, in 1971 four atomic clocks were flown twice around the world in different directions on jetliners, and their time readings afterwards compared with stationary clocks on the ground. In each case real time differences were observed, and were found to be completely consistent with General Relativity. Today, GPS positioning systems have to take relativistic effects into account in order to achieve anything close to the accuracy required. And in the giant particle accelerators that were used to discover the famous Higgs Boson in 2013, protons are accelerated so close to the speed of light that Einstein predicts their mass should increase dramatically. Indeed, if this increase in mass were not very carefully taken into account, the accelerator wouldn’t actually work at all!

So the net result is that we have come to accept that the universe does not actually work in the simplistic way we have been used to over the last several thousand years.  But so long as the guy who designs the GPS is au fait with it, we don’t need to be overly concerned.

The third blow, though, strikes right at the very heart of what we think we mean by the scientific method. That is, of course, quantum mechanics. And the conundrum at the core of quantum mechanics is its probabilistic nature. Science tells us what will happen – if A, then B. But Quantum Mechanics tells us “if A, then probably B”.

It used to be thought that if you could model the exact state of every particle in the universe at any particular moment, then you could determine exactly what would happen at every other moment in the future. But by the 1970’s, chaos theory had clarified that this is only true if you can stipulate all these things with infinite precision. Even so, if you believe that universe can presently be exactly described, with infinite precision, that would tend to imply that the entire future of the universe is therefore pre-determined. This is an idea that comforts some people, but troubles others. However, the inherently probabilistic nature of Quantum Mechanics tells us that the universe is not at all pre-determined. There is an element of fundamental uncertainty as to its exact state at any instant in time, and so pure chance has a significant role to play in how it evolves. In other words, even with the best, most advanced super-computers in the world at our disposal, there will still be some lingering uncertainty as to what tomorrow’s weather will be.

I’ll stop there with the specifics. But as with the mind-bending predictions of General Relativity, so the twilight zone of Quantum Mechanics continues to throw curveballs at us. Not only do those curveballs bend in both space and time, they can also be in two places at once, and you can never be absolutely certain whether it was even pitched at all! Furthermore, as with General Relativity, even the most bizarre machinations of Quantum Mechanics seem to prove out experimentally, one after the other.

Currently, the unknown frontiers of theoretical physics are connected primarily with one major issue related to General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – the simple fact that we cannot reconcile the one with the other. You could simplify the problem and say that General Relativity is concerned with the universe on a large scale and has nothing to say on very small scales, whereas Quantum Mechanics is concerned with the universe on a small scale and has nothing to say on very large scales. What physicists would like to discover are relationships that fundamentally link the two. Things that, in effect, would allow a quantum mechanical description of General Relativity, or a relativistic description of Quantum Mechanics. Such things are referred to as Grand Unified Theories, or GUTs.

There are a few GUTs out there, of which the most promising is something you may have heard of – String Theory. It is a mathematically promising approach, but still has a long way to go, and might yet end up being a dead end. For the casual inquirer it has two mammoth drawbacks. The first is that, even if your grasp of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics is strong enough that you feel a certain level of comfort with them, you have no chance whatever – absolutely zero – of making any sense of String Theory. It has been said that even the experts in the field can’t make any sense of it. The second is probably the reason for the first. Nothing in String Theory has any relationship whatsoever with the observable world. You cannot interpret any aspect of it in any physical way. It is, at its core, little more than a set of incomprehensibly complicated equations.

In other words, the theories at the very frontiers of the world of physics today don’t really make any ‘Sense’ whatsoever. At least not as we have become used to using that word.

Django, Act 1

WL Woodward

January, 1910, on a cold evening in Liberchies, Belgium a baby boy was born to a Manouche Romani couple named Jean Baptiste and Laurence Reinhardt. They named him Jean. He would take the nickname Django.

The Romani clan originated on the Indian subcontinent and left there for Europe when there was no Europe, about 1500 years ago. They crisscrossed territories in gay gaudy caravans, a nomadic people, and were disparagingly called the Gypsies. They were alternatively welcomed and spurned since they arrived to open arms by bored peasants who loved the gay lifestyle, the music and entertainment the Gypsies brought to town, but soon discovered after the Gypsies left no one had any pants. These wanderers had a different view. The Romani considered what the townsfolk called thievery to be more of a bartering. We bring you song, we take pants.

But the music. The music sung and played around the campfires was old and emotional. The songs were passed from generation to generation, from century to century and being a musician was an occupation of honor. The melodies of the violins in the European Tzigane tradition are evocative and stirring. You don’t have to be musically trained or diverse in tastes to recognize these. They are locked into our DNA. As in Ravel’s homage to “Tzigane” played by the wonderful Itzhak Perlman.


From Spain came the Gitane Romani whose tradition favored the guitar and flamenco. This melding of both together reached the ears of Django at a very young age.

Father Jean-Eugene had a dance orchestra and played hotels in Paris and along the Cote d’Azur. Ambitious for the time, it consisted of 2 violinists, a bassist, 2 guitars and a piano, and Papa hauled that upright in his caravan all over France and played popular songs, waltzes and gypsy melodies for a variety of audiences. But no matter what or where, when the orchestra left town no one had any pants. Still they were in demand and always welcomed back.

Django was schooled by his uncle Guiligou on the violin and the child was good enough to play in the ensemble at age 7. At ten the boy became fascinated by a new instrument played by his cousin Gabriel. The banjo.

This infernal shrieking instrument was brought over and popularized by the American troops during WW1. OK, OK everybody relax. I love the banjo and play a little myself. But it’s not for everyone. Mark Twain said “A gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t.” What was important about the introduction to France was not just the instrument, but the music it was played on. Jazz.

Every change in musical genres brings with it a howling of outrage by the group being displaced. In the late 1800’s, believe it or not, the Parisian musette scene was dominated by the bagpipes. Seriously. Talk about infernal shrieking. But French audiences adored the masters who wore bells on their ankles to simulate percussive accompaniment and bals musette in Paris were packed with whirling workers anxious to blow off steam. In 1880 there were 150 such halls around Paris.

Then around 1890 Italian immigrants brought the next example of Satan’s laughter, the accordion. The accordion shocked everyone with its range and power and the bagpipe musicians, seeing the future, were purple with rage at the insanity that this instrument could best them, but best them it did. By 1910 the bals were the territory of the accordion. The music remained the same with popular songs and waltzes but the power of the accordion completely displaced those wheezy old windbags.

The Scots kept the bagpipes but they still wear skirts. So.

Now WW1 brought soldiers, jazz, and the banjo. Into this stew of jazz, gitane flamenco and Manouche violin was born a prodigy. Django begged his mother for a banjo, but she scoffed at the idea of spending 5 francs for such an extravagance.

A local musician recognized talent in the boy and gave him a battered old banjo-guitar. This odd duck had a banjo resonator and a six string neck. Gabriel showed Django how to string and chord the instrument. Django was soon playing on street corners with Gabriel. The kid practiced constantly and carried the banjo everywhere. He soon became known around Paris for how amazingly good he was getting at a young age.

Django, like stories from a lot of budding musicians, spent a deal of time hiding in cafes listening to the music of musette and the jazz of the time. The jazz was mostly of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band variety. In fact that band was very popular all over Europe and represented the real change that was about to happen. We know Django heard this song because he later recorded it.


This music grabbed his soul and never let go.

He was discovered by a band member in a café where Django was hiding under a table to avoid the waiters. The boy of course had his banjo with him, and the band asked him up to play as a novelty. They were astonished at his ability and innovation which was the cornerstone of this new music. A band member went in search of Django’s mother to speak to her about hiring the lad. He was 13.

His mother would not allow Django in the band; she had already spent the last few years chasing Django all over Paris to find which street corner he was playing on. But Django convinced her of the stability of knowing each night where he was playing. Recognizing the possible commercial viability that Django was showing, she sold a string of fauz pearls and bought Django a real guitar.

His early teachers on guitar were Romani guitarist Auguste Malha and Gitane flamenco virtuoso Poulette Castro. Django would be hired to accompany these guys and they would teach him how to perform the music, which he picked up immediately. Malha was also an accomplished songwriter, a skill Django would begin to pick up. This is Malha’s “La Valse des Niglos” performed by the unwisely named Ferret Brothers.


Soon the well-known Italian accordionist Vetese Guerino hired him as an accompanist at the princely sum of ten francs a night. Django was just over 13 years old. Guerino taught Django hundreds of songs but especially Guerino’s fascination for innovation and different tunings.

Reinhardt began following the money. He was easily distracted and began changing accordionists frequently. The result was he became known all over Paris. In 1926 Jean Vaissade, a virtuoso violinist, recognized Django’s unique talents and hired him. But Django had a reputation for irresponsibility as well and could become bored by repetition. Often Vaissade would have to search the gambling halls and fishing spots around Paris on the day of a performance. Sometimes Reinhardt just didn’t feel like playing and would send his brother in his stead. You know. A Gypsy.

But Django’s power could never be denied so everyone stuck with him. Soon his power began to overshadow the violins and accordions he was accompanying and the pupil started becoming the master.

He was first recorded with Vaissade in 1928. The recording engineer recognized that the power and center of the music was this young guitar player. He arranged the band around Django with him closest to the single microphone and the others around him.

Reinhardt had written a song at this time but he didn’t record it for several years. “Valse Manouche” showed the beginnings of not only a major player but a talented songwriter at 18.


At the same time Django was becoming entranced by the Sounds of Jazz, especially the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Billy Arnold. He spent his practice time incorporating these jazz melodies and stirrings into innovative jazz guitar licks over traditional songs and adding jazz numbers to his repertoire. His reputation began crossing the ocean.

In October 1928 Django was accompanying accordionist Maurice Alexander at La Java, one of the roughest halls in one of the toughest sectors of Paris. A man dressed to the nines entered this establishment of cutthroats and thieves in a tuxedo, with a woman on each arm and bedazzled in expensive gowns and diamonds. The crowd, though resentful and even nasty, reluctantly parted as the group made its way to the stage and performers. His name was Jack Hylton.

Hylton was the British version of America’s Paul Whiteman. He and Whiteman made a living taking the hot jazz stylings of the ‘working class’ pronounced ‘black class’ and sanitizing them for wealthier clientele. Pronounced ‘white’ clientele. Both orchestras were hugely successful and Hylton’s traveling show was replete with singers, dancers and comedians. With 700 performances per year and the sale of 3,180,000 records Hylton was the King of Jazz in Europe. And he’d come looking for Django.

The ability of a guitarist to play improvised solos over a jazz number in 1928 was fairly non-existent and the reputation Django was getting was something Hylton wanted in his orchestra. After listening to Reinhardt for a bit and talking to him, he made Django the offer that could change his life. Django accepted and an appointment was made to meet in the morning to sign contracts.

As you can imagine, Reinhardt at 18 years old was in the clouds. He left La Java after he closed it and took a taxi back to the caravan where his pregnant wife Bella was sleeping. He was so distracted with his fortune he left his guitar in the back of the taxi and it disappeared forever.

There are three versions of what happened next. One has Django stumbling drunk into the caravan and knocking over a candle. Another has him waking in the night and thinking he’d heard an intruder grabbed for a candle and over-turned it. In the last his wife reached for the candle as Django entered and dropped it on the floor. The effect was the same no matter. Bella had spent the day making celluloid flowers for a funeral and the caravan was filled to the brim with the huge colorful displays. When the candle was over-turned the caravan exploded with fire like a bomb.

Reinhardt got his wife out the one door with her screaming and her hair on fire. He succumbed to the smoke and in desperation covered himself with a blanket. With his left hand. But that hand was exposed and part of his left leg. Neighbors got him out and rolled him putting the fire out but Django was badly burned all over his body. He was brought to the hospital for the poor on the other side of Paris.

The doctors told Django’s mother the left hand was irreparably burned, all fingers paralyzed and permanently damaged. His left leg would have to be amputated. The mother took him back to the caravan where they began applying the poultices and Gypsy remedies they trusted.

They saved his life. But Django was badly crippled. When he asked doctors if he could ever play guitar again they scoffed and said you may never walk again, let alone play an instrument.

Jack Hylton with his orchestra and promise of fame disappeared like the smoke ring from a cigar, followed by his wife Bella whom he never saw again. Django sank into a deep depression, a crippled gypsy confined to a wheelchair.

Next: Django, Act 2.

June Means No More Snow---Right?

Bill Leebens

Welcome to Copper #86!

A week or so ago, here in Boulder we said, "it's May, so winter's over---right?" Then we had snow.

I won't second-guess any more, but I am hopeful. Temps in the 80s would tend to indicate that we're done. REALLY done.

We'll see. ;->

In our regular columns, Dan Schwartz fills us in on bassists he loves (other than Jack Casady!); Richard Murison asks a fundamental, troubling question: "Does Science Have to Make Sense?"Jay Jay French continues his walk-around at MunichRoy Hall runs into yet another beautiful young woman with problems; Anne E. Johnson’s Off the Charts brings us back-catalog works of Howard JonesWoody Woodward writes about one of the most influential guitarists ever---Django Reinhardt; Anne’s Something Old/Something New reviews recent recordings of works by Corelli; and I overthink things in The Audio Cynic, and continue with part 2 of the history of Empire in Vintage Whine.

I'm happy to present an unusual article about unusual variants of the guitar, written by our friend Don Kaplan. I think you'll learn a lot from it---I certainly did.

We continue with excerpts from Michael Stuart Baskin's memoir, 363 Days in Vietnam: A Memoir of Howitzers, Hook-Ups, & Screw-Ups From My Tour of Duty 1968 to 1969; I continue with part 2 of my look at this year's Munich show. Industry News continues (and perhaps concludes) the sad story of Thiel Audio. 

Copper #86 wraps up with Charles Rodrigues in a discount mood, and a Parting Shot from down under by PSer Travis Townes.

I'm happy that our friend Christian James Hand is doing well and is busy doing live sessions all over the country---but sad that he's no longer going to be able to contribute to Copper. Best of luck to you, MC Skullcap!

Cheers, Leebs.

Howard Jones

Howard Jones

Howard Jones

Anne E. Johnson

Just a scrawny English kid with spiky hair, a bunch of synthesizers, and chipper lyrics? Or is there more to Howard Jones? I would argue that there is. For one thing, he’s got longevity. Although in the ʼ80s people might have pegged him as a flash in the pan, in May 2019 he released his 13th studio album. That alone is worth some respect.

His childhood and teen years were spent in Wales, England, and Canada. He wasn’t a piano prodigy, just a talented, musically adventurous kid. In his teens he had a close friend who followed Buddhism, which influenced his songwriting; Jones eventually became Buddhist himself, and the philosophy of peace, positivity, and absence of self has always informed his lyrics. Heard through a radio in the 1980s, his songs may have sounded goofily cheerful, but a closer listen reveals a deeper world view.

And then there was the day in 1979 when his girlfriend bought him a synthesizer, and the store accidentally delivered two. Jones set them both up, and immediately fell in love with the options provided by having multiple keyboards. (He insists he did pay for the second one.) By 1983, he’d perfected his unusual sound enough to convince Warner Music Group to sign him.

The Warner execs knew what was just over the horizon in pop: lots of high-energy synths and a slightly space-alien look. Jones’ husky voice, with a large range and no vibrato, also fit right into the billowing New Wave, as did the simple fact that he was British and sported a working-man’s accent.

Warner released the single “New Song” in advance of Jones’ first album, Human’s Lib (1984). The UK and US were charmed by the bouncy song and its MTV video (still a novelty to many people). But the US didn’t get the best single.

Probably Jones’ strangest song is a mesmerizing riddle called “Hide and Seek,” a dark vignette about primordial Earth and first humans. It was (surprisingly) a hit in the UK, but album-only in the US. For most Americans, Jones’ appearance at Live Aid in 1985 was the first time they heard this song, but the British crowd at Wembley knew it well enough to sing along on the chorus. The fact that this spooky fantastica got radio time is testament to how, from the start of his career, Jones’ ability to write catchy refrains has actually prevented people from listening closely to his words.


Top-40 fans were so busy bopping around to Jones’ beat that they missed the intricacies of his compositions and arrangements for synthesizer. He was truly innovative in his use of layered samples and textures to form a three-dimensional sound world. Maybe his skill is more obvious from our current vantage point, when we listen to so much through headphones and therefore catch more details. In any case, “Automaton” from Dream into Action (1985) is an impressive rhythmic structure:


There’s no point in pretending that Jones’ catalog will prove an endless treasure trove for rock fans. After the first two albums, his output weakened for a few years. The 1986 release One to One 1986 has nothing new to offer. Except for the delightful “Everlasting Love” and the intriguing “The Prisoner” (about how some cultures believe photographs steal your soul), Cross That Line (1989) is relentlessly New Age-y.

But things get more interesting if you persevere. Check out In the Running (1992). One of the things it has going for it is the collaboration with guitarist Steve Farris, at the time best known as a member of the band Mr. Mister. The legit rock guitar solos on tracks like “Exodus” give Jones’ arrangements more substance and wider appeal.


R&B has always influenced Jones’ work, but it’s especially obvious on the 1994 album Working in the Backroom. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is sort of a deconstruction of R&B tropes. The scant three lines of lyrics repeat, riding on a funk-driven hook that disappears and then returns over and over, eventually to stay and grow, and finally to dissipate into an ocean of synth sound.


With Working in the Backroom, Jones also inaugurated his indie record label, Dtox. He did it the hard way, dragging crates of CDs with him to gigs. This was before the internet offered efficient means of connecting fans to new music. People (1998), the next Dtox album, had originally been released in Japan as Angels & Lovers. To support the album, Jones made the savvy decision to jump into the embryonic ʼ80s nostalgia industry (a business that is now at full-throttle, of course), by touring with Culture Club and Human League.

“You’re the Buddha” lays out Jones’ (and listener’s) search for meaning in a word-packed lyric that edges near rap. The laid-back funk rhythm, the brass chorus, and the female back-up singers give the synths something substantive to contend with.


The self-exploration continues on Revolution of the Heart (2005), whose tracks tend toward massive waves of sound. “The Presence of Other” is typical of the album’s other-worldly sound


Jones’ most recent album is Transform (2019). It’s retro in a way, returning to more of a high-energy ʼ80s synth-centered sound. But the musical and lyrical sophistication are colored by Jones’ age (64) and experience. “Tin Man Song” has a minor-key jazz vibe, more Sade than A Flock of Seagulls. And the words betray a pensive soul, far more serious than that spiky-haired kid seemed in the ʼ80s: “I want to hear the nightingale / Ponder the horizon / I need to dream of distant stars / And marvel at creation.”


If you’re curious enough now to check out the constantly touring Jones, I can attest that he puts on a good show. He’s a pleasant raconteur, as comfortable playing in a big hall as he is in a small club. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see him do an acoustic duo set with guitarist Robin Boult.


Header image courtesy of Simon Fowler/howardjones.com.

Empire, Part 2

Bill Leebens


Our first installment on Empire mentioned the beginnings of the company in phono cartridges and tonearms, soon followed by turntables. The jump from record-playback gear to loudspeakers is not one that many audio companies have made—but that is indeed what Empire did. And how did they get from A to B?

One clue comes from a statement by Empire President Herb Horowitz quoted in the “High Fidelity Newsfronts” column in the May, 1963 issue of High Fidelity: “The more they publicize stereo [consoles], the more audio-oriented the public will become—and the more components they will buy.” The column continues, “Horowitz backs up his optimism with reports of high component sales, the opening of new component shops, and the fact that major department stores have added component departments to their merchandising operations. All in all, Horowitz feels that ‘1963 may well prove to be the biggest boom year in our industry’s history.'”

Given such an attitude from a company’s President, you’d expect that company to expand its operations—and they did. But meanwhile, Stereophile ran its one and only review of an Empire product, the 880p cartridge. It was a rave, sorta, in J. Gordon Holt‘s patented way that often made you feel, “yes, it was good, but it should’ve been better.”

Moving on from that, by the middle of 1964, ads began appearing for the Empire Grenadier, the first of the columnar end-table speakers that were an Empire trademark for many years. Initially there were two models which were similar, but not identical: the Grenadier 8000 was of simple tubular structure, with a 12″ down-firing woofer mounted at the bottom, radiating through grillework around the entire cylinder; midrange and tweeter drivers were mounted on a die-cast acoustic lens assembly on the column’s side, near the top. The top was polyester laminate, safe for cocktails as an end table. The Royal Grenadier 9000 was bigger and better, with a 15″ woofer mounted at the bottom of an “exclusive non-resonant rigidized heptagonal sonic column” with “hand-rubbed satin walnut finish” and a top of “imported Italian Periata marble.”

The full-line 1964 product brochure can be seen here. In addition to the Royal Grenadier 9000 and Grenadier 8000, there was a 3-way bookshelf speaker called the Imperial Grenadier 8200, which seemed to have used the same drivers as the 8000. The only other place I’ve seen this speaker is in the second catalog pic below–never in an Empire ad or review.

Also shown were the Troubador 398 record player, which was mentioned in Part 1: 208 table, 980 arm, 880p cartridge, and “handsome walnut base”. Confusingly, the package was also available without the base as the Troubador 388.

But wait! There’s more! The company definitely had a talent for creating a bewildering array of very similar products with nomenclature seemingly designed by an ex-Army supply clerk. The 1964 catalog also lists the Troubador 488 record player, with a smaller chassis than the 398/208/whatever, and primarily designed to drop into a console. The 488 package consisted of the 408 table, 980 arm and 880p cartridge, mounted on a walnut mounting board. The 408 table introduced the suspension system that would be characteristic of all subsequent Empire tables—and just to further muddy the waters, the package was available with a walnut base as the Troubador 498. You could go blind reading the fine print on their model listings.

If you’re determined to sort through all the variant turntable models made and sold by Empire, this guide will help you to do just that.


More speaker models appeared: the 7000 appeared identical to the 8000; the 5000 was a 2-way system; then there were several lower-priced models that appeared to have been short-lived: the “Cavalier Kitten” (???) 2000 and 3000 were more like footstools than end tables. The 2000 was a 2-way system; the 3000, a 3-way. Other than these catalog pictures, I’ve seen no mentions or reviews of the “Kittens” in any period hi-fi mag. No sense of whimsy, I guess.

The 8200 mentioned above as seen in the 1964 full-line brochure was also seen in the Lafayette catalog of that era, along with the slightly fancier 8400:

The February, 1966, “High Fidelity Newsfronts” column in High Fidelity refers to an in-wall or on-wall 3-way system which used the drivers and crossover from the Grenadier 8000 mounted on a walnut baffle board. The ubiquitous Herb Horowitz is quoted as saying the unnamed custom speaker would sell for $185. I haven’t found mention of this model anywhere else, and can’t verify that it was ever produced.



Horowitz, circa '67.

So, who was this guy Horowitz? One industry bio mentioned, “Herb has been in the industry since 1942 when he was a junior engineer with Pilot [Radio].” The next link in the chain was in a blurb quoted in Part 1: “Mr. Horowitz spent many years as chief engineer of Electro-Sonic Laboratories and chief of audio products for CBS/Columbia.” Another bio states that he went to CBS in 1954, ESL in 1956, and helped found Empire—then still Audio Empire, a division of Dyna-Empire—in 1958. When contemporary sources don’t agree, it’s difficult to sort things out sixty years or more later. At any rate, Herb was a busy guy, prominent in the biz, even after Empire—but we’ll get into that in the next issue.

All that aside, the mid- to late- ’60s appeared to be a good time for Empire and Horowitz. He once again pops up in High Fidelity, this time in the September, 1969 “News & Views” column: “Recently we took an excursion to Garden City Long Island to have a look at the new Empire Scientific plant and have a talk with Empire president Herb Horowitz. Herb always seems to have something interesting to say, and he is, moreover, one of those manufacturers who really cares about high fidelity.

“His sense of personal involvement was never more evident than it was as he showed us the cabinet-making operation. Empire has been in its new building about a year, bringing cabinetry, raw speaker manufacture, assembly, and other hi-fi operations under one roof for the first time. As we walked, Herb would pick up a milled panel or a strip of walnut and reminisce over the pitfalls the operation had climbed out of on the road from outside suppliers to full production in its own shop, a look of amused triumph twinkling in his eye.

“Naturally, we discussed with him the subject of turntables….Herb confirmed that there may be new life in the manuals market. He cited a sharp increase in Empire’s sales of manual turntables and attributed the turnabout to the quality of the modern $75 cartridge….with even the fanciest changers, he believes, you can’t get out of these new cartridges all they have to offer.”

I have no numbers on how big Empire’s speaker business was, but judging by their continued presence in ads and reviews for many years, it must have been reasonably sizeable. Not AR-big, but then, what besides AR was?

Oddly, I never heard any Empire speakers when they were new—and through the decades I’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of vintage speakers, but I’ve never even seen a pair of Empire’s once-popular end table speakers, much less heard them. I wonder if they’ve all been consigned to landfills or the backrooms of church thrift stores, as tastes have drifted away from marble-topped tables…

I’ve asked a number of veteran hi-fi folk about Empire speakers; most respond with a shrug or an unenthusiastic “meh”. Copper contributor—and oh yeah, renowned speaker designer— Ken Kantor surprised me by saying, “the first time I heard those things [Empire Grenadiers], I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard…’course, I don’t really remember what I was used to. Probably just old consoles….”

But people still remember the turntables. In the next issue of Copper, Part 3 of the Empire story will get into the later, more-famous turntables…and what ultimately became of the company.


Somewhere in Australia

Somewhere in Australia

Somewhere in Australia

Bill Leebens

363 Days in Vietnam, Part 3

Michael Baskin

[Previous installments from Michael’s book, 363 Days in Vietnam, appeared in Copper # 84 and #85Ed.]

Day 244

A home-made recording of a new rock band arrived today from my girlfriend (and future wife) – the group called themselves ‘Led Zeppelin’ which seemed like an obvious attempt to ride ‘Iron Butterfly’s coattails. She had made the tape using a portable (cassette) recorder by holding a cheap microphone up to the loudspeakers as the LP played on her friend’s turntable.

I was happy to receive anything from her – it didn’t happen often enough. She was fairly excited about these guys and their music in the letter that accompanied the tape. It named Jimmy Page as the guitarist and leader.

I was skeptical about a band I’d never heard of even if Page (who I’d seen LIVE with the Yardbirds) was in it. I had a little portable cassette player, too and I listened to the tape immediately.

In spite of just about the lowest fidelity possible I was captivated by what I heard. They had me with the first two notes. This was radically new music. A blend of raw blues, distorted power chords and psychedelics unlike anything I’d heard before – darker and more powerful than Cream. I listened to the recording all the way through, reread the letter and listened to it again. It was stunning – a game-changer.

On one hand I was thrilled, but on the other I was upset. Music was on the move back in the real world – this could be the tip of the iceberg – and I was missing it. This album alone would take rock in a new direction and I wouldn’t be there to witness the new trend.

Day 260

. . . was a sunny, hot, April day. We received so much ammo it took two truck loads to get it all delivered. After we had finished, the water trailer still needed to be brought up and Harold had something else to do. No problem, I got this.

I drove down to the LZ, hooked the trailer to the truck and drove up the hill. I parked more or less where I’d seen Harold park and unhooked it. What I didn’t notice was Harold always set the brakes on the trailer before unhooking it from the truck. I was parked on a slight incline and the trailer immediately started to roll backwards.

There is no stopping a fully-loaded, 400-gallon trailer rolling down hill and I/we were very fortunate no one was in its path, but that’s as much luck as I had that day.

It quickly picked up speed following the downward curvature of the gully and flipped over at the bottom. In spite of being sealed, the water gushed out its top.

It wasn’t a total loss, but what water remained would need to be used for drinking and cooking – no showers that night.

Once again my journalistic instincts inspired me to photograph the incident which seems odd 50+ years later. Naturally, I was embarrassed over the mistake and yet, as you can see I didn’t feel the need to participate in righting the trailer. I guess I figured there were enough other guys already taking care of that and besides, I seriously wanted to disappear.

I didn’t make that mistake again.

Day 297

On this day Delta Battery got temporarily split in half – the half I was assigned to was going on a mission to a place called Tra Bong five miles inland. We would coordinate with a battery of 175MM guns that were already there. Tra Bong was home to the Montagnard (a French word that we pronounced: ‘mountain yard’), the indigenous peoples of the Central Vietnamese Highlands.

We choppered three guns with their crews and got there in the early afternoon and thought: ‘now what?’ There were no bunkers and no gun emplacements, just a football-sized plot of sandy soil in between a small river and a primitive village of crude, bronze-age huts.

The officer in charge instructed each of us to start digging a trench big enough for a cot. There was a stack of large, corrugated semi-culverts and we were going to use those as roofs for our trenches once our cots were fitted inside.

Our digging tool was the standard, folding Army entrenching tool – not a proper spade. Ugh. It was hard work but there was no choice about it.

My new hole, er, trench was about 150 feet from a 175MM howitzer and its crew which was already in place and shooting missions. This was the first 175 I’d ever seen in action and I thought my ears might never be the same – loud does not describe it. Our 105’s were loud, the 175 seemed to be three-times louder.

As I’m digging I notice a weathered-looking Vietnamese guy has started plowing the field in between us and the village. It’s like a photo out of an old National Geographic. He’s strapped to a water buffalo as it pulls a crude, wooden plow about 200 feet from me. We were instructed to leave anything nonessential at LZ Buff, so I didn’t bring my camera and don’t have any photos.

A short time later, his wife (I presume) brought him some water. Nothing unusual about that except she’s only wearing a ground-length skirt and sandals. Come to find out, tops are optional for Montagnard women when it’s warm.

As the Banded Bay Cuckoo flies, we’re only about 20 miles from Chu Lai but it’s as if we’ve gone through some kind of time-warp portal. I’m wondering: how is it LIFE Magazine, National Geographic or Playboy never mentioned our G.I.’s encountering these primitive people with their topless women?

After my distraction returned to her village, I got back to the matter at hand: digging. Eventually, the trench is big and deep enough for my cot. I got help placing a couple culverts over it leaving enough clearance to crawl inside. Then, I filled a few sand bags to cover the culverts. My new home away from home away from home wasn’t much, but it would have to do.

And if it wasn’t for that damned 175MM gun firing every few hours, I would have gotten a pretty good night’s sleep – I was hoping to dream about Montagnard women, but no such luck.

[We’ll have another installment from Michael’s book, 363 Days in Vietnam, in the next issue of Copper. You can see the book on Amazon, here.—Ed.]