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Electro-Harmonix: Vacuum tubes and a visit to the factory

Published: Wed February 04, 2009  News Feed

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Founding Years (1967 - 1968)

Electro Harmonix was founded by Mike Matthews in October of 1968 in NYC, USA. Himself an R&B keyboard player, he had traded his passion of music for a job as a salesman for IBM in 1967. Shortly afterwards he realized that his job at IBM no longer suited him, and he was interested in trying once again to make career for himself as a keyboard player. Concerned he may not be able to support his (now ex) wife while being unemployed, he aspired to save some money to support her before embarking on his journey to stardom. Partnering with an acquaintance of his, an audio repairman who claimed to have his own custom circuit for a fuzz pedal, they jobbed construction of their new pedal to a contracting house, and began distributing the pedals under a deal with the Guild Guitar Company. Fuzzboxes were in demand following a trail of hits involving their sound, including (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones two years prior, and recent popularization of Jimi Hendrix. The latter connection resulted in the pedals being branded the ‘Foxey Lady’.

Following the unexpected and unexplained departure of his partner, Matthews was introduced to inventor and electric engineer Robert Myer through IBM colleagues. Together the two began conceptualizing a circuit designed to emulate Jimi Hendrix’s use of a Distortion-Free Sustain. While testing a prototype of the Distortion-Free Sustainer pedal, which Matthews did by simply plucking the strings of an electric guitar, as he did not play guitar, he noticed another small box connected to the prototype. When asked, Myer explained this box was a line booster, designed to boost the guitar’s passive signal to an appropriate level for the prototype. Matthews listened as the guitar’s volume increased greatly as the booster was turned on, and asked Myer what was involved in manufacturing the pedal. The pedal consisted of a simple circuit and used just one transistor. Shortly afterwards, Matthews founded Electro Harmonix to produce this and other pedal designs throughout 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.

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Turns out that EHX also manufacturers a huge percentage of the world’s vacuum tubes in its factory in Russia, which are then sent back to New York for testing and pairing before being sold to vintage and high-end audio fans, as well as manufacturers like McIntosh.

Gadget site boingboing had a really good time checking out the factory floor to see the hand-made vacuum tube testing machines, as well as talking to the engineers that sit around all day and try to figure out how to get the ideas for new FX processors out of their crazy boss’s head and into working hardware.

Souce:boingboing

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