Professional guitarists in the ’80s
and ’90s were as likely to recognize
the name Bob Bradshaw as Eddie Van
Halen. In that era of refrigerator-sized
rack systems, awash with glittering LEDs,
“Bradshaw Boards” reigned supreme.
Attending a concert featuring Dokken,
Aerosmith, Metallica, Megadeth, Journey,
Motley Crüe, Def Leppard, Toto, Steve
Vai or the aforementioned EVH meant
seeing, or certainly hearing, the result of
Bradshaw’s work as a gear systems designer.
Nor were his customers restricted to the
hard rock/metal crowd. You were as likely
to experience a Bradshaw rig at shows by
Steve Miller, Lee Ritenour, Duran Duran,
Steely Dan, or even Gloria Estefan and
Madonna. Touring guitarists in all genres
came to Bob to have their pedals, rack
gear, and amps wired together in a reliable,
roadworthy, system—a system that offered
instant access to any sound required.
With his company Custom Audio
Electronics, Bob Bradshaw is still constructing
hand-built systems for the likes of
Billie Joe Armstrong, Dweezil Zappa, and
Trey Anastasio at his live/work space in the
Los Angeles’ Brewery Artist Lofts, a converted
Pabst Blue Ribbon plant. We spoke
to him about the rise and fall of rack gear
and the bad rap that buffers suffer.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and lived in Florida until I went
to electronics school in Atlanta, Georgia, in
the late ’70s. I didn’t have any electronics
knowledge, but I was the kid with the biggest
stereo—I just loved music.
Were you a guitar player?
No, I bought a guitar just so I could hold it
[laughs]. I bought a Tele Custom because I
loved Danny Kortchmar and he played one.
I bought an Acoustic 150 amplifier and
built a cabinet but I could barely play a lick.
I just wanted to be part of music somehow.
You say you built a cabinet. Were you
always handy in that way?
No, I bought a Dynaco Stereo 400 power amp
kit and it was too intimidating—I couldn’t do
it. I had a friend at work put it together.
After high school, I wanted to get into
engineering but there weren’t many recording
schools back then. I figured if I learned
what was going on behind the knobs; that
would give me a skill to help me get into
audio engineering, so I went to DeVry
Institute of Technology.
I did very well there. My math skills
weren’t great, but luckily the pocket calculator
came along around that time [laughs].
I graduated at the top of my class and got
recruited to come to California to work for
Hughes Aircraft. I figured the music industry
was in California, so if I got out there
maybe I would find something I could do.
I worked for Hughes for a year, and then
saw an ad in a newspaper for Musical Service
Center—a place that fixed instruments. I
went in with no experience, but they hired
me to be a bench technician. I got thrown
into the fire, getting the crap shocked out of
me working on Marshall amps. Fortunately
some guys there helped me.
Was this the early ’80s?
It was around ’79 or ’80. It was all pedals in
those days—rackmounted pieces were just
starting to come along. I might occasionally
see an Eventide H910 Harmonizer, or an
early Roland rackmounted delay.
I hated seeing guys bending over to diddle
with their pedalboards in performance.
The pedals were different sizes and different
shapes, some had lights some didn’t; I’m
thinking, “You have to get that stuff off
the floor. Why not have a separate bank of
switches to control the pedals?”