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Though the company had its ups and downs—including a run of extremely reduced production through the 1980s, in addition to a period when Gibson built Oranges under license—it has experienced something of a renaissance over the last 13 years since company founder Cliff Cooper returned to the helm. Highlights of the last decade include the Rockerverb, AD, and TH series guitar amps, Isobaric bass cabinets, and the venerable Tiny Terror series—the latter of which rocked the entire guitar-amp universe and started the “lunchbox amp” craze of the last few years.
Orange recently released a new book, The Book of Orange, to celebrate this proud and storied legacy. The “flipbook” has two sections—“The Book of Orange” and “Building the Brand”—each of which begins at one end of the book and meets the other in the middle. It covers everything from glorious gear-nerd details to the entrepreneurial struggles that Cooper faced while establishing the company. Regardless of which you’re more interested in, you’re bound to enjoy The Book of Orange—for even those with an encyclopedic knowledge of the brand are bound to come across some rare tidbits heretofore unknown to the vast majority of guitarists. With the kind permission of Cooper and his iconic company, we’ve selected a few portions we found particularly fascinating and excerpted them here.
In the Beginning…
CTI stood for ‘Cooper Technical Industries.’ About a year later, other companies were bringing out similar products which could be used with headphones.
I made the Pixy amplifier on a tag board and I found that this worked very well. The earpiece was a crystal design made by ACOS and the amp itself was powered by a 9-volt battery which [fit] into the base of the unit. For the case, I rolled thin aluminium using a metal form, and covered it in black vinyl. The circuitry [fit] into this case. I named it the CTI Pixy Mk V … there weren’t any earlier ones but I figured Mk V was a good starting point.
I remember going to the Melody Maker offices, where I met two journalists— Chris Hayes and Chris Welch. I showed them the Mk V and asked if they could give me a write-up in their weekly music paper. They told me that they couldn’t personally help me, but put me in touch with the advertising department, who then quoted me what I considered to be a small fortune for a half-page advertisement. Needless to say, I decided to economise and take a small square space advert instead. I was really surprised when, within a month, I had sold about a hundred for just under £2 each.”
My first ever trade advertisement
Step 1: Creating the Orange Sound
In the early 1960s, Yorskhireman Ernest Tony Emerson was a member of The British Interplanetary Society—a group of H.G. Wells-inspired, space-age futurists. He designed a state-of-the-art hi-fi amplifier, the Connoisseur HQ20.
His friend, Mat Mathias, owned Radio Craft—a small repair business based in Huddersfield. In early 1964, Mat employed Tony as a design engineer, and with the HQ20 as a starting point, Mat then built his own guitar amplifier called the Matamp Series 2000, which was initially a 20-watt, and then a 30-watt model.