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Custom Audio Electronics founder Bob Bradshaw (center) with Michael Landau (left), Steve Lukather (right), and the racks he set up for them in the ‘90s.
My main inspiration was Craig Anderton and his technical articles in the back of Guitar Player magazine. In a series of articles, he mapped out an idea for an electronic switch, sparking in me the idea for a switching loop. I didn’t have any idea about Pete Cornish and what he had done in the ’70s—I just had this concept of a remote control switcher that could control all the pedals and rack stuff, so you are not running audio to and from the amp. Most of it would be back in a rack, neatly wired together, up off the ground, so you could adjust the pedals standing up. I wanted a patch bay arrangement with individual loops. I didn’t want to modify the effects; I just wanted them to work nicely together, so I developed various types of audio-routing circuits.
How did you get started selling this concept?
I built some custom pieces for a few players around town. One of my favorites was Buzzy Feiten. He had this crazy pedalboard, and an Echoplex on a mic stand so he could manipulate the delay time. He was tap dancing on the pedals and bending over to tweak them—it was distracting for the player, as well as the people watching. I presented to him the idea of building a floorboard with labeled switches for each effect.
I didn’t know about professional racks or trays at the time so we mounted everything in a Technics home stereo rack. We cut slots into a piece of aluminum and mounted the pedals on the top: the Echoplex, a Boss EQ, and an MXR Dyna Comp. The rack stuff, like his Eventide H910 harmonizer, was mounted below. On that rig, the jacks for the loops were mounted on the top of the interface box; it didn’t occur to me to put them on the back. The front of the box had outputs for amplifiers, and a big, honkin’ multi-pin connector for the control pedal.
Buzzy is a tinkerer, always looking for better sound. I would learn new stuff and apply it to his rack. Through him I met Mike Landau, through Landau, Steve Lukather, through Lukather I met Eddie Van Halen, and through Eddie, Steve Vai. Then I met Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, and so many others— it was all through word of mouth.
How did you eventually connect with
He came to me and wanted a switcher. He is another one who is always looking for the best way to do stuff. He was still working at Rudy’s [Music Stop] in New York. I persuaded him to come out here, gave him a car and found him a place to live.
This 1982 sketch details the first rig Bradshaw designed for Landau. Photo by Glen LaFerman
Did he come out specifically to work
The story goes: I was working with Steve Lukather, who wanted a switcher for his multiple amp rig. We were using a Soldano amp for the main solo sound, a Marshall for crunch, and a Mesa/Boogie amp for clean. It was really expensive to ship multiple amps around, so I commissioned Mike Soldano to build the first 3-channel preamp.
I gave Mike one of my switcher chassis and said, “I want totally independent channels with bass, middle, treble, gain and master for each channel. I want the first channel to be voiced like a Fender Twin, I want a Marshall crunch channel, and I want your SLO-100 preamp stage for the solo sound. And, I want to be able to remote control it from my switching system.”
He built it and that became the Soldano X88R preamp. It opened up a big new business for Soldano, who was charging $1,800 a pop for this preamp. But even though it was my concept, he was selling them to me for $1,700! And, there were things about the Soldano I didn’t like. There weren’t many guitar-voiced power amps at that time, so you would be shoving this preamp into a flat-sounding, solid-state amp or a sterile-sounding tube amp. I had to use an extra EQ stage to give them more life.
I started talking to John Suhr, who was doing Marshall mods by that time. John and I came up with some ideas for improving the three-stage preamp’s tone, and we added a tube-powered active EQ stage at the end of the chain that you could switch in and out of the circuit. John put the guitar thing away for a while and we started doing preamps and the OD-100 amplifier. I came up with the concepts and John designed the circuitry. We formed a company: Custom Audio Amplifier. When he left and went to Fender we dissolved the company.