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more... GearBuilder ProfileEffectsPedalboardRackmountMarch 2013Bob BradshawCustom Audio Electronics

Builder Profile: Bob Bradshaw

Builder Profile: Bob Bradshaw

Do you still manufacture the CAA amps?
John Suhr does that—I sold the rights to him. I don’t make amps anymore. I got into building hardware because there wasn’t the hardware out there to do what I wanted it to do. I never wanted to be a big hardware manufacturer, so I collaborate with other people. I like building systems and working with the end user.

So you are concentrating on switching systems?
Absolutely, I have a new foot controller, the RS-T, which is an evolution of my old RS system.

Take us through the evolution.
When I started, the switches were what you call direct access, or instant access; there weren’t any presets. That’s why my boards were so big: you had an individual switch for each effect. The evolution from there was being able to hit one switch and make multiple things happen. I came up with a scheme for having programmable preset combinations of these instant access switches. There was no MIDI at the time, no microprocessor involved, no code—it was all static memory chips.

So you had one set of switches for individual effects and a separate set for presets?
Exactly, and it had switches to move up and down banks. Rocktron came along and wanted to come out with a system based on mine. They added a character display so you could name the presets. We worked together through the ’80s and ’90s.

CAE custom switchers come in any size and configuration that will fit a player’s needs.

In the meantime I wanted a simpler system, so I developed the RS-10, with 10 direct access switches, four preset switches and two switches for bank up and bank down—16 total. You could expand that with an expander unit that had six more direct access and two more preset switches that would sit on the floor right next to the RS-10. It had just a three-digit display. The Rocktron thing ended, but I continued building RS-10 systems for hundreds of name players.

A few years ago I developed the RS-T. Based on the RS-10, it is MIDI, has a beautiful vacuum-fluorescent display for naming presets, inputs for four controller pedals, and is expandable from an eight-switch version to a 40-switch version. It is now assignable: You can decide what any one of those eight to 40 switches do.

In other words, you can decide whether they are direct access to one effect or a preset switch?
Or both—they are all direct access in “direct mode.” In “preset mode” you decide how many are preset switches. Say you have 16 switches, you can set it up so eight are direct access and eight are presets, but in direct mode they are all direct access. When you are in direct mode the LEDs are red, in preset mode they are blue. If they are programmed to be momentary switches, they are yellow. There are seven or eight colors, depending on their function and 200 possible presets. It is still evolving: We finally got SysEx going so you can back up presets to the computer, and we have USB ports on them so we can develop editing software.

How have gear setups changed in recent years?
It has gone more towards pedals. From the beginning, for me, it has always been about the interfacing of pedals with rackmount pieces. It got very rackmount heavy in the ’80s, now it has come back around to mostly pedals these days. Pedals are compact, and you can spend a couple hundred bucks and have a new sound.

The rack stuff got a bad rap over time, but that was just a format for the sounds. It is harder putting together systems with pedals— you have so many different voltages and connectors. Also, think about it: You are spending $300 for this pedal and then you are stomping on it. That is another reason I wanted to get the stuff up off of the floor.

Eddie Van Halen with his 5150-tour switching system—the first rig Bradshaw ever designed for him—in 1986.

How are you dealing with this trend towards pedalboards?
That’s the thing I am most excited about pursuing these days: a pedalboard-based switching system. That’s why the RS-T controller is long and thin: so it can fit on a pedalboard. I don’t like pedalboard switchers where the loops and controller is one unit, where you are stomping on the audio router.

I prefer a controller that you step on, with your pedals sitting in between that and an audio loop router that you patch into on the perimeter of the board, or what I call the audience side. It is still a two-part system, it’s just that the audio router and pedals are no longer back at a rack.

Are you selling the pedalboard controllers yet?
Oh yeah, there are dozens of them out there. The controller is an off-the-shelf piece, but the audio routers are custom built. Everybody’s rig is different, that’s what makes this still fun after 30-some years: One guy’s system might be stereo, another mono; one guy might need eight inputs, another just four; one might want to use the effects loop of an amp, and someone else might use a preamp and a power amp.

My systems are based on a format of switchable functions. These functions might be a loop, or a switchable output— to send the signal to various amps. It might be a control function: maybe an isolated relay contact closer, for doing channel switching. Then there are subsets like A/B switches, A/B combiners, mixer circuits, and summing amps.

If you want something custom built, I am the guy who can do it. Sometimes it might take a while because it is labor intensive. I have an assistant or two, and an assembly house that puts together the RS-T units, but my hands are on everything before it goes out of here.

Do you just supply the system or do you wire up the whole thing?
It is all built and wired by my assistant or me. There is a science to laying all these things out—it’s like a game of Tetris. You’ve got all these pedals in all these different sizes, and everybody wants it small, and light, and that ain’t easy. That’s the biggest trend, smaller and lighter.