Global Bass Online December 2000
The Story of
As told by Mark Gooday of Ashdown
Global writer Andy Long
twelve years Mark Gooday was
Managing Director and part-owner of bass amp giants Trace Elliot.
His natural eye for design and craftsmanship helped to establish them as
one of the world’s leading forces on the market and the green badge became
something of an icon in the bass world.
All that changed in 1997 when Mark left the company and later that year
formed Ashdown Engineering.
Ashdown have very quickly established themselves as major players in bass
amplification with a reputation for a certain richness of tone and a huge sound.
I spoke to Mark recently for Global Bass and began by asking him what had
caused him to leave Trace in the first place.
Mark: It is quite complex. I sold Trace Elliot, with my partner Fred, to an American company. I had a five-year contract with them and that was coming to an end in `97. The Americans and I did not see eye to eye in the slightest on the direction of the company, we were at loggerheads as to what we were both doing. They were closing down a lot of their music sections and intending to sell Trace Elliot and I was in the midst of trying to buy it back. This didn’t work out particularly well and it got a little bit politically difficult between us to the point where they thought it was better that I went and I thought it was better that I went, so that was it.
I wasn’t allowed to do anything in the music industry for six months, which
gave me time to decide what I wanted to do.
Trace made some fantastic achievements over the years, ones I’m very
proud of and I miss the company today.
towards the end of 1997 the first Ashdown products were shipped to the Japanese
Trade Show and were reasonably successful straight away.
Ashdown’s first amp was the 500-watt Klystron Bass Magnifier, a curious
name, I thought.
reason it was called that was because of the Flash Gordon movie. There’s a
part in it where they say, “Turn up the Klystron Magnifier” and they’re
turning up this huge machine, which is exactly the image I wanted.
wanted an Ashdown to be a simple amp, which is what the world was asking for,
even when I was at Trace Elliot, I was trying to simplify the parts and make it
more user-friendly. A lot of amps
are thin and weedy, they’ve got too many knobs, too many features, 12-band
EQ's, you name it. It had gone way over the top and the trade was going back to
nice Jazz basses, P-basses, things were simplifying, so the answer is let’s
have a big fat-sounding bass amp, with loads of headroom and simple features.
Then try and style it with something people could recognize.
fact, style is something that’s very important to Ashdown, Mark is a very
image-conscious designer. Probably
the most instantly recognizable feature of any Ashdown amp is the V.U. meter.
Mark told me that he has always hated LED’s on the front panels of amps
and now the V.U. meter has become more the image of the company than the logo
itself. I’ve just got Rolling Stone Magazine in from America, Mark enthused,
and there's this great picture of U2 and just glowing between Adam and Bono is
this lovely little VU meter - Wow!
admits to being something of a classic car fanatic and he has incorporated this
enthusiasm into the Ashdown style. He
took the boot badge from an Austin Healey 3000, added his wife’s family name,
Ashdown, then Americanized it slightly. That is the Ashdown logo that has been
used ever since. The blue panel
color on the amps is Austin Healey Ice Blue Metallic and the on/off buttons for
the power-amps and rack-mount pre-amps are actually the starter motor buttons
from a Lotus Elise.
it’s all a bit of fun really.” says Mark. “With
so many major companies competing I how the bass-playing community had reacted
to yet another range of amps landing on the market.”
enough extremely well. You already
had SWR, Ampeg, Trace, a bit of Eden creeping in, but I think there was room in
the market for a simple, powerful amp with tone and definition.
An SWR and a Trace don’t necessarily have tone, they’re very clean
but they don’t react brilliantly with a Jazz bass or passive basses.
Ampeg is a huge sound but a bit woolly, so I think a SWR/Trace with tone or an
Ampeg with definition is how I’d like to put an Ashdown.
People like Jeremy from The Levellers, he got his first Ashdown 900 head
and went ‘Wow!’ and the band said “Thank you, we can hear what he’s
playing more now’. He had the
warmth and the fatness and the big sound but there was more definition to each
note played, so he was a happy bunny. So were the whole band.
players and reviewers were plugging it in and it actually reacted to their
playing styles and you could play it differently with different instruments,
which they’d not been used to. The amp became part and parcel of your playing
identity. I was gobsmacked at the variation of different people.
1998 the full range of Ashdown ABM and MAG heads, cabs and combos hit the market
and, following on from the initial enthusiastic response from both players and
the press, Ashdown’s profile grew very quickly.
A glance at their current catalogue reveals an impressive list of players
from a wide variety of backgrounds who are using Ashdown. J.J. Burnel (The Stranglers), Nick Fyffe (Jamiroquai), Paul
Jones (Catatonia and Mark King as well as many others).
Taylor has been using the 500-watt King combo originally designed for Mark King
recently on tour with Gabrielle. The UK's fretless bass supremo Pino Palladino
has been using an ABM 900 while on tour with R&B star D'Angelo and Radio
Head bass player Colin Greenwood used his tiny Ashdown C110300 combo on session
for the bands new Album Kid A.
change to the range this year is that the Celestion speakers that graced all the
cabs have been replaced with the very distinctive looking Blueline speakers.
Celestion make very good speakers but I was trying to get something a little bit
better and they weren’t that much better or different sounding to what I’d
used prior with Trace. I’d put a
lot of effort into making better cabinets, better speakers in the same sort of
price range and I went over to Italy and spent two or three days there, over the
course of two years and probably fifty or sixty different samples of tens
twelve’s and fifteen’s, we actually built what I would say were
significantly better speakers to suit my price.
right now are nearly there again, they’re using what we’ve done and
they’re very close but there’s still this tone that I can’t swear is a
Celestion but I can hear it in my ears. So
I’m happy with my own speakers now with bigger magnets and thicker cones. The blue covering was actually a protective coating that we
spray the cones with so we said well we might as well do it in a tint.
Also new for this year are the Electric Blue combos. A 130- watt entry level amp available with 10" or 12" speakers. Mark describes it as far better than a practice amp with a professional D.I., five band graphic, deep switch, bright switch, EQ switch and tuner line-out. Meanwhile right at the other end of the scale come the new Power Magnifiers.
a bit of a design lunatic, Mark explained, and I
wanted something that was going to be the most stunning power amp, styling wise
with huge bi-amp sections and we went about building some. Goodness knows how
many we’ll actually sell but it’s nice seeing five of them in John
Entwistle’s rig and he’s running a five K rig.
Because of that we’ve just got ready to come out on the market this
year a rack-mount pre-amp so you can actually match it up with a power amp and
have it bi-amped up with crossovers and adjustments for your actual bass level
on the back end of it to match up with it, so that’ll be a nice signature John
Entwistle pre-amp because we actually did a custom one for him.
The Power Magnifiers are just giving huge power, they’re very stylish,
boxed to match the rest of the system.
confesses to a desire to simplify amps even further.
If I had my way the Ashdown would have just three
knobs, he said, and Lee Sklar said 'Thank God, can
you make me one with just three knobs?' But shops want unique selling features
so they say well, that hasn’t got as many knobs and bells and whistles as that
we don’t want it They want to know how they’re going to sell it - it sounds
good - yeah but how do we sell it?
final word on the Ashdown sound goes to Adam Clayton.
This time around I was offered something that sounded good at low level
and I’d like to say it’s about tone but it might be just age, he said in a
recent interview. He recorded all the bass parts for the new U2 album on an
Ashdown 400-watt combo. 'I
think it is about tone actually' says Mark, 'and I
think its bloody fantastic when you get people like that saying things like
that, I couldn’t ask for more.'
is the 2nd article by UK artist ANDY LONG. His previous article with
Mark King can be found in ISSUE
#4 of Global Bass. Great article BTW.
from frittering away his life working with us accruing huge expenses with no
chance of recouping them, Andy drives a train. Yup, a train. The kind that runs
over dogs making them eligible for SILVERCHAIR album covers. He doesn’t mean
to, it could just be his two glass eyes.
writes well though, doesn’t he? And you hardly notice the eye thing in the
photo, do you?
can be reached and properly chastised for the dog thing and generally
congratulated and acknowledged with all round back patting and the purchasing of
yards of stout at:
mention the two glass eye thing to him, he isn’t really keen on talking about
it. In fact, he may even deny it.
But he has had them fitted
with red LED’s so he’s fun to have around on Halloween and stuff like that.
I better go now before he finds a train track from England over here to Canada.
I have a lovely German Shepherd I would like to keep intact.
yards of stout are big tall skinny glasses you fill with enough beer (stout) and
then drink until you’re blind.
the two glass eyes.
I’m gonna go now.
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