Abbey Road meets: Wade Goeke, Chandler Limited

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 Abbey Road meets: Wade Goeke, Chandler Limited
Following the recent release of the classic TG Microphone Cassette from Chandler Limited and Abbey Road, we took some time to sit down to talk music, recording, hereoes and electronics with Owner and Chief Product Designer at Chandler, Wade Goeke.

What was your first job in the music industry?
 
One of my first jobs in Los Angeles was working for an automated concert lighting company called Vari-Lite. I worked my way up to shop technician and spent my days testing, repairing, and calibrating the lights.  I learned a lot about trouble shooting and repairing on a sub assembly level and it was quite a valuable experience. The large Pink Floyd circle of lights was one of our systems. Eventually I wanted to move more into the audio world and took a job selling electronic parts at a company called Yale Electronics in Hollywood. My boss there was a former Neve mechanical engineer and manager and he was a big influence. He encouraged my love of old gear and introduced me to studio owners around town as they would come in. At the time I already owned a pretty nice studio rig including a 24-track tape machine and since I could calibrate machines, wire patch bays and recap the occasional console module, moving into studio work was a natural progression. I started working at several studios in Hollywood, the first was Hollywood Sound. There I worked on a number of projects including a Slayer record assisting for Rick Rubin. After a time I moved down the street to Grandmaster Recorders and worked with producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Counting Crows). Assisting in the studio, to me, was always about being available but not being in the way.  Once the sessions were up and running, I would set up a solder station off in the corner and build my electronic projects, and plan and learn, but be near and ready to help. I think the producers would get a kick out of the kid in the corner building his own Neve console modules. From there I took a job running the shop of a known refurbisher of vintage electronics. I did all the repairs, calibration, testing and dealing with customers and got to know vintage Neve, API, Quad Eight and Calrec console modules and entire consoles quite well. I even helped refurbish a vintage API console and got to install it in Don Henley’s personal studio in his Malibu beach house. Quite an experience. It was while working there that I decided I wanted to start my own company.
 
When did you first start experimenting with electronic engineering?
 
In 8th grade I told my parents I “have to have a 4-track recorder or my life will be over. . . .”  Luckily they wanted to me to live and they got me a little Tascam cassette 4-track for Christmas. Not a small item for 1982. It took me awhile to figure out how to use it correctly.  For a decent amount of time I would do a tape reduction every time I recorded something new.  I didn’t know the difference of course at the age of 12. That was really when my love of gadgets and love of music met head on and set me on a path.

How did you learn the ropes in electronic engineering and really hone in on your skills?
 
I really started getting serious about electronics right after high school. I had moved to Los Angeles from my little town of Waverly, Iowa to pursue music. I started realizing pretty quickly that I liked the studio and electronics more than being a performer and so changed in that direction instead. My first significant project was building Neve 1066 and 1073 console modules from scavenged spare parts. I built 2 or 3 modules to start and then came back and built 4 more. I also worked at remaking the TG12413 Limiter which I had talked my folks into helping me purchase. Later I purchased a Neve console frame that had been emptied of all its modules and set about rebuilding all the modules. Really my education just came from tearing into all the old stuff and refusing to give up until I understood it. Also, I purchased and studied numerous electronics textbooks.  My biggest blessing and my biggest curse is that I won’t give up on something once I’ve made up my mind. My focus from a design and engineering standpoint has been to let the sound I want to capture create the circuit. That required many years and many hours of self-education and experimentation.
 
How did Chandler Limited come together?
 
When I was in the beginning stages of redesigning vintage equipment, I lived in North Hollywood and had a regular day job. I worked most of the night out of a small walk-in closet workshop.  After a while, I wanted to have a “company name” to show I had a business.  My dad suggested combining my middle name “Chandler” with “Limited” and the name “Chandler Limited” was born.  In the late 90's I decided to quit my day job so I could focus on designing and selling music gear full time. A few years later I realized I could not afford to build my business in California, so I moved back to my home town of Waverly, Iowa.
 
Who were your mentors, who encouraged you to take the path you did?
 
My parents have probably been the biggest influence on my life from a non-electronics point of view. They helped me get equipment I needed to get started and supported my decisions even when they thought I might be nuts. Deep down I think they understood I had a direction and I just needed some time and support to get there.  My parents are still intricate in Chandler Limited’s business. My mother, Judy, handles the business aspects of the company and my father, Dale, handles all of our legal business including contract negotiations with Abbey Road.

Who are your heroes?
 
EMI’s Mike Batchelor is a huge one. Obviously there were many engineers who made significant contributions in the technical history of EMI. Vanderlyn, Livy, Page, and others, but Mike Batchelor always seemed to be present and influential.  Len Page’s notes on development of the RS124 mention recommendations from “Mr. Batchelor.”  To me, he is one of the most significant figures in audio history. I was not fortunate enough to meet Mr. Batchelor but thanks to Lester Smith I was able to write a note to his son and thank him for his late father’s amazing contributions. He assured me his father would be amazed to know that people still appreciate the old stuff after all these years.
 
How did you first hear about the Abbey Road equipment – TG, RS and REDD?
 
Early in my quest, I purchased an original TG12413 Limiter which had come from one of the EMI studios. That more than wet my appetite for Abbey Road gear.
 
Abbey Road are obviously fans of what you do, but how did the relationship start?
 
I grew up listening to my parents playing Beatles’ songs and other 60s music.  As I focused on recording gear, it was natural for me to be curious about the gear designed by EMI engineers and used at Abbey Road Studios.  The more I studied my vintage gear, the more I thought other people would desire access to recreations of that hardware.  When I redesigned the TG12413 Limiter and started selling it, EMI learned of my efforts.  They evaluated the quality and sound of my work and were happy with what they found.  We then worked out an agreement where I continued to design recreations of EMI vintage studio hardware.
 
What was it like for you the first time you visited Abbey Road Studios?
 
It was a bit scary for a young guy from the American Midwest to show up and say how he was going to reintroduce the world to EMI equipment. I’m sure the guys were, rightfully so, quite skeptical. I can still feel their eyes on me! I’ll always remember how welcoming Lester Smith, Richard Hale, Simon Campbell, Mirek Stiles and a number of the veterans were. There were a few nights in the famous Abbey Road Cantina hearing stories about the old days that a wide-eyed Iowa boy will never forget. On one of my first visits when I sat down to lunch in the same Cantina, I looked up and at the table across from me were George Martin, Neil Aspinall, and Giles Martin. We don’t get that kind of lunch back home in Iowa! I noticed Neil first from some of the Beatles documentaries, then I noticed Giles and then George!
 
Some of the Abbey Road engineers have come to Iowa to visit our workshop. Pete Cobbin visited early on in our relationship. Pete made a big impression on my son because he went back to his 3rd grade class and told his teacher “My friend Pete Cobbin is visiting. He records the Beatles.”  As the commercials say, Priceless!

You have had access to the historic EMI archives. What is the most impressive or surprising schematic or historic document you have seen?
 
I guess I would say it’s more of a general view of seeing how Mike Batchelor worked. Seeing how he worked and notated was obviously educational, but what I noticed was that it all seemed very natural for him. He seemed to view the wider picture quite easily and was also a brilliant mathematician. Both Mike Batchelor and EMI as a whole seemed to be ahead of their time.
 
An example is the first TG mixing console. When installed in Studio 2 for the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” sessions in 1969 it had, what would now be called, a fully featured channel strip with pre amp, equalizer, and compressor/limiter on every channel! This is something that Solid State Logic is given a lot of credit for, but EMI had done it a full decade before them. It also featured advanced imaging circuits derived from the even earlier REDD desks and excellent routing and control features. By contrast, Rupert Neve desks of the time were still in their earlier stages and had basic three-band EQ and relatively simple facilities when compared to a TG desk.
 
Another example would be the RS56 Universal Tone Control.  This is the earliest example of a multi-band equalizer with selectable Q’s and equalization curves that I know of.  It was also done long before active solid state electronics allowed for complex equalization circuits to be more simply made. At the time most EQ’s were simple high and low shelving tone controls. The RS56 had three fully selectable bands that not only had multiple EQ points per band but also had 5 different Q selections per band, allowing the engineers a degree of control that I believe no other place in the world had. To me this unit is where nearly all modern equalizers are derived from and it was issued a full 20 years before the competition.
 
How has the industry changed since you started out?
 
When first starting, I felt that there was much more interest in quality than there is today. We have always handmade all of our products because I feel that’s how the greatest products in the history of audio were made. Today’s trends are to make things as cheaply as possible and to shortcut all the manufacturing processes that make audio circuits great. Many companies today use technology that was developed to manufacture computers and cell phones to save time and money. Surface-mount components that are ultra-miniature and can be assembled by machines are common place as well as completely replacing internal wiring with cheap unshielded ribbon cables. As an example, one of our non-Abbey Road products was copied in China in cooperation with an American company. After copying it, they offered to sell us our own product!  I have no words for that.

Also at that time, there was not much of the current vintage craze happening. People were just starting to rebound from the 80s trend of throwing out or giving away old gear. I was fortunate to come in at a time when there were few players in the game other than Neve and API, and both of them were focused purely on modern style consoles. Neve did not want to be asked about 1073's. Now it is hard to sell a product that is not pure vintage in style or even a plain copy of an old piece.  Things have come full circle.
 
Do you think there will always be an interest in analogue hardware?
 
To a certain extent there will have to be until USB jacks are installed in every vocalist. I don’t think the physics of the universe can be completely replicated in a computer. A sound wave vibrating a micro-thin gold diaphragm that translates the sound into an audio signal . . . then replicated with ones and zeros? I’m not sure that can ever completely happen.
 
What is your favorite piece of analogue hardware you have used?
 
On one of my early visits to Abbey Road to present my first working Curve Bender, Pete Cobbin said “The REDD.47 is my favorite pre amp ever”.  He was right!
 
If you could get your hands on any piece of legendary hardware from recording history, what would it be and why?
 
It would definitely be an RS61 Amplifier from the old days. So few of those were made and the stories from Abbey Road engineers place it among the most used of the classic gear as well as being the pinnacle of sound.
 
What advice would you give someone interested in electronics for music production?
 
Patience and perseverance. After all, we are controlling electrons passing through a vacuum.  That’s NASA stuff!
 
In your professional life, what has been your proudest moment?
 
Signing our second contract with Abbey Road is the top for sure. Giles Martin introducing me to Sir George Martin and Lady Martin at the Abbey Road 75th Anniversary party is something I will never forget!  Giles said, “Dad this is the guy who built some of the stuff we used on Love.”
 
In your opinion, what is the greatest sounding recording ever made?
 
"Tomorrow Never Knows” - no question about it.  But I love the sounds of the 60s and 70s in general. Everything had a special quality to it. 

The Chandler Limited TG Microphone Cassette is a full-featured mixing console channel strip, incorporating elements of the historic EMI / Abbey Road Studios TG12345, and is available from worldwide dealers right now. Check it out here.