If you’re intrigued by the NZ Music Month advertisement this year, it’s Rodney Fisher’s graphic homage to 10 Kiwi-made pieces of NZ musical equipment. Some it would be hard for a Kiwi music aficionado like you not to be aware of, Serato Scratch Live for example, but others date back a ways and have been dragged out of the little-known local obscurities cupboard.
The good news is it’s also available as a collectors edition tee print this year, at both JB HiFi stores and on the NZ Music Month website store – and every t-shirt purchased will mean an automatic donation to MusicHelps! Here, Gareth Shute talks us through the images.
With the encouragement of Ian Jorgensen, Wellington engineer Rohan Hill created the Synthstrom Deluge as a standalone device that gives a tactile and intuitive way to create synth sounds, write beats, and record the outside world. It’s fun and inspiring to use, whether you’re on a beach or at home on the couch.
In the early 1960s, imported guitar amps were rare. Jazz pianist Bennie Gunn filled the void with his range of Concord amps. The selling point of the Contina was that it had two independent channels with tremolo (crucial to the Shadows-inspired style of the time). It’s now a collector’s item, not only because it’s a warm sounding tube amp, but it also looks cool – uniquely wrapped in patterned vinyl.
Rudy Spemann (Rudy and the Crystals) couldn’t afford a new guitar, so sourced a cheap piece of rimu railing and started building. He got advice from Bill Sevesi who’d already created his own double-necked lap steel from scrap wood. Spemann’s stroke of genius was the unusual body shape and the guitar was later used on recordings by Lew Pryme, The Sheratons and Ken Lemon.
The arrival of the digital music era was tough for DJs who’d been raised on the love of vinyl. Invented in Auckland by a couple of very enterprising software/electronics engineers, Serato’s Scratch Live made the transition more palatable with an interface allowing you to DJ digital tracks using a physical record (though one that triggered music through the software). An entire set could be carried on a small hard drive, but DJs could still mix tracks and scratch etc. in the way they always had. Serato remains Aotearoa’s placeholder on the DJ world map.
Commodore was another small operator that emerged during the 1950s. Owner Bunny Milne started with lap steel guitars (another who took advice from Bill Sevesi) and then moved onto others. One standout was the Commodore electric guitar which is a sight to behold with its main body covered in knobs, swirls, screwheads, and even a push-button tone selector.
Peter Madill moved to Auckland (from Dunedin) in 1973 and became the city’s go-to instrument maker. Split Enz bass player Mike Chunn approached Madill to make a bass that had a deep sound without being so heavy that the strap would strain his shoulder. Madill’s design was eye-catching and effective, plus had the additional edge of having its own internal fuzz box, made by Paul Crowther.
Paul Crowther not only created the Madill bass fuzz box but also a run of legendary guitar pedals. The Hotcake’s ability to introduce distortion without reducing the melodic impact of the notes played saw it being picked by famous guitarists such as Noel Gallagher and Mark Knopfler. Some guitarists would string two Hotcakes together, which led Crowther to create the double Hotcake! The Datsuns’ song Harmonic Generator was named after another of Crowther’s pedals, the Prunes & Custard.
Holden isn’t just an Aussie brand of cars and the NZ amp maker arguably has the better logo. Ron Holden started making amps in the late 1960s, the risk of confusion leading to the Australian range renamed Holden Wasp. These heavy rock amps filled the gap when Marshalls were too expensive and the VBL amp was used by Angus and Malcolm Young in AC/DC.
Given their long history of making and selling guitars and amplifiers in NZ against all the odds, not mentioning Jansen would be an oversight. Like Concord and Commodore the company began in the late 1950s but Jansen continued production until 1999, so they still appear regularly in the secondhand market. Their best products, like the Jansen 50 Bassman, still sound great. The D4 album ‘6Twenty’ was named after another of their amps.
Lightning Wave was started by Lee Nicolson and Jonny Arthur in 2016. The ghost tremolo pedal not only caught attention for its amazing look but also its usability. By tapping on the pedal buttons and using a slider you can experiment with a full range of tremolo sounds. It’s always great when beautiful design also has a cool purpose.