Soundgas are renowned for delivering the very best in classic and unusual vintage recording equipment and instruments to an enviable client list: from top international artists and studios, to multi award-winning composers, producers and engineers. They specialise in sourcing the very best examples of vintage analogue and early digital gear, and ensure it is meticulously-restored to reliable operating condition, giving it a new lease of life and a place in the modern studio environment.
Now they’re launching the Soundgas Studio Services: allowing anyone anywhere to access their incredible range of gear remotely and in real time, if the client’s internet bandwidth allows.
Soundgas founder, Tony Miln, has spent nearly thirty years assembling the unique selection of rare, exotic, bespoke, and downright weird, gear that resides in the Soundgas Studio. It is a veritable Alladin’s Cave of delights teeming with unlimited sonic possibilities. Where else might you find a 1960s Japanese Kawasaki Broadcast spring reverb atop a pair of Publisons (Infernal Machine, Stereo Pitch Shifter Delay) or a trio of immaculately-maintained Binson Echorecs sitting beside a pair of Grampian Type 636 reverbs (used by Pete Townshend for guitar distortion with The Who, and by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry as a dub reverb at Black Ark Studios)?
Obsessed with the sound of classic records for as long as he can remember, Tony’s instinct and curiosity for old and uncommon gear began when, together with three friends, he converted a friend’s cellar into a recording studio back in the early 90s. Having spent most of the paltry studio equipment budget on a 24 channel desk, 8 track Tascam tape machine, and Akai sampler, options for sound processing were necessarily-limited to the inexpensive and semi-functional. A lifelong fascination with the sound of dub led to him collecting all manner of tape echoes and spring reverbs – a recurring theme that remains strong at Soundgas. Studio time was spent recreating the sound of rare and unobtainable (in pre-internet/ebay days) studio processors from the 60s and 70s using a mix of old guitar pedals and semi-functioning valve and solid state echoes and modulation effects, often at the expense of actually producing finished material (“experimenting with sound was always more appealing than making records”).
What’s the Soundgas Studio ethos?
“Take the sonic road less travelled; explore the outer reaches of recording equipment and techniques; misuse and abuse of long-forgotten devices; we at Soundgas encourage and celebrate the ‘happy accident’.
“Something special happens to sound when signals pass through real circuitry: valves, wires, capacitors and transistors. Every example of vintage gear has subtle differences; discrete components change as they age, added to historic repairs and modifications, creating a unique sonic signature. It’s that larger than life, three-dimensional character that you just don’t get with software. Unusual combinations of processors yielding unexpected and inspiring results. We see it all the time at Soundgas – when you chain things together (sometimes ‘wrongly’) and the magic happens – WTF was that?! Always be recording, or ready to record – capture that moment…”
The dawn of the internet and rise of eBay meant Tony’s explorations were no longer limited to classified adverts and local musicians’ gear clearouts and soon the search became international.
How did Soundgas begin?
“I had a lucky break in 2002 with a track that got picked up in the USA for a couple of TV ads and spent much of my share of the proceeds on ebay buying exotic vintage gear from the US. Old Maestro, Mu-tron and Electro Harmonix pedals mostly, but that was the beginning of what would become Soundgas. These immense characterful guitar effects that sounded amazing – I later learned that my favourites were designed by pioneering synth legends such as Tom Oberheim and David Cockerell. I have a thing about phasers and flangers and we have some pretty unusual ones in the studio, like the pair of Gelf Autophasers that came from Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row Studios, or the Marshall Time Modulator that came from Musicland Studios and was used on Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. But the classic pedals still sound so good, even up against all these exotic and expensive vintage rack units. Take the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone for example: put that on a string synth and you’ve got the sound of Jean-Michel Jarre ‘Oxygene’.”
Unusually for a company that serves musicians and recording studios, Soundgas are based in a sleepy rural location near Matlock in the Derbyshire hills. The company has grown from Tony working alone out of his home studio to a staff of thirteen across two buildings.
That’s quite a rapid growth – what prompted this expansion?
“It mostly resulted from a visit two years ago to the fledgling Soundgas Studio by Flood, who remarked how it had become impossible to find good people to maintain his enviable synth collection. This sparked the idea of developing an onsite facility to train the next generation of techs and thereby ensure that our customers would be able to get their Soundgas gear maintained in the future. The tech department is headed by Doctor Huw and James Walker, both world class technicians in their field, who are now passing on their decades’ experience and hard-won knowledge to our trainees. The tech department is also essential to maintaining the various processors and instruments in the studio, as well as facilitating modifications and the development of new processors. In fact we’ve just launched the Soundgas Type 636 – a new design of the much-loved Grampian spring reverb.”
Tell us about the studio:
“The studio is built around our fabulous ex-ITV Calrec Q-series console, which was originally 72 stereo channels and has now been reduced to a more manageable 36. The build and sound quality is exceptional and with no less than ten aux sends and 4 onboard compressor/limiters, plus the most comprehensive routing options imaginable, there’s not much that isn’t possible. Soundgas are continually upgrading and adding to the outboard, concentrating on classic and less-common pieces such as the Eventide Omnipressor, EMT 244 & 246, Denon ½” (made for broadcast) tape echo, EMS Vocoder 2000, and our heavily-modified Dynacord Echocord Studio.”
So what’s the idea behind the remote access service?
“This studio is unique and overflowing with character. There are so many pieces in here that you’ll not find elsewhere, nor would you necessarily want to go to the expense and trouble of buying and maintaining them to maybe only use once every six months! Recognising this, we wanted to make the studio as widely-accessible as possible. The remote access option has so far been offline only (the client uploads stems and we process them according to their brief), but we’re currently beta-testing real time access so clients can hear and direct the process as we work. This is a game-changer; it means anyone with a good internet connection has access to our studio and can direct our engineers in real time.”
So who is this service for?
“Whether you’re looking for inspiration for TV/Film composition, need to add excitement to remix stems, revitalising existing recordings, or mixing your new album, this is for you. So far we’ve had great feedback from our clients who love the results. We worked on the soundtrack to the Japanese horror film ‘Kuru’ (‘It Comes’), which was a very uncomfortable session: unusual to spend time in the studio making things sound more unpleasant! More recently we worked with Ben Frost (Ethermachines) on Season 2 of Dark reworking existing stems to create sounds and inspiration for the new soundtrack. That was a joy – we got to work with his amazing stems from Season 1 and he encouraged us to get as gnarly with things as we wanted. He was so delighted that he asked that we be credited (it airs from 21st June on Netflix).”
Sounds like a great idea.
“It’s taking me back to what I enjoy, and how all this started – playing with sound, and coaxing strange noises out of this crazy pile of gear I’ve collected over the years – everything in here has a purpose and it’s great that other people are reacting so positively on hearing the results.”
Do you do all the engineering yourself?
“No, I prefer to do what I love most – work the knobs, sliders and faders, and come up with weird gear combinations. We’re very lucky to have our house engineer, Ben Hirst, along with Felipe Gutierrez, who’s freelance – both very talented and easy/lovely guys to work with.”
Is the service open to everyone?
“Yes! To learn more about the Soundgas Studio, hear audio examples, and see the equipment list, or to book a remote session, please go to: www.soundgas.com/studio/ – we’re running a special promo for AudioFile readers – enter the code AUDIOFILE35 at the checkout to get an introductory 35% discount.”