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History Page 2

When Dallas Met Arbiter: A Store by Any Other Name

Sound City's extensive and surprisingly rich history dates back to approximately 1875 (yes, really) when the parent company, John E. Dallas and Sons, Ltd. (JED), was first formed in England. It's been speculated that this company made an instrument for a relative of Queen Victoria, and we all know how word-of-mouth can work, especially royal word of mouth, so JED's musical instruments business expanded over the years.

     Time passed, technology advanced, and JED entered the consumer electronics market in the early 60s when Dallas Musical, Ltd. was born. In approximately 1965, JED acquired Arbiter Electronics from J. and I. (Ivor) Arbiter. Subsequently, in approximately 1967, the Dallas Music subsidiary was merged with Arbiter Electronics, and Dallas Arbiter, Ltd. was the result.

     Prior to 1966/1967, Arbiter Electronics owned three music shops in London's West End. One of these music shops was called Sound City and was located at 22 Rupert Street (which is now a Chinese herb store; here is a shot of the back of 22 Rupert Street, which has probably remained unchanged from the Sound City days). Because Arbiter Electronics was also into manufacturing and distribution, the most logical extension of this was to create a line of sound-reinforcement equipment, which was designed and first built in the rear of the West End Sound City music shop. This line was named--you guessed it--Sound City. (Perhaps the most well-known product created by Arbiter Electronics at that time was a distortion pedal called the Arbiter Fuzz Face, which was used and endorsed [along with Sound City cabs] by Jimi Hendrix. Jeff Beck and several other prominent guitarists also used the Fuzz Face.)

     And so, from approximately 1967 on, all of the Sound City amps and cabinets (as well as Arbiter Electronics' other products) were relabeled from Arbiter Electronics, Ltd. to either Arbiter Sound City or Dallas Arbiter, Ltd. (e.g., the Arbiter Fuzz Face became the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and was also reissued in the mid-80s).

1. Some Arbiter and Arbiter/Sound City amp models are shown on Photo Page 1, and the Arbiter/Sound City 100 and 200 amps are possibly two of the Sound City music store heads mentioned above. The Arbiter/Sound City 100 amp was apparently assembled by a Sussex firm called Invertron, which is now a military contractor.

2. According to a magazine article I was sent (which originally appeared in "Guitar Magazine," Vol.12, No.3, p. 20), Sound City and Hiwatt heads for a brief time shared the same production facility: namely, the Hylight Electronics plant in Kingston, Surrey.

3. Along these lines, and also for a brief time (during the Mark 2 era and possibly even part of the Mark 3 era), Harry Joyce was wiring Sound City amps for Dave Reeves, who was still at Dallas Arbiter or was still working for Dallas Arbiter even though he had already started Hiwatt between the Mark 2 and Mark 3 ears. Harry Joyce's electronics facility was in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. This connection could explain why these earlier Sound City amps had such clean, mil-spec-like wiring, which was strikingly similar to (and is one of the hallmarks of) the wiring in Hiwatt amps and in Harry Joyce's eponymously named line of amps.

The First Sound Citizens: and Where They Are Now

It was during the very early days of Arbiter Electronics and Dallas Arbiter that Dave Reeves served as Sound City's design engineer (as either an employee or a contractor), designing the Model "One Hundred" (a.k.a. the "Mark 1") amplifier and possibly the L100 Mark 2 as well. Also at this same time, Dennis Cornell served as Reeves' assistant and eventually, with the help of Ray Bonnett and Brian Hucker (deceased), went on to design the L/B100 and L/B200 Mark 3 amplifiers, after Reeves and Dallas Arbiter parted ways and Reeves had started Hiwatt.

     It is, perhaps, this single event that has led to what seems to promote the greatest amount of discussion among fans of Sound City amps, and especially among fans of Hiwatt amps: Why did Dave Reeves and Dallas Arbiter part ways? (History Page 3 provides one possible explanation for this.) Here is a side-by-side comparison of a Hiwatt DR103 and a Sound City L100 Mark 3. It's pretty scary how similar they really are.

    But to continue, Peter Salton (deceased) was the head of the then-new Sound City line of products, and in 1968 John Lee joined the company and would eventually become president of Dallas Arbiter and, eventually, would run Dallas Music Industries (DMI). John stayed with DMI well into the 1980s, when DMI eventually closed up shop.

    Meanwhile, John (Jean-Pierre) Prideaux was designing some innovative power amps, among them the first low-profile rack-mounted professional power amps that fit into half the rack space of the competition. Mr. Prideaux then launched Crest Audio.

    A few years later, John Lee of DMI, which was producing Kelsey Audio Mixers, purchased Crest Audio from John Prideaux, who went to work for DMI overseeing the Crest Audio line of power amps. Mr. Prideaux left DMI a few years later, but his Crest Audio went on to produce a line of audio mixers (based on Kelsey audio mixers, one of DMI's last products) and they continue to produce excellent audio products to this day.

    John Lee sold Crest Audio in the late 1990s, is now retired, and is living in the US. Dennis Cornell continues to design amplifiers through his company DC Developments, and Ray Bonnett continues to work with Dennis as well. David Cottam works for Show Connections in the UK, which is a company that provides equipment rentals for musical and industry events be continued.  History Page 3    Top


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