Ashdown, the company synonymous with bass amplification, is coming up for its twenty-fifth anniversary, and as an innovative introduction to some of its latest products, Dan Gooday, son of company founder Mark, opened a pop-up store for one week in London’s legendary Denmark Street, home of instrument shops and buyers for more than sixty years.
MIN’s Andy Hughes visited the store for a preview opportunity to look at some of the company’s new innovations, and chat with Dan about designs, working with premier musicians, the impact, of Covid, and the way forward for the company.
What was the thinking behind renting a pop-up store Dan?
Our company is based out in Essex, and we don’t have a branded retail presence, but with the country coming out of lockdown, and the Covid restrictions finally easing up, we thought it would be a good opportunity to get some business press people, and some interested customers, to come and see what we are doing, and of course Denmark Street is an iconic area for music instruments, so when the option came up to have the store for a week, we decided to go for it. Our thinking was, we can create an enticing window display in a street where instrument buyers are walking past anyway, and they can come in and see our new products and have a chat, it’s a great way to interact with people in a way that is different from our standard business experience. We have just linked up with Sound Technology as our UK distributor, and we are looking forward to moving forward after the restrictions caused by the pandemic.
A number of manufacturers in the instrument sector have not only survived, but thrived during lockdown, contrary to expectations, have you had a similar experience?
We have, we are very fortunate to be able to confirm that we have actually grown the company output by twenty-five per cent during the lockdown period. It has given us a chance to really develop and ramp up our social media presence, which has been vital in terms of keeping in touch with our dealerships and our customers. We have used innovative ways of keeping our customers interested, we have offered on-line lessons with a variety of musicians, and we have also encouraged people to send in their home jam sessions, and we have put some of them on-line, which all increases the connection in music instrument community. We have taken the positives out of the situation changes, it’s been nice to talk to musicians who have actually had the time to talk to us, because they have not been out on the road, obviously, and it is still an insecure time for bands and artists who work in Europe, because the Brexit regulations are still being finalised, and adjusted to, so we are keeping an eye on everything there as well.
Is the pop-up shop a taste of the company moving into the retail sector?
No, it is strictly a one-off at the moment. Retailing is not for the faint-hearted! We are very happy with our retailers, we support them fully, and we have concentrated on what we know best, which is design and manufacture. We are a small company, there are only nine of us, including design and development, so we are keen to advance in our sector, without taking leaps into the unknown. This has been great, we have really enjoyed getting the shop ready, and having people just pop in and have a look around. The website address is prominent, and the traffic that it generates will more than justify the expenses for the week.
What are some of the new products you are launching?
We are very excited about a number of products we are finally able to bring to the marketplace. We work with a number of high-profile musicians who have been with us for a long time. One is Geezer Butler, we developed the Head Of Doom amplifier head back in 2017, and now we are delighted to be bringing out a companion bass pedal, the Pedal Of Doom. The pedal has a switchable EQ facility, with an assignable drive, so you can have two separate and distinct driven sounds from the same pedal. For example, you can have the deep heavy distinctive sound that Geezer made his own with Black Sabbath, and you can have a brighter more aggressive tone alongside, from the other separate tone source. They have transformer-isolated DI outputs at the back, and we are really excited about it. Geezer absolutely loves the pedal, he’s been telling everyone about it, and asking when he can start texting images to everyone he knows.
Another longstanding client is Guy Pratt, who played with Pink Floyd on stage, and plays now with David Gilmour. Guy is joining Floyd drummer Nick Mason when they take the Saucerful Of Secrets tour out on the road. As a nod to the massive influence of Pink Floyd, we have called our new bass amp which we designed with Guy, the Interstellar-600 Amplifier, after the Interstellar Overdrive track. Nick and Guy, and some more yet-to-be announced musicians will be touring, and Guy will be taking his new amp out on tour with him, so we are really excited about that.
How easy is it to work out what a musician needs in terms of an instrument, or an amplifier or pedal?
It does depend on the musician concerned. Happily, in most cases, the musicians we deal with know what they want, and how to explain that to us, so our designers can get a prototype ready. Ninety per-cent of the time, we get it right first time, with a few tweaks and adjustments obviously. Occasionally there is some back-and-forth and changes, but more often than not, our long and very diverse experience means that we can get a feel for what our clients want, and we manage to get it developed and manufactured for them.
What else is new?
We are absolutely delighted to have collaborated with John Myung, legendary bassist with Dream Theater on a new pedal which we designed in conjunction with John and the Dream Theater technical team. The Double Drive John Myung Signature Pedal. Again, the pedal has twin outputs that allows John to widen his tone library. John has been an Ashdown client for amplifiers for a very long time now, and we are really pleased to branch out with him into this new pedal model. The kudos of having our equipment used by such high-profile musicians is immense, and we really value the loyalty of our players.
I understand you are embracing a factor that always enhances company development – diversification.
That’s right, we are bringing out our new range of Near Field Studio Monitors, designed specifically for low-volume listening, and aimed at the smaller studio and control room settings. We have the NF1 and slightly larger NF2, and they have had an extended period of research and development where every single detail was addressed, making what we believe to be a new experience for producers and studio engineers.
Ashdown are also releasing a new headphone brand, aimed at the affordable end of that particular sector.
Yes, we have the new NOVU-1 Studio Reference Headphones which retail at a very desirable and competitive £69.00 which is a price that puts them in the range of not only the amateur engineer, but also for anyone who likes their music on the go. They have 50mm dynamic drivers, and replaceable cables and ear pads, so they work with mixing desks, as well as laptops, and portable playing devices, and we expect them to be really popular.
We are always looking for new innovations, and different areas we can expand into, and one really exciting area for our company is Meters Gaming Headsets. Our contacts in Korea advised us that there is a huge and rapidly growing market in high-spec headsets for the gaming fraternity, and we launched our own version last October. They have our patented VU meters, which are an instant identifying mark for our products, combined with the practical application of assessing sound output levels at source. We know that the Gaming market is massive in Korea and they have arena tournaments where up to ten thousand Gamers can be playing at one time. We now have our headset in Selfridges, HMV and Argos, which is where Gaming customers can pick up out products.
Thankfully, as lockdown recedes and hopefully, music production and touring are going to increase, what are the forward plans for the company?
It’s as simple as getting back to what we do best, getting out there, meeting with our dealers, and manufacturing instruments and equipment. Our customers can look forward to quite a range of new products from us in the next twelve months, as we celebrate our twenty-five years in the business. The pop-up store has been a great experience for us, and it reminds everyone that we are still here, still innovating, and all the design and development that we have put in during the lockdown period is going to show results as we move forwards.
Our passion is reflected by the musicians we work with, we at the company are all failed musicians! So, we love working with musicians who are out there and helping them sound, and look good, with our designs. We appeal right across the market, from our £69 headphones, up to a £3.5 thousand bass amplifier, and beyond. We develop, and we innovate, that’s how we started, and that’s how we are always going to continue.