Sharma 2000 modifications

In November I achieved a small dream of mine, as a keys player – I bought a genuine old vintage rotary cab for gigs and sessions where I’m mainly playing Hammond organ-type parts. My studio setup has evolved so that I try to stay away from emulators, and capture the sounds of real hardware and genuine components, wherever possible. So to be able to record and play live with a real rotary speaker for that sweet bluesy organ tone was a really exciting prospect for me.

The speaker I got is a Sharma 2000 – Sharma was a British firm which was a competitor to the famous American Leslie cabs during the ’60s and ’70s. It maybe a lesser-known brand, but the Sharma speaker still sounds just like the organ tone I’ve always wanted from my playing, and put a huge grin on my face from the first moment I sat down to play organ through it. (I’m playing it from my workhorse Nord Stage 2 keyboard setup as a B3 emulator – you can’t avoid emulators altogether! – but with the Nord’s built-in rotary function switched off.)

The Sharma speaker has the same 9-pin Amphenol connector you get on Leslies which carries input signal, volume information and various other program-change style controls. But unlike Leslies, the Sharma also has a ¼” jack line-level input and separate volume and bass/treble tone pots… So because the Nord Stage doesn’t have an Amphenol output (and the cables seem quite expensive!) I just used the line-level jack input and left the Amphenol well alone. Until I wanted to change the speed of the rotary motor inside…

When you use the rotary emulator in the Nord, you can switch from the slow setting to the fast with a latch pedal. I use a basic Yamaha sustain pedal (the FC5) for this, and I can just stamp on it each time I want to change the rotary speed. But that is plugged directly into the keyboard, so with only the line-level output going from the Nord to the Sharma speaker there was no way for that pedal to control the speed at which the physical motor inside the Sharma cab was spinning. So I thought I’d open up the Sharma 2000 and have a look around, to see how the speed of the motor could be controlled.

At this point, I wasn’t even sure whether you could change the speed of the motor at all; barring a skeletal Wikipedia article, I could find nothing about Sharma as a company online nor any documentation about any of their products – maybe, unlike Leslies, the Sharma rotary cabs had been built with only one possible motor speed? But I thought this unlikely, since they were designed to be competitors to Leslies, so I went exploring.

My first step was to find out more about the 9-pin Amphenol connectors, and what they could do. If it were possible to change the motor speed whilst the speaker was in use, it would be controlled from there – probably one of its pins carried information for rotary speed. Since the Sharma was designed to compete with Leslie cabs – for which there is a lot of documentation, not to mention a thriving online community, available – I went in search of a wiring pin diagram for Amphenol connectors used in Leslie cabs.

Typically for older engineering, it appeared that there was no standardised way to wire Amphenols for rotary speakers, and there were even variations in the numbers of pins used (some Leslie speakers being fitted with 5-pin, 6-pin, 11-pin or 12-pin versions of the connector instead) – but Uncle Harvey’s Guide To Leslie Pin-Outs proved invaluable, and I settled on a ‘most likely’ 9-pin configuration which suggested that grounding Pin 6 would result in a fast (‘tremolo’) rotary speed, whilst you grounded Pin 7 for the slow (‘chorale’) setting. The ground pin is Pin 1 – which explained why my Sharma had arrived with Pin 1 manually hardwired to Pin 6 with a small length of earth wire and a couple of cable crimps.

I ran a couple of quick tests, manually removing the cable crimped to Pin 6 and attaching it instead to Pin 7… And, success! The motor rotated slower, for the ‘chorale’ setting. I reattached the cable to Pin 6, and the motor sped up back to ‘tremolo’ speed. But I can’t get up from the keys mid-track, go round to the back of the speaker to fiddle with a little piece of wire every time I wanted to change the organ sound; now the challenge that remained was to be able to control this change from a footswitch whilst playing a song.

It was clear that I needed a pedal which could route a single source (ground) to one destination (Pin 6) to another (Pin 7) and back again. So unlike the momentary switching configuration of the Yamaha FC5 pedal I had been using to control the speed of the internal rotary emulator in my Nord Stage, this would need to be a single pole, double throw latching switch. Luckily this is the type of switch used in most standard guitar amp channel switching pedals – so I bought the cheapest generic guitar amp footswitch I could find which also had next-day delivery on Amazon, in the hopes of modifying it to suit my purpose in time to be able to use the Sharma 2000 (with a rotary speed switching pedal!) live on Sam Coe’s Comeback Queen album launch gig two days later.

My cheap generic footswitch (a ‘Neewer’-branded one with a pretty standard design) arrived the next day, and I opened it up to take a look at the wiring and see how I could adapt it to suit my needs. This pedal actually has two single pole, double throw switches wired to a ¼” TRS jack socket (one for each channel on a guitar amp), but I was only going to use one of the switches as I wanted to be able to stamp on the pedal in the same place all the time to change the speed without worrying about which switch was for ‘tremolo’ and which switch was for ‘chorale’. (A classic Hammond organ setup would utilise the second switch as the ‘brake’ function – ie. stopping the motor spinning altogether – but this wasn’t a priority for me as it’s not a function I use much in my playing, so I left it blank and focused on what I needed for the show in a couple of days’ time.)

As the Neewer pedal used a TRS jack socket to send its information – and came with a TRS jack-to-jack cable included – I needed another jack socket on the Sharma for the speed switcher input. Luckily I had some spare TRS sockets left over from another project, so I was able to just drill out a housing for it in the blank space on the panel at the rear of the cab next to where the other inputs and controls sit.

I re-soldered the wiring inside the pedal so that the single pole of switch number one was connected to the sleeve of the TRS socket, and the tip and ring were connected to one of each of the throws, then matched this on the TRS socket I had added to the panel on the rear of the Sharma speaker by soldering the sleeve to the earth wire crimped onto Pin 1, and removing the wiring the cables from the back of Pins 6 and 7 to solder one each to the tip and ring connectors, as per my wiring diagram below.

And all that was left to do was test it. See my YouTube video below for the full process and the final result!

 

And make sure to check out the video of Comeback Queen – the title track from Sam Coe’s debut solo album – live at Epic Studios in Norwich to hear the Sharma 2000 in action on a gig.

Comeback Queen by Sam Coe live at Epic Studios, Norwich

Another line video from Sam Coe’s album launch night, which I played keys for back in November.

Comeback Queen is the title track of the album, and was the closing song of the night at Epic Studios. Such a fun piece of music to play, and a wonderful group of musicians to play it with! We all got a chance to go a little mad at the end of this one, too…

Video shot and edited by Sam Thurlow.

’90s Jam launches January 2020

For the last two years, I have run and MDed Ultra ’90s Jam – a spin-off lineup of the PX Productions’ hugely popular Ultra ’90s dance music show, which recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary.

As of the start of this year, Ultra ’90s Jam is becoming ’90s Jam – still based on the tried-and-tested Ultra ’90s concept, but now a separate show in its own right – featuring former star of BBC’s The Voice Jade Mayjean on lead vocals.

I consider myself extremely privileged to have been a part of the PX Productions family over the last ten years, so to have been given the reigns of my own project by them is something I value hugely. We have been hard at work over the last few months designing new logos and branding, creating a brand new Facebook page for the new show, and an all-new website which will go live soon. We’ve got exciting new ideas for the coming year – including (but not limited to!) new arrangements and songs to add to the show, as we seek to bring you even more of the classic ’90s club and dance tunes we all love than ever before – and we can’t wait to get started.

'90s Jam

So go and give us a Like on Facebook and a follow on our new Twitter account, and keep an eye on www.90sjam.co.uk to see when we’re next performing near you. (And as always, all the live performance dates will appear on my own Calendar page as well.) Looking forward to seeing you all out there soon, for the launch of ’90s Jam and the start of this exciting new era!

For bookings or management please email jam@pxproductions.com.

Photos from Comeback Queen Album Launch

A massive thank you to Gordon Woolcock for these amazing photos from Sam Coe’s Comeback Queen Album Launch night at Epic Studios in Norwich last month.

The Truth by Sam Coe live at Epic Studios, Norwich

Another live video from the Comeback Queen album launch show a couple of weeks ago with Sam Coe and her wonderful band.

This slow track, The Truth – a rare switch from organs to electric piano for me – is one of my favourites of Sam’s songs to do live. It is a gorgeous, mellow number with so much space in it, and I always feel like we are making something profound happen when we play this.

Video shot and edited by Sam Thurlow.

Hard Time by Sam Coe live at Epic Studios, Norwich

Check out the first video from the Sam Coe album launch show at Epic Studios on Thursday last week… ‘Hard Time’ was the first single released from the record, and also our opening song of Sam’s set on the night. It’s a big, gritty country/rock anthem which is tons of fun to play on keys! Looking forward to being able to share more pictures and video footage from this gig very soon.

Video shot and edited by Sam Thurlow.

What First Got You Interested In Music Production?

I was recently asked whilst chatting with a colleague of mine in music tuition “What first got you interested in music production and recording?”

I’d never really thought about that. But it was certainly an intriguing question, and I thought about it a deal more over the next few days. I realised the reason I hadn’t considered that before was that it had always felt like a perfectly natural thing for a working musician to be be involved in. Almost like asking a taxi driver what first got them interested in steering.

The music world is becoming more digital – more online – all the time. In fact, you can remove the word ‘music’ from that statement altogether. Technology is a fact of life in every business, including ours.

I like to think that, throughout my career, I’ve tried to take the approach that if somebody asks you to do something which you don’t currently do, you can choose to turn it down and stay in your little niche – or you can choose to learn how to do that thing, and expand your skillset and add another string to your bow. You never know where that might take you.

When I was asked to run a line-up of Ultra ‘90s a couple of years ago, I knew nothing of programming lights for stage, nothing about DMX, or MIDI control of DMX – but I took it on, and I learnt. Now I’m doing lighting hire gigs for other people – for gigs or events where I’m not even playing at all. And I’m programming the MIDI-triggered lighting cues for other artists and other shows, like Jade MayJean’s performance at O2 Academy in Islington earlier this year. Looking back to 2017, none of those opportunities would have come my way if I hadn’t chosen to branch out into new areas, and say yes to something which – at the time – I knew very little about.

I’ve always been of the opinion that musicians have to diversify to survive. In such a famously ephemeral industry, the ability – the willingness – to adapt and grow to meet new challenges can often be what determines success. These days, being a musician without at least a rudimentary understanding of sound technology and the attendant processes is not dissimilar to being a footballer who can’t head the ball.

Which is not to say that people who have no interest in this side of things can’t be very fine musicians. But personally, I have always tried to be as well-rounded and versatile a musician as I can be; I would feel the same way about being unable to sightread, or unable to improvise, or unable to tune my drums properly…

Of course, it helps that I have always been a gearhead. I have always been interested in the technological side of things, in computers, and in how things work. I can see how recording studio work – or live performances to click and track, etc. – might not appeal to everybody as strongly.

From its humble beginnings years ago, literally mixing inside a cupboard at my dad’s house, building my own recording studio into what it is now – and honing the tools and the skills to make it another significant and worthwhile area of my business – has become a labour of love for me.

But in short, I guess the answer is “out of necessity”.

Cake Cutting

I don’t usually write about my personal life on this site. Anyone keeping an eye on the Calendar page might have wondered why I wasn’t gigging as regularly as usual during August; my summer this year looked a little different from normal, as I took on the role of being my sister Kerry’s “Maid Of Honour” for her wedding on 24th August. That may have been a weekend without a gig, but that was a wonderful day and I wouldn’t for the world have swapped my chance to play such a big part in it all – nor to see my little sister look so happy.

But I wasn’t going to let a Saturday night go by without doing at least some DMX lighting production!

One of the things Kerry asked me to do for the wedding was to bring some drama to the cake-cutting ceremony – so I had the chance to put spotlights, moving heads, colour washes and a layer of haze into the incredibly characterful old crypt underneath beautiful 12th Century Langley Abbey where the wedding reception was held. It was a gorgeous space to work with – and the textures in the walls and the shape of the ceiling really lent themselves to creating interesting and atmospheric lighting scenes. The amazing pictures by Tim Stephenson really help to capture the effect.

As I’ve expanded my portfolio of audio and lighting equipment, I am really excited to start moving into more lighting and/or sound install work for weddings and other events. It felt fantastic to be able to use the skills and equipment that I have built up over my career to make my sister’s wedding day extra special for her and her new husband.

If you want to bring a bit of extra theatre and excitement to the décor of your event, feel free to contact me about lighting hire.

New Studio Open For Business

You may have noticed that the Studio page of this site has been down for the last couple of months – with just a placeholder image teaser and no information… I was hoping to have everything completed before now. But things get in the way! However, the last few months have seen some pretty radical changes in my little studio space, and I am so happy with how it’s all coming together that I am very excited to reveal the new look to you all.

My workspace has expanded, and now fills a little alcove one side of the chimney breast. I have a wonderful new desk to sit and work at; this desk was custom-built for recording studios by my friend and colleague (another Ultra ’90s drummer!) Curtis Aaron, with built-in racking for studio rack gear and a large surface area to work on. The addition of an external GPU has allowed me to move to a three screen setup when working at the computer, giving me extra flexibility for working on studio projects. And the mix position has been treated with acoustic sound absorbers and bass trapping (also made by Curtis) to help me to get the best-sounding mixes possible.

My 40-channel Soundcraft MH3 analogue console has become the hub of the whole studio – not just for audio input but also during the mixing stage, allowing me to make the best use of my high-end analogue outboard effects units, like the Neve 33609 stereo compressor.

And a fully acoustically-treated sound booth for live recordings – built by my ever-resourceful neighbour Glen ‘Woody’ Jordan from natural materials, and fitted with high-end acoustic foam cladding and corner bass cone – has been installed in the other half of the room. With sixteen audio inputs inside the booth, and separate headphone mixes available both in the booth and in the control area, the new setup can comfortably accommodate recording a drumkit or small ensembles playing or singing together.

With a wide selection of the highest quality microphones, a variety of vintage and analogue synthesisers, outboard compressor and graphic EQ units, an acoustic upright piano, a 4.2-octave concert marimba and a range of drumkits and cymbals all available to work with, I am extremely proud of the recording and mixing setup I have assembled here in the heart of rural Norfolk. (A full gear list is available on request.)

With the refit nearing completion, the studio is now available to hire at a competitive day rate. Whether you’re a songwriter or composer looking for ‘remote’ sessions on keys, drums or percussion; an artist or a band looking for somewhere to record; or a fellow producer needing a space to work in… Please feel free to contact me to discuss bookings.

Kit Marsden // Musician