1972 Catalogue Front Cover, Courtesy of Steve Rowley, Staffordshire, England
This is some information concerning the Selmer factory in Theobalds Road, Holborn, London. It was situated on the first floor of a building behind Holborn library. They also had a warehouse in Clerkenwell for guitars, drums, saxophones etc.
Click HERE for a layout of the factory which Allan has drawn from memory.
I must have joined Selmer when I was about 18 in 1965/66, and stayed until they moved to Braintree. After that I joined Dallas Arbiter who at the time handled Framus, Fender and Gretsch in about 1969.
I knew very little about amps when I started. I was in a GPO telephone apprenticeship but heard from our singer's father of a job at Selmer. At the time, in fact, I was using a Zodiac 30, with the magic eye
tremolo speed indicator.
A chap called John Weir was in charge of the testing department where I worked, although within a year he moved to design & development. John Crocker, a few years older than me and confined to a wheelchair, made up the team together with a middle-aged lady called Mary who was an amp visual inspector.
Apparently, just before I joined Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones were working with a Polish chap called Felix boxing up the amp chassis's and fitting speakers. They of course had formed the Small Faces. Other "name" visitors during my years at Selmer were Pink Floyd, The Equals (Eddie Grant), The
Bachelors, Status Quo and Graham Bond, who came in dressed in a big black cloak and played Bach on one of the Lowery organs.
At first, I was put on inspecting the circuit boards for amps such as the Treble'n'Bass 50 and Zodiac : they had just changed from the crocodile-skin effect coverings to the dark blue/black cabinets. Soon, I was being shown how to test amps, with a signal generator and an oscilloscope. We would have little pictures of how the square wave should look when put through the pre-amp. Remember the push-button tone selectors that put different capacitor/resistor networks in series with the signal ?
Initially I worked on a bench next to Mary but eventually graduated to the yellow test room with John
Crocker. Plugging in a newly wired amp could be interesting. Sometimes the large smoothing capacitors were connected the wrong way round and exploded in your face ! Bits of silver foil and wax paper would float down from the ceiling of the test room for about five minutes and the test engineer would be temporarily blinded.
A team of male contract wirers were brought in soon after I joined, and this caused a lot of upset with the female staff wirers as the men were paid two or three times as much. They were given the first run of the PA 100, 4 channels and 4 EL34's. Their work was not very good and for the rest of the time, management stuck with the normal set of girls. A chap called Dick Twydell was the factory manager.
Once Felix and his lads had bolted all the speakers in and fixed the amp chassis in the cabinets, they would go to the test room to be plugged in to the two test instruments, a red Strat and a red Precision Bass. Some interesting people came and went in that job : the most notable was a chap who went on to join Atomic Rooster, a band formed by the organist of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. My favourite was a chap called Don Gillis who was a great bass player : we formed a band for a while.
Transistor amps were just emerging at that time and Selmer produced one, although it was not too successful. (Ed:Probably the Taurus?) They also made a transistor bookshelf size hi-fi amp for Goodmans in a small walnut case.
I must say that I really learnt to play at Selmers, because every lunchtime John
Crocker and I would go to the yellow test room and work through various tunes, usually some sort of primitive jazz swing thing. He would wedge the red Fender bass on one of the hand-rests on his wheelchair and swing away. I would play a Hofner Senator with a pick-up attached : do that for a couple of years and it really sets you up.
Having the library just across the road was great as they had an excellent music section. You could take out three records a day so I could check out all the jazz artistes who were recording in the 60's - Miles, Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Brubeck, Wes, Kenny Burrel etc. - plus also classical LP's, The Planets, Segovia, and various folk artistes. If you didn't like them you could borrow another three the next day.
Selmer were called upon to provide the sound in the famous Alexander Palace concert featuring bands such as Pink Floyd and The Move. John Weir and I went down one Saturday and set up the gear, painfully inadequate by today's standards. There were two stages, one at each end, and probably a 100-watt PA, a couple of 2 x 12 combos and a Selmer Goliath bass cabinet. I had just got married so I did not go to the evening concert, missing out on quite an event; Lennon turning up etc.
There was even a fire one day which destroyed some of the customer repairs in the service section. We of the test department rarely repaired anything apart from the odd bit of Pink Floyd gear, which at the time could fit in the back of a Transit van, and some of the Bachelors' Thunderbirds and the Herd's (with Peter Frampton) PA.
There was talk of the factory moving to Oban in Scotland but eventually they settled on Braintree in Essex. I was asked to go with them, but decided to stay in London and so was made redundant at age 21. I joined Dallas Arbiter instead, and with them I got to work on Fender amps and guitars and assisted in the development of some of the Sound City range. I went playing professionally in 1974, coming back to what was then CBS/Arbiter after the big fire in Tottenham Court Road.
I teamed up with Roberto Brandoni in 1979 when he was importing Godwin Organs and carried on until today, assembling Brandoni guitars and running the spares department. I stopped playing live about 10 years ago when I re-married and have carried on composing and recording, releasing about 9 instrumental albums and doing the odd bit of jingles. One of my albums was chosen by the Born Free foundation for world-wide release and currently I have some albums available on www.jaggedmusic.com and www.peoplesound.com .
It would be good to get in touch with John Crocker, John Weir and Don Gillis but I've no idea where they are now.
Best wishes to all Selmer fans !
Click HERE to read an article published c1968 in the magazine "Beat Instrumental", which describes a visit to Selmer's Theobald Road factory.