Adrian Emsley was presented with a People of the Moment Award at this year’s MIA Gala Dinner. The judges commented that “This man’s name is synonymous with innovative design and he is known and revered worldwide. It is as simple as that.” – He is often sought out by gear-heads who want to talk to the man behind the products
Ade is Orange Amplification’s lead amp designer and Technical Director; he is a self-taught circuit genius and a total rock n’ roller all at the same time.
Ade joined Orange in 1998. His contributions to the company have been endless, but his most notable is likely the Tiny Terror, which is considered one of the most important amps of all time and set the stage for the entire “lunchbox amp” craze.
This year is Orange Amplifications 50th anniversary and they’ll be celebrating with some new releases at NAMM
Here, Ade chats about how to hide new pedals from your Mrs and makes some interesting comments about the changing industry.
The panel that decided to name you a Person of the Moment at the Awards this year was made up of internal and external judges, meaning that you not only received recognition from your peers, but also from people that aren’t necessarily familiar with your work… What does this mean to you?
It was kind of weird for me… I definitely wasn’t expecting to get an award, I was very surprised by it to be honest!
How would you describe your Research and Design method behind building a new Orange Amplifier?
We’ll I’ll get the idea of what I want to make in my head first, then I come up with a schematic [a diagram of an electronic circuit] on SPICE [an electronic circuit simulator] which allows me to run simulations. Then when I’m happy with that, I’ll build a prototype, go through the approval process and then it’ll go off into mass production.
These days that’s how I do it, but back in the day about 20 years ago, we didn’t have these processes. So I’d simply come up with an idea, build a point-to-point prototype and shoot all the bugs, get it so that I was happy with it and we’d then use a consultant to do a PCB [printed circuit board] version. But now, as a rule, I lay out all the PCB’s myself for new products and it’s all done in house.
This question you might not know the answer to, but I bet you could have a good guess! What would you say to someone who would like to better understand what the future of amps might be?
I think the amp industry is shrinking. It’s definitely changing, for example airline restrictions on baggage and weight has prompted more portable equipment. Gear is getting smaller and more portable, people are using pedal boards more. So what we’re seeing is people wanting loud clean amps again and then they’re using pedal boards with them or portable amps where there’s cabs [the speaker cabinet to go with an amp head] at a festival.
So you definitely need to bear all that in mind before designing 3-channel Diezel 100 watt amps!
I think the industry has changed a lot in the last 5 years, let alone 20. Pedals are the biggest growing part of MI. There’s so many different types of companies making pedals, we’re seeing more and more boutique manufacturers and small pedal makers.
If you turn up at home with a new amp, and it goes in the front room, the Mrs is NOT going to be happy with this new addition to the front room, but pedals, you can absolutely get away with. She doesn’t even have to know, it just goes in your sock draw or in your stash that she has no idea about. You can so easily get around the fact that you just dropped £300!
These days people are touring with amps less; I think some musicians just think they need an amp because of tradition – the 100 watt head and the 4 X 12 are just an iconic thing rather than a practicality. It’s only the higher echelons and the touring musicians that really use them. A lot of people do in ear or use Kemper – I can always hear Kemper whenever I’m at show though, I can tell it’s not the real deal.
It’s a changing world, definitely, not only because of the Music Industry itself, but because of technology and the way the airlines are operating etc.
You’ve been working for Orange in MI for 20 years now. Have you got any words of wisdom for younger people getting into our industry?
You’ve got to do it because you love it, not because you think it’s necessarily going to lead somewhere. It needs to be something you really want to do…
Is that what it was for you then?
Absolutely, it definitely was, I was always interested in fixing things and seeing how stuff worked. I got into modding [modifying] amps back in ’85 and back then, you were modding them to get more gain. Then I got into restoring vintage stuff, I discovered that there was a real tone in some of the vintage amps that modern amps just didn’t have.
I got into it because I really wanted to do it, and it was definitely a hobby before it was a profession.
Now it’s different because you’ve got to plan so much, the company is a lot bigger, it’s harder to get gear made and there’s more complications along the way. You’ve definitely get into it for the right reasons; because you’re passionate and it’s what you want to do. It’s quite hard to make money in this industry; it’s very competitive and it’s a much smaller industry than you’d realise – everyone knows everyone.
You have got to be really into it to do a good job, it’s not something you can just cruise, if you do you’ll come out with bad products.
You’ve also got to take into account how much abuse the gear is going to get! You’ve got to have thick skin, and the gear has to be pretty bulletproof.
You soon learn not to cut corners, you might think ‘oh well, there’s production, that’s going to make it easier to produce’ but then that’s going to bite the service techs in the arse. You want your amps to be serviced and kept running by any decent tech with a multimeter on the road. Whatever you do, don’t make it hard for those guys – they’ll be the ones that say ‘Oh Orange is really well built’ or ‘it’s not’. Never stitch up the service guys. Always look out for them, design gear in a way that it’ll be easily maintained. That’s the way I roll – some people don’t even consider that.
What’s your proudest moment so far working for Orange Amps?
It’s got to be the Tiny Terror.
That came from just thinking about when you’re doing a gig and there’s 4 bands on the bill, and you don’t want to drive because you want to have a drink and actually enjoy the night… You’ve got your guitar in one hand, you’ve got your bag of leads and your little Tiny Terror in a gig bag. You can jump on the tube and play your gig.
At the time, there was a lot more small venues, and there’d be about 4 bands on the bill and you wouldn’t want to slow down the changeover by moving about big bits of gear, so it was really just catered for practicality for musicians.
I was actually talking to a mate of mine at NAMM, we were out drinking cocktails, and I jokingly said ‘Im going to design an amp that fits on an A4 bit of paper’ and he said ‘you mad bastard!’
Then next thing we know he’s in the office, I go and grab him and say ‘take a look at this’ and he’s like…. ‘You didn’t?!’ but there it was!
So it’s a little tube amp in a gig bag, and the other guy on the bill has got a 100 watt Marshall, and he’s running it on 1 because the sound man is saying ‘You can’t run that, it’s too loud, it sounds like a chainsaw!’ Tube amps sound better when they’re wide open, whereas the tiny terror you’ve got cranked, the power amp is cranked the gain is on about half – authentic ACDC sound on it. The other guys going ‘Oh my god, I’ve just lugged this around and I’d be better off with that little thing’.
Anything exciting coming for 2018?
There’s going to be a cascade of products coming out next year – there’s a couple of big launches at NAMM which will be upon us before we know it, so keep your eyes peeled!