Alan Wells with a pair of laundry shoots.

JBL 4530 plans - see for yourself.


Speaker Building Weekend

The adventures of Alan Wells and myself could possibly be said to be highlighted by an event that took place one weekend at my parent's house in Sapulpa in 1987, known hereafter as Speaker Building Weekend. Speaker Building Weekend earned itself a memorable black spot in my mother's heart. Alan comments on it frequently. In fact, I don't recall Mom saying much about it herself in recent years, but any time Alan mentions my mom, Speaker Building Weekend is the setting.

It all started with a very naive, stupid, and never-to-be-attempted-again, but innocent idea of Billy's and mine to have a Neon Salamander And Friends concert at Andrews Park in Norman. We figured that this would be a great way to have some fun, and as I was about to graduate and leave Norman, any bad impressions given to the general public would soon dissipate, at least from my point of view.

A date was set, I secured a key to the ampitheater electrical outlet house, and about 49 of our semi-competent musician friends were recruited for the event. While Billy and I and 49 of our semi-competent musician friends were preparing the musical portion of the concert, Alan and I were scheming up ways to pull it off technically. Neither of us nor anyone we knew had a complete sound system capable of doing the job, but between us and several of Alan's old buddies, we knew we had the ingredients necessary to piece together a Rube Goldberg deluxe extravaganza.

The school had an odd collection of small studio monitors (EV Sentry 100s and JBL 4310s) that we could use for monitors, provided we propped them up with old books and duct tape. Microphones and cables could be largly accounted for this way too. One of Alan's friends had a mixer we could use, and the school again came through with another one. Alan had one or two Altec 1270 power amplifiers. What was missing though were main speakers. A prominent feature indeed. But Alan had a plan, and a plan it truly was. We would build the speakers ourselves, and Alan's friends (two of whom worked at Altec Lansing in Yukon) would be genereous enough to supply us with free drivers.

Now let me explain something here to the non-speaker people in the audience. A driver in speaker language is the actual speaker itself, as opposed to the box that it is installed in, which we generally refer to as a speaker. The box is just a bunch of plywood. Did I say a bunch of plywood? I meant a truckload.

Alan, despite his dashing good looks and unmistakable way with women, has always tended to drive rather peculiar vehicles. Not sexy types of vehicles, but beaters, more to the point. I think it's a desire to recycle something that another person has discarded...thirteen years earlier. Now I don't tend to drive the latest in eye-catching, babe-seducing sports cars, but Alan gets his right out of the dead car place or something. Anyway, at the time he was sporting a really truly crusty old short white Ford van. I think it was a Ford. I'm sure the name tag had fallen off. I know in my song "45 (The Ballad Of Alan Wells)" I made mention to it as a Chevy, but I'm pretty sure now it was a Ford. The passenger door didn't work. That's the part my mom remembers so keenly. Otherwise, it was just your normal, run-of-the-mill, beat up sort of old crusty Ford van.

So it came to pass that one Friday afternoon I met Alan, loaded my bag somewhere into this van, which I noticed as I was doing so, was totally full of 3/4" sheets of plywood. I mean there must have been seventy. There was a pile of plywood nearly three feet thick, and it's a wonder that the old beater van ever got out of the parking position. But it did, and we managed to get ourselves up to Sapulpa and into the back yard of my parent's house, where we proceeded to unload the seventy sheets of plywood into Dad's little shed.

I have no recollection of how we ever did this at all. I can't imagine where we found room enough to stack seventy sheets of 3/4" plywood, let alone build nine speaker cabinets out of them. But it happened and in a most outrageous manner too, for these were not your ordinary, run of the mill speaker boxes with two sides, a top and a bottom, a back, and a front with a few holes cut in it. No siree, these were JBL 4530s, otherwise known as laundry shoots. These boxes stood 4' tall, 2' wide, 2' deep, had two sides, a top, (no bottom but) a front kick plate, a back, a front baffel with three holes in it, a collection of internal parts that resembled a rabbit trap built out of scrap lumber found on some farm situated in a remote corner of Okfuskee County, two more internal parts that looked like the leftovers from a failed kitchen sink installation, inumerable amounts of internal braces, and finally, the laundry shoot itself, the part that the laundry actually slides down, provided you put laundry into your speaker cabinets; a curved piece of 1/2" plywood made by laminating a pair of 1/4" pieces, cut to a precise length of 4' and squished into position with the force of several Tecumseh High School football players dogpiling a weakling underclassman. It is a truly hideous piece of work.

How we managed to successfully build one of these dragons is beyond my comprehension. How we managed to build eight of them, plus an Altec 816; a mere standard looking low frequency horn with only 87 parts, in the course of about 48 hours is beyond rocket science. It is clearly within the realms of the supernatural. I know that we stayed up very late Saturday night and had to be propped up in church the next morning, but that's all I remember as to our technique. Of course, the idea of us getting all this back into the van was absurd. We didn't manage that at all. We had to leave the 816 behind.

Thus, Alan and I rambled down the road toward Norman with our eight new speaker cabinets miraculously crammed into the back end of the Ford van. I must mention that we hadn't gotten around to sanding, filling, sanding again, painting, insulating, wiring, and installing drivers into them. That would come later. Alan would also make wings for the four we intended to use for our concert. That's one of the funny ironies; we only needed four, but we built eight. Ludicrous. We gave two to one of Alan's old friends who had loaned us an Otari 8-track recorder once. Alan set aside two to be used for alternative purposes.

Needless to say, the concert was a sore trial for everyone involved. I learned a valuable lesson there: Don't bother dragging out a pair of 2-track recorders to an event like this, because no one will ever listen to the tapes. This was proven. I learned another valuable lesson: Any number of musicians over, say, three onstage at any given time is to be considered with utmost caution.

There is a final irony to this strange story. When one of Alan's friends from Altec came out with a couple of multicell horns to compliment our wonderful new boxes, they were fitted with a new diaphram material which had never undergone a field test. We tested it. Looking back, I realize that this was about the time that Altec nearly went out of business. Sad.

The Altec 816 box eventually made its way to the ceiling of First Baptist Church, Tecumseh, along with a Commnuity horn. Of the six boxes that Alan kept, two were abducted in Skiatook and never seen again. These were the two alternate versions, painted white. Of the four concert versions, painted gray, mysteriously only one remains. It now resides in Alan's living room along with a Hammond C3, a Leslie cabinet, an old Altec A7 cabinet, and a couple of cats. I don't think the old laundry shoot has seen actual service for quite a few years. Maybe it's time it was moved into the laundry room.

© 2015 Dane Tate