For Mark Gooday of Ashdown Engineering, being innovative is a matter of looking both forward and back. A 35-year veteran of the bass amplifier wars, Mark has seen the trends come and go—from bigger is always better to how small can it be, from nothing but tubes to it must be Class D. He sees value in many design concepts, old and new, but has remained faithful to one primary principle: “It’s all about tone,” he says. “I’ve always wanted a really, really big bass sound that was deep and round and warm.”
In the early ’80s, Mark was playing bass and looking for that big sound. He bought a Trace Elliot amp. He liked some things about it but thought he could make improvements. “I went and saw them and said, ‘Guys, I can make all your products better and cheaper for you.’ They ended up employing me to run the factory, and within a year they made me managing director. And then the company grew and grew.” Mark was at the helm during a period when the Trace sound matched musical trends—the amps were “a slapper’s delight,” he says—and the U.K. company’s radioactive green logo graced many concert stages.
In 1992, Kaman Music acquired Trace Elliot and helped to expand its presence in the American market. But, as so often happens with distant corporate masters, the relationship became strained. Unhappy with budget cuts and micromanaging, Mark left the company in 1997 and took six months of “gardening leave” to consider his options.
Mark Gooday (right) with Michael Rhodes
He came back strong, launching Ashdown Engineering with a line of amplifiers called Ashdown Bass Magnifiers. The first ABMs were literally do-it-yourself projects, built by Mark and his family in their living room. He took them around to retailers and got a surprising response: They liked the look and sound but thought the controls were too simple. “We had the VU meter [on the front panel], because I wanted something to distinguish it onstage,” he says. “And we had bass, middle, and treble. There’s no need for much more than that.” Mark worked with his engineering team to tweak the control layout, adding midrange EQ, but he still firmly believes in simple, straightforward front-panel designs—and solid, reliable electronics. “With our amps,” he emphasizes, “if it says it’s 500 watts RMS, it’ll do it all day long and all night long. We’ve stuck with trying to make them so they’d last a lifetime.”
That said, Mark has not ignored the current trend toward Class D heads and lightweight cabinets, although he is somewhat of a skeptic about their ability to produce that “big bass sound.” He says he has focused on making Ashdown’s EVO amps “as powerful and reliable as we can make them,” but he still believes in the sound delivered by handcrafted tube heads and heavy, well-constructed cabinets. That’s the “backward” part of his vision, and he intends to remain faithful to it.
On the “forward” side, Mark is moving Ashdown into what he calls the semi-consumer market, which the company has addressed with a number of new products, notably the B-Social “desktop amp.” A compact 75-watt unit with two 5" speakers, the B-Social has wireless connectivity and a USB connector for digital recording, as well as a second input for collaborative composing and playing. Its App-Tek input allows the user to access any of the ever-growing number of apps available to musicians. Ashdown displayed the B-Social at the CES show in Las Vegas last January; Mark says the response was overwhelmingly positive. “They got it,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh man, you mean I can record straight from this? I can plug in a friend? It’s wireless and Bluetooth?’ You’re definitely going to see more products down that route from us, ones that make the musician’s life easier.”
Looking back at his career, Mark says, “We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had our massive successes and a couple of failures, but we carry on working at it.” And looking forward: “It’s about getting it right. We want to make what we like to make, make it well, and make it last.”
For more about Ashdown Engineering, go to ashdownmusic.com.
Jim Roberts was the founding editor of Bass Player and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).