With­out these behind-the-scenes craft­men, sound sys­tems would be noth­ing. These engi­neers are the only ones able to shape the sound accord­ing to the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the per­son who com­mis­sioned the equip­ment. They devel­op two basic com­po­nents : ampli­fiers and pre-ampli­fiers. The sound­men are ful­ly aware of that and are care­ful not to dis­close the name of their « pro­tégé ». More­over, when it comes to trav­el for a dance, the cus­tom pre-amp has the priv­i­lege to trav­el on the front of the van with the mem­bers of the sound. Some builders have sur­passed the sta­tus of man­u­fac­tur­ers to become real stars of the sound sys­tem scene. This is the case of Errol Pret­tyger, bet­ter known under the name of Mr Errol. Inter­view with the mae­stro of the sol­der­ing iron !

Cut­ting Edge – How did you come to build equip­ment for sound systems ?

Mr Errol – In my young years, I would go out to par­ties with friends. One of them would take his radi­ogram, this famous piece of fur­ni­ture com­bin­ing a radio with an ampli­fied gramo­phone. It was called Bluespot in ref­er­ence to the Ger­man brand Blaupunkt.

This friend named Evans had some of the best music at the time and was in demand for par­ties. This was real­ly in the very ear­ly days of sound systems !

We want­ed a bit more pow­er for our music, so anoth­er friend called Chin asked me to build a 100 Watt ampli­fi­er so we could dri­ve more speak­ers, this was a fun thing at the time for all of us.

Par­ties was main­ly held in homes, in those days West Indi­ans were not wel­comed at ballrooms.

The first big sound sys­tem in Eng­land was Booth the Great Sebas­t­ian. It was based in South Lon­don. There was also Duke Vin The Tick­ler from Lad­broke Grove in North London.

Errol Pret­tyger in the 70’s© Errol Prettyger

Cut­ting Edge – Did you used to attend sound sys­tem dances at the time ?

Mr Errol – I was in my ear­ly 20 and as a unmar­ried young man at the time with lots of friends, I would say I went to a lot of par­ties and had a very good time.

I con­tin­ued to vis­it sound sys­tems to check out how my equip­ment was work­ing and get ideas for upgrade.

Cut­ting Edge – Carl (own­er of Quak­er City, a famous sound sys­tem from Birm­ing­ham) men­tioned in a online video [Link] the name of Eddie The African as the per­son who taught you. Is this true ?

Mr Errol – I have known Carl for at least 40 years when he was intro­duced to me by Neville The Musi­cal Enchanter.

I do not know how Carl could have said this in his inter­view as I do not know of any Eddie The African ¹. I have nev­er met or had any deal­ings with this per­son. I do not know where this rumour comes from.

I was not taught by any­one. I attend­ed col­lege for a num­ber of years gain­ing the nec­es­sary qualifications.

Cecil (King Tub­by’s UK) or Lloy­die (Sir Cox­sone Out­er­na­tion­al) that I have known for about the same time can con­firm this. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Neville died some­time ago in the USA…

I would sug­gest that this could be anoth­er Errol ² that pro­duced ampli­fiers and lived in North Lon­don, he was always get­ting mis­tak­en for me.

NB :
¹ Eddie Yehbuah, bet­ter known as Mr Eddie or Eddie The African was among the first design­ers of equip­ment for sound-sys­tem. His head­quar­ters was at 64 Ash­more Road in Lon­don. He count­ed among his illus­tri­ous clients peo­ple like Duke Vin, Admi­ral Ken, El Paso…

² The oth­er Errol” men­tioned is Errol Anglin based in Hen­don, North Lon­don. He built equip­ment for many sound sys­tems includ­ing the noto­ri­ous King Jammy’s.

Cut­ting Edge – I was told that you have an impor­tant posi­tion in elec­tron­ics at British Airway…

Mr Errol – My back­ground in elec­tron­ics start­ed in Jamaica when I was 16 years old, I com­menced a cor­re­spon­dence course in Radio and Tele­vi­sion. I came to the UK when I was 17 and fin­ished the course, although it would have been cheap­er and bet­ter at the time to aban­don the course and attend night class­es, but once start­ed I want­ed to com­plete and did so.

I got a job at Philips Elec­tri­cal in Croy­don where I worked in dif­fer­ent areas of the com­pa­ny. Even­tu­al­ly end­ing up in the design depart­ment help­ing with the design of black and white and colour tele­vi­sion. At Philips I com­plet­ed their 4 years course in Radio and TV fault find­ing, gain­ing their certificate.

Dur­ing the above course at Philips, I also attend­ed a four-year course at Wandsworth Tech­ni­cal Col­lege in Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions (Inter­me­di­ate, Final and Full Tech­no­log­i­cal Cer­tifi­cate in Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions). This was fol­lowed by a two-year High­er Nation­al Cer­tifi­cate course in Electronics.

My total time at Philips was ten years.

I start­ed work at British Air­ways in July 1966, work­ing on Radio and TV equip­ment. I even­tu­al­ly moved on to head­ing a small sec­tion tasked with design­ing and build­ing spe­cialised equip­ment for use by the Air­line that could not be eas­i­ly obtained or being more cost effec­tive to be pro­duced in house. My last three years at British Air­ways was spent man­ag­ing the in house email sys­tems. I retired in March 2000.

The Philips fac­to­ry in Croy­don cir­ca 70© D.R.

Cut­ting Edge – Does it helped you to devel­op the equipment ?

Mr Errol – I would say that the expe­ri­ence gained at all my jobs and stud­ies was where I gained the tech­ni­cal abil­i­ty, under­stand­ing the needs of the peo­ple I was mak­ing equip­ment for was gained by the many ques­tions, sug­ges­tions, and mis­takes by the sound sys­tem oper­a­tors, and my thanks goes to them.

Cut­ting Edge – You are the first to have had the idea to design a pre-ampli­fi­er with sep­a­rate Bass & Tre­ble con­trols. How did you get that idea ?

Mr Errol – This was devel­oped when records from Jamaica were being pro­duced which had dif­fer­ent mix­ing giv­ing the impres­sion that the singer was removed or the bass or tre­ble regions were altered. To try to recre­ate this effect with record with nor­mal mix­ing, the bass & tre­ble pre-ampli­fi­er was developed.

Cut­ting Edge – How many mod­els of pre-ampli­fiers have you developed ? 

Mr Errol – My first pre-ampli­fiers were valve-based using a num­ber of valves. The con­trols then were : mic vol­ume, pick­up vol­ume, bass and tre­ble. By the time, I had migrat­ed to tran­sis­tor pre-ampli­fiers the con­trols had increased to : mic vol­ume, two pick­up vol­ume, bass vol­ume, tre­ble vol­ume, bass switch, tre­ble switch, bass and tre­ble controls. 

The Mag­num pre-ampli­fi­er fol­lowed which was the first of the Bass & Tre­ble type. The ear­ly mod­els elec­tron­ics were encased in a sol­id com­pound, so they can­not be repaired easily.

This was fol­lowed by what is referred to as the long pre-amp which has a 10-band equal­iz­er. Next was a mix­er pre-amp which has sep­a­rate bass, tre­ble, vol­ume, echo send con­trols for each input. The unit has echo, equal­iz­er, bass/treble/mid sep­a­ra­tion con­trols. This allows sep­a­rate ampli­fiers to be used for bass, mid, and tre­ble. A more cost effec­tive ver­sion of this was pro­duced which had the echo unit removed.

The Long” pre-amp© Cut­ting Edge

Cut­ting Edge – You have great­ly con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of sound effects. What trig­gered your inter­est that made you decide to design some units ?

Mr Errol – The first sound effect was request­ed by Fes­tus from Sir Cox­sone Out­er­na­tion­al and this was for a gun shot sound effect. This was pro­duced using a spring line which was designed for delay­ing sound. By pro­duc­ing a sharp cur­rent to the coil of the spring line the gun shot effect was pro­duced. Because of the inter­est shown in the spring line effects unit and the poor reli­a­bil­i­ty of the spring line, I decid­ed to look to oth­er means of pro­duc­ing sound effects for sound sys­tems. I then designed a micro­proces­sor con­trolled sound effects box where you could con­trol what sound effect you required by pro­gram­ming the micro­proces­sor. This also enabled a num­ber of dif­fer­ent effects to be produced.

Sound effects built by Mr Errol - © Cut­ting Edge

Cut­ting Edge – Can you tell me more about the amps that you used to build ?

Mr Errol – The first valve ampli­fi­er used four KT88 valves and was built for a sound called Savoy Jazz Beat, which became one of the best in the Brix­ton area. Evans (see below) was the own­er and he won many sound con­tests and had a good following.

This ampli­fi­er was dou­ble decked, pow­er sup­ply on one chas­sis and ampli­fi­er on another. 

Ear­ly on when I first start­ed to build ampli­fiers, I realised that to have real­i­bil­i­ty, some basic rules had to be adopt­ed to enable the oper­a­tors of the sounds to have easy set­up, so that mis­takes were eliminated. 

For exam­ple, valve ampli­fiers must not be switched on with­out at least one speak­er con­nect­ed and tran­sis­tor and Mos­fet ampli­fiers can be switched on with­out any speak­ers. My ampli­fiers were also designed with the num­ber of speak­er sock­ets for the max­i­mum num­ber of speak­ers allowed (Speak­er sock­ets should only have one speak­er con­nect­ed to each socket).

My ear­ly ampli­fiers were designed when the Good­mans 18″ and Tan­noy 15″ were the speak­ers of the time. These speak­ers had an impe­dence of 15 ohms. The out­put impe­dence of each speak­er out­let was there­fore arranged to be 15 ohms. With lat­er speak­ers which had 8 ohms impe­dence the ampli­fiers were designed to cater for these speakers.

The tran­sis­tor ampli­fiers were made to give a greater fault tol­er­ance by hav­ing not one ampli­fi­er on the chas­sis but four ampli­fi­er units. This means that it one should fail you have a fur­ther three to car­ry you through the gig, how­ev­er only one pow­er sup­ply is present and if this fail then all ampli­fiers will be out, but since the ampli­fiers are most like­ly to fail this is a good compromise.

The famous KT88 valve© Cut­ting Edge

Cut­ting Edge – One of the most sound sys­tems known to have used your equip­ment is Sir Cox­sone Out­er­na­tion­al’? How did you meet Lloydie ?

Mr Errol – I have known Lloy­die for maybe forty or forty-five years and I was intro­duced to him by a mutu­al friend who had a sound sys­tem ampli­fi­er which I had built. This start­ed a long friend­ship where I pro­duced a lot of the equip­ment for his sound sys­tem. Hav­ing retired from the sound sys­tem field for over fif­teen years, I pre­sume Lloy­die has moved to oth­ers for his equipment.

Cut­ting Edge – Few peo­ple know that in addi­tion to a dis­tin­guished engi­neer in the field of elec­tron­ics, you also have the knowl­edge to design speakers.

Mr Errol – Yes, I did design the box­es for Sir Cox­sone Out­er­na­tion­al. The object was to pro­vide deep­er bass in a small­er box and I think they worked quite well !

Here is a com­pre­hen­sive list of sound sys­tems who used Mr Errol equipment :

  • All Nations Club,
  • Ben­gi,
  • CB The Cool Fool,
  • Cos­ma Hi Power,
  • D Nun­nis,
  • Derek,
  • Don­ny King,
  • Duke Lee,
  • Duke Roy,
  • Fan­so,
  • Front Line,
  • Iwah
  • Killer­watt,
  • King Tub­by’s,
  • Neville Enchanter,
  • Nyah Esq.,
  • Pres­i­dent,
  • Quak­er City,
  • Rene­gade Brigade,
  • Savoy Jazz Beat,
  • Sax­on,
  • Sir Cox­sone Outernational,
  • Sledge­ham­mer,
  • Small Axe,
  • TWJ,
  • Was­si­fa,
  • Young Lion.