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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
- CB The Cool Fool,
- Cosma Hi Power,
- D Nunnis,
- Donny King,
- Duke Lee,
- Duke Roy,
- Front Line,
- King Tubby’s,
- Neville Enchanter,
- Nyah Esq.,
- Quaker City,
- Renegade Brigade,
- Savoy Jazz Beat,
- Sir Coxsone Outernational,
- Small Axe,
- Young Lion.