Shop Spotlight: Soundgas in Matlock UK

As part of our ongoing Shop Spotlight series highlighting Reverb sellers around the world, we recently caught up with Antony Miln from Soundgas, one of the first sellers on Reverb (Oct 2014) from the United Kingdom.

Ask any Reverb employee - or Pete Townshend - and Soundgas will be on their shortlist of shops with reliably drool-worthy gear every week, especially vintage gear and tape echo machines. For the gear-obsessed, Antony is a kindred spirit.

What was the motivation to start Soundgas? How did you get into this business?

When I started recording and producing music, I was always more interested in older gear rather than the newer stuff.

Our first studio was based around an Atari ST computer, an Akai sampler, and a Tascam 8-track tape machine. We had a Melos cartridge echo - probably one of the worst tape echoes ever - but we made use of it. Later, when we moved to Macs, I would record the wet signal onto cassette using the Digitech Digital Delay and then fly them back into Logic. It worked well enough and had lots of character.

We had a few cheap analog synths - Korg MS-10, Juno 106, Moog Prodigy - and then a Roland JV2080. The Roland was full of great sounds, but I thought it sounded like everyone else. I just loved things with knobs and sliders rather than menus and screens. Still do.

As a result of not having much money to buy gear, I was always scouring the local ads and picking up unfashionable stuff. I came across my first Binson Echorec by accident. I was expecting to find an EchoDek. It had been gigged solidly for about 40 years and sounded amazing. I was hooked. I still have it, too.

So hunting for weird and wonderful old gear is hardwired into my DNA as a musician/studio owner. Soundgas is a natural extension of that.

The business started after we moved out to Derbyshire and sold some gear that couldn't be housed in my new smaller studio space. Initially, it was just an excuse to satisfy my love for new-old gear, but it steadily grew into a viable business. I'd always DJ'd on the weekends to fund my studio life, but when I hung up my headphones to concentrate on Soundgas, things really took off.

It's very much a family affair. My wife Jo has a background in accounting so she runs the money side of things. My good friend Gid moved up from London to take charge of social media and introduce the office to more Afrobeat and the varied delights of balearic mixtapes.

There's now five of us working here full-time. Dec was our first apprentice and is now a permanent and highly-valued member of the team. Joel is our latest apprentice and chief guitar demonstrator. We have a network of over twenty technicians who we use on a regular basis to repair and service the gear so we can guarantee everything we sell.

With our varied musical backgrounds and tastes, we can often pinpoint unusual uses of different pieces of gear. One of the things I love about Reverb is how you highlight a sound or artist and show people how they can achieve similar results with gear available on the site.

There are many reasons why I love doing this. Being able to spend my days making odd noises with weird and exotic gear is pretty high on the list. But the main buzz comes from hooking up so many artists, producers and studios with great gear and hearing the results.

We receive great feedback from some amazing people, and it still stuns me when I see who's reading our gear mailout each month. One of our favorite long-time customers is Sam Shepherd - better known as Floating Points. It was a real thrill watching his set at Glastonbury and seeing so much Soundgas gear being put to good use.

You're based in the UK but buy and sell all over the world. What sort of challenges or advantages do you think this presents?

The business has always been an international one, going back to when I started buying vintage Mu-tron and EHX pedals that were hard to find in the UK. We’re committed to finding things that aren't readily-available and making them accessible to musicians all over the world. So we may be sending vintage British amps to buyers in the USA, Fenders to Europe, or Roland Synths to Finland.

We have a great network of people who help us find cool gear worldwide, so finding things to buy is rarely a struggle. Shipping, on the other hand, can be a challenge.

The best advice for shipping gear comes from the insurance small print on couriers' websites: a package must be able to withstand being dropped from arm's length, otherwise it's inadequately packed. We learned that lesson the hard way many years ago but have been lucky to have very few mishaps since.

We recycle all the packaging we receive but still spend a fortune on high-quality, new packing materials. It's heartbreaking to see an immaculate vintage synth or amp damaged because someone left the mains plug loose to bounce around during shipping.

The UK's recent decision to exit the EU, and the pound's subsequent slide against foreign currency has meant prices of gear imports have gone up around 20% for us. But it also means that a lot of our stuff is now 20% cheaper to international customers. So it evens out.

Do you have any advice for other sellers, who might not be a traditional brick and mortar retailer, who want to start buying and selling more?

Always treat buyers the way you want to be treated when you buy gear. Take the time to craft your listings, being honest in your descriptions and dealings. Always communicate clearly. Concentrate on what you know and love rather than what can make you a quick profit. Effects pedals are a great place to start, as they’re relatively cheap and easy to ship. If you start small, your initial mistakes won’t be so disastrous and you can learn from them.

I started back in the days of eBay only. Newer sellers now are very lucky to have Reverb - a platform that understands musicians and is geared specifically towards their needs. It’s also a lot more reasonable when it comes to fees and is certainly easier to understand. Take advantage of that. I'm delighted to say that our Reverb sales now eclipse our eBay sales, and we're working hard to make Reverb our main selling platform.

Above all, enjoy what you do. Find your niche and become the best.

You have so many unique and historic pieces, and it gives your shop a very curated feel. Do you tend be on the lookout for specific items or are you just always looking for the right deals?

The Soundgas selection is a very personal thing. The curated feeling comes from finding the gear that I’ve always wanted or that specifically intrigues me. It's pretty instinctive, but that's the result of over 20 years' experience.

Jo keeps telling me “It's not a museum!” But for me, it's vital that visitors to Soundgas always get the same sense of discovery and intrigue that I get when I see something new. If we don't keep the flow of things that are exciting to us, we lose the sense of joy and wonder that makes this fun.

When Pete Townshend got in touch to say how much he liked the Soundgas list, I was bowled over.

You're known a bit, at least on Reverb, for vintage tape echoes. Can you talk us through how you got into that?

Our reputation for echoes is a perfect example of the aforementioned personal fascination.

Long before Soundgas started, my studio was full of echoes. I had well over 20 machines for some years. I've always loved what different and imperfect designs and recording media do to the sound of the repeats and how different preamps add color.

When I found my first Baby Binson that had lain unused in someone's attic since the 60s, I was recording an album with a singer/songwriter friend. We loved the sound of that preamp so much that nearly everything we recorded went through the Baby.

These days, it's all about finding and supplying the best examples from an operational perspective and guaranteeing what we sell. There's a reason people were so quick to ditch tape echoes when BBD and digital delays came along. Tape can be very unreliable. It's no joke if your tape loop gets chewed-up mid-set, or your motor fails mid-session.

Tape stock is crucial. We learned a while back that not all online suppliers are reliable when a lot of our Roland Space Echoes were returned under warranty due to several suppliers' loops failing after a couple of weeks. Roland Echo loops can and should last years without operational issue. The sound quality may degrade (which some people love) but the loops should still function.

We find the best techs who know these machines inside out and can anticipate what might fail in the future.

Our Binson Echorec restorations came about because I'd found it almost impossible to buy fully-functional machines in the past. The only ones that ever worked properly had been serviced by Eric Snowball (ESE Music/Binson UK), who's unfortunately no longer with us. He was a source of much inspiration and pithy advice about how I wasn't going to find a good Binson unless it'd been properly restored.

We started working with another engineer using the Echorec 2 and Baby that Eric had restored as the benchmark. This engineer improved on the process until we were able to supply the best Binsons I'd ever heard and could offer a Binson restoration service to our customers.

Clouds Hill Floppy Disc Delay

Since he had to cease work due to ill-health early this year, our Binson supply has slowed considerably for the time being. But we have another seriously talented engineer now working on machines for us, so that normal service will hopefully be resumed soon.

It was with great excitement that I read about the Clouds Hill Floppy Disc Delay recently -- a new echo based on a floppy disc drive. Clouds Hill kindly sent over their demo machine, and we struck a deal. Soundgas is now the official worldwide distributor for the FDD. We hope to have news of other unique products soon.

Any picks on particularly underrated vintage amps or effects?

A look at our list will reveal all sorts of underrated things. Some are still relatively well-kept secrets, so I don't want to hype the market.

But I like the Japanese desktop BBD delays from Maxon and Ibanez. The Guyatone AE-5 is also really good. We're constantly finding weird and wonderful old spring reverbs. Some of the really cheap ones designed for home use can sound monstrous when overdriven. Abusing gear is a constant source of inspiration at Soundgas HQ.

We've been enjoying some great early digital rack gear recently, too. Eventide H-910/949, Lexicon PCM-42/PrimeTime II. But I loved the results we got on an Instagram demo by putting an old Acetone beatbox through a MIJ Boss DD-3 delay pedal (the one with the long DD-2 chip) and messing with the delay time and feedback. Being able to replicate four figure gear at a tenth of the price is always a good result.

Amp-wise, I love the old Watkins stuff, and other early British low wattage amps. They often need a fair bit of work to get them right, but the results can be amazing when recording. It's still possible to pick up bargains if you know what to look for and have a good tech. We also love the old Valco-made stuff from the States, but that's getting pricier now.

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