Tom Scholz: Innovator

CandidPicker

Because Opportunity Seldom Knocks Twice
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I've just begun a brief research study of innovators in guitar and besides the obvious ones (Les Paul, Leo Fender, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Marshall, Randall Smith, PRS) one person came to mind for his signature tone through use of modular rack effects that he designed and had built: Tom Scholz, of Boston.

For those who are not as familiar with Boston, the band was an American / New England based band, popular in the 70's and 80's from Boston, Massachusetts.

The reason for my study was to look into the education and career path of Tom Scholz. Tom at an early age loved tinkering with mechanical things and classical piano as a child, and later studied mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he received both bachelor's and master's degrees in his field.

His career path took him to work for Polaroid where he was a senior product design engineer. During his time with Polaroid, Scholz recorded several songs at his home recording studio, where Tom played many of the instruments. With the help of friends who were musicians themselves, Tom climbed the ladder to fame.

In time, Tom designed and built many guitar effects, one of which provides the signature Boston guitar tone found on their recordings. When Tom had recorded his song demoes for submission to record companies, his signing record deal with Epic suggested that Tom re-record his demoes in a dedicated music studio. The irony is that most of the songs Boston recorded were recorded in Tom's basement studio.

Tom during his time with Boston became the founder of Rockman Effects. The original line of effects are sought after and collectible in today's music market. While the famous voice of Boston, Brad Delp, who partnered the band with Tom, passed on in 2007, Tom still lives a quiet life as a philanthropist with his wife an and son, who also graduated MIT in 2005 and has taken after his Dad building guitar effects and experimenting with sounds.

In conclusion, there had been some recent posts about what paths we might wish to take if we desired a musical career. I hope those that read this will try to learn and understand how successful builders made a name for themselves in the music industry not only as performers, but as designers and builders.

Tom Scholz's career is but one example of how a young man found what helped him make a career from his interests as a youngster. I trust that this will serve to help young people avoid the mistakes we often make along the way, but direct them towards a goal we all can relate to.
 
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ducmike

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Really cool info. I didn't know he had a masters in engineering, just thought he was a great musician that had good ideas.

I had one of those original Rockmans when they came out. It was an easy sell to my parents because of the head phones aspect. That was until I figures out how to run it into my amp....
 

aphantomvaper

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Sholz is a super smart guy and Boston was always one of my favorite bands, they rock! The song " Something About You" always makes me stop what I'm doing and listen. Maybe its "my song".

Thank you for posting this good sir!

This could be good example for a young person looking for direction for the future.
 

CandidPicker

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Really cool info. I didn't know he had a masters in engineering, just thought he was a great musician that had good ideas.

I had one of those original Rockmans when they came out. It was an easy sell to my parents because of the head phones aspect. That was until I figures out how to run it into my amp....

Yep. I recall reading about him when Boston first made their mark with their debut album. It might have been Guitar Player that showcased Tom's background, education, and career path. You can find additional info about him & Boston on Wikipedia.

Regards Tom's effects, Tom designed and built several rack mount effects that he used in his studio to obtain the signature Boston sound. It is these that are highly prized by collectors, not so much the small Rockman headphone amps we've often seen on the market in past years. (Although many effects listed below were incorporated into the Rockman headphone amp)

From Wikipedia:

"Rockmodules

SR&D (Scholz Research & Development) later developed and manufactured so-called Rockmodules, which were half-rack effects units that modularized the features of the Rockman and gave the user extensive control over the parameters of each effect. These units were also branded under the Rockman umbrella.

The Rockman Sustainor is the basis of the Rockman system. The Sustainor was essentially a configurable two-channel preamp with compression. Other Rockmodules included the

  • Instrument EQ
  • Stereo Chorus
  • Stereo Echo
  • Stereo Chorus/Delay
  • Distortion Generator
  • Guitar Compressor
  • MIDI Octopus
The Rockmodules were all analog devices. Sales dropped off in the early 1990s when the digital effects boom swept through the audio and music technology industry. The product line was discontinued.

Today, a vigorous market exists for used modules in the Rockman line with some units commanding a higher price than their original list price. In particular, the Stereo Echo remains widely-regarded as one of the finest analog delays available."
 
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Lister

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That first Boston album is still a desert island record for me. I know it's become cool over the years to slag on it and call it "corporate rock," but it was so different sounding when it dropped in 1976, remember disco was ruling the airwaves at that time. The way Brad's vocals and harmony are layered, those songs with hooks a mile wide and the huge guitar sounds, it's simply a killer combination. I have fond memories of cruising main street with that album in the tape deck and my Pioneer 6x9's in the back glass cranked for all she was worth...simpler times indeed. Heck, I still like to throw it on the turntable and play along, it never gets old!
 

Slowhands

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When the first Boston album came out it took people by surprise. The guitars sounded like nothing else out there, totally unique sounds thanks to Scholz's home-brewed effects. And that first album just has one fantastic rock tune after another. Like Lister, it's a desert island disc for me, absolutely no duds on that album.

In the '80s Scholz started a company selling his effects, including what might be the first headphone amp, the Rockman. You could get that Boston sound on it plus the other effects sounds that some big names were using in his rack based versions. When I was a kid in the '80s I wanted a rockman so bad but it was not to be, It's okay though, I'm almost over it now. Almost.
 

CandidPicker

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Thank you for posting this good sir!

This could be good example for a young person looking for direction for the future.

This was the reason for the post. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, I'll post again with someone else who made their mark on the music industry with design and build qualifications. And it may not be who you might think immediately. Perhaps a group for their signature sound and how they got it that way...thanks to whatever gear and techniques they used at the time...
 
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