Mark Gooday established Ashdown Engineering in 1997. Founded in Essex in the UK, the bass amp manufacturer quickly became recognised thanks to endorsements from John Entwistle (The Who), JJ Burnell (The Stranglers) and Brian Ray (Paul McCartney). In the years since, Ashdown has made a definite mark on the music world – their amps’ warm and round tone is preferred by bass players all over the world, and the glow of their trademark VU meters is an unmistakable onstage feature.
Prior to starting Ashdown, Gooday had been chief engineer and part owner of another UK bass amp company, Trace Elliot. But when he was bought out by Trace Elliot’s parent company, Kaman, the establishment of a new brand was inevitable.
“It’s either that or I become a car salesman,” he says. “Even before I’d become an owner of Trace, I was making parts for Trace Elliot in their formative years. So it’s all I really know. I make amps, I know the people in the market, I know musicians, I’m a failed bass player, and everyone I know makes amps.”
The establishment of Ashdown might’ve been a pragmatic move, but Gooday already had a strong vision for the product’s signature sound.
“You wanted something original, something different,” he says. “The market turned kind of rocky and toneful and the slap brigade of that era had gone, but Trace Elliot couldn’t change its direction. It was slap – middle frequency, high end – and it wasn’t about pure tone and round, flat sounds. So I set out to design the antithesis, to completely be about tone.
“I had a nice old ’64 [Fender] Jazz; everything was designed on that. I set out to design something that was really an Ampeg with definition, an SWR/Trace with tone.”
Getting a sound that reflected the zeitgeist was one thing, but rock ‘n’ roll is closely entwined with vanity, so Gooday also needed to find the perfect look.
“Trace Elliot’s ultraviolet light was absolutely amazing. A pain in the neck to build, it caused noises and hums and I hated it, but you saw it onstage,” he says. “So this VU meter came up as an idea. You want to measure your inputs, you have little flashing LEDs, but this was more analogue, softer and it was more in line with the tone and the image I wanted to portray. That was it.”
The company began as a homespun affair – Gooday fiddling with amp designs on his living room floor, his wife and kids helping him out – but these days you can buy Ashdown products all over the world, so their operations have had to vastly expand. However, Gooday hasn’t been tempted to compromise the company ethos for the sake of financial gain.
“20 years later we’re still doing it,” he says. “We’re still in Essex, we’re a small family company, we’ve got no external funding, we’re still profitable – which is quite something in this day and age – and we still manufacture 12-15% of our products here.
“We have a factory in China as everyone does, but that’s a family company who I’ve dealt with for 17 years. People we know and trust. And we have our own factory here, and there’s a lot more UK-built to come.”
Bass amps are still Ashdown’s specialty, but the product list is constantly growing. The bass amp range covers items for the stage and studio, from beginner to professional, plus there are acoustic guitar amps and bass effects pedals (under the sub-brand Dr. Green).
“The bass market is in decline so we’ve had to adjust what we do a bit. We pulled back a lot of products, but we need other armoury in the tank because the bass market isn’t what it was. We used to ship say 50,000 amps a year. Now we’re down to about 30,000.
“We’ve had to diversify. We’re trying to make good stuff and we’re trying to be innovative. Going back a few years, we made the first NEO [lightweight] cabinets. We made the Boxter for Michael Rhodes. You know the Porsche Boxter? I made him a 2x8 NEO cabinet that he could lift to put in there.”
The bass amp market might be drooping, but Gooday has unwavering belief in his company’s products – none more so than the recent addition, the digitally enhanced B Social 75-watt stereo desktop bass amp.
“That’s a really mad product... It’s a great 75-watt bass amp – you can run the extension and you can do a gig with it at the same time, and then you can record out. It does absolutely everything.
“There’s nothing you can’t do inside that little box and slowly artists are getting to like it. People are taking it on tour so the whole band plugs in – acoustic players, guitarists, vocalist – but it might take ten years to be recognised.
“The best product we’ve ever produced, bar none, is the B Social, to date. It’s just going to take a lot of time to get the traction and the understanding of how much it does and how cheap it is for what it achieves.”
For more details on the range of Ashdown products, head to promusicaustralia.com.