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Old 18th November 2009
  #17
Here for the gear
 

I believe the picture Mark posted above is of the second generation of the Wright mic (unless he made others, later.) If I recall correctly, unlike the original, it is transformerless, but I don't know if there were other electronic differences. However, there are some physical differences. It looks slightly longer than the original. Also, the original had round sound holes, not slotted. And the end of the original just had the same foam that you see in the holes, but not the brass screen. It looks exactly like a slightly prettier version of the original.

A little history (as I know and remember it): I was hired by Tom Wright as an assistant engineer at (what was then) Melody Recording Studios in Atlanta (later Cheshire Sound), but spent more time working in the shop on mics than anything else. Tom and I built the first 100 Wright mics. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Tom really could be a bastard. But he was unquestionably very smart, and a talented engineer/producer. He had been messing around with building mics for some time before I came along. He hired me just as he was starting to get serious about building a commercially viable mic.

I watched him experiment with the electronics, transformers, and mic elements, and helped him test the mics in the shop and studio. Believe it or not, the mic element that he settled on (and is very likely what is in his later mics), was a tiny little hearing aid element. No kidding! It had remarkable frequency response and was extremely durable, both physically and sonically. It could take ridiculous sound pressure levels and not break (good thing when grandma yells in grandpa's ear!) And with proper electronics and custom designed transformer, it sounded awesome!

Once Tom had the basic design, he turned to the case design. Because the element and electronics were so small, we started thinking about smaller, more durable ways to house the mic, rather than the ubiquitous, fragile, "Coke can" that everyone is used to. I had recently purchased some Switchcraft male-to-male XLR adapters. You know, the barrel shaped mic cable extenders. I had the inspiration of installing the mic into the adapter. It made perfect sense because the barrel already had the XLR inserts and machined grooves in both ends, and all we had to do was remove one of them and slide the redesigned mic guts into it. I'm really proud of that idea, but the idea of "sharing" any part of the mic with anyone else was abhorrent to Tom. And though I lay no claim whatsoever for the mic design, he would never admit that I came up with the fundamental idea for the case, and actually denied it on more than one occasion. Like I said... a bastard.

So, we took an adapter, gutted one end, and drilled holes around it. We then crafted the electronics into a crude, but solid, latticework of circuit breadboard and heavy gauge wires, and slid the whole assembly into the case. All you had to do then was tighten the screw that held the XLR plug in the end, and it was done.

We built two of these into the Switchcraft cases and started testing. Tom did a little more tweaking on the circuit, and size and positions of the sound holes. He then had a transformer manufacturer custom build 100 transformers to his specs. We hand-punched the cylindrical foam inserts (encasing and shock mounting the element) from existing dynamic mic screens. We then went about testing these mics on everything we could and used them on virtually every session that was booked in the studio.

The results were phenominal! The mics sounded incredible on everything, particularly piano and acoustic guitar. But there were surprises. You could shove this thing down the throat of a saxophone, and it not only sounded great ... it sustained no damage at all. Can't do that with a large diaphragm! But perhaps best of all, the mic was virtually indestructible.

One day, Tom dropped one of the mics on the concrete floor in the shop. He knew the thing was tough, but his engineer's instinct made him cringe. So, we immediately hooked it up in the studio and started checking it out. No problems. In fact, at some point, Tom decided to literally throw it up against a concrete wall. No damage! This soon became the second best selling point of the mic.

One day, Tom and I went down to the other end of our building to see Ed Seay, the (outstanding!) head engineer of Web IV studios, and a really great guy. (Look him up. He's made quite a name for himself working with everyone, it seems, and is currently in Nashville.) Ed was naturally skeptical. First, we set the two mics up on piano, and Ed started testing them. He was blown away! Next, Tom grabbed them up and threw them both down on the floor! Ed just about **** himself! We hooked them back up and Ed checked them out. He couldn't believe they still worked perfectly. (By the way, this was Tom's favorite stunt. He would demo the mic to some engineer or studio owner, and after they raved about it, he would shock the hell out of them by bouncing it off the floor. Priceless!)

Ed bought both mics on the spot! $400 each, as I recall. Tom told him that he would build him 2 mics with the final circuit boards and in the new, brass cases, but Ed insisted that he did not want new mics... he wanted these! Tom said, "Well at least let me put them in the pretty brass cases for you!" Ed wasn't having any of it. I think he liked the fact that they looked like what they were... amazing microphones that looked like ****ty old Switchcraft adapters that had been thrown against walls! So, Ed got the prototypes, and, I'll bet, still uses them.

So, speaking of the new cases, Tom bought lengths of brass tubing with the same inside diameter as the Switchcraft connectors. We acquired various shop tools for working them ... saw, lathe for polishing, better drill press, etc. He had circuit boards fabricated. (Completely coincidentally, a few years later, I became a printed circuit board designer for a number of years.) Tom had a machinist create a die for us to punch out the WM badges (btw, in order to access the innerds of the mic, you pop off the WM badge and drill out the epoxy that fills the hole so you can get to the recessed screw. You then screw it IN. The guts will then slide out in one piece. NOT that I recommend disassembling a perfectly good, classic microphone!) He had a printer produce the custom boxes. We even hand-punched the foam inserts for the boxes. A clothespin style mic clip was included. Virtually everything was hand built, and there wasn't one of those first 100 that I didn't handle during construction, assembly, and packaging.

The Wright mic really impressed every musician that Tom recorded with it. I had the great fortune to work some late night sessions with Bruce Hampton, Paul McCandless (oboe), and Eric Kloss (sax) with Bruce's band, Late Bronze Age on their album, Outside Looking Out. The Wright mic was used on many dubs with everyone's approval. Kloss is blind, and I remember him extensively "fondling" the mic, blown away at how great this little mic made his sax sound.

Though working for Tom Wright wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, it was an experience that I treasure. Building those mics was rewarding, fun, and educational. And I got to meet and work with some very talented musicians, and I truly learned a lot about recording from Tom. May he rest in peace.