Each of the YouTube links above features the ARP 2600 synthesizer, an iconic and freakish instrument first introduced in 1971.
We've all heard it. We all know its voice; yet virtually none of us know where those sounds came from...and who was responsible. The simple answer is that the man responsible was Dennis Colin, a mad-scientist electronics engineer straight out of the fiction books.
I got to meet him in 2015 at his home, and it rocked my world. (That's us in the photo.) The short story goes like this: Dennis spent several years at the ARP company, creating the 2600 and other strange instruments.
Eventually the company changed hands and he moved on to other work away from music. Years after retiring, Dennis now lives alone in a small house somewhere in New England. He recently lost his wife and has been having a rough time. A chance meeting between his daughter and my guitar-building buddy, Ben "C.B. Gitty" Baker, led to my eventual visit to his house. I stood on his doorstep feeling like Ralphie about to meet Santa Claus.
A frail man at 71, Dennis had the sharp mind of a teenager. Although he left ARP Synthesizers many years ago, he never left music and he enthusiastically showed me his secret lab upstairs in the house. There were oscilloscopes, strange strobe lights, a homemade 500-watt amp (!) and model airplanes scattered about.
The dude lit his cigarettes from a Tesla coil! When he talked about music, he referenced everything from da Vinci to string theory. Forget Ralphie...I was in the inner-sanctum of the musical Willie Wonka! Dennis told me he had a guitar pedal that would rock the world, and he had been trying for 20 years to get it on the market. I played it…and it’s amazing. I must have spent two hours experimenting with it.
Warbles, fuzzes, bleeps and strange Ed Wood sounds came out. It was like nothing I've ever heard. This thing puts the mythical Ludwig Phase II Synthesizer guitar effect to shame. If Dennis’ pedal ever hits the market, heads are gonna explode. But this column isn't about Dennis... it's about me and you. Life is full of commitments and packed schedules. We're grownups and we're supposed to work, work, work and then placate our minds with cable TV at night.
But what if we started exploring again, like we did as children? What if we got out of our comfort zones and met interesting people? What if we helped them? I spent only three hours at Colin's house, but now my life is changed forever. I met a hero and I now call him my friend. I think we should never lose our sense of wonder and the thrill of hero worship. We should also always explore new rabbit holes in search of the White Rabbit. Life is fascinating. It's exciting. Let's have the mind of Dennis Colin and continue the search for awesomeness.
I challenge you to make 2017 the Year of Wonder. Explore new things. Be a sound searcher...develop a craving for art or stories...follow a tingle in your brain. Stay primal! P.S.: If you’re the adventurous type, come out and see my band soon (Concert listings are here).
Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band is the world’s loudest jug band, and we play hack-wired and homemade instruments such as cigar box guitars, electrified washtub basses and washboards. One reviewer said, “If Rob Zombie had a jug band, it would sound like this."
Here’s Edgar Winter with his ARP2600:
Shane Speal is "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at ShaneSpeal.com. Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.