Rob Maskell (Mathews Music)
Dealer of the Month
Wally, Ron The Con, and The Godfather have something cooking in Kent. Most players in South East England (and some from far beyond) have reason to know these characters and most of them are grateful for the experience.
Wally, Ron and The Godfather "look after" most of the music scene around their native Maidstone and musicians are forced to agree to "offers they can't refuse" on instruments, amplification and musical accessories.
The reason that the offers from Wally, Ron and Big Daddy can't be refused is that they are such bloody good deals. They are protecting the interests of all their customers.
Ron The Con is Rob Maskell, General Manager of a group of musical instrument companies based in Kent's county town. Wally is Wally Webster who looks after the percussion services in the group and The Godfather is the man behind it all, Eric Snowball.
Eric Snowball Electronics (ESE) is a holding company which controls Matthews Music, ESE and Wally's Percussion. Between them the companies are responsible for retail, wholesale, hire and manufacturing operations.
The wholesale part distributes Binson products and Z—B pedal steel guitars in the U.K. and sells the house-built ESE amps and accessories. Matthews Music is a well established instrument shop selling such exalted lines as HH amps, Gibson and Fender guitars, Wally's Percussion is a recently opened drum shop next door to Matthews Music.
"I think we've got everything covered", Ron told us. "All the sections of the company are busy, but our customers got to know us primarily through our Matthews shop".
Matthews, in Maidstone's Broadway, is the typical group-equipment shop, crammed to the door with new and secondhand gear. Opened ten years ago by Eric Snowball's son, Matthew, the shop has come to be known as a meeting place for musicians in the South East as well as a source of top quality equipment.
"It's not a really heavy scene in this area" says Rob. "There's a lot of work in the area but most of it is for the pop/rock type of band. Most of our customers are professional and they include bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but we don't neglect the passer by, you know, the person who wants a kazoo or a recorder".
The shop grew up when Eric Snowball started selling secondhand equipment he came across while he was busy repairing Vox amps. Today the second-hand side of the business is still important although naturally the main business is centered around ESE, Binson and Z—B products.
The Binson range now includes a complete PA system and mixers as well as the world famous echo units, and Binson sales have always been of prime importance in Matthews and ESE.
Z—B pedal steels are one of the finest makes of steel guitars. Despite country music being a minority market in the U.K., Z—B pedal steels chalk up considerable sales and ESE has a centre for steel guitars at its shop in Upper Fant Road, Maidstone, where the wide range of Z—B guitars are displayed.
Wally's shop has a very wide range of drums in stock. As a former drummer with the group Fantasy, Wally understands exactly what drummers need.
Sonor are the drums he's personally pleased to stock but his lines include important makes such as Rogers, Ludwig, Hayman, Premier, Gretsch, Natal, Fibes, Trixon and Slingerland. In addition, the shop also stocks a wide range of accessories.
Manager of the Matthews shop is Eric Lindsey. Until recently he was the manager of Sound City in London's West End but after the collapse of Dallas, who owned the City shops, he moved to Maidstone.
"I'd known about ESE for some time before Dallas went down", said Eric, "I'd always had a high regard for the set-up here and when the opportunity came to run this shop I was delighted.
"I'm trying to introduce several things here that I think would be really popular. I want to build up a large string section so that a guitarist can come in and get any kind of string he wants. So often guitar players have problems with guitars and really there's nothing wrong with the guitars at all, they just need a different kind of string. I'm also trying to build up a large accessory section in the shop so that players can get the little things here they normally have trouble getting. Eventually I want to start a mail order department for strings.
The big thing about Rob, Eric and Wally and the boys is that they are prepared to take the trouble to talk with the bands.
"I go out and listen to bands maybe twice a week", says Rob. "It's the only way that we can really get to understand what a group needs. Very often the only way a musician can decide on a particular piece of equipment is to try it and for that reason we will hire him a piece of equipment and then knock the hire fee off the price of the item if he decides to buy it."
The hire side of the company is mainly concerned with professional group hire. When a band goes on tour, the hire company sets up the large scale PA systems at each venue and takes care of all the sound reinforcement problems.
But at the shop the accent is very much on the musicians' day-to-day needs. Guitars in stock include Fender (the shop's a Fender Soundhouse), Gibson, Antoria, Hohner, Kay and Kasuga among others, and there are many different makes of guitars available second-hand.
A large section at the back of the shop is devoted to disco equipment. "The disco market has really exploded in the last two or three years", says Rob, "We stock several makes of disco including Fal and Soundout and we also supply lights by ICE".
"We have a philosophy that we want to get over to the bands that come in and see us. We believe in using the right tool for the right job. Ideally a band should no longer be buying large amplification stacks but should be buying smaller high-quality source amps. The final sound should be delivered by a more powerful PA system. Whenever a band comes into us and says 'We need complete equipment' — and that happens more often that you think — we try to get them to buy a system of this sort. The final outlay is roughly the same but the end result is so much better".