Blog>An Insider's Look at the Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound
Audio Junkies 06:15 PM 10-29-2007
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Richard Pechner about the Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound and his role in creating what is considered to be one of the largest sound systems of all time. The Wall of Sound was built exclusively for the Grateful Dead and it was used on their tours from 1974 to 1976.
Click below for the interview and pictures.
Grateful Dead Wall of Sound Specs
26,400 watts of continuous power via 44 amplifiers
586 JBL loudspeakers (15", 12" and 5")
54 Electrovoice tweeters
75 tons in weight (approximately)
- McIntosh 2300 Power amplifier and JBL D130 driver
Richard Pechner was a roadie and photographer for the Grateful Dead during the design and implementation of the Wall of Sound. Below is the Audio Junkies interview with Richard Pechner followed by an assortment of his photographs. Enjoy.
AJ: What is your background in pro-audio and how did you get involved with the design and creation of the Wall of Sound?
I had no formal training in pro-audio. I learned from Dan Healy, Bear and Ron Wickersham. I had toured with the Band in the late '60's & early 70's as a roadie. As the Band became more popular we were playing in bigger venues and always having to deal with the inadequacies of house pa systems or lack of. Necessity being the mother of invention the Wall of Sound was born to serve the Band and it's desire to provide the best, consistent, mind blowing concert sound experience money and genius could buy. My carpentry background steered me into setting up and running the cabinet shop which prototyped and then manufactured all the cabinets in the Wall.
AJ: Was there any inspiration for the original idea or was it something that you guys wanted to do that was completely awe inspiring for the crowd?
How long did it take to assemble and what sort of problems did you guys encounter in the assembly process at venues?
The design/build took months to complete. (I am not quite sure the exact time frame.) The problems we faced were numerous. One of the biggest issues was "stacking" the speaker columns and positioning of the center cluster. As the speaker columns grew in height the logistics of hand stacking them become dangerous. Those 15" bass cabinets of Phil's were no picnic to move around let alone lift and stack. We quickly figured out we needed a mechanical system. We wound up flying 1/2 ton electrical Coffing Winches (9 from Graingers) above each bay and employed a steel platform to raise the columns in place. We adapted 3 winches to lift the much heavier Center Cluster into place. The first time Billy saw the Center Cluster in place he refused to play under it so we had to move his drum platform stage front a bit for him. We also reinforced the Cluster once it was rotated to the proper angle. (We did this by attaching 2 winches to the back and one to the front.)
AJ: I saw a driver on eBay not too long ago and the seller claimed it was from the Wall of Sound. What happened to all of the equipment in the Wall after it was no longer being used for the Grateful Dead shows?
I think the Wall had a great after life. The Grateful Dead have always recycled what they could and spread the rest around. It is quite possible that parts have wound up on E Bay and at other auctions. I am sure other components are still providing quality sound for other musicians and home hi-fis.
AJ: Any idea on the cost and amount of man-hours that went into building the wall?
The whole process of design, experiment, test on the road and then produce multiple enclosures went on for over a year. I do remember someone in the Office stating at a Band meeting that we had spent over $275,000 on the system. I'm sure it cost much more.
AJ: Were there any sound issues with the crowd being eye level with the stage and below the actual Wall of Sound?
The system sounded best if you were far enough in front to "see" all the speakers. Any one up close was probably more interested in seeing the Band then hearing them. Healy had the best seat in the house.
AJ: I've heard that the wall also acted as its own monitoring system. How was the feedback issue addressed since the band and microphones were directly in front of the wall?
I believe this issue was solved with the introduction of 2 B&K caps used in out of phase pairs as differential noise canceling mics. Here is Jerry at UC Santa Barbara, 5/25/74, in front of one of the mics. (see below for image -LG)
AJ: What was it like hearing the Grateful Dead and Wall of Sound in person?
We loved the sound checks, taking turns running out front to hear what we & many other's felt was the best sound system at the time. We all felt great pride in "owning" the Wall. These sound checks were intense. This was really the Band's only opportunity to tweak the system to their needs, and the crew's only time to get it put together correctly amongst all the constant changes. Isolating the instruments during the check was pretty cool. Hearing just Garcia or Phil's quadraphonic bass was incredible as they pushed the limits of the system. The shows themselves usually had a life of their own. Most of the time it went great and then once in a while it felt like a train wreck.
AJ: When did you stop working for the Grateful Dead and what have you done since then?
I went off the payroll in '75 & moved to Elk in Mendocino County. I did some photography for the Band in the 70's/early 80's. Did general/electrical contracting and have been working in the film business for the last 30 years. Currently posting my photography images on the web (www.pechner.smugmug.com), and occasionally "Ballduding" for the San Francisco Giants.
- A huge thanks to Richard Pechner for giving us a bit of his time. All of the pictures below are available for purchase as prints from Richard Pechner's website. He also has a limited number of the 30th Anniversary signed prints left (pictured below).
dookieface 06:36 PM 10-29-2007
I know what happened to all the equipment in the wall of sound....
It's in my house and in my car.
lukas 06:39 PM 10-29-2007
I damn near bought the speaker that showed up on eBay. I didn't even plan on using it, just to keep it safe and preserve it.
The auction got too rich for my blood though. I am sure whoever got it is a collector.
greenplank 09:04 AM 11-20-2007
looks fantastic! I can't help thinking my Fender Custom Vibrolux is louder though!
Fantastic article - thanks to all involved!
Bo 06:53 AM 02-19-2009
I got to see the Shows the Band did on The Wall
in Jersey City N.J. @ Roosevelt Stadium
Fantastic Sound System
You reminded me of some Great Times in my Life
SoCal Sound 01:55 AM 11-29-2009
I was surprised to see that the majority of the system was front loaded and not horn loaded bass enclosures. None of the enclosures looked ported either! Also for the majority not many horn drivers at all... only the 54 Tweeters. Must have been a very warm sound given the setup, from what I read it sounded like they had the speakers and amps grouped by instrument instead of a overall mix uniform across the entire sound system. If you look at the pictures they have each part of the system labeled "piano stack, "lead guitar stack" and etc. Very unique, like a giant jam room setup!!! Would have loved to hear this in person... darn near covered the entire front of the hollywood bowl!!!
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mitchy24 10:21 AM 02-11-2010
wow! amazing! I was totally shocked when I saw the system that huge. Fantastic set up! Good job! Mitchy24-essays
infomaniac93422 05:55 AM 06-04-2010
Bear was the one who got sent up for all the LSD mfg. He hung out with Timothy Leary, I read a great article in Rolling Stones Anniversary issue a year or so back. Incredible journeys all!
cleandog 04:44 AM 08-16-2010
My first show was in Evanston, IL. McGaw Memorial Hall 11-01-1973 what did the sound system consist of then? I was flying way above the radar that night and I'm not sure I didn't hallucinate the whole thing. It seemed the sound system was close to "The Wall of Sound" in size. Was it a forerunner? Remembering back it was very large and took them a long time to set up and test. Also seems as they had long poles with mics on the ends that they put in front of every speakers to check for sound. Did they keep warning people not to throw Frisbee cause one slip and it might knock out a whole bank and they were confiscating all the Frisbees first chance they got.1 2
Also the show seemed much longer than the set list indicates, are those songs all that remain on tape from that night?
Here is the setlist from dead.net:
Here Comes Sunshine
Playing in the Band
Uncle John's Band
Uncle John's Band
Playing in the Band