FX rentals is celebrating a silver jubilee. Mike Hillier explores 25 years of audio equipment hire and more
Queen Elizabeth II referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis”, Windsor Castle had caught fire, Charles and Diana had separated, Andrew and Sarah had separated, and Britain had collapsed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday. It wasn’t all bad though, 1992 also saw Carter USM score their only number one album, with 1992: The Love Album, future Star Wars actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were born, and in July, 1992, FX Rentals was formed, with a handful of staff and pro-audio equipment from predecessor Audio FX.
Since its opening, in July that year, FX Rentals has been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with staff on hand in the office ready to help at all times, even at Christmas. Such is the company’s determination to always be open that they once ran an advertisement jokingly referring to themselves as the fourth emergency service. And where their clients, which include Abbey Road, AIR and Metropolis, are concerned, this may be closer to the truth than they’d care to admit. Initially the 24-hour nature was devised with recording studios, which would frequently also be operating 24 hours a day, in mind. But before long it became obvious that being “24-hour” had potential for the live audio world too, giving bands the flexibility to return equipment after a gig, or for clubs and DJs to phone up with additional kit requests during the night, should anything additional be required, or a replacement needed at last minute.
Whatever you need, whenever you need it
FX Rentals began with a selection of high-quality studio effects units, outboard compressors, EQs, reverbs and delays were still considered a luxury in most studios, and engineers would hire in only what was needed for a session. As well as outboard, FX had a selection of 2” 24-track machines from Studer and Otari as well as newer digital multitrack machines from Sony and Mitsubishi. Director, and now joint owner (with Nick Harris) Roger Evan has not so fond memories of transporting these huge machines in and out of studios: “They were so large, we’d often have to take doors off to get them to fit into and out of the building.”
As the decade progressed the company moved with the times, keeping up with not only the newest recording mediums ¬and sequencing technology: Alesis ADAT, Tascam DA-88, and onto DAW-based systems (an Atari ST with Cubase or Notator was an early favourite). But FX also continued to invest in new processors, whether digital or analogue, all the while maintaining their existing gear selection meaning you could now hire a brand new Bricasti reverb just as easily as a 1950s valve microphone. Over 25 years, the company boasts having 250,000 hires.
From that handful of staff FX Rentals has grown, servicing every segment of the professional audio industry from major recording studios, to festivals and tours, film and TV broadcasts, to small home studios, weddings, and schools. One client even hired a small recorder and microphone to investigate paranormal activity at a haunted house.
In addition to renting audio equipment, FX Rentals has broadened their scope, adding backline equipment and instruments, drums, DJ tools, even smoke machines and a cake stand(!) to the library of available rental equipment. Beyond rental, FX has expanded into providing acoustically treated rooms for musicians to write, rehearse, record or mix in. And since there is so much audio equipment on hand nearby FX is keen to provide discounts to clients of these spaces for equipment rental.
From rental to remaster
In 1997, FX opened the Copyroom, taking advantage of the various analogue and digital tape machines available to them, to offer transfers, archiving, restoration and more recently mastering services. The Copyroom now has five rooms and eight engineers providing expertise on all manner of tasks from restoring analogue tapes, to recovering old DAW sessions saved on obscure formats like Logic 3 or 4. Tapes can arrive in all manner of disrepair, Richard Whittaker (copyroom manager) recalls a request from the Bob Marley estate to restore 27 tapes they’d found in the family archive. “When the tapes came in, some were just fused solid,” he says, “as you handled them they just peeled off clear leaving behind a solid block of oxide.” Among the tapes though was an MRL test tone tape, which enabled the team to run tests to try and restore this tape without potentially damaging the originals. Research and assistance from an expert at the Ministry of Defence ensued, which Richard describes as being “akin to digging up dinosaur bones”, but the final results were successful, and initially 12 of the 27 tapes were fully restored with more being added to that list over time.
The Copyroom has worked with countless artists, recently turning their hand not just to re-mastering, but even re-recording and mixing The Who. “We did the first mix of My Generation in true stereo, from the original four-track tapes, but when we brought it up we noticed several parts were missing”. It transpires that having run out of tracks, Pete Townshend had recorded his guitar solo directly onto the mono master, along with some backing vocals and percussion parts. These parts were therefore not able to be separated from the rest of the mix, and so FX re-recorded Pete with his original guitar and amp, onto a one-inch eight-track Studer A80, recreating as closely as possible the missing solo, as well as the other missing parts. This new mix and master is available now on Geffen Records.
Of course, it’s not been all plain-sailing for FX Rentals. The company experimented with a repair service which never took off, and had a brief period with a European office. With 25 years now passed, the company will be looking to 25 more, and hoping to continue to supply any new parts of the audio industry that surface over the next quarter of a century.