Without them, speakers wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Often overlooked, speaker stands are important but part of any DJ’s equipment arsenal. Often we try to overlook them. Let’s face it: Stands are kind of odd looking, three legged sticks. Some DJs even cover then up with fabric to disguise them.
Darrell Schoenig disagrees and thinks tri-pod stands are beautiful. A pioneer in the speaker stand industry, he was the original founder and owner of Ultimate Support Systems (USS) and helmed the speaker stand maker until 1994. In the mid-70s Schoenig had a hang glider company in Golden, Colorado. By 1976, he had sold that company and moved to Hawaii where he joined two musicians, a brother and sister, to form a Christian music group called “Sweet Melody.” The band needed speaker stands and while searching Schoenig was “dismayed” by what was available. So he decided to try his hand at designing his own:
“I went back to the hang glider shop and fashioned a pair four legged stands out of scrap hang-glider aluminum tubing (four legs held speakers up rotisserie style.)”
As other musicians saw them, Schoenig began getting requests to make them and began production in his parent’s garage in 1977. An early USS stand brochure describes the four legged stands: “…telescoping tubing and sophisticated folding technology, spring-loaded buttons, ball lock pins and slide-in mounting brackets.”
BUILDIN G A STRONG TRADITION
Schoenig says at first their engineering was “seat-of-the-pants” We would load custom-made plywood boxes with sand bags to test stability… I remember testing our first (aluminum) tri-pod to failure by loading it with a large gas cylinder. A leg finally folded at 1,100 pounds; we felt pretty good about our margin of safety since it was rated for a maximum of 100 pounds… Aluminum tubing was chosen because of its high strength-to-weight ratio.”
Another popular stand model to come out of the USS factory was the Telelock, with its bulbish sliding tube locking device. This design uses a rubber coated round metal ring set on an angle, which, when engaged, holds the “sliding tube” up and keep it from slipping down. You still have to lift the speaker up but lowering it is much easier to control.
In the 1980s, the market was inundated with copies of Ultimate products. Schoenig says safety became an issue with these copies “because of their disastrous use of inferior plastic parts. Most were made with low-grade commodity resins and often regrind material-they looked and functioned like our stands, but it wasn’t long before dealers and customers alike were coming back to us…” The company weathered the storm by statying commited to their own quality controls and high level of customer service.
IMAGINING NEW CONCEPTS
During Schoenig’s reign at USS, he also experimented with a “powered” speaker stand using a pneumatic tripod with a pump built into one of the legs, similar to a bicycle pump. It was abandoned because of the amount of physical effort it took to lift speakers.
Another idea, a mono-column stand that would achieve stability via a powered gyroscope, never made it off the drawing board but Schoenig says “it was fun envisioning it.” He adds that for a couple of years USS produced a “rather bizarre looking stand for a company that made globe-like round speakers called Around Sound, but production stopped when the company went out of business.
Along with designing speaker stands, Schoenig modified his tripods into bike repair stands that has become the standard of that industry (www.feedbacksports.com). It’s probably safe to say that Schoenig’s tripod speaker stand design set the standard for the music industry as well.
In the mid 1990s, USS was sold to Jim Dismore, also from Colorado. Today Schoenig keeps busy designing new products, still using aluminum tubing at his company, High Road Enterprises, in Bellvue, Colorado.
YOU’VE GOT THE POWER
Fast forward to 2001, and the birth of (my baby) the “powered speaker stand.” I was DJing at an outdoor wedding in La Jolla, California. when I was lifting one of my 46-pound Mackie speakers the way DJs have done countless times on tripod stands: with my shoulder under the speaker, one foot on the stand’s leg brace, one hand on the sliding tube, and the other on the locking knob. I stopped and said to myself there had to be an easier way to do this.
A light bulb went off in my head: Install gas springs in the stand like the ones used in the automobile industry for car hoods and pickup camper shell windows. I had once worked at an auto parts store and was familiar with them, so I bought one from our local Kragen store, cut and pasted an all-thread rod and turn buckle, and invented the world’s first “Powered Speaker Stand.”
(This shouldn’t be confused with another speaker stand design called “air-powered.” This type of stand uses a leather cup on the end of the sliding tube which seals an air chamber in the center tube allowing the resulting air pressure to help slow the pole on the way down.)
Before I settled on using a tripod, I built a single-pole stand using a round metal disc as its base. I actually used a tractor plow disc for the base but it weighted a ton. I settled on the tripod design and excitedly showed my prototype off at our next local DJ association meeting. Everyone was thrilled when the speaker rose all the way up, with no shoulder action needed. Then one of our members, DJ Diane Desiderio, tried to pull the speaker stand down and it wouldn’t budge.
After consulting with a gas springs company, I learned about “neutral buoyancy”-the idea that the gas springs, when filled with nitrogen gas, are designed to lower a weight as easily as raise it. Thus neutral buoyancy was incorporated into the design.
I settled on two models: the F1 for speakers weighing between 35 and 50 pounds; and F2 for speakers weighing between 55 and 80 pounds. I stopped at 80 pounds out of my concern that speaker weighing more than that would be safer on the ground or stage.
A new element I’ve recently added to the Frankenstand is a pull-ring plunger to lock the sliding tube down in the collapsed position. The pull-ring plunger is not a new idea. A couple of years ago, I found a pair of old Peavey square-tube tripod stands with pull-ring plungers. Another light bulb went off and I decided to add the feature my latest Frankenstands.
Interestingly my path crossed with Schoenig’s former company. Convinced that I had a good idea, I made a business agreement with Ultimate to purchase their generic unbranded TS-80 stands for my new speaker stand business, Frankenstand. Yeah, I know it’s a silly name, but at the time the word “monster” was being used at lot as in Monster Energy Drink, Monster Cables and the television show Monster Garage. I ended up with Frankenstand because the stand acts like “It’s alive!” Plus, the url www.frankenstand.com was available. So now people call me Dr. Frankenstand.
Eventually Ultimate was sold again. Dismore closed a deal with Mike Belitz who took an interest in my stands. He contacted me a couple of times and tried to make a deal. I declined his offers and decided to go on my own and continue today as Sound Planning dba Frankenstand. Interestingly enough, at the next NAMM music trade show after courting me to join with USS, Belitz displayed his own version of my design. even though I had a patent pending. One of his salesman told me “it wasn’t personal, it was just business!” Needless to say I was not a happy camper!
ONWARD AND UPWARD
Today’s manufacturers have standardized their sliding tube measurement, adopting the 35mm size to match the standardized 36mm hole most speaker manufacturers now use. One problem that has come up is that some speaker holes seem tight causing the sliding tube to become stuck inside the speaker stand hole. I asked an engineer at JBL for his opinion. He said he knew about this issue but that JBL makes all their speaker holes 36mm to fit the 35mm tube. I’ve also noticed that some of the speakers now feature plastic ridges inside their speaker holes. The only thing I can figure is that they are seeking a tight fit to reduce speaker tilt. My suggestion is that if you experience tight fitting speaker poles is to rub wax on it which will act as a lubricant while still maintaining a tight fit. I would hope the plastic hole will eventually wear to the pole.
On a personal note, I always wondered why DJs insist on black stands as opposed to silver or white stands. If you think about it, DJs usually perform in dark rooms, so black stands could be potential tripping hazards for guests. But that’s what you guys and gals want, and that’s what we manufacturers are making.
Bottom line, unless you use a Bose L1 tower you’re still going to need a pair of speaker stands! Like two personal body guards, your speaker “sticks” stand at the ready to help you project your sound to your guests. So, make sure you have some quality stands to, er, stand behind, and they’ll take care of your speakers for years to come.
Filed Under: Business, Everything Else, Issue #148
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