The Art(isan) of Noise
Philip Graham’s hobby was building microphones and amplifiers in his basement for his musician daughter Malachi. When he learned that there was a need for microphones that would give acoustic musicians studio quality sound in live performance, he started doing some research. He started “digging around in the bins of hardware stores” to find simple metalwork parts that he could use for a prototype. Malachi became his in-house tester as he started designing and building the unique, hand crafted microphones that were to become the signatures of Ear Trumpet Lab.
His inspiration is a callback to 1930s and 40s industrial design; he puts his own spin into it by mixing metals (copper, brass, bronze) in simple, clean design. His goal was to create the highest possible quality microphone in a stylish, modernized “retro” body. What he discovered was that he had created something quite unique in the music industry: “I ended up with something that no one else was designing for.
”In the workshop, Graham and his small staff assemble the different microphone components in batches, ready on-hand to more quickly and efficiently be able to supply the ever-growing demand their entirely handmade product: even the individual circuit boards are assembled by hand. “In a way, every piece is a custom piece,” says Graham.
In addition to their standard microphones, they also do custom designs. “It is part of the brand of a hand-build shop to be willing to work with musicians directly to solve specific problems.” Most custom work is aesthetic (special patinas, etchings, other personalizing touches), but sometimes there are special acoustic challenges to solve. Graham likes these challenges, and sometimes it leads to new ideas for their own products. The business has steadily grown, and they now sell microphones both nationally and internationally. Their marketing comes mostly from the musicians themselves who are using their products; bluegrass bands especially, have followings that include a large percentage of other musicians, Graham says they can track the touring schedule of one of their biggest supporters – Foghorn String Band – simply by noting where new orders for microphones come from.
The biggest challenge is being able to scale up in a measured, manageable way, with a shop of craftspeople comfortable and adept at all phases of the process. “It’s cool to be able to provide jobs for people by them doing interesting, creative things and at the same time making a decent living.