"In 1967, my brother, the professional musician in the family, was starting his first band. His bass player was looking for a bass amp that was powerful, loud and reliable." Pat always enjoyed problem-solving, and here was an opportunity to combine this with a love of music. "So with the help of some books and a rudimentary understanding of audio tone circuits, I built him one. It was crude and I had to do everything over at least twice, but it finally played pretty well."
That rather simple but auspicious first step led to developments that would eventually change the pro audio and amplification landscape. Pat Quilter, who started out making discrete-transistor and tube amps in the late 60's, subsequently became one of the preeminent designers of high power audio amplifiers. As one of the founders of QSC Audio (originally Quilter Sound Company), a leading manufacturer of pro audio amplifiers, loudspeakers and digital audio systems, Pat's retirement as Chief Technology Officer ushered in an opportunity to launch a "rebirth" of his original love - guitar amps. Over the decades, the once-mysterious secrets of great tone have slowly been revealed, and it is now possible to combine the warmth and vitality of vintage tone with the headroom and clarity of modern high-efficiency electronics.
Prelude: World War II, South Pacific Campaign, Marine Squadron VMF-212
Water buckled the fuselage of his F4F Wildcat, as Charles Quilter, newly married Marine aviator, ditched his bullet-riddled aircraft in the nearest lagoon. Although shocked by the rapidity of the inrushing water, he remembered his training, grabbed the survival kit and managed to deploy the life raft just as the plane's tail disappeared under the waves. He paddled ashore, ever fearful of enemy outposts, and was greeted by two French children, crying for fear he would be eaten by the "big fish" (sharks) in the lagoon. After rejoining his unit he participated in the epic air defense of Guadalcanal, eventually earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1945, Charles J. Quilter would return from WW2 to a loving wife, a growing family and a long and distinguished career culminating in an appointment as the commanding general of the First Marine Aircraft Wing in Vietnam. It is remarkable to consider how one near disaster in a distant and forgotten land would ultimately change the history of professional audio.
Patrick H. Quilter was born to Elizabeth and Charles Quilter in the late '40s, the third of four boys. Every two years the family moved to a new and exotic location, but two places in particular had a profound impact on Pat. Living in Laguna Beach, California and Honolulu, Hawaii connected with Pat in ways that none of the other homes had. Surrounded by the lush green hills of the Manoa Valley, Pat began to discover the music of Hawaii, which left an enduring impression on him. Although the hipper kids were listening to the Beach Boys and Beatles, playing their chiming guitars through now-classic amplifiers, few knew that the earliest guitar amps were developed in the 1930s for Hawaiian steel guitar players, so they could be heard in boisterous tropical night clubs. Pat fell in love with the instrument and the sound.
In his high school physics class, Pat learned the fundamentals of electronic components. As a physics nerd, it was expected that Pat would proceed on to college and a major in science, but the lure of music and audio began to take over his fevered mind. Poring over the pages of hobby electronics magazines and primitive car-radio schematics, Pat began the process of shaping a long-lasting career that would ultimately change how we all experience audio. Pat took great pleasure in re-tracing the steps of the pioneers of electronics from the early 1920s, teaching himself the basic principles by trial and error.
After a stint in Washington DC, General Quilter was stationed in Southern California, this time as Commanding General of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, followed by a tour in Vietnam. The overseas deployment meant that the family needed to resettle again in dear old Laguna Beach. Pat attended classes at Long Beach State College and soon began to feel like something of a California boy. His college career gradually buckled under the distractions of learning hands-on electronics, and when his younger brother Matt started a high school rock band, the "Blown Mind", the challenge to combine musical appreciation and technical skills proved irresistible.
In 1967, of course, the cranked-up electric guitar erupted like a volcano onto the musical scene, blasting away a mountain of traditional respectability. Steeped in the music of the Yardbirds, Cream, and Hendrix, a whole new realm of youthful high energy was emerging. The Blown Mind's bass player complained that he couldn't afford a decent name brand amp. After ascertaining how much he actually had to spend, and mentally adding up the parts cost, Pat agreed to make him a suitably powerful unit. After all, "How hard could it be?"
The first "Quilter Sound Thing" took shape over the summer of 1967 and although everything needed to be done over twice, the end result, crude as it was, managed to impress friends and even some experts. Even more amazingly, it continued to function for many years, eventually returning to Pat's hands as a trade-in for a newer model.
Quilter Sound Company
"Flushed with success", Pat embarked upon a journey to build bigger and louder amps, using solid state technology which at the time was clearly the wave of the future. On a shoestring budget, augmented by funds from his mother and older brother Charlie, Quilter Sound Company was born. Pat assembled a ragtag band of friends who shared a vision of "serving show business" without having to get a real job.
Pat and his early partners, John and Barry Andrews, often found themselves up against pretty big odds in the early '70s, given the fierce competition in guitar amplifiers. Despite the impact of negative cash flow, their eternal optimism and persistence kept them going, even when "returning to square one" became heartbreakingly common. Then came the ultimate blow. "I remember Barry calling me one morning and asking if by any chance I had taken home all our inventory.", Pat recalls. It turns out that thieves had cut a hole in the roof and cleaned out their small warehouse, just after they had finished building a respectable collection of all their best models. But these setbacks just strengthened their resolve to "make it" and it never diverted them from their values of hard work, honesty, and integrity. If there was one thing they believed it was that "Nice guys finish first (eventually)."
QSC Audio Products
By the early seventies, it became obvious that business setbacks precluded Quilter Sound Company from becoming a market leader in guitar amps. Other, better-financed firms had gained the upper hand. Although Pat had made significant progress in building high energy solid-state amps with better reliability than still-popular tube amps, the guitar amp scene was highly fractured and it was time to look for a steadier market.
Looking back on what they had learned, Pat and his partners identified the power amp section as their most challenging accomplishment.
Knowledge from the "school of hard knocks" could serve as the foundation for products focused to the pro-audio market. Quilter Sound Company was re-born as QSC Audio Products and a small but reliable series of power amps began to give QSC a solid reputation in pro-audio . An ever-growing line of good, reliable, and reasonably priced power amps would remain a mainstay of QSC's business for decades to come.
As QSC stretched out from the world's leading power amplifier company to the world's leading pro audio systems company, Pat never lost his love for music or those who make it. As the decades passed, Pat developed, tested and shelved many prototype guitar amplifier designs, each demonstrating small yet signification improvements over the last one. Since these products fell outside QSC's main focus, the guitar amps remained nothing more than a spare-time project.
As QSC continued its stellar rise to prominence in the world of pro audio and continued to add more engineering talent in multiple disciplines, Pat began to contemplate the possibility of retirement. But if retirement means "doing what you enjoy", Pat could think of nothing more enjoyable than finally solving the problem that got him started in the audio business. Surprisingly, after all this time and despite many alternative approaches and claims, no other researcher seemed to have the combination of technical experience and musical appreciation that would enable the development of a modern lightweight guitar amp that "thinks it's a tube amp".
After decades of developing top-line QSC products, Pat had become a world-class designer of compact, high power amplifiers. The final years of Pat's QSC career saw his mastery of Class-D technology, the third wave of power technology that would replace traditional solid state, just as solid-state had replaced tube amps, except in the guitar field where tube amps continued to be respected as having the best and most natural tonal properties. Having built tube amps, Pat was well aware of the properties that they brought to the game. As a veteran of analog design, he could see what it would take to duplicate the behavior of tubes, but using modern, high efficiency, lightweight technology to design an amp that would serve the needs of musicians better than anything else on the market.
Using some of the proceeds of a long and profitable career, Pat Quilter, with several partners and long-time friends, founded Quilter Laboratories at the stroke of midnight, January 1st, 2011. With all the supplier relationships and manufacturing expertise of QSC, this new company could be focused on research and development and not be burdened by managing a large corporate infrastructure. With these foundations, developing, manufacturing, marketing and selling great products should be well in hand. And in the true California tradition, the partners planned to have some fun along the way!