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Dave Roffey Interview

I spent years trying to trace the inventor of Vampower. His friends call him ‘a brilliant inventor’, ‘an inspiration’ and ‘a genius with a wicked sense of humour’. His name is Dave Roffey. When I began my series of emails with Dave I wasn’t let down. The following is a series of questions to try and unravel the Vampower story, followed by replies that often pull no punches. Dave is regarded in the 'biz' as a visionary. His 'bite' control predated pre-amp distortion way before the herd caught up. You may also be interested to know that Dave went to school with David Bowie... and yes, he talks about Bolan. Enjoy! JJ

JJ : When / how / where did Vampower begin and what was the connection with Vox ?

DR : So....late 60's and I realize that the years on the road are not leading to anywhere in particular. I have a job at an aircraft centre for a few months as well as studying at university. Design an after burner monitor for Lear jets and again realize this is not what I want. I talk to Dick Denny, the designer at Vox, but no one is needed at the time...but he suggests Triumph Electronics who actually do various things for them. Interview with Jeff Johnson who owns Triumph, and I get a job as test/ designer for them. There was a guy there named Lez who was involved with RCA electronics. Lez designed some pretty innovative transistor preamps/amps and was a guy to be impressed by. He worked on the first colour televisions for RCA and finally left to be employed by Triumph.
I was still gigging and wasn't impressed by the sounds that transistor amps were making. Ok for country and western purists but not for the 'heavies.' I suggested having a go doing some valve stuff, and had been doing work in the "background" for my own sounds. So I knocked up a 100 watt valve amp (4 el34's) from the pretty standard Brimar Valve Company design. Most power amp sections including KT88 stuff came from valve manufacturing design departments, with small variations (neg feedback or no neg feedback..neg bias or cathode bias resistors etc.) then added the front end, based on sounds that I and most 'real' guitarists actually wanted. I think I called it ' bite' at the time – ‘overdrive’ as it is known now. Twin T middle eq etc... This was a real struggle and fight to get accepted by the straights. But it went ahead as a Triumph/ Johnson valve amp and was accepted by those who knew what they wanted.
Vox was in the picture mainly by the work that was done for them. I recall doing some work on a PCB design for the AC30, and some work on the power amps for the Beatles Shea stadium (including the arcos pickup hand wound spring reverb).
Frank Taylor of South Eastern Entertainments (Lewisham South London) became interested in the head unit, and wanted some manufactured for his own brand of amplifiers. These were to be known as Vamp.
We had several trials I recall. The first two blew up pretty well straight away - couldn't fathom why, until we realized it was after the factories had shut down for the evening -the power supplies to the area has vary transformers which bloody weren't 270 volts shoved up the amp's arse! Anyway, that solved it and on it went.


JJ : Who invented the name and the logo?


DR : I remember it was actually Frank Taylor's wife who came up with the name and the "girlie" logo which first briefly appeared on the plates.


JJ : When Vampower first began, were you working for Triumph ?


DR : Yes - I was still at Triumph. I was also gigging and buying stuff from S.E Ents at the time. One day, Frank was talking about getting an engineer to do the amps for him, how much he would pay him, conditions etc. With me as gullible as I was - I took the job on. Jeff Johnson at Triumph was rightly pissed off and sacked me straight away.
Frank found a smallish workshop and Vampower was up and running. Bromley, Kent was its first base. From then on, Vamp amps and cabs were made there. There were a few guys involved and much of the delusions of grandeur existed! Many meetings etc… The first range of amps of amps went on. Toying with production techniques, I came up to thinking that all types of amps had identical output stages and that it would be handy to modularise somehow. Next came the concept of just connecting up different front ends that could just plug in. Handy for everyone. Just one power section for a shop, with a rack of plug ins to demo the range-without the big outlay.
Meanwhile at Vamp headquarters - meetings, meetings... Then the big announcement, ‘Jak Pak’ was to be the name. These started to be made at the Bromely pad until the great fire at the Vampower Bromely workshop occurred. Strange it only burnt down the Vamp pad - but there you go! I was the only one there at 3.00 in the morning and a great leap from the 1st floor was required. Oxy bottles and fire don’t go well together!
On to pastures new- Eltham I think it was. More amps made. One of the really good wirers at the time was an ex-drummer from the ‘Ram Jam’ band, and a good mate. He didn’t have a lot in life, but he never complained and he worked hard. So, one morning after a long night of overtime, I went in to see my mate walking out in a daze. Clever sniffer clod [*for legal reasons a certain managers name has been omitted here] had sacked him for being 5 minutes late after putting in an extra 6 hours work the previous night.
That was the end of my Vamp days, and I left them to get on with it. What happened after that I really don’t know, but I wasn’t impressed by the guys that came into the place as I was picking up my stuff.


JJ : So what was the Vampower timeline Dave?


DR : Dates have got me stuck. If I didn’t have a tattoo with my name and birth date on, I’d be in the shit! LOL. I reckon Triumph/Vamp 68-69, then I began working with Vampower round 69-70. Vampower ended round December 1973.

JJ : What was the firt Vamp series called and what are the actual different models?


DR : Just Vamp amps as I recall leading on to the Jak Pak range, then unknown if different ones existed. One thing that did occur when changing from the Triumph based versions to the first Vampower amps was that of the Transformers. After first using Partridges, a certain person at Vamp decided the C core would transform the amp into a ‘wonder beast’. It did but- in the form of 'I wonder why I blew this amp up'. It took a lot of establishing. Bloody C & W guys again. Full power, full bass, full top, no mids, and thump the F##k out of it. (Give me a 'G' with the hinges off, tiger!) Valve bass flashover-the blight of many a valve amp. Turned out the output transformer was well coupled at low frequencies, (great for bass), that when coupled with top end, lightening level K volts were easily produced. Answer-de solder the straps and put cardboard strips between the cores to reduce the low frequency (below 30 Hz) coupling. This was no better than the original laminated type.

JJ : Dave, why did you choose that unique eq tonestack for the vampowers?


DR : The sound thing like the Twin T middle? I was always playing around with getting sounds I wanted, and always frustrated with never getting them. At the time, this was the best way I could find. 'Ignore what was considered correct and do what pleases the head.' Middle was considered round the 1 k mark for music lovers everywhere. Not for me, and not for the guitar! I put it where I thought it sounded right. Same for bass as well.


JJ : What Happened To The Mk2 Vamps And How Many Vamps Were Actually Made?


DR : Mk2 / MK3 thing - not too sure there. Probably a small batch of protos made then a mod or two (after meetings) so MK3 gets made and MK2 fades away. Often the way.
In regards to how many Vamps made - couldn't have been even many hundreds, as the production techniques weren't advanced enough to plough them out. Every amp went through test stages that took up time. Then guitar tested.


JJ : What was Marc Bolan’s involvement with Vampower?


DR : Marc was of course a big part of the Vampower story. S.E Ents obviously wanted a key player in the pushing of the amps and since Marc was a local guy and used their shop, they figured it was a good move. He liked the 'bite' control and the tone controls. “Ride a White Swan” was recorded using a Vampower Mk1amp.
He was also had 16 by 12 cabs made up for his tour, so that it was easier to stage up. One got dropped from a ship net-not a pretty sight! (the red cabs seen in Born to Boogie) I remember wiring up a 10 watt tranny amp overloaded, then signalled down to go down the front end for some later stuff he did.
Thinking on it- the Vampower cab was swapped in orientation at some stage. It might have been earlier on or later… He wanted what he wanted, knew what he liked and it had to be different. There were quite a few earlier cab protos and he had a big say in the final choice of the Vampower cab design. (Probably with everyone instantly agreeing with what he liked and Marc enjoying it all with Vampower following when he changed his mind!) At the time HH amps were coming into the world and Marc was also pampered with these.

Dave's autograph!

dave roffey photo

Dave Roffey at the Frankfurt trade fair.

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