John Hardy runs The John Hardy Company out of the basement of an old and pretty house in Evanston, a few blocks north of the Chicago limits. His M-1 preamp uses a transformer-based, discrete solid-state signal path to produce its famous clean sound. I stopped by his house to tour the facilities where he builds pre-amps and runs his small company. I got to see his vintage Hammond organs (while not a very active musician, he'd rather be known as a bass player) and discuss the merits of soda in glass bottles. In the midst of all that, Hardy found the time to share some stories about himself, the M-1, and the company that bears his name.

"I can remember doing just some crude recording of bands that I was in, mostly just a couple of microphones or something like that. I might have had a Shure mixer at some point, something like that. Of course wondering why this didn't sound at all like it's supposed to sound — the usual chaos and confusion and gross stupidity as you start off not knowing a thing. Little by little you learn, for example, that gee, there is such a thing as a low- impedance microphone. Not all microphones have a quarter inch phone plug at the other end of the cable. So we all learn little by little. I was playing in bands; I was doing a little bit of crude recording with the bands. I was, in my own stupid way, building speaker cabinets and learning how to make them better and better as time went on. And working on different electronic projects, and I built a four channel tape recorder back in 1969. It worked occasionally. Little by little, you know. You blow things up, you learn from that. Electrocute yourself, you learn from that. Little by little you learn, hopefully you learn. Hopefully you don't keep electrocuting yourself every day for the rest of your life."

"It's just more of a hobby really. I was lucky to get out of high school at the rate I was going. I was well on my way to crashing and burning. Fortunately graduation occurred before the plane hit ground. I think I had one semester of high school electronics and that was the limit of my formal education. But there are other ways, and little by little, you learn this, you learn that, trial and error, talking here, talking there, talking to whatever, magazine subscriptions" all provide useful information. "Some of the semiconductor manufacturers are just, they're willing to give you a world of knowledge just in their data books. I have to show you my library where there's just book after book, free books from National Semiconductor or Analog Devices or whatever." I later saw the library, where bookshelves full of manuals and other electronic information occupy most of one room in the basement. "So there is much to be learned, various textbooks that have come out, so that's how little by little..."

"The first major project of any kind that I had done, I think, would have to be a couple of consoles that I built for dB Sound, based here in Chicago, back in 1977. Those consoles were specifically done for the group Kansas. For some period of time, dB had been working with the group Kansas, before Kansas was a real big band. The way I understand it, when it came time for that fall of 1977 tour, Kansas said to DB Sound, we're a bigger group now, we're getting bigger exposure. You've got to upgrade your equipment. I had done some smaller projects for dB at different times, and they came to me and said, 'We'd like to do a console, and we'd like you to do it.' In the fall of 1977, miraculously, two consoles got built, a front-of-house and then a stage mix console. The main modules for those, I built as modular as I could. There was a particular module common to both consoles that had the line input section, the mic preamp section, and an equalizer, all in one module. I called it the IM-200 module, just the Input Module, IM-200. Rationality at work there — simpler to remember what they are. Some of those modules have been made available as sort of vintage Hardy equipment or something. Oh, jeez, the nightmares I could tell you about that whole project, but at any rate they're still around. In fact, I've got a box of about 8 or 10 of them under that table over there that one of the guys who is still involved with dB sound, Harry Witz, wants me to fix. So I still will fix them; I'll offer repair services for people that have those. Even though they're 22 years old at this point, I'm happy to keep them running as much as I can. That...

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