BGM reports from behind the scenes at TC Electronic, home of bass amps, pedals and Toneprints to die for…
We like to think we’re made of stern stuff here at the BGM command bunker, but getting up at 2.30am to make a pre-dawn flight from Stansted airport to Aarhus, Denmark, is enough to leave even the toughest bassist weak at the knees. As we sip our rocket-fuel-grade coffee in the departure lounge, watching pale, hungover passengers lurch zombie-like down the Stansted aisles, we are consoled by the fact that the trip ahead of us today is likely to be a pretty splendid one. We’re off to TC Electronic, whose amps and effects pedals long-term readers will have seen many a time in this magazine, subjected to serious sonic punishment by our reviewers.
Touching down in Aarhus airport, in the middle of what seems to be an endless forest, we’re picked up by TC’s marketing supremo Kim Bang for the drive to the factory. This modern building, fairly unpretentious from the outside, turns out to be a kind of Scandinavian Tardis, housing endless rooms for the various functions required to run a globally-distributed manufacturing company, quite apart from the actual assembly zone.
On arrival Kim introduces us to Morten Ehlers, business manager in TC’s bass department (the company also produces guitar and PA equipment, among other areas of activity). An affable chap who used to be a professional bassist until TC took him on as an apprentice some years ago, Morten has risen quickly through the company ranks to the point where he is responsible for overseeing existing bass production, introducing new ideas, refining existing technology, managing the roster of endorsers, recording new Toneprints and, yes, guiding visiting hacks around the facility. That’ll keep him busy.
“It’s a great time to be at TC Electronic,” says Morten, leading us past reception into the first set of offices. “We have some interesting new products on the way and the number of endorsing bassists we have is going up all the time. The Toneprint technology has really taken off in recent years: it’s especially cool to have British bass players like Mark King doing them for us.”
After a quick stop to recaffeinate at one of the many refreshment zones dotted around the building, Morten takes BGM through the marketing and advertising departments, as well as a quick hello at the helpdesk, where a gaggle of friendly British and French dudes answer your phone calls. Everyone without exception is very friendly. What’s wrong with them – don’t they know that we Brits prefer to be miserable? Maybe it’s the quality of their coffee. Talking of which, we grab a quick latte, just to keep energy levels up.
Not that there’s any need for an energy boost when Morten and Kim take us into their testing room, a chamber equipped with a bunch of cabs and TC’s brand-new BH800 head, a gizmo that can level buildings at 50 metres but which you can fit in your guitar case. Firing it up and spinning through the many options, we dazzle the two TC-ers with our bass skills. Or at least we think we do, until they have a go and we realise how much we suck in comparison. It must be time for another coffee.
We head to the heart of the TC factory. First up is the Siemens room, a fairly terrifying metal chamber where the gear’s radiation levels can be tested without rendering the Aarhus area uninhabitable for decades. Less spooky is Morten’s product development zone, where blue-sky thinking is allowed to flourish, ideas run riot and several thousand amp and pedal components are stacked on the workers’ desks.
“This is where all our crazy ideas come out,” says Morten with a grin. His colleagues explain that he’ll come up with concepts sometimes that defy their expectations, but that they consider it a personal challenge to achieve them. Without a PhD in advanced electronics it’s impossible to know in depth what’s going on in this room, in many ways the true core of TC’s bass department, but Morten makes it easier for us by hooking up a TC amp to a computer and demonstrating how its internal settings can be adjusted without having to take the thing apart. It’s incredibly impressive, a bit like stepping into a sci-fi movie, but with added bass and caffeine.
After lunch, which takes place next to a staff bar which opens on Friday nights for beer, table football and band jams, we take a peek at Morten’s secret experimental zone. He swears us to secrecy first, so let’s just say that he’s working on various cool-but-classified stuff, like a mad scientist of the bass world. Then we check out the assembly line, where TC’s Denmark-assembled products are bolted together by a pair of studious-working craftspeople at the rate of around five per day.
After a quick look at the 3D printer and endless rows of amps and components, we head out to a garage-like structure near the car park, where a TC amp was left on at full volume, all day and night, for (get this) two years to see what would happen. “It didn’t break!” says Morten with justifiable pride, over a coffee.
Over dinner, Morten and Kim chat about TC’s mission. “TC Electronic is one of the fastest growing brands in the industry over the last five years,” says Morten. “It’s really exciting to be involved in a company as successful as this one. We’re going places!”
The rest of the evening is very entertaining, involving a certain number of Danish beers – solely for medicinal and research purposes, you understand. The next morning, as we queue up for the airport bus, we’re knackered again. But it’s nothing that a coffee won’t fix.