Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sound Sales Inc. Powerhouse 8-Track Rhythm Unit, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Sound Sales Inc. Powerhouse 8 Track Rhythm Unit ad from page 13 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine June 1977.

I first became intrigued by this ad because I had not heard of what is essentially an 8-track drum machine. For those of you too young to know what an 8-track is, I recommend you read this Wikipedia page.

As I did more research, I became even more intrigued with the parent company, Sound Sales Inc., and got caught up in the rather sad story involving what has been described as 'the accidental loss' of the well-known Mellotron name by the original manufacturer, Mellotronics.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning...

While scanning old issues of Contemporary Keyboard magazine the other day, I noticed that Powerhouse 8-Track Rhythm Unit ads had been showing up quite regularly as far back as December 1976. Then, as illustrated in this full page ad, the new disco and hustle tapes apparently became available. Nice. I really had no choice but to blog about this. :o)

As I looked through later issues of CK for more research material, I noticed that Sound Sales Inc. seemed to suddenly stop advertising the Powerhouse in early 1978, only to pop up again around May 1978 with a 1/3 page ad that exclaimed 'Mellotron - now made in the USA! A division of Sound Sales Inc'.

Turns out that Sound Sales Inc. was a company that serviced Mellotrons in the US, and they essentially ended up with the Mellotron inventory and the rights to the Mellotron name after the complicated collapse of the original makers of the Mellotron and the resulting 'liquidation blunder'.

You can check out the full history of the Mellotron at

Although the ad does a fair bit to explain how the Powerhouse functions, there is unfortunately not much information available online.

The Audio Playground Synthesizer Museum is looking for one for their collection, and most of the other references are in relation to IK Multimedia's SampleTron virtual instrument which includes samples of the unit in it's collection. The site also has a grainy color photo of the Powerhouse, along with pictures of all the instruments from the *tron family. There is also some audio samples from the software - maybe some of the drum sounds are from the Powerhouse. And no, I didn't get paid to include those links. :o)

If anyone knows more about the Powerhouse, don't be a stranger - please comment!


Graham said...

The Bandmaster Powerhouse was originally designed and manufactured by G.R. International Ltd. in Perth, Scotland.
G.R. International was owned by two brothers - Robin & Tony Twine - who were both musicians and played in the 'Tayside Big Band'.
The main item G.R. International designed and manufactured were cassette tape recorders which went into the 'state of the art' consumer Hi-Fi of the era - the music centre!! (remember them?)
I worked for the firm in the mid 1970's and yes, I did a bit of the design work on this particular unit. I left the firm in 1977.
The 8-track mechanism was one sourced from Japan - as used in BSR 8-track players of the time (G.R. International had the contract to manufacture the pre-amp boards for BSR as I remember - they were so cheaply manufactured that it was more cost effective to scap the completed boards than to repair then if they didn't pass testing)
The Bandmaster worked fairly well - until you tried to change the tempo. If you tried to stray too far from the tempo the drums had been recorded at (allegedly by a top London session man) the change in pitch of the drums became increasingly unbelievable and unusable.
The unit came supplied with a footswitch to perform various functions.
I'll rattle the old grey cells for a while and see if I can remember anything else.

Fernando Pettineroli said...

We are about to list on Ebay a working Powerhouse unit with a complete set of magazines. A short video was also recorded live this morning and will be up on Youtube. I really thank you for all the research published here and hope you don't mind we "borow" it to distribute with the item, since ther is almost no units sold recently or much information online that we could find. This Powerhouse is part of The Pando colelction of keyboards and will go on Ebay starting today. Regards. Fernando.

Fernando Pettineroli said...

Oh. Here is the link to the auction of this fantastic instrument. The Powerhouse Rhythm Unit. We uploaded a short video with the machine working. Enjoy!

teeth to the grindstone said...

Can anyone provide a manual or schematic for this machine?


teeth to the grindstone said...

Apparentley ELP's Rick Wakeman had a hand in its development? dont know if thismis factual? any takers on this?

Unknown said...

@Graham I also worked at GR Electronics at Almondbank in the late 70s and played in the Tayside Big Band, small world! Mike Owen

Utters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Utters said...

would be interested to hear from anyone who knows the whereabouts of the powerhouse master tapes... dan at utters dot co dot uk

Eric The Rambler said...

I Have a working unit with the drum tapes which I am about to put on ebay. The unit is in Stoke On Trent
UK. if anyone is interested please mail pathman3 at
many thanks for reading this and congratulations to retrosynthads for a great blog

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