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The lifecycle of a commercial company is, most of the time, structured in a series of classical steps:

  1. Create the concept
  2. Develop the concept, start facing competition
  3. Enlarge the offer and merge the product-driven and market-driven approaches
  4. Drive the market

SR&D had obviously succeeded during the two first steps, from 1980 to 1989. The identity of the company was yet different from the conventional profiles. In a classical situation, every new concept generates a competition: when you have no competitor, then there is no market. SR&D was created both to allow Tom Scholz design his gear and to provide funds to ensure SR&D a confortable economic situation. But if you review what the other musical gear brands have made during the eighties, you will admit SR&D had no real competitor for these high-end solid-state rack gear.

Does it mean there was no market for them ? No. The pull-marketing approach (provide what the market wants) is what all the small and medium size companies have to cope with. The large companies can follow the more profitable push-approach: design, communication, and sales. They can create and control the market and don't really need to follow it.

SR&D was a small company. A laboratory capable of manufacturing gear at a semi-industrial scale, rather than a genuine industrial, business-oriented entity.

Had SR&D been a large firm, the high-end analog gear market would have been developed. But the large groups had another target in the nineties: digital gear was here, and there was a huge business to develop around this technology. Postponing this development would have been non-sense: communication was easy, based on the ergonomy and features of digital multi-effects and other simulators. It took about 15 years to see the limits of the digital gear: a "normal" musician doesn't really need to have two hundred sounds available in his rig. He needs a good basis sound and a few good effects to enhance it: exactly what SR&D had proposed.

The only possible solution was to sell the brand to a big company. This "big name" would have enough financial surface to let the name asleep during "a certain time". Dunlop Manufacturing Inc. has thus purchased the trademark Rockman, and integrated the know-how of SR&D, in 1994.

The last products released by SR&D were thus "end-of-cycle" low cost products, designed to attempt keeping a place under the sun: the cheap Ace series, and the two only stompboxes designed by SR&D.

Being unable to drive the market with products that would have been over-priced for the expectations of the guitar players, SR&D launched simplified versions of what had made its success.

The Ace series, first: "a Rockman for $99", knowing the list price of the Rockman X100 was $349,95. The old Soloist was already very simple, compared to the high-end X100. The Ace was reduced to the minimum: compression and distortion. No reverb, no chorus - hence no stereo. One headphone jack only, and a low-cost plastic case instead of the smart metal foiled high quality original enclosure. From a technical point of view, the balanced power-supply was left over for a basic 9V battery, like on the common stompboxes. The Guitar Ace sounds good, despite its simplicity: the fact that it was a low cost product doesn't mean SR&D would have let a Rockman item sound cheap!

The Ace Series was completed by a Bass Ace model, and - nineties fashion - a Metal Ace, quite rare if you want an original SR&D model. These three Ace headphone amps are still available from Dunlop as re-issues.

SR&D has also commited two stompboxes, after having clearly kept its production apart from this effect format. The first pedal was the Acoustic Guitar Pedal, a specific adaptation of the famous CLN2 sound, with two controls allowing to mimic the dynamics of an acoustic guitar with an electric guitar. This AGP was later re-issued by Dunlop with a blue button, the original SR&D AGP having a grey footswitch. Its usage is yet too specific to make big sales.

The Ultimatum Distortion Generator is different. It was actually the last real creation effort of SR&D (hence the name Ultimatum ?): there was actually a prototype for an Ultimatum 19' rack, a follow up of the programmable XPR. The Ultimatum rack had what the XPR was missing: the Smart Gate and the Autoclean. It was cleared from what was poor in the XPR: the echo. This prototype was never released by SR&D, but the UDG stompbox was. A single batch was probably issued, if we consider that the UDG is extremely rare now. The UDG has a unique sound, designed to surpass what SR&D had done before in the distortion domain. The UDG is hard to find, and its price on the used gear market is amazing: $400 is a common transaction amount.

Rockman in 2007. Twenty five years after the birth of the first headphone amp, the gear is still alive. SR&D has designed high-end devices, that were build to last. The second-hand market is extremely active - not huge, but active: approximately 1000 Rockman items are sold per year on eBay, worldwide.

The Rockman collectors are an international community, from Australia to Japan, from Canada to Denmark, from Portugal and Italy to Norway and UK, France to Germany, the core-team being clearly located in the US: Rockman is a trademark, but Rockman is the brand of Boston's gear, and Boston is 200% american...

This community has its lairs: refer to the link page of to join us! Moreover, the Rockman addicts exchange, speak, meet sometimes, and can become friends over the frontiers and cultures. You may wonder what this blue lighter is doing between the EQ's sliders of the above picture: this is a present I received from a famous canadian collector for "service rendu ŕ la communauté"...

And that's the way I like the web!

Copyright 2007