Heil Sound is marking 2016 as “50 Years of Maximum Rock & Roll” with a year-long celebration kicking off at the upcoming Winter NAMM show as well as a commemorative podcast series of interviews with company founder Bob Heil debuting this month that will highlight the history of the company and its innovations.
Founded by Bob Heil in 1966, the company was first known as Ye Olde Music Shoppe, a music store located in Marissa, IL. The store had a reputation among the pros who were touring nationally as a place to shop and have repairs done.
In addition to running the store, Heil combined his interest in pipe organs – he became the house player for the Wurlitzer organ at St. Louis’ Fox Theater at the age of 15 – and amateur (ham) radio, and began experimenting with live sound systems. Soon Ye Olde Music was supplying full sound system packages for venues and festivals throughout the Midwest.
In 1970 he received a call from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia on a tour stop in St Louis asking for help. The band’s gear – and sound mixer – had been “detained” in New Orleans and Heil was asked to provide a sound system for the show. It was such a huge success the band hired them on the spot to join them on the road. Heil recalls, “After the show Jerry said to me, ‘you should change the company name to Heil Sound.’ We did that and the rest is history!”
Heil Sound went on to tour with The Who (Heil created the quadrophonic sound system for the band’s Quadrophenia tour), Humble Pie, The James Gang and many others. The iconic Heil Talk Box, made famous by Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton, was also introduced.
By 1982 Heil Sound had curtailed the touring side of the business and concentrated on developing products for the amateur radio market. A home theater division was also launched to take advantage of increasing interest from consumers in high-quality audio.
These two distinct markets – ham radio and pro audio – came together in 2006 when Joe Walsh, an avid ham operator and friend of Heil’s, called to suggest that Heil Sound develop microphones for concert use. Since that call, Heil Sound has been at the forefront of dynamic microphone design and manufacturing.
The PR35 vocal mic has become a top microphone for many high profile artists and the PR30 and PR40 are staples in not only concert sound, but also broadcast and studio use. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland features an exhibit dedicated to the company’s many innovations with early products and memorabilia.
Heil Sound, now with Bob’s wife and business partner, Sarah Heil as president, continues to be a driving force in microphone design.