STEAMmates: Meet Jonny Elliott – STEAMhouse member, rock music fan and local innovator who’s in search of his perfect sound with his handmade music equipment.
STEAMhouse brings inventors, entrepreneurs and craftspeople together. Our exciting and growing community are sharing skills and knowledge to develop exciting new ideas and products.
Branding on wood, branding his business and creating music equipment – it’s all in a days work for Jonny. We’ve caught up with Jonny to see how STEAMhouse is benefiting regional creatives.
Hi Jonny, thanks for taking the time out of your project to speak with us today, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you are working on?
Hi STEAMmates – I’m Jon Elliott – I also go by the name of Jonny Brelliott and I’m currently working on finishing the Brelliott Amps range of hand-wired valve guitar amps in time for The Guitar Show in Birmingham, later this month (February). I’m also developing a few other business ideas…
What inspired you to focus your energy into this field?
I have loved the sound of valve amps since I was a teenager. It inspired me to go to Newcastle University to study electronics at the end of the 80s. After over a decade of teaching music and music technology to FE students, I became aware that I wanted to create musical equipment – something that we in the UK are famous for, with the great sounds of Marshall, Vox, Orange and WEM defining the UK rock sound from the 60s right up to the modern day.
So what is it you are looking to achieve?
Initially I just wanted to be able to re-create the sounds of the classic amps, but since then I have been taking my favourite elements from them, and re-combining them to make something new, yet familiar. Digital modelling amps are being used more and more in live performances and in the studio, which can do the same job, almost instantly and at a fraction of the weight. For some reason they don’t really click with me – it’s like a connection between the player, the instrument, the amp, the speaker and the sound has been interrupted with yet another over-engineered digital behemoth.
Once I’ve finished the hand-wired Brelliott Amps, I’ll be moving on to making a modular version of what I do by hand – a system I’m calling AmpModula. My aim is to provide the flexibility of sound and tone that I can provide with a fully custom hand-built amp in a click-together fully modular PCB based solution. They will be designed so that people with very limited soldering and assembly skills can build an amp to their own specification, much as you would be able to assemble a PC, or a piece of furniture by a notable Swedish company.
Sounds fascinating! Can you tell us how STEAMhouse came into your thinking?
My studio buddy Ben Harding put me onto the first STEAMlab. I kind of left it for ages, thinking it wasn’t for me, but he kept egging me on until I submitted my application. I was quite surprised when we were both accepted. I didn’t really know what to expect from the event. I met quite a lot of people there – many of whom have remained friends through the STEAMhouse journey. I also met people who gave me business advice and spurred me on to carry on with my idea, as they saw the potential in it. It gave me the opportunity to look into how I could take a business which takes a lot of energy and focus to maintain, and at best maintains my lifestyle, and find elements which could be turned into a profitable enterprise – both socially and financially.
You’re one of the STEAMmates originals! What is it you have done with us since the first STEAMlab?
Well, to start with, I’ve done all my workshop introductions, and a few business workshops. The STEAMlab meant I’d already done my 12 hours that I needed to qualify as an industry based STEAMhouse member.
I applied for and succeeded in getting a materials and equipment grant, and bought mainly acrylic laminates and sheet to use on the laser, and various tiny tools to be used with the Roland CNC milling machine. I was also able to order developmental parts – such as laser cut aluminium chassis and project specific transformers, which couldn’t be made easily on site, but are essential for the project.
As part of the funding application, I had to apply for an intellectual property (IP) report to be done. The guys I met (from Birmingham City University) were very personable and professional, and they were also very positive about my business idea. They made me look much deeper into how I can protect myself from IP infringement as a creator of new things, and also as a user of previous ideas to create something new.
The first things that I have made at STEAMhouse are faceplates for the prototype amplifiers – these are the front and back panels that carry the logo and text information, and add a layer of gloss and professionalism to any build. I have also cut some simple larger logos that can be mounted on amps and displays. I have completely re-branded my hand-built project during this process, creating a new logo, which is on all of my hand-wired heads.
I have also re-worked one of my old cabinet designs, to make it easier to assemble, and this became my first woodwork to be cut on the 8’ x 4’ CNC bed.
These, though they are quite significant achievements, are at least equalled by the amount of help, information, inspiration and friendship I have found from the STEAMhouse staff and members. Being able to discuss a project with people who, though they are not necessarily from your own discipline, and take something from it, has been invaluable.
I have also very much enjoyed being called on to discuss other members’ projects – seeing parallels in their development has been useful in developing my own ideas, as well as being useful for them. Sometimes it’s just a chance conversation with someone at a meet-up, or sometimes I’ve been gently nudged towards other members; however it’s happened, the end result has always been positive and has felt like I’ve made a new collaborator and/or friend.
What’s next in your STEAMhouse project journey then?
The next step is to develop my cabinets and PCB modules. The front and rear panels – the pieces of timber that surround the control faceplates will be etched and cut by laser, ensuring a snug fitting, fully customisable, professional finish. The PCBs will be designed on a couple of pieces of software, and early prototypes will be engraved using the CNC milling machine. The next stage then will be to develop the cabinets so that they can be made cheaply, and assembled quickly by end users with minimal furniture building skills.
What words of advice would you give to other innovators out there (feel free to give STEAMhouse a shameless plug 🙂)?
I was sceptical, at first, about how much use I’d get out of STEAMhouse. Since I’ve started working in the Digbeth building, I have dedicated a day per week into design and R&D there; having a day which is dedicated to developing my projects has given me the headspace to move forwards with my business ideas. The problem with being in my own workshop is that there are a million other things I could be doing, and R&D can fall by the wayside. I’ve also changed the way I do a lot of design things, partly due to the availability of the technology and the immediacy of the results; before I joined STEAMhouse if I needed to send away for work to be done, it could be a week before getting the results back, then even longer if there were faults that needed correcting.
I would recommend that anyone starting up a business – art, craft, or technology based in the Birmingham area, to get in touch with STEAMhouse, and arrange a visit. Even if you don’t join up, you’ll find the whole experience inspiring.
Thanks Jonny, we look forward to seeing what unfolds for you and your work.
Check out Jonny’s work at The Guitar Show, Birmingham New Bingley Hall, on 23rd and 24th February. Tickets are priced at £12.50 for adults and £8.00 for under 16’s (£15 / £10 on the door). For more information visit: https://www.theguitarshow.co.uk/ .