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Exclusive Interview for The School ES2A

John Leimseider the electronics technician, who is helping to restore

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Mobile  Recording Studio for The National Music Centre

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Josť Mujica

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Heaven doors

Picture Colin Smith

Dreams. Can you image being inside?
What about being inside and having
staff show you how it works? OK, and
how would you feel if you could record
on it, too?

Reality. In addition to its exhibitions,
NMC has the Artist in Residence Program, providing artists from around the world the use of its unique collection of instruments and recording equipment to create new and innovative works.



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A Youtube Clip



Travel partners

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The mobile won't be alone, the National Music Centre has a desirable collection of over 2,000 rare instruments and artifacts, which will be on display at its new facility when it opens in spring 2016.









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John Leimseider is the technician that is restoring the RSM, and bringing back to its glory days. NMC honours us in our 20th Aniversary with this exclusive interview for our readers.


ES2A: John, we would like to know a little bit about the epic tale of how the mobile came from New York to the National Music Centre.

John: The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio (RSM) was bought from its previous owners in New Jersey. It had been used for a few years in New York, particularly at CBGB's, the famous punk club where the Ramones, Blondie, Television, etc. used to play. One of our collection managers flew to New York and tried to drive it back. The engine had problems in the Midwest. It was then put on a flatbed and brought to us. The truck, which is a DAF diesel right-hand-drive vehicle, had been changed many years earlier in England. We did drive it a very small amount after it got here to get it into a garage where we had it parked for a while, but it was very smoky. We have drained all the fluids for safety, and it will be permanently installed in the new National Music Centre (NMC) facility when we open to the public in the spring of 2016.


ES2A: Does the RSM still have all of its original equipment or has anything been changed over time?

John: When we got it, there was a lot missing. We had the console, speakers, four tape decks, Dolby systems, cabling, and some outboard gear. The microphone collection had already been sold.
The console—the second Helios ever made—was originally built for an 8-track studio. It was modified with more input channels and expanded to 24 busses while the Rolling Stones owned it. We will be replacing a lot of the missing original outboard gear as time goes on. The issue is that the RSM was continually modified as time went on. This is true of most old studios. There isn't any exact period we are trying to restore it to. We do have outboard gear lists and pictures from various configurations.

Similarly, the truck is still painted blue, because of the AIMS Project that Bill Wyman started, sponsored by Pernod. The RSM might be remembered most famously as the camouflaged truck as seen in 200 Motels and many pictures, but that was not the original paint job, either.

ES2A: We know the original mixer is a Helios, but what about the loudspeakers?

John: The loudspeakers are made by Klark-Teknik and were modified with Dynaudio speakers by Andy Munro in England. They were installed when the AIMs Project started. Originally, the RSM was for tracking, with little concern for mixing, which would be done in larger commercial studios at a later time. With AIMs, the mixing would also be done in the mobile in addition to the tracking, so the KT speakers were installed.

ES2A: What can you tell us about the MTR (The Machine Tape Recorder)?

John: The latest version of the RSM had two 24-track 2" 3M M79's, a two track M79, and a modified variable speed 7.5 and 15 ips Revox A77 for slap back echo. We are in the process of restoring the tape decks. One of the 24-track machines is working well, but still needs some more work.

ES2A: What amplifier is used in the mobile?

John: When we got the RSM, there was a Crown D60 and a Yamaha amp. We are currently using an old Altec 8 channel amp to drive the tri-amped Klark-Teknik speakers and the Yamaha to drive the JBL 15" subwoofers.

ES2A: Did you need to build or rebuild any electronic or mechanical parts?

John: We decided that we would do a very conservative restoration on the truck and the studio. The truck is going to be built inside of our new building, and will be viewable street side through a window 365 days a year. It is very hard to keep it mobile, because it is such an important artifact. There is no way to keep it truly secure if we drive it around.

Our team has done a lot of work to keep the truck and the studio stable. We have no interest in replacing the vintage electronics, except where completely necessary for its operation. Once we start recording with it regularly, we will have a better understanding of any reliability issues.

We did have one batch of bad transistors in some of the buffering cards. They had almost a 40 percent failure rate, so we replaced all of them with a better type of transistor. We also had to repair the prototype Bel Flanger. It had a bad IC that I replaced. It sounds fantastic.

ES2A: In your opinion, what has been the most difficult part of the restoring process?

John: There were lots of repairs and modifications done to the studio over the years. In particular, there was a TT patchbay installed during the RSM's stay in the US. There was a fair amount of missing and incorrect wiring to the patchbay. Since there is very limited documentation, this part was quite challenging.

Most studios never do full schematics of the studio wiring, although there may be schematics for the console and each piece of outboard gear.

Jason Tawkin, NMC’s Collections Assistant, has been doing extensive documentation on the restoration and will also be writing an operation manual for the console, patchbay, and outboard gear.

ES2A: Are you going to use the same acoustical material?

John: The acoustical material is the original from at least the AIMS days, as far as we know. This may have to be replaced in the future.

ES2A: Have any artists or bands that have recorded using the RSM talked to NMC in order to help?

John: We have been very fortunate to have some great support from Mick McKenna, who worked with the RSM for many years. He has an amazing memory, and some excellent documentation. He is truly a great resource for us and has gone above and beyond to help.

We also got an email from Reinhold Mack, a very well known German producer asking if his studio business card was still on the armrest section of the console. It was. So I sent him a picture of it. He used the RSM to record Queen twice. He had an almost matching Helios console in his studio back in the day.

We have received a lot of great emails and phone calls from fans all over the world. The positive comments and support has been really exciting. So much amazing music was recorded with the RSM. It changed the way music was made, and we can still see its influence today.

ES2A: Do you have any advice for the next generation?

John: I think that anyone interested in modern recording has to take a look and a listen to the older analog recordings. There is a very good reason for the resurgence of vinyl. The sound is just different from digital recording. The process of recording on tape with a great analog board not only sounds great, but also encourages a different approach to making music. There may be less flexibility, but it necessitates making commitments to the music and promotes a certain discipline.

The RSM is likely to be the most important historical restoration that I will ever have the privilege to work on. It is very exciting to hear the results. It sounds spectacular!

For more information on the National Music Centre, and its collection of over 2,000 rare musical instruments, artifacts, and recording equipment, visit nmc.ca

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134 11 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0X5 Canada

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Our Thanks to Julijana Capone, publicity coordinator at the National Music Centre for her support for this interview.

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