Terry O’Sullivan

l1One of the British hi-fi industry’s great characters, since 1990 this outspoken chap [pictured above left] has been fixing, recommissioning and remanufacturing classic Garrard turntables in Wiltshire, not far from the original factory in Swindon. Along the way, his company – Loricraft – has originated a series of upgrades to the decks, making them sound even better than when new. Terry – and his friend and associate Nigel Pearson – have surely done more to champion the venerable Garrard 301 and 401 than anyone else in the hi-fi world, bringing these classic turntables back to their rightful place at the top of the vinyl tree.

Indeed, Terry has since produced the Garrard 501, which is a re-engineered high end turntable closely based on the 401 platform. He regularly attends many national and international hi-fi shows, and is famous in the industry for his exploits hauling large amounts of kit across the continent in his beloved Land Rover Discovery, en route to the Munich High End Show. I spoke with Terry at his corporate headquarters in an converted pig farm in Lambourn, Wiltshire [pictured bottom]. As anyone who’s met him knows, ‘Tel’ can talk for Britain on practically any subject from bicycles and railways to World War II bombing raids. It proved hard to get a word in edgeways…

DP: So how did it all start, Terry?
TS: I was dabbling with hi-fi and model railways since the nineteen fifties. I started playing around with Garrard 301s back when I used to live in Wimbledon. I used to cycle up to London through Tooting, Balham, the gateway to the South and up to Waterloo and I used to go and look in the hi-fi shops and think, “corr, I wouldn’t mind one of them!”

There used to be a record shop in Wimbledon called The Music Hall, which was opened by a guy called Acker Bilk – who likes his gin – and I used to work there. I remember one birthday I got some money and I had a Telefunken single valve per channel amplifier – it’s collectable now, apparently – and I went up to Edgware Road and I found this Dynatron cabinet. My mum said, ”why have you got a coffin?”, when I got it home. I bought a Goldring Lenco RC98 record changer, and took the mechanism off it, and put a Goldring arm on it. That got me into hi-fi, and then we moved to New Malden…

DP: Right, but what about Loricraft…?
TS: Well many years later in the early nineteen eighties, I was living in Wantage, and walked into a hi-fi dealer called Westwood and Mason in George Street, Oxford. I saw a very smart-suited man, one Mr Julian Mason, and a tall gangly bloke called Nigel Pearson. In a conversation about turntables, he told me he had bought his Garrard 401 from their service shop in the factory in Swindon for £45. I got to know both the guys and used to park outside their shop and pop in for a natter, you know. One day Nige suggested I did turntable repairs, so as we only had one telephone and answering machine, I called the business Loricraft Audio, named after my wife Lorraine’s craft business. We were often a figure of fun at those early Frankfurt high end hi-fi shows, because we didn’t have a scientific name.

In the early nineties, the business really picked up and we focused on Garrards. We got some good reviews in the hi-fi press of the time and seemed to have hit a nerve. The Linn was trendy then and no one imagined there would be any interested in the old Garrards, but there was! Then I got the licence to use the name; I wrote to the president of Gradiente in Brazil – who owned the now-defunct trademark – and six months later they wrote back and agreed. We found ourselves remanufacturing 301s and 401s and sending them out to Japan a lot…

DP: How did your 501 turntable come about?
TS: We got a lot of help from Roy Poulton, one of the research engineers from Garrard in Swindon, and he came around several times to my little workshop at home. We came up with the design for the 501 and we got into the Swindon Advertiser a couple of times – you know, “Garrard’s back”, that sort of thing. And one of the historical society ones said Garrard was brought back by Terry O’Sullivan from Loricraft Audio – that stirred a terrific amount of visitors. Then we moved to Marlborough at the end of the nineties, because that’s where Brian Garman lived, our engineer who built the parts…

Now that was all around about 1997, but anyway I got contacted by Brian Mortimer. Now Brian’s dad joined Garrard in 1920 at the age of fourteen, and designed the 201 and 301 turntables in the early days of the company. The 201 was the world’s first automatic record changer, from 1932. He wasn’t in charge of the 401 – that was Eric Sutton. Brian said, if his father had been asked to do a replacement to the 401, it would have been just like the 501 that we came up with…

Anyway, the first one we did was built by a great friend of mine I met in Oxford called Richard, he built the prototype. I took it to Brian Mortimer who was then working for an electric motor company in Swindon and he said, “I think you’re onto a winner here”. Anyway, we made our end caps and came up with our famous bearing and we’d cracked it. I said to a friend, “right we’re going to Frankfurt” – the original German High End Show – and I bought a four year old 300 TDi Land Rover Discovery with 24,000 miles on the clock from the fireman across the road. We drove to Germany in that with the Garrard logo on the back and a trailer…

Later in Munich, we met this nutcase of a German lady called Martina Schoener who worked for Thorens at the time, and she started selling our turntables to the dealers. Of course, over here none of the dealers were interested as the British dealers had airbrushed Garrard off the planet. So we set a price for it, a lot of money at the time, £5,500 and then we started selling to all the dealers so we had to adjust the price after that. It went very well and we couldn’t make enough!

DP: Your not just known for your turntables though, are you…?
TS: Well we took over a second building on the farm in Lambourn, and then suddenly the record cleaner started to take off. I made the first one around 1992 and I remembered the Percy Wilson article, then started making the record cleaner from Lenco GL-75s – the boys from Lenco would have killed me if they knew the number of their decks we slaughtered! About the turn of the new millennium we improved the design and then got invited by Mike Hobson to go on his stand at CES in Las Vegas, who did all the RCA stereo records. Then we met Norm Schneider from Smart Devices, selling the ELP laser turntables – and of course records have to be scrupulously clean for those things to work. So every turntable he sold, he sold a record cleaner, and did a brilliant job for us.

The record cleaner distracted me from doing the turntables. Nige and me then came out with the 601. The 501 was originally all of aluminium construction but one of our customers in Singapore decided he wanted the chassis in stainless steel and he wanted it to be reminiscent of the Rolls Royce Corniche. We’ve sold about fifty altogether, but I want to make a few more this year. Meanwhile Martina has been tweaking away with the 501 for a long time, and she’s got her 501 with an Origin Live tonearm and high end Lyra cartridge. We’ve got some new power supplies developed, Nige is on those, and hopefully this year we might have our 301, 401 power supplies back again.

DP: You’re had a few very talented collaborators over the years…
TS: Yeah, Nige has been great, and then also Steve joined me to assemble the record cleaners. Pete was making chassis for 501s and doing the platters for us. 2014 loomed and I went to the Radcliffe hospital in Oxford for my heart operation…

DP: They say it was a complete failure, and you pulled through…
TS: [smiles] Now, lad! We have been on BBC radio. Brian came on the interview too and he was able to tell them that the Garrard company was founded in 1720. Garrard were jewellers and then crown jewellers and they were on the corner of Albert Street and Regent Street, and at one stage I rang them up when I renewed the trademark just to say hello, and they didn’t want to know! They said that they “sent letters for that other company to an address in Swindon”. Brian said what a load of rubbish, as their London area sales manager’s office was inside on the first floor…

Paul Stewart has done the history of Garrard and has found some film at the Imperial War Museum of the soldiers being trained to use the rangefinders which Garrard made – what happened was the Germans were not very happy to supply us with rangefinders for heavy artillery – don’t know why – so Garrard were tasked to make them. The War Office commandeered the factory in Neasden, and they started manufacture. It was run by a Major Garrard, and the building was similar in size to this. After the war ended they considered making lawn mowers, petrol engines, motor cycles, and someone suggested making wind-up gramophones to compete with that Swiss outfit Thorens. So they started designing and building wind-up gramophones and then the laundry company wanted the premises back. They moved to a big factory at the end of Newcastle Street in Swindon.

I have seen a letter written by Mr Slade to Lord Beaverbrook offering the use of the factory for the war effort, and that was accepted but they had to keep producing the 201 turntable for the duration of World War II for entertaining the troops – they were in battleships at sea. And in 1948, Major Garrard died and that’s when they split from the crown jewellers; until then they had still been a division of that company. The Garrard engineering and manufacturing company was taken over by the Slade family, then they got taken over by Plessey in the sixties. That was really the end, until us of course!

One legend on another…
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“The Garrard 301 came out in October 1954. It was designed by Monty at the request of the BBC to BBC specification, and so of course lifters were put on them, holes were drilled in them for neon lights and tangential pick-up arms were fitted. There’s a photograph of a Beatles Please, Please Me single being played by an unknown disc jockey in 1963, wearing a bow tie – typical BBC!

They never used Decca cartridges because it picked up the hum of the turntable. The 301 was designed in the days of mono and there was a hero worship of the grease bearing which the Japanese enthusiasts like. I can’t see that myself – we put grease on the thrust pad and then top up with the lubricant and it works a treat, takes the strain off. The 301 was changed a bit over the years; they converted to stereo, went to the oil bearing and the chassis got strengthened a bit. Then in 1965 out came the 401 which was designed for stereo, and had much heavier shielding motors, with cast iron end caps. It was designed for Deccas and it’s good, but there’s still a hum issue.

The problem with enthusiasts is that they do forget that Garrard 301 and 401 turntables were made by a manufacturing company, and not by the Virgin Mary! They were a piece of equipment designed for the highest performance, not a magical object or something that should be tweaked around. They knew exactly what they were doing – for example, the platter was exactly the right weight so it didn’t wear out the thrust pad. It was designed for great big ten tonne record weights which wear the shaft out! Typical of me and Nige, we used to put loads of information on our website about how we service them and now of course we have a whole generation of imitators!”

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