About Bernhard Kurzke…..(in his own words!)

About Bernhard Kurzke 5

I played in a band as singer and Hammond player when I was 15 years old. For 8 years during high school and university we financed our life by playing rock and dancing music.
After attaining the diploma MBA from the University of Hamburg I sold all equipment and flew to the USA and lived in New York for 6 months in 1976. I travelled the USA by Greyhound Bus and collected all available information on instruments and music industry channels (retail stores).

1977 after my return I took over a 1-man-operation in Hamburg, Germany, developing it to “No1 in American Guitars” with customers like the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson Band, Alexis Korner, Scorpions, etc..

That had been absolute tough Rock ‘n Roll business. All major US-brands had distributors (Fender, Gibson, etc) but German musicians could not get replacement parts. When a spring of a Strat-tremolo was broken: no chance for repair. I had contacts but no money. So I borrowed 20,000 German Marks at 10% interest per month! and flew to New York once a month. When buying spare parts I was the only one allowed behind the counters of the world’s most famous retail store, MANNY’s, NY. Owner Henry Goldrich always said: “Bernhard: always leave 1 part in each draw!”. After 4 days I always drove with 3 cabs full of instruments and parts to JFKennedy airport and put them into a freight-iglu at Lufthansa, flew back and called all customers: “goods are coming”. A week later the shop was empty again. I paid back 22,000 German Marks and collected orders again. Borrowed 20,000, etc. After 5 months I was VIP at Lufthansa due to increasing freight shipments from NY to Hamburg. Manny’ s invited me twice to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family in the MANNY’s store. Each member of the family did decorate 1 window for Christmas. My window was the drum window. Family Dinner – Family Affair – unforgettable!

News spread and more and more German retailers bought spareparts from me. So 1979 CBS-USA (who had bought Fender, Roger, Rhodes, Steinway+++) came to my store and asked me if I officially would supply all German retailers with parts of Fender, Rogers, Rhodes. I bought a big computer (first time my MBA paid out) and at a sudden I was also a distributor – supplying parts to 1800 German retailers. In that year Thomas Weilbier joined the company, became my employee for 16 years and 30% junior partner and was my best salesman. I visited FENDER in California 3 times a year and corrected their part lists. And I re-wrote the complete RHODES parts manual.
I re-named to No1 Music Park, expanding to 11,000 square feet sales area, 18 permanent employees.

About Bernhard Kurzke 6

Music Center – Talstrasse – Reeperbahn

In 1981 an American guitar player came into the store to sell his guitar for a ticket home. Here we saw the first CHARVEL guitar life! A guitar with a flame! The musician gave me the telefon number of Charvel and immy arranged a meeting in LA for the next day and I gave the money for the ticket to the guitar player, his name was Don Dokken.
Next day I sat in the tiny CHARVEL factory office of JoAnn and Grover Jackson in LA.
They said: “everything is possible!” … well, except carved tops, no neck-through Teles, no overhanging 22nd fret, no black hardware? … I asked and asked and at night I wrote a spreadsheet on their little type writer and made Charvel’s first international pricelist. When I left I had 6 Charvels with me and was the first foreign Charvel distributor. In our bi-monthly meetings Grover and I discussed the brandnames, finally: Charvel for all bolt-ons and Jackson for all neck-though with tilted headstocks, Charvel line made in Japan. The Randy Rhodes model, +++
At Charvel I met Power Pots – active electronics onboard the guitar to reduce hum and hizz. I introduced Power Pots to Europe. Then I met EMG and was flashed: The preamp inside the pickup! Genious! I introduced EMG to Europe.

In the 80’s I introduced into the European countries as exclusive distributor: CHARVEL, JACKSON, POWER POTS, STEINBERGER, EMG, SPECTOR, Z-Bass, ESP, WASP, GUILD (re-introduction), SWR, Hipshot, Starlicks Educational Videos and No1-Stretch-Strap (my own brand, Inventor Bernd Gärtig, production in Germany).

In 1984 Europe’s biggest music company Hohner asked me if we could design a guitar line for them. We made a contract, me being the sole responsible product manager for guitars, setting up and controlling production in Korea, setting prices, deciding marketing and catalogues worldwide. Training all sales forces and executive officers internationally of the 12 Hohner daughter companies.
We used our contacts and designing 33 models of electric guitars, with Charvel shaped neck (oil finish), Ned Steinberger designed bridges and tuning and EMG designed hi-impedance pickups “Select”. Hohner’s target had been to sell 5,000 guitars. We sold 43,000 guitars in the first year, 260,000 guitars in 5 years. I spent more than 180 day per year abroad and learned about Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese manufacturing.

Due to growing wholesale business I separated distribution from my No1 retail and founded MS Music Service GmbH in 1983 – then renamed to NOBELS.

Since 1983 we turned NOBELS more and more into a designer lab. We had the input from our No1 retail customers: Big stars like Scorpions, Jerry Donahue, Bo Diddley, etc. as well as amateurs and friends from the neighbourhood had asked us for modifications of their equipment. So our No1 repair department knew precisely the taste of our customers. Starting with: “I have a problem …”.
All our employees had been active musicians. Especially in the repair department the knowhow of “road resistant” derived from own experience: how tough must equipment be when you load the truck at 4am after a long gig and several beers? Every engineer in Nobels had to work at the No1 repair shop first.
Kai Tachibana had been one of the first repairmen at No1. He joined in the very early 80’s. A real rocker. Tall, black leather, motor bike, long hair, straight and genious (but also chaotic in the beginning). Kai had been my valued employee for 24 years (No1 and Nobels).

About Bernhard Kurzke 7

1995 Bernhard and Kai

Then the JHS Rockbox appeared on the market, made in Taiwan. Very similar unit but in a metal case (instead of plastic) and at a significant lower price. I contacted ESP and JHS immediately. Japan understood that pricewise there was no way for them to compete and they stopped production of the ESP Pocket Studio. John Hornby Skewes, owner of JHS, had interest to sell the Rockbox in the UK and Eire only. We made a deal: we put all our improvements into the unit, available for him also. We sold the unit as Nobels Stound Studio SST-1 worldwide (except into the UK), he sold it under JHS Rockbox within the UK and Eire only. Worked.

In 1987 we desgned the first fully programmable guitar preamp Nobels SST-19Prog (with instant access to all parameters without using menues!), direct competitor to Yamaha’s REX-50. Magazins worldwide called it “designed by magician David Copperfield” due to its almost unlimited capabilities. 1000 pcs were made in 1987 by Phonic in Taiwan, all pre-sold. But 4 days after production no further orders (SST-1 + SST-19Prog) where accepted. Yamaha had occupied Phonic’s capacity for the next years. So we started production of the SST-1X in Korea.
Nobels at that time had 8 permanent employees. We designed 45 models of sound modifiers, switching computers and amplifiers. With production in Taiwan, Korea and China. Distribution into 18 territories. Exhibiting in the next years at more than 90 international exhibitions worldwide.

About Bernhard Kurzke 8

Nobels SST-19 Preamp

At Nobels we started with switching units and created the MS-8 “The Switch-Stwitcher”, able to control 28 other units (by MIDI or switching) upon 1 incoming signal. I got awarded: “best owners manual”. Years later when FENDER USA asked us we updated this unit to the only switcher worldwide which was able to switch all 4 generations of Fender amps. The FENDER MS-8 was the first unit where FENDER put their name on a product made by someone else.
When we got the first ESP Pocket Studio in 1986 we realized the potential. A Rockman type unit but with more features, but also with some mistakes. After agreement with owner Mr. Shibuja we sold the unit in Germany and several other countries. And our repair experts improved the ESP. We sent our modifications to Japan and ESP modified the unit in their next production accordingly. Great coop!

In the following years Nobels also made technical designs and consulting for Fender-USA, Hohner Professional, ESP-Japan, Washburn-UK, JHS, Guild, Fender/Sanrio “Hello Kitty”.
Over two decades Nobels products have earned top class awards along the way from magazines in several countries. For Hohner Professional Guitar Designs, the “Musician’s Little Helper” series, the “Red Box” Nobels Sound Studio 1, the first fully programmable guitar preamp SST-19Prog, the green Nobels overdrive ODR-1, the accessory Mounty-P, the MYCRO headphone amps and the No1-Stretch-Strap (accolades from Leo Fender, Hartley Peavey, Frank Zappa, and others).

No1 repairman Kai Tachibana turned out to became a genious in sound design. Later he even made his Master at Hamburg University. His overdrive sound success derived from his deep understanding of the interaction of Tubes at the limit, Transformers at the limit and Speakers at the limit. In 1992 it took him almost a year to tailor the electronics of the ODR-1 to his ear. For several months he worked in the workshop for 2 – 3 hours of FULL POWER listening to Marshall-stack-volume. Then he modified electronics a bit and took 1 day off to recover his hearing. Then he came back, checked his last days modifications and … another 2 – 3 hours of FULL POWER… and so on. But our plans worked out:
opposite to the existing “nasal” overdrives Kai created the “natural” overdrive. THANK YOU Kai! About Bernhard Kurzke 9

Jerry Donahue, Tom Bukovac, John Shanks, Tim Pierce,++ fell in love with this “Nashville Sound”.
Our mistake 30 years ago: we paint it in GREEN.
In 1994 I sold the guitar department to my 16-years employee and 30% junior partner Thomas Weilbier and I franchised his company as “No1 Guitar Center”.
When our red “Sound Studio 1” outlold the competitors in the USA, Tom Scholz Rockman sued Nobels for patent infringement with long expensive fights in several states of the USA. We always did win but lost too much capital.

In 2004 I sold the retail operation “No1 Music Park” to employees and stopped Nobels business.
In 2005 I started production of selected Nobels models in China, Hello Kitty for Fender-USA ++
In 2010 I relaunched the green Nobels ODR-1 into the markets. With Kai’s technical support.
And I restructured the European markets for world pioneer in active pickups – Rob Turner of EMG-USA.

My best luck was that “Sandy” Michael Sanmann, who had worked for me for 12 years rejoined Nobels!
Sandy is perfect in customer service, social media and promotion wise as crazy as me. Perfect match.
We re-introduced the No1-Stretch-Strap (Jeff Beck, 30 years user, same Seymour Duncan, +++)
The ODR-mini, the Limited and the 30th Anniversary had been extremely successful.
And now for the first time we will reissue/modify/recreate several more new models this year.

And no gimmicks! Serious product.
Several boutique shops had asked me to raise the price for the Limited and the 30th-Anniversary.
They said they could sell more. Customers would have more confidence if the prices would be higher.
Our answer is and will be: No!

We want as many musicians to be able to please their ears with our product. And we believe in musicians with good ears – not with deep pockets.
My Philosophy is unchanged:
➢ Soundwise no compromise
➢ one feature more than the others
➢ musicians design for musicians
➢ innovation – but no fashion
➢ solid and affordable