An open letter to Bob
d'Orleans from former Motown Engineer, Mike McLean. This
letter was displayed on the forum of SoulfulDetroit.
When Motown took over Golden World, the
Hitsville studios were in full operation with the one-inch,
eight-track format. As I remember, Golden World had a 1/2
inch three-track Ampex 300-3SS, and (it seems to me, but I
could be wrong) a Scully 1/2 inch four-track recorder. The
natural tendency on the part of everyone, from Berry on down
through all the producers, like Norman Whitfield, etc., was
to consider this lack of eight-track technology an
unacceptable limitation that rendered the newly named DAF
(Davison Avenue Facility) unusable. Right off the bat, the
pressure was on to revise the equipment so as to make
productive use of the DAF a possibility.
Here are some specific points:
1. ACOUSTICS. The acoustic treatment of the studio and
control room was not as elegant or elaborate as that which
we had installed at Hitsville, but it was sufficiently good
that we never felt the need to make any changes.
We had been through hell at Hitsville, with several
experimental acoustical treatments, when finally RCA Custom
Records lent Mr. Alan Stevens, who had supervised the
construction of the many RCA VICTOR studios, to Motown. He
understood the details of the "RCA design" that
had originally been developed by such RCA men as Michael
Rettinger, John Volkmann, etc.
As a "moonlight"
project, Mr. Stevens, for a fee, prepared a set of
construction drawings for Motown that we used to have a new
acoustic treatment installed at Hitsville. The result caused
a considerable reduction in the size of the main studio
room, but the acoustical quality was entirely satisfactory,
and remains at the Motown Museum to this day.
I feel that the fact that the Golden World acoustic
treatment could hold it's own, in competition with this
elegant RCA design, is an indication that this aspect of the
Golden World studio design was outstanding, considering the
limitations of time and money that existed when it was
2. ECHO CHAMBER. We had three chambers at Hitsville: 2644,
2648, and 2652 West Grand Blvd. 48 was the original
"funky" chamber. 44 came next, and was idealistic
to the extreme. Then we did 52, which was similar to 44, but
a little less idealistic. 52 was lost when the building
burned down. The Golden World chamber was similar in
construction to 52, and worked well.
It took Motown three attempts to reach an optimum design.
Golden World built a very similar chamber first time out. I
think that this indicates that somebody was doing something
right. The DAF chamber was never modified other then to
upgrade the transducers, and it seemed to do an entirely
3. MONITOR LOUDSPEAKERS. When I came to Motown, the monitor
was a pair of Altec-Lansing 605A coaxial units. They sounded
screechy to me, and I embarked on a horrible journey that
included Bozak and Acoustic Research monitors, over the
period from 1961 until we took over Golden World in about
Golden World was equipped with Altec-Lansing 604E coaxial
units. These were much more transparent then the old 605A,
and at that point I threw in the towel. At my
recommendation, Motown switched over to the 604E as the
standard monitor throughout the complex. It took Golden
World to finally drive the point home, so that I could get
my head out of the clouds (to put it politely) and install a
Again: There seems to be some evidence that a guy who had
some smarts was calling the shots when they built Golden
4. CONSOLE. We felt that we should have an eight-bus console
to compliment the eight-track recorders that we were going
to install. Further, we had some creative ideas about how we
wanted to configure the microphone preamps, with a gain
control and an adjustable high pass filter on each
microphone input. Further, the wiring in the existing
console used a special twisted pair wire made out of
twisted, fine gauge, non-stranded, "magnet wire" (enameled,
instead of with conventional insulation.) The clamping of
the cables was not well done, and these wires were being
flexed back and forth during normal maintenance operations
to the point where we were in mortal fear of them breaking
All of this made it a forgone conclusion that we would build
a new console, instead of modifying the existing one.
However, we reused many of the fine components, such as the
Neumann equalizers, the Altec-Lansing 470A plug-in
amplifiers, Etc. The fact that we were able to reuse many of
the components reflects the fact that the Golden World
console was selected by someone who cared about quality.
5. DISC LATHE. The Neumann AM-32B lathe, equipped with a
Neumann ES-59 lateral (mono) cutter head was installed in a
very small room in the most northwest corner of the
building. I felt that this installation was far too cramped
to even consider its use. Further, we wanted to locate the
disc mastering activities at the "Motown Center"
downtown. Eventually, we set up the Golden World lathe
there, with a nice Neumann SX-68 stereo cutter head and
home-brew cutter head drive electronics. For several years,
Motown used this room on the ninth floor, until the Motown
operations in Detroit were closed down.
It seems to me that the fact that we were happy to use the
Golden World lathe for our new installation speaks well for
the fellow responsible for its selection.
Bob, all things considered, I think you did a fantastic job
when you built Golden World.
Sincerely, Mike McLean
Notes thanks to