Alan Ratcliffe has been described as a musical polymath, having a deep knowledge of most aspects of the music industry. He is deeply involved in guitar technology such as effects, modelling and synthesis. He is also a:
- Musician – Singing and playing guitar, bass and drums. Often all at the same time!
- Luthier – Repairing and setting up most stringed instruments and servicing equipment
- Guitar/Drum/PA Tech – For bands and solo artists
- Sound Engineer – Both recording and live
- Recording Producer and Mixer – In the pop and rock genres
- Workshop Clinician – Hosting workshops on guitars, guitar synthesizers, amplification, pickups, effects, PA and recording
- Consultant – Sound installations, architectural acoustics and soundproofing
- Writer – Book author, article writer and equipment reviewer
Born in Hoylake, Merseyside, UK in April 1967, I have been living in South Africa since 1976. I now live in Napier in the Overberg area of the Western Cape, very close to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa.
My entire adult life has revolved around music. Bitten by the rock bug in high school, at age 15 I began learning to play guitar and did the traditional school/garage rock band thing, quickly graduating on playing small pubs and clubs while still at school. Having little money and a decided technical bent, I started modifying my guitar and building my own effects and amplifiers. During my two-year national service I played guitar in the army dance band in Kimberley and later also for a civilian “top 20” club band in Johannesburg. The army band had a large storeroom filled with unused and broken instruments and some recording equipment that I could “investigate” (take apart and put back together) at length.
Fascinated by recording techniques, I studied audio engineering for three years, focusing on recording engineering and have been recording ever since in my own home studios. I also took to spending as much time as I could with luthier Marc Erasmus, learning a lot. I followed this with six years working in music instrument stores, where I was involved in sales as well as purchasing for a chain of stores and started repairing during my spare time. I also started learning to play drums and played in a number of rock bands as well as beginning my life-long odyssey into guitar synthesis. I also started handling PA for my rock band, so studied live sound reinforcement to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
In 1996 I started repairing guitars full time, and eventually was handling all the local warrantee and authorized installation work for Fender, Gibson, Martin, Fishman and others. During this time I got to meet and work for a lot of South Africa’s music royalty. I forged strong relationships with Fishman, Roland, Boss, DiMarzio and Graph Tech, which eventually led to endorsements from all of them and also occasionally working as a clinician, hosting workshops on effects, guitar synthesis and other advanced music technologies.
Unfortunately, in 2003 serious health issues forced me to back off from a lot I was doing. So moved to the country and started building and running various music-related web sites, as well as writing a large number of articles on all facets of music and equipment. This ultimately led to being asked to write The Electric Guitar Handbook for New Holland Publishers (UK) and Hotrod Your Electric Guitar for Thomson Course PTR (USA) as well as writing articles and reviews for Muze Magazine. Never one to stop learning, I also started studying acoustic science.
In 2007 I took on a partnership and the mantle of running and administering Guitar Forum SA, using my broad knowledge base to help as many players as possible, a helping to grow the site from under a hundred members to 12 000 and over a million page impressions every month at its peak. Needing more variety, I sold my share in GFSA in 2014 and moved on.
Now I do a little of everything. I play and perform, fix guitars (my first loves), record and mix music. Still learning though (currently stage lighting).