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On the Hot Seat

Making music louder in Massachusetts

Dave Gunness, founder, Fulcrum Acoustic

Jackie Ricciardi for The Boston Globe

Dave Gunness, founder, Fulcrum Acoustic

The Blackstone River Valley of Massachusetts hardly conjures up images of rock-and-rollers. But it has given rise to a handful of companies that make cutting-edge audio technology for making music really loud. One of the newest is Fulcrum Acoustic, founded in 2008 by audiophile Dave Gunness. He spoke with Globe reporter Michael B. Farrell about what makes this area of Massachusetts a center for audio ingenuity and why he’s making his products in America.

How did you start making loudspeakers for big nightclubs in rural Massachusetts?

I was a musician and then realized that better musicians than I’d ever become were not making a living at it. I decided to go into speakers. If you do a good job as a speaker designer, you’d be able to make a living at it. It was a safe bet.

Did you grow up listening to a lot of loud music?

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As a musician, I needed equipment to play on. I couldn’t afford it so I built it. As engineer types will do, I spent way more time building my speakers when I should have been practicing.

Where do most of your speakers go?

Theme parks, Las Vegas nightclubs, Bible Belt churches, and Canadian hockey arenas.

Do you end up spending a lot of time in nightclubs?

A typical club in Las Vegas has about 150 speakers in it. It’s not just a matter of plugging the speaker in and turning it on. I go out and hear bands in rock-and-roll clubs, but I’m not a clubber.

What lessons can you draw from rock-and-roll to running a business?

There’s a lot of value to having been a musician because all my customers are musicians. All through the audio industry, people who got into it initially started out as musicians. It’s something music-related that was a paying job.

Why are you in Massachusetts? It isn’t a place you think of as being at the center of the music industry.

There’s a core of audio industry companies in Boston such as Boston Acoustics and Acoustics Research. There’s Bose Corp. in Framingham. There are a surprising number of speaker engineers working in Massachusetts. The other concentration is in Southern California.

In the old days, people used to talk about a West Coast sound and an East Coast sound. The West Coast sound was based in Southern California and the East Coast sound was based in Boston.

You make all your speakers in Massachusetts. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to do it in China?

Manufacturing here has more to do with what our customers want. They want very particular things. In the case of theme parks, they have very particular requirement for what speakers have to look like and where they have to fit. The only way to serve those requirements well is to build stuff here. It does cost more, but not that much more.

Almost all of our employees were people who were laid off when Eastern Acoustic Works moved production to China [in 2006].

We started a US-based manufacturing company in 2008, which was probably the worst year since 1930 to start a manufacturing company. Here we are five years later, and we made it work. And we did it without starting out with a big pile of money.

Can bad sound systems actually make you tired?

When you have to struggle to understand what’s being said, you tend to go to sleep. You can always tell when a church has a bad sound system, half the people are asleep. My job is to keep people from falling asleep in church.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.
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