George Relles Sound: Regional Sound Grows Up
As an accomplished banjo player with a love for classical music, George Relles learned long ago to trust his ears. As one consequence, shortly after launching his sound company in the mid-1970s, he decided to go against conventional wisdom.
"Back then, we had a half-dozen sound companies in this area," he recalls, "and everybody was saying that bigger is better when it comes to loudspeakers. But I said, no, better is better. Those other companies all went out of business years ago. I'm still going."
By insisting on quality, in both equipment and personnel, Relles has built a solid reputation as the 'go-to guy' in the Northwest whenever musicality and dynamics take precedence over sheer loudness. From the Spokane Symphony in Washington to the Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival in Northern California, producers and promoters know they can rely on George Relles Sound for superb sound quality. Several prestigious clients – including the two above – have been booking his services annually for more than 20 seasons. For his part, Relles has relied on loudspeaker systems by Meyer Sound since 1986.
"Before that, I had a main system of semi-custom boxes that most people hadn't heard of," he recalls. " They sounded fine, but I needed something that already had some respect. Meyer Sound had the reputation, so I took the plunge. I've never looked back."
Relles now manages a thriving regional operation based in Eugene, Oregon. When summer festivals are in full swing, he often fields three complete systems: one based on his 18 veteran MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeakers, a second featuring 20 M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeakers, and a third with his 18 new MILO high-power curvilinear arrays (16 original MILO and two MILO 120 expanded coverage cabinets). A quartet of M2D-Sub compact subwoofers travels with the M2D system, while a full stock of other subs (700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofer, 650-P high-power subwoofer) and smaller fill cabinets (UPA-1P compact wide coverage, UPM-1P ultra-compact wide coverage, CQ-1 wide/CQ-2 narrow coverage main loudspeakers, etc.) allows precise tailoring for specific venues and artists. Shows on Relles' docket for this summer include the Steve Miller Blues Band, B.B. King, and ZZ Top, all presented by Peter Britt Productions.
Relles' sterling reputation is built on three decades of hard work and discerning judgment. He started creating sound systems in the early 1970s, first for the bluegrass band he joined while attending the University of Oregon. A few years later, he hooked up with writer/musician Mason Williams (of "Classical Gas" fame), touring with him off and on as both a banjo picker and, eventually, FOH mixer. It was a Williams show with full orchestra in Sacramento that first introduced Relles to a John Meyer-designed product. "McCune Sound Service (now McCune Audio Video) supplied the system, and it was based on the JM3s (designed by Meyer while working for McCune), the precursor of the (Meyer Sound) MSL-3," he recalls. "The sound that night was very impressive, and I decided my next system would be from Meyer."
Relles had formed his own rental company by that time, and, though business was on the upswing, a brand new Meyer Sound system would strain the budget. Then fate intervened.
"It was about that time that the Rajneeshpuram got busted," Relles says, referring to the sprawling and isolated Oregon commune (with its stable of Rolls-Royces) built by disciples of the infamous Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh. "They had purchased six MSL-3s as the 'sacred system' to be used exclusively for amplifying the Bhagwan's voice. A few weeks after they installed it, the Bhagwan took a vow of silence that lasted until the gig was up. Everything was sold, and I eventually managed to get practically new MSL-3s and some UPAs at a very good price."
Relles built his main system around MSL-3s, gradually expanding his Meyer inventory. Then, in 1995, he followed Meyer Sound into the new era of self-powered systems with a major investment in MSL-4 cabinets.
"Since then, I've become spoiled by self-powered boxes," he confesses. "There's a whole category of processing that I don't even have to think about. Instead, I can concentrate on EQ'ing the array, tapering the zones, and setting the fill delays to get the best sound."
Another big advantage, says Relles, is keeping size and weight down so he can pack maximum power and coverage inside bobtail trucks that must keep under a 26,000-pound PUC (Public Utilities Commission) limit. He notes that he can put his complete MSL-4 and M2D systems (consoles and racks included) into one truck and stay under weight. "There's no way I could do that with any comparable system using amp racks," he says. His entire MILO-based system also stays under the limit for a "stacks and racks" gig, with a second truck required only if consoles and FOH racks are needed as well.
Since he doesn't do arena-sized shows, Relles bypassed Meyer Sound's largest line array product (the M3D), though he quickly invested in the M2D when the smaller system was introduced in 2002. In 2004, he added the MILO system, using it for flown applications requiring high power as well as those – such as outdoor classical concerts – where only groundstacking is possible. Other recent Meyer Sound investments include eight 700-HP subwoofers, and a SIM 3 audio analyzer system. ("Finally, a SIM system priced for guys like me!" he glows.)
As Relles' business continues to grow, he's diversified into installations. Some of the projects in which his hand has been sought include designing and supplying a Meyer Sound system to the remodeled Cascade Theater in Redding, Calif., and the 3,000 seat Spokane Opera House in Spokane, Wash.
At this point, Relles feels his company has found a stable and successful plateau, a place where he enjoys the rare luxury of consciously limiting growth so he can manage the business on his terms.
"I don't want to be like a restaurant that starts to expand, where the chef is no longer cooking but running the business, and the quality of the food goes down," he maintains. "I feel fortunate in that I've been successful, and yet I'm still doing what I love, hands on, working behind the board."
Although Relles insists that he's content with the quantity of current business, his pursuit of higher sound quality continues unabated. The philosophy holds: not bigger, just better. He expects Meyer Sound will continue as an integral part of his quest.
"My relationship with Meyer over the years has been great," he says. "I like the direction the company is taking recently, involving the dealers more and bringing us in for seminars. I also respect the fact that the company is privately held. That allows John to chart the course of the company independent of pressure from shareholders. It gives him the freedom to invest in things like (Meyer Sound) MAPP Online (acoustical prediction software), which has advanced the state of the art. I'm not sure other companies would be free to do something like that. It's obvious that Meyer is fully committed to research and development, and to constant improvement. That has huge benefits for Meyer, and for their users as well. For me, it means I don't have to work the county fairs."