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The passion, intuition, creativity, tenacity and experience that goes into the design and production of Highlander equipment goes back over 40 years. Robert Wolstein, our principal design engineer was 15 years old when he built an acoustic guitar in woodworking class. To celebrate its successful construction he performed a special concert with his new guitar for the entire school, and thus began his lifelong love of music. Robert’s mastery of skills in electronics, as well as recording/mixing album projects, machining, tool-making, computer programming, computer-aided design and computer graphics are the backbone of Highlander.
Early Years, London
Born in Scotland, in his early teens, Robert moved to London. As a young man he took his first job as an apprentice in a precision machine shop. During this seven year apprenticeship he machined precision parts for numerous clients including Rolls Royce, the British Department of Defense and physicist, Dr. Jeremy Goode, who invented superconducting transducers, for use in oil exploration. Robert was eventually employed directly by Dr. Goode as a toolmaker and soon became involved in sophisticated electronic design. Working with this group of physicists for several years helped Robert develop a much deeper understanding of electronics and the intricacies of signal amplification.
In his spare time, Robert was playing guitar
with various bands in and around London. He then began to design and build amplifiers, special effects boxes, small mixers, and PA systems for himself and his friends. Eventually he became involved in the London music scene professionally. Robert went on to design and build a small mobile recording studio, “Reels on Wheels”, and during the next few years learned the basic art of recording the hard way. Dealing with so many diverse audio environments would prove to be invaluable throughout the rest of his career. He designed a unique audio mixer for Reels on Wheels that improved audio quality when working over several hundred feet of cable (a fact of life for mobile studios).
World Touring, LA
Having established a good reputation in the London music scene, Robert’s “big break” came in 1979 when he got a call from the production manager with Earth, Wind and Fire, who hired him as a technician for two weeks to do the British leg of the Earth, Wind and Fire world tour. The band then hired him for the duration of that world tour and Robert would go on to be Chief Technician for three more world tours. He then went on to tour with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. During his time on the road he was responsible for the well being and maintenance of all types of cutting edge equipment from band gear and PA systems to lighting and special effects. He made sure it all worked perfectly, developing improvements in function and
reliability wherever possible. He never lost a show, pulling all kinds of creative solutions out of the hat, and continued to get calls for touring work many years after he retired from the road.
After the first world tour with EW&F, Robert was offered another exciting opportunity. He was hired by George Massenburg, producer/engineer and founder of GML, (a pro audio electronic manufacturing company famous for creating Parametric EQ and Moving Fader Automation). Massenburg was designing and building “The Complex” in Los Angeles and had come up with an ambitious plan for a combination of three recording studios, two huge sound stages for video production, a PA company, a recording company and electronics development, prototyping and manufacturing; all under the same roof. George had designs for an amazing recording console and hired Wolstein as he was just starting to produce the first of three custom recording consoles. Robert and his family left London and moved to Los Angeles.
A few years later, after the studios were completed, and “The Complex” had opened for business, Robert moved on, working as a recording/mixing engineer and technical advisor for various recording studios and musicians. It was around this time that Robert first became aware of acoustic guitar pickups. These were the very first
piezo pickups, the technology was still in its infancy and frankly the audio fidelity was not great. A general consensus formed amongst recording engineers that piezo pickups were ok for certain types of live work but they lacked the audio quality necessary for studio work. The stigma attached to these early piezo pickups is still evident today. Robert was very curious about the technology and continued to observe the development of the genre, occasionally building custom preamplifiers for these pickups.
It was also during this time that Robert founded Wolstein Labs; a company dedicated to designing and building custom, high quality audio equipment for artists and recording studios in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo (this was back in the day when sound was recorded on tape machines that had a nine foot square footprint). This era culminated in Wolstein Labs design and construction of an extremely high quality, audiophile recording console for a client.
In 1984 Robert met Holly Martino, and she took on duties as general manager of Wolstein Labs. They decided that, in addition to custom audio gear, Wolstein Labs could supply custom-designed audiophile preamps for acoustic and electric guitars. They moved the operation to bigger premises in Ventura and began supplying preamps to The National Reso-Phonic Guitar Company, Gibson Guitars and Rick Turner.
In 1989 Rick Turner was working out of Westwood Music in Los Angeles installing his own brand of piezo and/or magnetic pickups coupled with custom-designed Wolstein Labs’ preamps in the guitars of many performers including Ry Cooder, Martin Simpson, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, John Fogerty, David Crosby and Graham Nash. The combination created quite a stir. Highlander’s flagship product, the iP-1 Integrated Pickup and Preamp system evolved out of the business relationship between Robert Wolstein, Holly Martino and Rick Turner.
And so it Began
In 1990 Rick showed Robert a sample of an under-saddle piezo pickup material, it was constructed like a piece of coaxial wire, sensing evenly along its entire length in every direction. The pickup had an excellent sound, but its output level was very low – bringing this pickup up to a useable level was going to require extra gain. That has always been a significant problem with these types of pickups. Due to their high impedance, gain tends to be noisy. Robert had an inspired idea and was able to develop the first super low noise preamplifier for piezo pickups. In a few days Robert had designed a prototype for a completely pre-wired pickup system that would run for 1000 hours or more from a single 9 volt battery (at the time less than 100 hours was typical). He developed an elegant tubular package and a custom screw thread for the connector that
alleviated the need for a nut on the inside of the guitar. This nut would continuously come loose on other products and was frustratingly difficult to tighten. Robert and Holly wanted to be able to supply any store that had a guitar repair department with a pre-wired, integrated pickup (iP), no soldering required.
Highlander Setting Standards
Highlander went to its first musical instrument trade show, the NAMM show, in January 1991 with one hundred iP-1 pickup systems and sold out. It was at that first NAMM show that they met many of the foreign distributors and music stores that still represent Highlander today. Highlander products are now manufactured in San Luis Obispo, California by a skilled production team. Assembly and test procedures are held to high standards by the team, using custom built production tooling and computerized test fixtures that Robert has developed over the years.
There is an old saying that resonates with Robert and Holly: “You carry your standards with you.” Highlander continues to set industry standards with a product line that offers players high-end, professional audio gear at a not-so-high-end price.
Setting new standards in audio integrity, reliability and service since 1991.
You can rely on a Highlander
870 Capitolio Way, Unit 3, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 USA