Music to the ears
The stage is set. The audience is waiting for the band to fill the room with roaring rock’n’roll. Finally, applause. It’s the beginning of an unforgettable night whenthe drummer taps his sticks and the band begins to play. But then, one of the guitarists, Hubert Hochleitner, can barely hear the sound coming out of his amplifier.
It’s one of the most annoying things for a guitarist: the shrill sound emerging from the centre of the amplifier, which musicians call “beam”, that not only makes for an uneven sound but for burning ears and cries of pain.
This concert happened back in 2006 but Hubert Hochleitner had known about this problem for years before. When he bought his first amplifier as a teenager in 1978 to practice in his room, he noticed an unpleasant sound coming from the amp, always depending on his position. At first, he thought it was a defect. But then he found out about the so-called “sweet spot”, which is about three steps away from the amp. If the guitarist finds this spot, the sound is supposed to be at its best. But musicians know that the beam still occurs, independent of the amp you use.
As Hubert grew up, he met more and more guitar players who experienced the same problem – but to his surprise, there was no solution to it. For years, he had put it on hold as he took a job as a technical engineer at the Austria Tabak tobacco factory in his hometown of Schwaz in Tyrol straight after graduating from high school. There, he was in charge of the technical automation of machines. “It was an exciting time when I started working at Austria Tabak,” the non-smoker recalls. “I had to acquire all the know-how on making tobacco and how it could be automated by interviewing and watching people working there. It was interesting to see how the process could be optimised step by step.” When joining Austria Tabak in the early 1980s, his then boss-to-be had predicted that Hubert would retire in this company. But that wasn’t the case and a hard knockout. Hubert was 43 years old when the factory closed down in 2005 and he was laid off.
Facing a crisis
Upon dismissal, Hubert had to re-evaluate his life and figure out what he could do that he was not only good at but that also made him happy. “I realised that my talent in optimising the traits of machines and products could be used in a lot of areas,” he says. Remembering the unpleasant concert experience in 2006, he was encouraged to finally take his time and solve the problem. “For a while, I couldn’t enjoy playing live anymore, because I didn’t like the sound. It got to the point where it was either about finding a solution or quitting altogether,” he explains.
Deeflexx H!1 Edition Photo credit: HooViWhile still working as an engineer, he had already started intensive online research on the sound problem and went through numerous forums. He also bought, and partly reconstructed, some of the devices on sale to alleviate the problem, such as metal calottes to be mounted in front of a speaker. None of them worked. After networking with guitar players from around the world, Hubert knew that there were people interested in finding a solution to the issue. “It is in my nature not to accept things that don’t work,” he explains his motivation.
When he was introduced to the Center for Academic Spin-offs Tyrol (CAST), Hubert was encouraged to develop his idea of a sound deflector for amplifiers and to start his own business, which had been at the back of his head before. “When one door is closed, a new window opens” a friend wrote to him at the time of his dismissal. This seems to have been the case for Hubert.
How to come up with a business plan in 14 days
Just as Hubert entered the CAST founders’ programme, there was a competition for creative handicraft goingon in Tyrol. “It was a matter of now or never,” he says. “In order to partake in the competition, I had to create a business plan within two weeks. Usually this takes up to five months, three months if you’re fast,” he recounts. Together with his supervisor Florian Becke and Christian Weissbacher, he drew up the business plan in record time.
Fortunately, Hubert had already done a lot of the work necessary for the business plan without even knowing it. “The people at CAST were baffled when I presented them with the data I had collected through my research over the years,” he says. Hubert had about 10.000 files on his computer so the analyses of the market and the competition were there. “I’m not a talker, I like to do things properly,” he explains. He also had to assemble his team of product designer Georg Juen and sound engineer Dieter Sailer in that time span – again, finding them available was a lucky coincidence.
Deeflexx was born
Hubert’s project was among the eight best ones in the competition and received funding for his company but still required private equity implying personal risk. After talking to his family and getting their support, he started his company named after his nickname “HooVi” as an individual owner/operator in October 2009. Since then, he has been working 10 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week – happily, as he says.
Photo credit: HooViWhen developing Deeflexx, it was clear that HooVi had to create a device to enable better sound deflection from the amp that would not involve complicated installation processes. “No one wants to drill a hole in their ‘holy’ vintage amps,” HooVi laughs. “It’s considered a sanctuary among us guitar players. So, I knew we’d have to create something that you could attach in a simple manner that would not manipulatethe amp itself.” The result of the R&D was a funky-looking plastic device that can be put underneath the amp. It deflects the sound waves in a way so they always sound the same, no matter where you stand with the guitar.
Since the product release in April 2011, many famous guitarists have tried and approved of Deeflexx, among them German guitar guru Prof. Peter Weihe. When Weihe was in Southern Germany for a music workshop, HooVi asked him to come to Schwaz and put the device to the proof. After thorough testing for more than two hours, he asked to try it again the next morning – when his sense of hearing was “fresh”. “After about an hour of playing, his face suddenly lit up and he smiled at me. He admitted that he had never thought Deeflexx could work but after having tried it, he was convinced it made the difference we were all looking for.” Deeflexx seems to be the missing link between amp and ear.
Prof. Weihe’s feedback gave HooVi an additional boost of confidence for his product. “If Weihe says it’s alright, then it really is,” he smiles. But he also gave him important advice, saying that is a simple device so everyone will be critical. Most guitarists have already found a way of coming to terms with the problem but nobody is satisfied. “He warned me that I would be running against walls,” HooVi says. And Weihe was right.
Making his product known
HooVi is not growing tired of connecting with guitarists and winning them as “product patrons” or testimonials to endorse his product. He even tried contacting Eric Clapton and his management to get a statement but it’s difficult to get through to them without an introduction. Fornow, he can live off the sales. “Slowly but surely I’m getting a hang of things and more and more well-known people in the business are approaching me about Deeflexx,” he says.
For now, HooVi has released two versions of Deeflexx, the H!1 Edition for professionals and the H!1 AURA for enthusiasts. A major contributory success factor has been winning the EU’s biggest online store for musical instruments. Hans Thomann invited HooVi to the Musikmesse in Frankfurt and only after a few minutes he realised the potential of the device. Thomann was the first buyer and distributor of Deeflexx in 2011.
HooVi’s product has received numerous awards, among them the 2010 adventure X, i2b and the 2011 Design & Erfinder Award Tirol. Deeflexx has also been featured in several magazines with iGuitar Magazine naming it “Product of the Year 2012.” More recently, it was also added to the assortment of specialised guitar shops and major retailers such as Music Store Professional (see our previous coverage).
But that’s not enough. HooVi is trying to find at least one famous guitar player in every country to a product patron of Deeflexx. The US is high on his list, where he is currently looking for a patent licensing partner. Once that happens, it may not be long until Eric Clapton comes knocking on his door.
Interview by Alena Schmuck.
In partnership with CAST Tyrol