The Celestion Interview: Brian Weafer, Yorkville Sound

(Pickering, ON) — Canada’s Yorkville Sound has come a long way since its beginnings in the back room of the original Long & McQuade music store in downtown Toronto where, in 1963, co-founder Peter Traynor built the now-iconic Traynor DynaBass bass amplifier as a rugged, reliable alternative to the models of the day.

Today, Yorkville Sound designs and manufactures a full line of professional PA systems and loudspeakers, instrument amplifiers, installed audio systems, studio tools, microphones, and accessories under its Apex, Traynor, and Applied Research, and Technology (ART) brands, with 220 employees at the company’s 150,000-square-foot facility in Pickering, Ontario.

A leader in instrument amplification and a pioneer in loudspeaker horn and cabinet innovation, Yorkville Sound also distributes dozens of iconic pro audio and MI brands including Gibson, Epiphone, Ernie Ball Universal Audio, and Manley for Canada, and HK Audio and Hughes & Kettner for North America.

In a remarkable career spanning 36 years, Yorkville Sound VP of Internal Affairs Brian Weafer has played a key role in propelling the company forward. His background as a musician and engineer, complemented by his dedication to championing a close-knit corporate ethos that puts the needs of musicians first, has been pivotal in shaping the company’s path.

We sat down with Weafer to gain his insights into music, Yorkville’s trajectory, and the ever-evolving industry landscape.

What is your favorite album of all time, and why?

The two greatest influences for me are Todd Rundgren and Joni Mitchell.

For Todd Rundgren, it’s always going to be Something, Anything. All the songs were so good. He played all the parts himself, he recorded it all himself. It was one of the very first of those kinds of albums, like Prince did and Stevie Wonder used to do.

For Joni Mitchell, it’s Hissing of Summer Lawns. First of all, Joni Mitchell is Canadian. She used to perform in a street called Yorkville in Toronto; it was the Haight-Ashbury, hippie neighborhood. The original music store for Long & McQuade—which we’re all part of the same company—was on Yonge Street, right at that corner of Yonge and Yorkville. Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, all these people used to hang out on that street and play for nothing in those days.

When our founders, Pete Traynor and Jack Long, started the company, they went outside and looked at the street sign, it said “Yorkville,” so they called it Yorkville.

What got you interested in music and audio?

I was a jack of all trades when I was young. I played trumpet, French horn, guitar, lots of different instruments. I built my first guitar amp when I was 13 with my dad because we couldn’t afford to buy one. And you know where my dad got the schematic for the amp? From Pete Traynor, the guy who started Yorkville with Jack.

How did you get your start in the industry, and with Yorkville?

Well, I played guitar from a young age, but I also studied as an electrician. I was a quality-control tech for a big wire company. And then I was a touring musician for 10 years. When I came off the road, I saw a job in the newspaper that said that a company was looking for somebody to test guitar amps and things like that. So, I joined, and it was a good fit.

What’s your current position and how did you get there?

Within a very short time of getting the job, they asked me to go into purchasing. And then a short time after that, they asked me to be the warehouse manager, then the purchasing manager. Then I was a vice president of this and that. It didn’t take me very long to move up. Now I’m Vice President of Internal Affairs.

How did your background influence the job you do now, and the company overall?

I was a musician; I had the quality control background. I had an electronics background; I had a computer background when nobody even knew what a computer was. When I was on the road, I studied computer science at a correspondence university. I was building my own gear, tinkering, all those things. I think that tinkering and doing things yourself is what makes good companies into good companies

In the music business, for equipment to tour and be used in these harsh environments, you have to build it almost from the ground up yourself in order to maintain the quality at every level that can withstand the rigors of the road. Because everybody will tell you that it’s okay for somebody’s stereo to have a particular circuit board, but that would not last in a guitar amp, because it’ll just vibrate to death; or in a PA cabinet, where it will just break apart. So, the company has always been quality-minded from day one.

Yorkville is legendary in the industry. In your viewpoint, what’s the main reason for that?

I think we fought tooth and nail to stay true to the vertical integration, all in one building. To this day, everything is made in the building. The metal and wood are brought in and made into things. The electronics are all built in the building. The designers are in the building. It’s been that way since day one. There’s such a push to keep it that way, to keep Canadian people at their jobs.

It’s a culture. And it is very family. I always tell people, we’re an international company who’s managed to maintain that sort of early ’70s culture. That’s hard to do because you’ve still got to compete.

What product do you consider your company’s most innovative?

Yorkville innovated a lot of things over the years. The wedge monitor was kind of invented by Yorkville. Affordable, powered compact mixers. And then Bass Master amps. We had converted Fender-style amps, changed the front end a bit so that they would handle a bass guitar signal.

What do you think is the single most important technological achievement in the industry?

It’s very hard to say what the most defining thing in our industry has been. I think people would say the invention of powered speaker cabinets has been a pretty big thing. And Bluetooth, obviously.

There’s always been a great amalgamation between consumer and high-end consumer products that merge into pro sound, and vice versa. If you had asked me a long time ago if Bluetooth would ever be part of pro sound, I would’ve said no, because why? But then consumers were using sound products for their house parties. And they wanted to be able to run their Bluetooth through their little speakers, like they do their stereo. So, lots of companies started adding all these features, and eventually there’s a merger between what’s considered consumer electronics and what’s considered a pro PA now.

What is the accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

Oh, it’s all the friends I made here over the years, for sure. It’s like family.

Tell us a little about your company culture and your philosophy in leading the team.

I don’t think you’ll find anybody in management in this corporation—and it’s big, now—who hasn’t had some background in music performance.

Some people have had a career at Yorkville for 45 years. The mentality today is that people don’t realize that it is possible to have a forever job. You can have a job that pays you every single week for 45 years, and you can get married, raise kids, buy your house, and put your money away, knowing that that’s there for you. It’s like being in the same band for 40 years. Like the Rolling Stones.

How is your company poised for the future?

We’re not super mega-rich when it comes to investing in things because we’re always about sustainable growth. We’re still big believers in brick and mortar; we support our music stores, and now we’re up to about 100 music stores, so the business grows hand in hand, and it’s quite sustainable.

I’m sure everybody benefits from e-commerce. But in the end, you wouldn’t want to buy a multi-thousand-dollar guitar without sitting down in a store and playing “Stairway to Heaven,” you know? It’s a hands-on, tactile industry.

What music do you enjoy these days?

I still play guitar; I’ve recently switched over to swing jazz and finger-style jazz. My line has been, I used to play three chords for 3,000 people. Now I play 3,000 chords for three people.