More than forty years on, many Orange and Matamp enthusiasts are mistakenly under the impression that ‘Orange Matamp’ was an amp manufacturer co-owned by Cliff Cooper and Mat Mathias. The black name-plates on the back of the very early amps probably added to the confusion, in that the wording on them implies that Orange Matamp was actually owned by Cooper Mathias Ltd.

Cliff’s amp company was initially called Orange Music. In autumn 1968, Orange Music appointed Mat Mathias’ company, Radio Craft, as the sub-contractor to supply their amplifiers. The first Orange amplifiers were branded Orange Matamp after Mat requested that Matamp’s logo be added to the front panel. Out of courtesy, Cliff agreed to this but In reality, there never was a manufacturer called ‘Orange Matamp’- that was a brand name.

As demand for Orange Amplifers rapidly increased, Radio Craft was unable to keep up with orders and was producing amps in very small numbers at the back of Mat’s tobacconist shop.

Cowcliffe Factory in 2007 Converted into offices

Mat couldn’t finance the move to the larger Cowcliffe factory in Huddersfield on his own. So, in August 1969, Cliff formed a company with Mat called Cooper Mathias Ltd, to replace Radio Craft as the sub-contractor supplying Orange Musical Industries, as it was now called.

Cliff explains the background to Cooper Mathias

“Because we were making a lot of money, I was able to bankroll Mat’s move to the Cowcliffe factory. I could have simply loaned Radio Craft the money for Mat to expand, but I had the feeling that a 50-50 partnership could work to everybody’s advantage.

Even forty years later, there’s still a lot of confusion about the first few years of Orange. A lot of people don’t realise the fact that Cooper Mathias Ltd was set up as a sub-contractor to OMI. When I first thought about forming the partnership with Mat, my vision was a manufacturing company based in Huddersfield which would benefit from having lower overheads than would be the case in London.

Initially, Cooper Mathias would handle all of OMI’s orders, but central to my plan was that the firm’s capacity and productivity would increase to a level at which we could then also manufacture amps for other companies. That was my intention for Cooper Mathias, but sadly it wasn’t to be…

The Cowcliffe factory opens: early 1970

The Cowcliffe factory opened for business in early 1970. By that time, business for us in London was moving very rapidly, but in Huddersfield the situation was much slower. When I drove up for a production meeting, the first thing I noticed was everything seemed to move at such a slow pace. It was extremely frustrating as we were so back-ordered. The people there were very nice, and it was therefore very sad that I had to pull out of our business arrangement. I had no choice but to do this simply because the operation was just not cost-effective. The Cowcliffe factory wasn’t turning out amps fast enough to meet our demand and it was not covering its overheads. Soon after that, OMI moved to Bexleyheath.

After the split

“The split was amicable. Mat and I always remained very good friends. He carried on making his black-covered amps and we became a main agent for Matamp and sold Mat’s amps and cabs in the Orange shops. Another thing I really liked about him was that he never copied our picture-frame speaker cabinet design. Mat was a real gentleman for whom I have always had nothing but the greatest admiration.”

BBC Radio 1 DJ Emperor Rosko Mat Mathias 1972

In December 1968, Mick Dines [pictured] joined the company as a salesman in the Orange Shop. He immediately became involved in the design of the Orange cabinets. As a young bass guitarist he understood how equipment could be so easily mistreated on the road. His first priority was to make Orange cabinets the most solid and robust cabinets available. When it came to choosing the speaker front cloth his main concern was durability.

Mick Dines

Mick chose a tough material called Basketweave. Orange speaker cabinets could now certainly take the knocks and were appreciated by the roadies. Guitarists loved the ‘thickened’ sound that the Basketweave helped to create. What’s more, the Orange 4×12 [a cabinet fitted with four 12” speakers inside] was 15” deep , until then, 14” was the norm. This extra depth also helped to define the distinctive ‘Orange sound’.

Cliff Cooper, Founder & CEO explains

“When I first noticed the Marshall 4×12, I thought it was made of very thick plywood, but then when I looked more closely, it wasn’t as thick as it looked –it had an extra wooden frame border fixed inside the front rim of the cabinet to create the illusion of thicker wood. I had the idea of having a picture-frame rather than a rim on our own 4×12 cabs. That design was a first for us. It made Orange cabs and amp heads look very unique. The design remains almost unchanged today.

The 4×12 was built to be very strong and featured a baffle centre post, 13-ply (18mm) birch-faced marine plywood and a tough orange vinyl cloth covering called Rexine. The use of Basketweave really helped to define the ‘Orange sound’. Instead of fitting plastic feet, or castors which we found tended to rattle and roll, we came up with the idea of having tough wooden runners – which we called skids. The original idea was durability, making loading and unloading out of vans, or onstage, easier. It turned out that the skids dramatically improved the sound by acoustically coupling the cabinets to the stage or wooden floor.”

PPC412 Cab

Cliff Cooper founder and CEO:

During 1969, we sampled the sounds used by a number of top guitarists – among them, Peter Green, Marc Bolan and Paul Kossoff, all of whom liked to spend time in the Orange Shop just chatting and playing guitars. We asked these and other professional guitarists to plug into our mixing desk, play around, and find the sound that they liked best. We were then able to measure the sound characteristics and decide what changes were needed to the Orange amp circuitry. We would then send these circuitry changes to Mat up in Huddersfield so that he could incorporate any modifications into our amplifiers. Basically it was a question of what our customers wanted.

As Orange became more established, we found that a lot of people liked our amps, but it wasn’t across the board. Many guitarists told us that our amps just didn’t sound as loud as some other makes, watt for watt. Using signal generators, oscilloscopes and other measuring equipment, we measured an Orange OR120 amplifier in our workshop. It gave out a true 120 watts RMS (Root Mean Square). We then measured another famous make of 100 watt amplifier, which gave 96 watts output – but it still sounded much louder than the Orange amplifier. We just couldn’t figure out why this was. At the same time, we tested the distortion levels. The other amplifier had a far more distorted sound than the Orange amp.

I arranged a meeting with a leading ear specialist with a practice in London’s Harley Street. He explained to me how the brain can register distortion as pain in order to protect the mechanism of the ears. The jagged harmonics produced by the distortion work the ear’s conducting bones harder, and this is perceived by the audio nerves as an increase in sound level. The original Orange amps were especially clean sounding with very little distortion and so it was, in fact, the clean sound that was the root of our problem. So thanks to the ear specialist we had solved the mystery. In order to correct the situation we gave the amp a lot more gain and modified our circuitry in a different way to the amplifiers we had tested. The main changes were to the tone stack at the front end and the phase inverter. These changes gave birth to the ‘Orange sound’ and were incorporated in the first ‘Pics Only’ amps – our amps with hieroglyphs. The sound perhaps is best described as ‘fat’ and ‘warm’ – more musical and richer in harmonics, with a unique saturation in the mids band. It also improved the sustain. That said, choice of sound naturally is a personal thing.

When Orange amplifiers and loudspeaker cabinets first appeared in late 1968, their striking colour and the picture-frame design of the amp sleeves and speaker cabinets marked a revolution in amplifier styling. What’s more, a completely new approach to musical instrument retailing began with the opening of the Orange Shop in London’s New Compton Street on September 2nd 1968.

What is now known as the Orange signature sound really kicked off in 1971 when the company designed the Graphic ‘Pics Only’ amplifier with its unique hieroglyphic symbols and distinctive warm and crunchy sound.

In the early 1960s, Yorkshireman, Ernest Tony Emerson, was a member of ‘The British Interplanetary Society’ – a group of H.G. Wells-inspired space-age futurists. He designed a state-of-the-art hi-fi amplifier – the Connoisseur HQ20.

The Connoisseur HQ20 designed by Tony Emerson

His friend, Mat Mathias, owned ‘Radio Craft’ – a small repair business based in Huddersfield. In early 1964 Mat employed Tony as a design engineer, and with the HQ20 as a starting point Mat then built his own guitar amplifier called the Matamp Series 2000 which was initially a 20 watt, and then a 30 watt model.

Cliff Cooper:

“In the beginning, manufacturers would not supply the Orange Shop with new equipment for us to sell, so I decided to build my own amplifiers. I had studied electronics at college, which of course assisted me greatly. Soon, we were looking for a company to manufacture our amplifiers.

We had a choice of two or three firms but decided to go with Mat Mathias of Radio Craft. The amps that Mat made were basically hi-fi guitar amplifiers. They were very clean-sounding and beautifully built, but when he sent a sample down to us we found we needed to modify it somewhat because it didn’t sound quite right for the market we were aiming for. It was great for bass guitars because it was so clean, but it was too clean and flat for electric lead guitars. The new generation of guitarists back then wanted more sustain, which you don’t really get with a clean sound. Therefore, in our first year we modified the front end and changed the chassis material from lightweight aluminium to robust enamelled steel.We designed the Orange logo so that it would be bold and clearly visible on stage, and sent it up to Radio Craft for use on our front panel. Mat then suggested that we put a small Matamp logo on it as well, which we gladly agreed to do. Mat assembled our first amps in the back room of his tobacconist shop in Huddersfield town centre. The first Orange speaker cabinets were made and covered in the basement of the Orange Shop.”

Cliff Cooper, Founder & CEO of Orange Amplification

“ I named it the CTI Pixy Mk V…. there weren’t any earlier ones but I figured Mk V was a good starting point. ”

In 1966 I built my original studio on the first floor of a commercial building I had rented in Amity Road, Stratford, East London. Neighbours soon started to complain about the noise, so I had the idea of making a miniature transistor guitar amp and fitting it with an earpiece.

CTI stood for ‘Cooper Technical Industries’. About a year later, other companies were bringing out similar products which could be used with headphones.

I made the Pixy amplifier on a tag board and I found that this worked very well. The earpiece was a crystal design made by ACOS and the amp itself was powered by a 9-volt battery which fitted into the base of the unit. For the case I rolled thin aluminium using a metal forme, and covered it in black vinyl. The circuitry fitted into this case. I named it the CTI Pixy Mk V… there weren’t any earlier ones but I figured Mk V was a good starting point.

I remember going to the Melody Maker offices, where I met two journalists – Chris Hayes and Chris Welch. I showed them the Mk V and asked if they could give me a write-up in their weekly music paper. They told me that they couldn’t personally help me, but put me in touch with the advertising department, who then quoted me what I considered to be a small fortune for a half-page advertisement. Needless to say, I decided to economise and take a small square space advert instead. I was really surprised when, within a month, I had sold about a hundred for just under £2 each.