[interview] Award-Session: Stewart Ward

Here's FXDB's interview with Stewart Ward of Award-Session:

How did Award-Session start?

I recognised the growing home recording market and the lack of products to enable guitarists to record at home without annoying the neighbours. So the SessionMaster DRP (rackmount) and MATCHBOX series of DI boxes with clean Fender & speaker emulation were designed and launched. Jerry Donahue used the SessionMaster on The Hellecasters' 'Return Of The Hellecasters' album. It grew from there really.

There was no help from anyone, it was all inspired by observation of changing trends.

Where do the name and logo come from?

I used to make the Session brand of guitar amps during the nineteen eighties. I sold the company in 1988. The new owners modified the products in a detrimental way. I re-aquired the SESSION brand in 1991, so wanted to set my products apart from the previous owner's output. So, literally, the name comes from me calling them "A Ward Session". I was already making pre-amp boxes under the AWARD brand.

The logo is, again, a literal 'bolting' together the two brand names. No rocket science!

What sets Award-Session apart from other builders?

We were not a 'narrow minded' company. We looked to most areas that others seem to ignore. Outright Heavy Rock/Metal was probably the only genre we did not wish to cater for. That is already WELL catered for!

How do you start on a new pedal?

From idea to product, about 12 months. Designs are initiated purely by market need!

How do you name your pedals?

Only the JD10 has a special significance, as it was designed and adopted by Jerry Donahue! It also appeared under the Morley brand in USA. We were the Morley distributors in the UK at that time.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We used out-workers for PCB construction. Final build and all testing/QA/packaging work done in house.

Most circuits are PCB based, just one was hand wired - SoloBooster. Enclosures were custom made to our design. Paint was latterly black semi-gloss powder coat.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Well, every product must have a USP... looks for part of that too. So, yes, we had an individual look about our pedals, naturally. Hardly any 'standard' diecast boxes were employed for this reason.

Is parts selection important?

We DO NOT subscribe to the use of NOS, vintage or any other special parts. We believe the sound comes from the mind of the designer... not the components! If you have a designer that's crazy about metal... then you'll get pretty excellent Metal products. Don't ask him to design products for country sounds or jazz!!!

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

SessionMaster, JD10 and AP10 (GG10).

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

None really. They were all designed to go together without fuss. We always considered 'production engineering' from the outset! Make good economic sense frankly!

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The JD10. Because there are more electric guitar players than any other form of guitar?

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Our products were aimed mainly at players who preferred the 'classic' side of guitar sounds. Sound where 'on-the-edge' was an important factor, along with clean sounds too. Although, most had healthy distortion capabilities too. We did not see ROCK as the only genre. We recognised country, jazz and most other forms of music too.

A few famous users were Jerry Donahue, Gordon Giltrap and Jan Ackerman.

What does the future of Award-Session look like?

We ended pedal & amp production because it was felt that a number of situations made it less favourable now. These included: a saturated market, 'snake oil', cost of marketing, cost of materials here in England, lack of skilled labour, the market is really quite small and, lastly, I developed other more financially interesting products... like ClearTone 'YellowTAB' Custom Cables.

Are you working on any new products?

No, we have ceased all pedal production now.

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