30 Years / 30 Studios is a new blog series highlighting some of the studios Vintage King has helped during our three decades in pro audio. We'll talk with studio owners, engineers, and producers about how they got their start, where they are heading, and all the gear they've picked up along the way.

Learn more about Vintage King's 30th anniversary here.

As part of our 30th anniversary, we’ve been taking a look back at some of the studios Vintage King has helped during our three decades in pro audio. But Vintage King can be found anywhere that music is made–not just in recording studios. Over the last 30 years, we’ve worked closely with schools, houses of worship, and even other gear retailers to provide top-tier service and gear knowledge.

One such example is Funky Junk, a popular pro audio gear retailer in the UK that opened its doors the same year as Vintage King. Back in 1993, VK’s Mike Nehra worked with Funky Junk owner and CEO Mark Thompson to secure some of VK’s first vintage gear inventory.

Much like Mike himself, Mark had cut his teeth in the industry as a musician. In the 80s, Mark worked as a session musician for popular artists, as well as managing successful bands and record producers, and doing A+R consultancy for some of the top record labels at the time.

After getting a first-hand look at the recording industry, both Mike and Mark independently saw opportunities to legitimize the vintage gear markets in the US and UK respectively. But, we’re not here to brag about ourselves. Read on to hear Mark tell the story of how two would-be rival companies came together to change the way we buy vintage gear forever.

How did you first meet Mike Nehra?

In the 1980s, I was managing some of the top record producers in the world. I worked with a number of record companies, particularly A&M, and I flew around the world. Eventually, I grew tired of dealing with the record labels and got back into making my own music in a very modest way in the late 80s. 

I was in a tiny little flat, up to my ears in debt, looking after two kids, just trying to put my own tiny recording room together with a little four-track. I started to buy and sell used audio gear as a way to put food on the table. It started out really small, but because I knew so many people in the industry, I always knew people who were looking to buy or sell some studio gear. 

In 1993, I was working from my flat, and I remember one of the first things I did was to buy an old Neve 53 series desk from a broadcast company, very cheap. And I thought, what the hell am I going to do with this? So I put an ad in the back of a popular American recording magazine at the time that just said “Neve modules for sale.”

Within half an hour, the fax was going crazy, and the phone calls were coming through. One of the first calls I got was from Mike Nehra. He said, “Hey man, those Neve modules aren’t going anywhere. They're mine, right?” That afternoon, the money arrived in my account, and from that moment on, Mike and I were joined at the hip.

At the time, he was just starting out. He’d been a musician, and his band Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise was signed with RCA. He had a studio in Detroit called the White Room that was quite nice, with an old API desk.

What was buying vintage and used gear like back then?

At the time, if you wanted to buy second-hand recording equipment, you had to take your life into your hands. You dealt with a broker, and if you got what you paid for, you had no idea if it worked, and no comeback if it didn't. 

The business was full of sharks and hustlers and hucksters. But Mike was as honest as the day is long. If he said, “I'll send the money in three weeks”, it was there in three weeks. I can't explain how different he was. I dealt with a few people in the States who tried to cheat me on more than one occasion. That’s how the business was in those days, but Mike was different. Mike was a man of his word.

Mike and I both had the same idea; to legitimize the vintage gear market. We would buy the gear and have it serviced, then put it up for sale, so you always knew what you were getting. And if you did have a problem, we would fix it for you or give t your money back.

We both came up with this concept independently, at a time when nobody was doing that. And it was what the market wanted. So, our businesses both grew hand in hand. I'd come across stuff and I'd offer it to Mike, and if he said yes, I knew he would never go back on his word.

How has Vintage King grown over the years?

Vintage King’s development over the years has been quite interesting. In the beginning, Mike was only selling vintage gear, while Funky Junk also sold modern studio gear as well. 

Mike would often call and say something like, “Hey Mark, I'm doing a studio buyout because they've got a nice vintage Neve console, but I've got all this other stuff too.” So I would buy a whole inventory of outboard gear; Lexicon reverbs, Urei compressors, and all sorts of stuff.

Eventually, I told Mike, “You’re missing a big opportunity here. Why don’t you start selling new gear, too?” He said, “No, vintage gear is my thing.” I told him, “Everything is your thing, Mike.” After that, he started selling new studio gear, and bang—suddenly, he went into another league. 

Being in London, I was pretty close with a lot of the big pro audio manufacturers. At the time, Neve had just started remanufacturing their classic modules, and I knew they were looking for distributors. 

Ultimately, Mike signed a deal with Neve to be the exclusive dealer for the United States. Mike worked with a local mastering engineer in LA to set up what would eventually turn into the Vintage King LA Showroom, which has become quite successful.

I also helped connect Mike with API. In the mid-90s, I met with Gordon Smart and Mark Seman of a company called ATI, owned by Larry Droppa. They manufactured high-end Paragon stage mixing desks. They had recently bought Uptown to obtain rights to their automation technology. As part of the deal, they also acquired API—but they didn’t know what to do with the brand. 

When they told me that, my jaw dropped and I said, “That's the American Neve. What you've got there is a gold mine.” I got in touch with Mike and said, “API has new owners, but they don't know what to do with it. Get in there now.” Then I spoke to API and said, “You've got to give Mike exclusive rights in America.” 

Mike and I have always had a very symbiotic relationship. We’ve helped each other’s businesses grow immensely over the years. Mike helped me out, I helped him out. He didn't need any help, but, I’ve really enjoyed all of our conversations along the way.

What are some of your favorite things about Mike Nehra?

Unlike a lot of people, Mike’s never been too big to be accessible. He's such a good guy. He built up Vintage King the same way I did Fuinky Junk—it was all about values. Other companies came along that were about selling and hustling, but Mike would never sell something to somebody if he didn't think it was right for them. 

But again, Mike was coming from a studio background. He was a musician. He's a brother. We’re totally on the same wavelength and I have nothing but admiration and respect for what he did and the way he did it as well.

What kind of impact do you think Vintage King has had on the gear industry?

Vintage King and Funky Junk changed the industry on different sides of the Atlantic.

When they came into this business, it was very different. It was not servicing the needs of engineers or studios or musicians. It was an untrustworthy and amateur industry. 

Funky Junk was the first place ever in the UK where you could buy a new Lexicon unit. Before that, you’d have to go to the Lexicon distributor. And once Mike landed Neve and API, it was the same with Vintage King in the States.

He changed the way business was done in the States for the better, and he changed it forever. Vintage King isn't just another shop, another gear seller. Vintage King was truly revolutionary in terms of how it took an amateurish, untrustworthy, shambolic business to a professional, organized, reputable level. And then did the same with new equipment. 

Other people have followed, and they will never give Vintage King credit for what they did—or Funky Junk here in the UK. Nobody else has changed the business model in the way that we did. They’ve just learned from what we did, and maybe some have improved upon the process, but they've never done it with more heart, sincerity, or love for music. That I can say with all certainty.

Joe DickinsonInterested in purchasing some new or vintage gear for your studio? Contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.