This wonderfully shiny and somewhat obscure vintage microphone was kindly sent to me as a Christmas gift by Adam Wilma, one of my Polish readers!
It is interesting, not because of its fabulous quality, but because it provides a small window into a fairly grim chapter of Polish history.
After 30 years of Communist misrule, the Polish economy was in an extremely precarious state with serious shortages of many goods. Shops were empty with long queues in the streets. In March 1979 the Ministry of Internal Trade listed 280 products for which demand was difficult to satisfy and the list grew longer in the following year. 1980 saw the formation of the free trade union Solidarity and the end of Communism seemed to be in sight. However, in 1981 General Jaruzelski declared martial law and Solidarity was banned. The USA imposed sanctions and for the next 10 years the Polish economy struggled along in a state of collapse. This lead to the rapid growth of a black or ‘grey’ market. In these conditions a ‘second’ or ‘parallel’ private sector economy flourished.
Small scale private businesses were broadly tolerated and allowed to function supplying demands that could not be met by the ‘official’ economy. However, if a company became too large and successful it risked attracting unwelcome attention from the Communist bureaucracy and might be shut down and its assets seized. This probably explains why the Acel GM-17B microphone pictured in this post, with its original packaging, gives away little clue about the company who made it or their whereabouts! So far all attempts to trace the manufacturer have failed! Goods like this were sold through local craft associations/co-operatives, which was a way of avoiding the many permits and licences that were officially required. All we know is that this particular microphone was sold in 1987 by the Multi-Branch Co-operative in Leszno. The previous owner informed me that it cost 15,330 old zloty. (For comparison, in the same year a kilo of carrots cost 50 zloty, and a kilo of tomatoes 200 zloty).
1980’s Polish Music Scene
For musicians this was a difficult time and few could afford good quality equipment imported from abroad. The electrical industry had been particularly affected by shortages of raw materials, components and machinery. Local manufacturers did their best to meet demand with limited resources. Sadly the resulting equipment was often somewhat less than ideal! Paradoxically, this decade saw a flowering of rock music in Poland. In no other communist country was there such freedom for musicians. It was not by accident – the communist authorities calculated that for young people it would be a good way to neutralize frustration. Freedom for various subcultures also served to draw young people away from the Catholic Church, which was perceived to be their greatest threat. It was not by chance that the dates of the biggest music festivals coincided with important dates in the Catholic calendar.
Polish Plug Problems!
One slightly annoying feature of Polish-made gear of this period is the non-standard connector! Although this may look like a standard Klein Tuchel socket (as found on German and Austrian mics of the 60’s and 70’s), the locking ring is slightly larger with a different thread. I am told that Polish-made guitars often came with non-standard jack sockets. Slightly bigger or smaller! Presumably this meant that you would have to purchase a special lead from the maker at extra cost. Or maybe it was to avoid patent infringement? Who knows?………….Anyway, an ordinary Tuchel plug on the GM-17B can be kept in place with a piece of gaffer tape!
So What Does it Sound Like?
During the Communist era, here in Western Europe we were always lead to believe that products made in the USSR and Eastern Europe were bound to be inferior to anything made in the West! Indeed, even now I am assured by a musical connection in Poland that Polish-made gear of this period was very poor and that this microphone can probably be summed up by one word: ‘CRAP’!! Anyhow, I don’t like to jump to conclusions so I thought I would give it a fair trial……………..
CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE GM-17B in action…….. and reach your own verdict!
Many thanks to Keith Thompson for the tasty guitars and vocals (I played shaker and programmed the kick!) and thanks once again to Adam Wilma for sending this interesting and unusual microphone.