King Tubby’s legendary sound came from the MCI console that he bought in 1972—and more specifically from a big red knob!
In 1972, Dynamic Sounds got rid of the old MCI console that was used in Studio B. King Tubby bought it on Bunny Lee’s advice, and built a home studio in his mother’s bedroom at 18 Dromilly Avenue, Waterhouse. And it changed everything.
Some say King Tubby dismantled the console to improve it. His childhood friend Snaffles is adamant that King Tubby opened it before his eyes to improve it. But King Tubby didn’t add its most important component, which is the legendary ‘big knob’. It is a red knob, slightly bigger than the others—hence its name—, in the right top corner of the console. It was already there when Tubby bought it, but he used it in a unique way.
This recent video found on the Internet (arr) gives a very good idea of the 'big knob' effect.
Chris Lane, from Fashion records, says the ‘big knob’ was “Tubby’s exclusive and secret weapon.” Actually, this mysterious knob is a high pass filter (HPF) designed to erase parasitic frequencies. It “has eleven frequency steps from 70Hz to 7.5KHz within 165° of rotation,” Sean Wiliams underlines, “allowing extreme sweeps to be performed with ease.” Applied to various parts of a riddim, it created a unique soun. As the studio became popular among producers—they came to voice songs and get their mixes done at a very low price—, the HPF defined the sound of the entire ‘roots’ area of Jamaican music!
Engineer Fatman Thompson says they were still using the MCI at Tubby’s when King Tubby was murdered, in 1989! Sonic Sound then bought the console and later sold it to producer Roderick ‘Blackbeard’ Sinclair. Today, it can be found at the Museum of Pop Culture, in Seattle, USA. And the big knob is still there...
Find more about King Tubby, the MCO and the big knob
in Tubby's official biography: