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Audio engineer Hedley Jones has died

The Jamaican sound engineer, musician and writer responsible for building the country’s first sound systems was 99 years old

Jamaican musician, audio engineer, inventor and writer Hedley HG Jones died on 1 September – two months short of his 100th birthday. The Jamaican Observer stated that he had died in Montego Bay on 1 September, and noted various tributes, including one from musicologist Kingsley Goodison: “Hedley was a gigantic man where music is concerned. I have known him from I was a child, but never really met him until about 15 years ago when he was honoured at Tribute To The Greats. He was quite an unsung hero.”

Born in Linstead, Jamaica on 12 November 1917, Jones's first self-built instrument was a cello, which he made when he was 14. In 1935 he moved to Kingston, pursuing various careers such as a bus driver or repairing radios and gramophones. His first job, however, was as a proof reader with the Jamaican Times in 1936. It was there he first heard a Benny Goodman record with Charlie Christian on jazz guitar. Jones, a tenor banjo player at the time, called up the Gibson guitar company to enquire about the instrument, but could not afford it so a friend challenged him to make one. At that time no manufacturers produced solid bodied guitars, so Jones made his own using Jamaican rose wood. In 1940 he appeared on the front page of the Daily Gleaner with his invention, one of the first solid bodied electric guitars.

Jones was aged just 23 at the time, and by 1945, he had joined the British Royal Airforce and trained as a radar engineer as part of the war effort. Later, using the knowledge he gleaned in this role, he would help build some of the first sound systems, splitting high and low frequencies having noted that before the Second World War public address systems were not designed to respond to low frequencies. He kitted out studios across Kingston, and built sound rigs for Tom Wong and his system Tom The Great Sebastian, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid’s Trojan, and Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One.

Later, Hedley would become president for Jamaica Federation of Musicians (1985–95) and in 1993 was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government. He was also awarded with the Musgrave Medal in 2011, and in 2014 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association.