The Music & Sound Retailer: Who was your greatest influence or mentor and why?
Yoshi Ikegami: I worked with Mr. [Ikutaro] Kakehashi, the founder of Roland, for more than 30 years. I started working with him as an engineer when I was in my early 20s and was fortunate to learn many things from him.
The Retailer: What was the best advice you ever received?
Ikegami: When I was repairing the GR-500 (guitar synthesizer), I learned one impressive thing from my senior colleague. It was about how we set the reference point (called “ground”) of the oscilloscope. The visual outcome in the scope would change, depending on the degrees used to set the point. Like an oscilloscope, whenever I make decisions, I try to think of where to set my reference point. If you move the point, it may change the outcome. Someone said to me recently, “Let’s think about this from ground zero,” but I always try to think about things by setting various reference points so that I can conceptualize various perspectives.
The Retailer: What was your first experience with a musical instrument?
Ikegami: When I was an elementary student, I used to play the recorder and harmonica. These are popular musical instruments in Japanese education. Also, after graduating from elementary school, I used to play the trumpet in a brass band.
The Retailer: What instrument do you most enjoy playing?
Ikegami: I definitely enjoy playing guitar the most now.
The Retailer: Tell us something about yourself that others do not know or would be surprised to learn.
Ikegami: I am actually lefthanded, but I use my right hand when I play sports, and I play guitar right-handed as well. So, I am good at assembling tiny parts as I use both hands relatively the same. I used to assemble a breadboard by holding the soldering iron with my left hand and holding solder with my right thumb and index finger, while holding a lead cable with my right middle and ring fingers.
The Retailer: What’s your favorite activity to do when you’re not at work?
Ikegami: My favorite activity is to spend time with my family for a meal. Other than that, I frequently do a 30-minute run before breakfast. To me, running is good way to maintain my health. It balances me both physically and mentally.
The Retailer: What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Ikegami: It was a concert to see Richard Bona, the world-famous bass player who was playing our D-BASS amplifier in 2005, right after the product was developed. Before that, he had given us some advice about the amp because he had been using products like the V-BASS on some of his songs. The development of the D-BASS was quite challenging for us, technically, but when I finally got to see him playing the amplifier, I was very impressed. The sound coming from the amp blew my mind, and hearing that sound was worth all of our challenges.
The Retailer: If you could see any musician, alive or deceased, play a concert for one night, who would it be and why?
Ikegami: It would be The Eagles. I used to listen to their songs when I first started my MI career and have many favorite songs.
The Retailer: What musician are you hoping to see play in the near future?
Ikegami: I’m hoping to see John Mayer’s live performance.
The Retailer: What song was most memorable for you throughout your childhood, and what do you remember about it the most?
Ikegami: “Your Song” from Elton John’s best collection was memorable to me. That was the first LP I purchased by myself when I was 13 years old. I remember I used to listen to songs like “Rocket Man” and “Daniel.”
The Retailer: What are your favorite songs on your smartphone/iPod?
Ikegami: I’ve been listening to “Revelator” by Tedeschi Trucks Band a lot lately.
The Retailer: What’s the most fun thing you saw/did at a NAMM Show?
Ikegami: My first visit to The NAMM Show was in 1985. At that time, some Japanese brands were rapidly growing, and I tried to visit other (non-Japanese) brands’ booths, but they did not let me in. I guess they might have thought that Japanese brands had the potential to become a threat to them. I told this story to Mr. Kakehashi when I was asked to report on what I had discovered during the show. Suddenly, he said, “No worries. Follow me.” Then he boldly started heading toward one of the booths that had not allowed me in. On the way to the booth, Mr. Kakehashi was greeted by many people. He was very friendly, communicating passionately with confidence, and was able to get in the booth with no problem. Then, he said to me, “No problem,” and “Don’t be shy.” It was a cool moment for me.
The Retailer: If you had to select three people, past or present, to have dinner with, who would they be and what would you ask them?
Ikegami: I’ve met Les Paul a few times in the past. Right before he passed away, he sent me an idea about a JC-120 modification, although we did not have the chance to discuss it deeply. Besides him, I would be curious to have a chat with Leo Fender, and would like to hear his story about the early era of the electric-guitar business. These two people would be good to join for dinner.
The Retailer: Tell us about your most memorable experience with an MI retailer (without naming them).
Ikegami: In the past, one gentleman (a buyer) aggressively asked us to design an exclusive model. We turned down that offer. However, through that conversation with the buyer, I realized how differently the retailer and the manufacturer think. A retailer chases good, sellable products, and sometimes pays less attention to brand value. Since then, I’ve always tried to keep in mind that we are playing in different fields. By the way, he and I have a good relationship today.
The Retailer: What is the best thing about the MI industry?
Ikegami: I think most of the people in the MI industry truly love music, and even if someone changes jobs, they tend to remain within our industry. I think that’s a good thing about the industry. And I am fortunate to have many long-time, good friends in the industry.
The Retailer: Who do you admire most outside of the music industry and why?
Ikegami: In terms of manufacturing and branding, I admire Steve Jobs. Having passion and working hard to realize dreams, these are not easy jobs. But the moment when products are truly accepted by customers, this moment can be fantastic to the manufacturer.
The Retailer: What technology could change MI down the road?
Ikegami: I wonder if the evolution of artificial intelligence technology could help create virtual experiences that allow us to play musical instruments along with fantastic players all the time. If this happened, maybe more people would feel like starting to learn to play musical instruments.
The Retailer: If you weren’t in the music industry, what would you be doing and why?
Ikegami: I would probably still be manufacturing, but maybe with an artistic expression, like handcrafting something tiny and intricate from wood that lasts for centuries. I am curious about this kind of long-lasting craftmanship. It intrigues me, especially living in an era when it feels like some consumer electronics are almost continuously replaced with newer models.
The Retailer: Tell us about your hometown and why you enjoy living there.
Ikegami: Kyoto, Japan, is my hometown, and I lived there until I was 18 years old. Even now, I regularly visit Kyoto twice a year with my family. The historical architecture in Kyoto has always intrigued me.
The Retailer: What are your most prized possession(s) and why?
Ikegami: Of course, there is nothing more valuable to me than my family, but I’d have to say my most prized possession is my ’59 Gibson Les Paul 60th anniversary model. (I am writing this on my birthday, and the year that I was born is the same year as the original guitar.)
The Retailer: What’s your favorite book and why?
Ikegami: I would choose the book “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” by Inazo Nitobe. The book explores the way of the samurai. It is a surprising fact that the book was published in English in 1900. This book reminds me of the roots of the Japanese way of thinking whenever I have conversations with folks from outside of Japan. Of course, this samurai way of thinking was developed under a feudal system that does not exist nowadays, but I feel a kind of sympathy for the virtue of the Japanese warrior. Another book is “Jogan Seiyo,” a classic Chinese book that tells the story of the reign of Taisho, an emperor from the Tang Dynasty in the seventh century. This book is a good point of reference for not making the same mistake again and continues to influence people all over the world, even those who live in the 21st century. I don’t think I can perfectly follow the author’s words, but I think it is always important to have a reference for this kind of ideal vision and will.