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I N   M E M O R Y   O F


Charles “Bud” Andrew Ross, 77, Olathe, KS, passed away March 10, 2018, at Kansas City Hospice House, Kansas City, MO.

Bud was born May 31, 1940, in Ashford, West Virginia to Stanton and Helen (Barker) Ross. He grew up in West Virginia and at the age of 12 moved to the Kansas City area, where he graduated from high school at Kansas City College and Bible School in Overland Park, KS.

Bud had been repeatedly successful at developing ideas based on new technologies and delivering them to the marketplace, as evidenced by his creation of Kustom Electronics, Ross Pedals, Road Amplifiers, Birdview Satellites and others. His most recent success was Kustom Corners. He was a member of the Elks Lodge. He enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, but most of all; he received great pleasure in helping others, whether they were a friend, family or a stranger.

Bud was preceded in death by his parents and sister, Gloria Mendenhall. He is survived by his sons: Stanton Ross (Merett) of Overland Park, KS, and Andy Ross Jr. of Spring Hill, TN; daughter, Ronda Dumovich (Bo) of Kansas City, KS; stepdaughter, Ulrika Nilsson of Stockholm, Sweden, and stepson Fredrik Nilsson (Adriana) of Olathe, KS; 15 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren; sisters: Cora Ann Reding of Lawrence, KS, Lucille Stinson of Kingston Springs, TN, Ruthie Ross of Louisburg, KS, and Ilene Robbins of Grain Valley, MO.

The Ross children would like to thank Bud's sister, their Aunt Ruthie, for her loving care of their father in this time of need.

Ross described as great mind, amazing entrepreneur

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2018 7:40 pm


Charles “Bud” Ross brought notoriety to Chanute with his innovative business dealings, particularly Kustom and Birdview. Ross died Saturday in Kansas City at the age of 77.

In announcing his death, Andy Ross posted, “Today I lost my father, my best friend and my hero.”

Andy said, “The greatest compliment anyone ever gave me was when they would say, ‘Andy, you’re a chip off the ol’ block, you’re just like your dad.’ His kind heart touched thousands of people, and for those who knew him, you know he was not afraid to have a good time. If anyone ever got from life and not just through life it was my dad.”

Ross made his first amplifier for his own band in 1958. By 1964, he had founded Kustom in Chanute. Ross, Inc. was the first to mass­ produce amplifiers covered in roll and pleat vinyl, popularly referred to as “Tuck­And­Roll” naugahyde.

The amplifiers featured solid ­state circuitry instead of vacuum tube ­based designs that were so common in the 1960s. Eventually the company branched out to produce organs, drums, microphones and guitars.

Kustom produced a line of guitars from 1967­ to 1969 designed by Doyle Reading, who also designed guitars for Wurlitzer. Ross was equally innovative producing radar and car monitors for law enforcement. Kustom Electronics is still going strong in Chanute. He also formed Ross Musical, Road Amps and Birdview Satellite, among many ventures in and out of the music industry.

Today, Kustom amplifiers are considered fairly collectible and are preferred by some vintage enthusiasts for their solid state tone. Rockabilly and Motown musicians originally used these amps. Other artists known for using the Kustom brand include Creedence Clearwater Revival, Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Jackson 5, Carl Perkins and The Carpenters.

Kustom collector David Bideau, local lawyer and county commissioner, grew up just a few blocks away from the first Kustom factory on Seventh Street. “I rode my bike there and watched amps being made,” Bideau said.

The youngster was learning to play guitar and wanted one of those amps “so bad I could taste it.”

Bideau managed to purchase a couple of amps after he graduated from law school and now has collected 100 of them.

A brother in law to Ross’ son Stan, Bideau shared the story on how Kustom made its way to Chanute.

Ross was in the Minneapolis, Minn. airport, returning from a business trip to Kansas City. Fred Harris, Chamber of Commerce director in Chanute at the time, was in Minneapolis preparing to come back to Chanute and they struck up a conversation. A deal was eventually worked out where Ross would build his Kustom amps at the Seventh Street location, formerly a grocery store. “They built them right here in Chanute, using local people, and they still work today and are easy to repair,” Bideau said. “He was very dynamic and amazing entrepreneur,” he said of Ross. Bud put Chanute on the map. Dwight Blackwood, retired optometrist, said he met Bud “two or three days after he came to Chanute, when Smokey Hale unloaded him on Seventh Street. Blackwood said he had two really close friends, Ross and the late Jack Loss. “They’re probably having a good time right now,” he said. Blackwood said both were extremely bright and fun to be around. “They could see a problem and have it solved before most could think about it. I used to say Bud was so bright that he could throw a crossword puzzle into the air and solve it in his mind before it came down,” Blackwood said.

He recalled Ross stopping by one day and he had to tell him, “You’re a bright guy. Can’t you see I’m mowing my lawn?” But, Bud said, “Park that thing, I’ve got an idea.” They went to Holiday Park and Ross laid out his plans for Birdview.

“He said we’d take a signal for a satellite and because farmers don’t have cable, we’ll make a dish and call it Birdview.” Thus, the largest satellite company of its time was born. Nearly everyone in the country had one of those big white dishes in their backyards. Blackwood emphasized that Ross left a huge imprint in Chanute.

“He was one of the most generous men, not just to his employees but also to the city of Chanute.”

He said he would have loved to be at the city meeting when an Orizon spokesman commended the work

ethic of the workforce. “That’s the guy that did that for you,” he said of Ross. “He gave you that workforce.”

Blackwood said Ross “knew everybody.” He got to meet Ray Charles in Dallas and Ted Turner in Las Vegas because of Bud. “To be around him and draw from his enthusiasm was amazing,” he said. “Chanute was really put on the map by Bud.” Blackwood said he has made visits to Kansas City to have lunch with Ross and always visited when Bud came back to Chanute. “I respected him so much and how bright he was,” he said. “We lost a great mind.”

Bud Ross - Headshot The Chanute Tribune.
Bud Ross - Jet Kansas City Business Jour
Bud Ross - Kustom Elect The Chanute Trib

Kansas City-area inventor who helped shape American music dies

Mar 16, 2018, 3:07pm CDT Updated: Mar 16, 2018, 3:35pm CDT

Charles "Bud" Ross came to the Kansas City area on a Greyhound bus. Ross leaves a legacy that included inventing a world-famous guitar amplifier and handheld police radars, and being inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

Ross, who died Saturday, was self-taught in electronics. He also invented iconic guitar pedals and an affordable home satellite system.

Ross grew up poor in West Virginia. He was 12 years old when his mother moved the family to Kansas to take a job at a Bible school near 74th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.

"He was a true rags to riches story," said his son Stan Ross. "When he came to Kansas, he said the biggest thing that jumped out at him was how big the sky was. When he lived in the hollows of the mountains in West Virginia, you could only see from mountain tip to mountain tip."

Bud Ross' music career began at age 18, after meeting Hal Nichols in the Soda Shop at 7938 Santa Fe Drive in Overland Park. Nichols had a four-piece band and Ross became the band's manager.

According to an interview Ross did with the Kansas City Blues Society for Blues News Magazine in 2012, Ross landed the Hal Nichols Band a regular Friday and Saturday night gig at Berry's Barn near 119th Street and Interstate 35. It was one of the Kansas City area's earliest rock 'n' roll venues. The band got paid $50 —

$10 for each band members and $10 for Ross. When the band decided to cut Ross out of the equation, he convinced the owner of Berry's Barn to hire a new band. The band was called "The Rebel Rousers," and Ross was the lead singer.

Ross later joined a band called "The Sliders" and taught himself to play bass. To save money he built his own amp, the first one in 1959. In 1960, Ross opened The Promenade Ballroom at 31st and Main streets in Kansas City with John "The Barber" Roeder. He formed a new band called "The Bygones" that played throughout the area, including at The Promenade Ballroom, The Coke Bar in Grandview, Berry's Barn and The Soc Hop near 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park. At The Soc Hop one night, Ross met Dave Gates, who had experience doing custom auto upholstery work. Gates asked if he could "tuck and roll" Ross' amplifier, which was an upholstering technique using Naugahyde that was popular for hot rod seats at the time. The eye-catching look soon became Ross' unofficial trademark.

Tired of amplifiers breaking down all the time, Ross started teaching himself about electronics. He moved toward solid state technology, and away from the temperamental tube technology in standard use at the time. The amp he built was incredibly sturdy, with a big, clean, loud sound. It quickly attracted attention from musicians of the era, and Ross started building amps out of his garage. By 1964, Ross had enough business to form Kustom Electronics in Chanute, Kan., and make amplifiers on a full-time basis. "Jenkins Music was the big chain in this area and they had about 15 stores, with maybe four or five in Kansas City, and locations in Topeka, Oklahoma City and Tulsa," Bud Ross said in an oral history video posted by the National Association of Music Merchants. "J.W. Jenkins was the president and they carried my amplifier.....He took most of the volume. He was very good to me. When an amp would break down, they'd call me and I’d go get it, then fix it up." By 1966, Kustom had built a reputation. It was an era when a more processed guitar sound was coming into fashion, with distortion and other effects, and Kustom amps were a perfect fit. The amps and speaker cabinets, sporting the iconic tuck-and-roll upholstery, were used by The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Jackson Five, Carl Perkins and The Carpenters.

Ross branched into making organs, drums, microphones, guitars and other items, but he got spread too thin and ended up going bankrupt. He was forced to sell Kustom in June 1972 to Baldwin Pianos.

Ross soon formed a new company and began making guitar-effects pedals, including the famous Ross Compressor pedal, which is still highly coveted for its warm tone and long-lasting sustain.

Ross was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Aside from the music, Ross was a pioneer in home satellite systems, founding Birdview Satellite in 1981, which offered products at a quarter the cost of rivals. He played a role developing one of the first handheld radar units for police. He built boats and high-speed printing presses. Late in life, he created a company called Kustom Corners in Overland Park, which sold corner-rounding machines for business cards, postcards and brochures.

"One of the things he loved to say is, 'How can you dream big if you're not seeing big?,'" Stan Ross said. "My dad clearly showed us how to see big. He did big things throughout our lives, so we were able to dream big. We were pretty lucky kids."

James Dornbrook


Kansas City Business Journal

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