The strange and tragic story of the Garrott Brothers

Hi-fi Legends Lived For Love
Sydney Morning Herald
Sunday May 12, 1991

David Frith

THIS house runs on love,” said a sign on one of the walls. It certainly did.

Love of the work that was being done there. Love of music. And family love: deep, passionate, fiercely held and proudly proclaimed.

The world of the Garrott brothers, hi-fi heroes extraordinaire, which came to an abrupt and tragic end the other day, exhibited it all in a way that could be unsettling to the casual visitor.

Handwritten notes, apparently scrawled and pinned up daily, plastered the walls of the houses that John and Brian Garrott shared with their Filipina wives, Teresita and Normita.

“Darling, I love you,” read one in the hallway. “I love you, too,” answered another in the kitchen. There were more in the workrooms.

And while Brian Garrott quietly set up microscopes and John Garrott began passionately explaining their work, Teresita, in hotpants and singlet, would drape herself across her husband’s shoulders, embracing him with a fierceness that belied her tiny size.

“Darling, show Mr Frith what a real diamond tip looks like,” she would whisper in his ear.

“Darling, I will,” John would say, gently disentangling himself.

Though they were little known in their own country, the brothers Garrott were respected round the globe as the undoubted top experts on diamond styli: the fragile tips that ride through the grooves of LP records.

Audiophiles from all over the world sent their phono cartridges to the Garrotts to be upgraded. Working with stereo microscopes and precision tools, they painstakingly removed the diamond tip and replaced it with one of their own specifications.

“We’re not technicians here, we’re micro-surgeons,” John Garrott told the rare visitors to their house. “We’re doing hundreds of transplants a year.”

At a cost of up to $400, they guaranteed they could make any cartridge, no matter what the cost, sound better.

If you didn’t agree it sounded better after Garrott microsurgery, the brothers offered your money back.

Part of the secret was in the diamond itself. Seen under the microscope set up by the passionate Teresita, the diamond tips of even the most expensive cartridges showed up as lumpy dull grey products with pitted moonscape surfaces.

A Garrott diamond by contrast was everything you ever expected a diamond to be. Sharply cut and faceted by precision lasers in Japan and Germany to the Garrott Brothers’ specifications, its mirror-polished surfaces reflected light with dazzling brilliance. No wonder they sounded so good.

Patiently Brian Garrott – the quiet one – would align the new diamond and fine tune each cartridge. The tiny cantilevers on which the diamonds were mounted would be replaced, rewired and realigned: micro-surgery indeed for minute items.

The close-knit brothers knew they were the best in the world at what they did, and they could be arrogant about it.

They never advertised; they were disdainful, contemptuous even, about marketing. Clients had to find them, which could be difficult indeed as they moved from Tasmania to Avalon, to Little Hartley in the Blue Mountains, and finally to the South Coast.

But somehow the word spread. Every day little packages arrived from all over the world – the US, Japan, Britain, Germany, South America, Yugoslavia -as audiophiles entrusted their phono cartridges to the mail and the Garrotts’loving care.

The brothers had begun fiddling with cartridges as a hobby while working in Britain in the mid-1960s and found to their astonishment their products out-performed some of the best-known equipment in the world.

They returned to Australia in the early 1970s (“It’s still the best place to live despite the national disease of lack of confidence in Australian products,” said John) and in 1974 began their diamond replacement service.

Later they also developed their own cartridge, the Garrott P77, which sold for about $200, but outperformed many imports costing more than $1,000.

They always lived together and worked together at the same home – an arrangement that continued after they met and married Teresita and Normita.

The marriage came relatively late in life, but it was a genuine love match, in doubles. The notes on the wall were evidence of that.

Diamonds, they say, are forever. But human life and health and happiness are built of more fragile stuff. Sometime last year the music began to wind down for the Garrott family.

By February this year John Garrott knew he was dying of a heart condition and unable to work. The business closed. They returned parcels unopened.

For a while Brian thought of continuing to work alone, but then rejected this; everyone had always done everything together or not all.

About two weeks ago they reached the final decision. Soon afterward, at the lonely farmhouse near Bega where they had finished up, one of the four connected a hose to the exhaust of the family car. One of them turned the switch.

And that was that: terminal silence in the house that ran on love.

All four died as they had lived: together. You can only guess at the anguish and torment that must have surrounded the wives’ decision to accompany their husbands in this final tragic journey.

At first Brian and John would have tried to argue them out of it. But the women were fiery little ladies, intensely loyal and deep in their convictions. They would have been insistent.