Gear Trends

Gear Trends - Gamechanger | Audio

The Plus Pedal from Gamechanger Audio

Introduction

Keep reading to find out how to get 15% off selected products in the Gamechanger Audio store!


Welcome to another edition of Gear Trends! So far in the series, we’ve been given some fascinating insights into the world of analogue pedals. Continuing on, I thought it would be worth getting the perspective of those designing in the digital world – or across both worlds – to see what differences in perspective we might find. 


To that end, there are few people better suited to this series than Ilja Krumins from Gamechanger Audio. As a company firmly focused on looking to the future and doing something unique, I was curious to find out how Gamechanger view the split between analogue and digital, the direction of innovation, and the future of alternative business models in the pedal world. 

The Interview

I spoke with analogue pedal builders about the restrictions of analogue and how the future might be different for different technologies. When you’re experimenting with various tech, are you looking at what opens up completely new and alternate paths for the future? 


IK: Before I say anything, I want us to keep in mind that our company is quite young. We only have two released products or concepts, so that is a bit of a disadvantage. Our opinions or ideas would probably be more trustworthy if we had 15 or 20 products under our belts. Having said that, we believe that those two products and the third that we’ve announced are special and unique; we put a lot of thought into them. 


One of our products, the Plus Pedal, is entirely digital, and the second, the Plasma Pedal, is fully analogue. It utilises technology that has been around since the 30s; obviously we have small modern components to provide the electronics, but there are no computer chips or digital conversion in there. So half of our products are fully digital, the other half are fully analogue. My answer would be we don’t have a policy: we don’t really care whether it’s digital or analogue. It doesn’t matter to us. The only thing that’s important is that it’s an interesting product. 


The way we try to design something new is to make sure it ticks a few boxes. It has to provide a new function. For example, the Plasma is an extremely heavy distortion that’s completely silent in front of an amp – there’s no feedback. So it solves a utilitarian problem. Secondly, it has to have an interesting, almost psychological effect. Both the Plus and Plasma feature a new form factor. With the Plus Pedal, it’s a piano sustain pedal, so it draws your attention immediately and has the effect of making you wonder: ‘I could approach playing the guitar like a pianist and work on the arrangements’. And with Plasma, it’s the whole idea of electrical discharge. 


So products need to solve some problem and be legitimately useful, and secondly they have to spark your imagination and be interesting, as something to think about, look at, and experience when playing it. Those two things are the most important to us. And then how you get there – analogue or digital – doesn’t really matter to us. That’s not important. 


So there’s ground to explore in both. Having worked in both fully analogue and fully digital, did you feel that digital had a bigger range of possibilities? 


IK: Well…I mean no. I actually don’t see them in these categories, I don’t prefer one to another. But personally, I tend to choose really stupidly complicated guitar setups with amps that need servicing and so on. I would rather have something break down during the show but, at least for the time that it worked, it sounded great. I’m all into electro mechanical stuff and guitars that don’t stay in tune and old crackly amps and guitar pedals from the 80s – I really like that kind of stuff. 


That’s interesting to hear, because people might not guess that just from looking at the Plus Pedal. 


IK: Yeh, the Plus Pedal is very digital. When we started weighing up the job list and the necessary knowledge base, we realised all of us would need to read a lot of books and get educated about digital and programming. We needed to learn a lot of stuff to make that happen. But the point is we don’t have a preference between digital or analogue or whatever. It’s just: here’s what we need to do, this is the best way to do it. If it involves a computer or writing a program or a piece of software, then let’s go, let’s do it. 


Our new concept is called the Motor Synth, and that is a perfect combination of both worlds. It has an electro mechanical sound source – the rotation of the motors – and we harness that in different ways with optical sensors and also with specially designed little pickups that pick up the movement of the coils and motor. So the sound source is fully analogue and completely old school, but the super precise way we control it, to play music with it, is achieved by rather sophisticated software. The chips that make these motors spin in very controlled frequencies – the foundation of that lies more in the world of drones or aircraft. So we have no problem combining those two worlds in this product. 


That’s fascinating, because in previous interviews in this series we kept coming to the traditionalism of guitarists, and how we all like some element of old gear, whether that be from the 80s or 60s or whatever. We talked about how to combine that with innovation, which we also love. Do you guys find it quite easy to strike a balance between those things?

 

IK: Yeh, it’s actually something that we’ve talked about. It’s a little bit of a frustration. I think that one of the reasons things are going in a digital, computer, plugin kind of direction, and also why old gear gets over-glorified a little bit, is that at some point in the 2000s people decided we had exhausted all the possibilities of analogue, and if we want to go forward, the only new, unexplored territories are in the digital world. So as a community of builders and manufacturers, everyone collectively decided: that’s it, we’ve done everything we can do with analogue electronics and mechanical things, if you want to innovate you have to use some kind of computer. 


I think that’s kind of the reason some people stopped making analogue gear. This is clearly visible in the synth world: before the Korg Monologue and Minilogue series, for a while, nobody actually made commercial, affordable analogue synths, because people thought if you need to innovate, it has to be with digital. 


I just don’t really agree with that. We found a way to do a fully analogue thing that’s totally innovative. The Plasma Pedal uses a coil transformer at its heart. It’s out as a pedal, as a eurorack module and now also as a studio rack module, and it’s doing really well. We were met with scepticism at first online, but now it’s been out and in people’s hands for 6 months, and I think that scepticism has slowly but very surely faded away, and more and more serious people are accepting it as a legit piece of analogue gear that’s good, not a gimmick. 


It’s the same thing with the motors. It’s not true that the only choices in terms of synths are digital or old-school 70s/80s synths based on VCOs that run on crystals. We think there is a lot of untapped territory in the analogue, electromechanical kind of realms, and that you can also still innovate in those areas. The more we put our minds to it, the clearer it becomes to us that there is still more that could have been done even in the 60s and 70s that simply nobody thought of. Innovation does not always have to be in the direction of going more and more digital. 


Having said that, a lot of times digitally controlled elements make the product better. So you can combine electro mechanical and analogue elements with the digitally controlled, like a little computer that helps you switch functionality. 


I think that’s telling: people deciding in advance what different technologies can do and reacting hastily to obvious innovations. I remember with both Plus and Plasma there was one twenty-second sound clip out and people already made these assumptions. Yet when people actually try the product, they realise it’s not a gimmick at all.


IK: We take it as a sign that we’re probably doing something right. But I will say that when announcing the Motors I was convinced we were going to be destroyed online. If they thought Plasma was a gimmick, they’re going to bury us alive for doing something with electro motors! I was convinced everybody would be amused and just write it off. But I was really surprised. The synth community and keyboard community are apparently much more progressive than guitarists. They’re showing us a lot of respect and love, and there are almost no hateful comments about the Motors. That was a shock!


It’s unfortunately not that surprising that the keyboard and synth guys are more open when it comes to technology than us guitarists. 


IK: Yeh, who knew? It looks like I’ve been playing the wrong instrument…


Maybe so! In terms of another aspect of Gamechanger, you also do things differently with your approach to business, such as utilising a lot of new online tools. Do you think going forward we will see a lot more new companies using these approaches? 


IK: Yes, absolutely. We live in a really, really good time for this. The indie movement started maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, and most of the new generation of effects companies started off in a very Mom-and-Pop way. Like, soldering in the basement, then there are too many orders so you get a buddy to come over and solder with you, then two buddies, then you move to your own space, then you get an assistant. Then organically, slowly, it becomes a real business. 


That’s a very long and labour-intensive way to do this. Our background is actually a bit different. I don’t really believe in handmade electronics. I don’t like hand-wired and hand-soldered stuff – I think it’s ridiculous. I want my food and my beer handcrafted, I don’t want my electronics to be handcrafted. Electronics should be made by a robot. Because it’s precise. It’s the same thing every time. So we knew from the start we didn’t want to be involved in any hand soldering of pedals. 


Also, we realised that if we’re going to develop new tech – in the case of the Plus Pedal it took us over a year in terms of research and building the prototype – if we’re going to spend so much time developing pieces of software and everything like that, we want large-batch manufacturing. So from the very beginning, starting organically and slowly was not an option, and we didn’t consider it. 


We were collecting information from the electronics manufacturers about what the investments would be. Then, basically, when we opened it up for the pre-orders on our website, we knew we could only manufacture something when we reached a particular amount of orders. If we had had 77 on order, we would have just sat there until we reached 700, then at 700 we would have the money and would launch a one-off manufacturing run. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for that number, so we’ve been manufacturing in an industrial way since the very beginning. 


We were very aware of available pre-order systems built through our own website and systems like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and they allow you to do exactly that. We were all about twenty-six or so when we started, and we didn’t look for investment or sell our cars or anything like that. We just realised that with the right marketing message and the right product, we could turn the initial fans and supporters into the first investment round, and be self-sufficient. Maybe we didn’t make any money off the first manufacturing batch, but it got the ball rolling. 


I think that is the future. Getting the initial investment if you’ve got a good product is not going to be a problem for future business owners. Just make sure first of all that the product is good, that the prototype’s good, come up with something people resonate with, then use the hype online to convert that into your first investment. 

In Closing

Following my interview with analogue builders, it was surprising to hear Ilja’s thoughts on the potential of analogue and digital technologies. Across the three interviews so far, it’s certainly building a picture of the pedal world in which everyone can find totally unique ways to innovate and keep things fresh. The versatility of all this tech might help explain why there are so many new pedals and brands coming onto the market: there’s room for everyone to create something unique, even with the same (old) components. 


To fill in this picture even more, next time I’ll be talking to someone with vast experience in both the analogue and digital worlds, and whose company has brought out some of the most ingenious pedals on the market today. Until then, I'd like to thank Ilja again for his time, and say thank you for reading, and know your gear. 


Get 15% off selected products in the Gamechanger Audio store using coupon code: KYG

(Excluding the Plasma Rack and Plasma Eurorack).

(Offer expires on Sunday 24th March).


Check out Gamechanger Audio here: www.gamechangeraudio.com and www.gamechangeraudio.com/shop/


Contributed by Matt Blades

Boutique pedal builders part 2 - Flattley guitar pedals

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Introduction

After my fascinating interview with Lawrence Petross of LPD Pedals in part 1, I had the chance to pose these questions on the future of pedals to Paul Flattley of Flattley Guitar Pedals. Based in the UK and with a background in aviation, Paul brings another perspective in thinking about what the future may bring for the industry as a whole and for himself as a British builder of custom, boutique, analogue pedals.


The Interview

I wanted to consider where we are with pedals in 2019 and where things might go from here. The market produces a lot of variations on the same theme, as well as out and out copies. Is this something unique to pedals, or is it related to the more general characteristics of many guitarists as traditionalist and nostalgic?


PF: There’s a little bit of both there really. There are only so many ways to do effect functions. You can make stuff that sounds really different, but what do you really use it for in a band? Over the years people have made outlandish stuff that sounds great but just isn’t practical in a mix. So they tend to make few of them and that’s it.


The guitarist now has such a massive selection, which is why we got into doing bass pedals as well. We’ve got 14 pedals in our current bass range, to try to give bassists a choice of really good sounds at their feet and the range that guitarists have.


So do you think there’s maybe a bit more freedom and ground to explore in the bass pedal world?


PF: Yes, most definitely. I think Darkglass have seen that. They’ve shot to a meteoric rise doing a large and really nice range of bass pedals. They saw the market there and have obviously gone for it, and good luck to them.


For guitar and bass pedals, just how much of the potential pedal universe is there still to be discovered?


PF: Well, that’s very difficult! Like I say, I think we’re getting close to sort of what the end is in terms of your overdrive, fuzz, and that sort of stuff. Modulation seems to have a bit of scope. We all have to have our own unique selling points because it’s very hard to break into the market and get the retailers to have confidence in the brand. One thing that’s more exciting now is that people are able to tailor products to specific types of amps and guitars, so I could produce something I know sounds amazing with a Tele and a certain kind of amp for example.


There was a mad rush to digital when it came in and now it’s going back other way, and there’s a big divide now between digital and analogue. If you’re making analogue, that’s an audience that you’re targeting, and if you’re doing that you have to make sure it’s toneful and reactive. There’s probably not a lot more we can do in terms of variety, but there’s a lot in terms of fine-tuning to certain kinds of applications.


Nostalgia or traditionalism comes up again and again as something prominent. When you’re looking to the future, is there a bit of a balancing act between innovation and good, old-fashioned tone?


PF: There is a balancing act, because you’ve got to come up with an idea and then figure out: ‘is this idea required? What would be the application of it?’ If you’re spending time and investment, you need to be sure it will sell because there’s a need for it. What we do is look at functionality and flexibility, particularly for working musicians. It’s like with a guitar. If I made a guitar so heavy 50% of people couldn’t or wouldn’t carry it, that’s for a very narrow audience. So there’s a balance in terms of working out if there’s enough room in the market for another distortion or fuzz or similar pedal. There’s so much information and so many people doing such a good job, it’s actually hard to have a really bad sounding pedal these days.


There has been a kind of pedal boom in recent times. What’s the role of social media in this? Particularly YouTube, which has become a centre of the community dominated by pedals.


PF: I’m going to be outspoken, but I mean no offence to anybody selling on YouTube, by which I mean retailers. The social media market has exploded. Some guys have done very well at it. And a lot of people buy with their eyes, or at least that takes them 50% of the way to purchasing.


I’ll mention a couple of names: Andertons and That Pedal Show have done exceptionally well at building a network and another mode of getting product to people all over the world. People will search the product on their phone, find that Andertons have done an excellent quality video, and then they search for the cheapest price. It’s now just done through Google search. It is very good for pedals because they’re in the cheaper price points; with a drum kit or a guitar, people really need to check out the feel as well as the sound. Technology has made the reproduction of sound so good these days that if you hear something on video and like it, you’ll probably think it’s amazing in the room. So that’s done a world of magic for products that can be marketed and sold to the far corners of the earth on their sound.


There’s another thing. On That Pedal Show, for example, they go into lots of depth and do good stuff. But the power of that is that people see they have a certain product on the pedalboard and then go and buy it, even though the video wasn’t about that product.


I’m not from that generation of social media, so I’m having to adapt myself to it. It has effects that are great, but in some ways it is destroying high street retailers in terms of the smaller guys. That is disappointing, because a lot of people may do research online but they really want to go to a shop and try something out before they part with hard-earned money. I’ve picked out Andertons and That Pedal Show just as examples of two of the most subscribed to, and I have to say fair play to them, they’ve done very well in this day and age.


You say you have to adapt to this approach. Is that absolutely necessary if you want to be a pedal builder going into the future, to embrace social media?


PF: There are two options. There are people who build pedals but also have a day job. Then there are people who give up their day job and build pedals for a living. I’m of the second group, I have no day job other than pedals, so I have to make a living. Music retail has gone down this track; it’s not that pedal builders have. If that’s the track, then you have to go down it if you want to make a living.


And there’s nothing to stop you utilising the old-fashioned approach of going to stores. I have people who come to my custom workshop, bringing their own amp and guitar if they want to, so they know that if they purchase a pedal it’s exactly what they want. But the mechanisms of how you put a brand out on the market have changed. I could spend £50 on an Instagram ad and reach more people than spending £500 on a top guitar magazine ad. It depends on the individual and what they want the business to do for them.


The economics seem in favour of pedal builders using social media in the ways they have. At the same time though, we’re hearing about the pedal market being very up and down lately. Does that expose a flaw in the way pedal builders are using these platforms, such as spamming with as much content as possible?


PF: The thing is, I’m not so sure. 2018 was a poor year for retail full stop. At the end of the day, we have to understand these things are, for most people, luxury items. So if the country has been in a recession, disposable income is short and people don’t have the money for guitar pedals. Also, we’ve got a bigger market now to buy second hand gear with the likes of Reverb, and it’s well controlled now – 9/10 times if you buy something second hand you get the product as described.


During the summer of 2018, with all the hot weather, I spoke to retailers who didn’t sell a pedal of any brand for three months. I spoke to one chap in Northern England who between June and August didn’t sell a guitar in his shop. So it’s not just pedals that go up and down, and there are actually places in the world where pedal sales are good, such as across Western Europe and Japan. I think the UK itself had a very, very tough year for pedal sales and for music retail in general.


Going forward, what could be a more positive way to create a presence and connect with people as a pedal builder?


PF: We did 25 trade shows last year. I like to speak to people because then they can tell me what they would like. I prefer that approach, but it’s not always practical because of costs and time, and there are only so many exhibitions. Social media is a necessary evil for maintaining things, putting out new products and so on, but I still prefer meeting people at trade shows and finding out what they’re looking for.


And there’s also going into retail shops. I was in one shop in the Southwest and because I was there with three pedalboards a customer asked if he could try something, and he ended up buying three pedals from the retailer. So being there, being a face for people to actually talk to, people still feel they can talk to the company and there’s still a personal link there.


In a way pedals are in the middle of the instrument, being affected on one side by guitars and on the other by the amps and speakers. We’re seeing those sides (the rest of the instrument) change a lot with modellers, floor units, plugins, new approaches to pickups, electric/acoustic hybrid guitars, etc. How does this affect designing pedals for the future? Do you have to keep all of this in mind?


PF: Not necessarily. The new Headrush (Gigboard) is currently doing the rounds of retailers for training, and that’s on a pedalboard with three of my pedals. It’s done that way to show the interaction between digital and analogue. Digital is quite cheap in terms of the cost of a multi effects unit compared to what it would take to make an analogue multi effects unit, for example, so there might be financial considerations along the line. But I’m keen on analogue and that’s the way I go, and if other people are more interested in only digital then good luck to them going that way.


Considering everything we’ve talked about, what thoughts about the future get you up and excited to build pedals every day?


PF: Money! (Laughs). No, no, not really. Because I don’t have to do it. Because it’s a passion. Getting up, making a very complex analogue pedal, wiring it all up, plugging it in and it working first time – that does give me a bit of adrenaline. Trust me, it doesn’t happen that way every time, and anybody who says it does is lying! (Laughs). It gives me ideas, to always look for continuous improvement, for developing new ideas and getting new stuff out there. Even if it’s just a variation on a theme like a new graphic, that still gets me up in the morning. Compared to other boutique builders, we don’t necessarily make 1000s of one particular pedal because of the way that our graphics are done, so I’m not always building the same thing. So I still have the chance of a little bit of variety as well.



In Closing

Thank you very much Paul for giving up your time and sharing your insights. It was fascinating to note the similarities and differences between Paul and Lawrence, with it being clear that building communities and connections is the way of the future for small builders. Considering the stark contrast that both drew between analogue and digital, it will be interesting to hear about this from digital designers later in this series.


I hope you all found this as interesting as I did. Catch you again soon, and Know Your Gear. Check out Flattley Guitar Pedals here: http://www.flattleyguitarpedals.co.uk/

(Available in the US through https://www.capitalmusicgear.com/)


Catch you all soon, and know your gear!


Contributed by Matt Blades

Boutique Pedal Builders Part 1 - Lawrence petross design

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Special Introduction

Hey guys and gals, Sawyer here, just wanting to take a sec to officially welcome Matt Blades to the Know Your Gear Crew. 


Matt is a fantastic writer and you probably already know him from the Gear Wars articles. Well, I’m super proud to introduce Matt’s new series articles called: Gear Trends.


So sit back and enjoy a great read!


Also, please take time to check out Matt’s website where you will discover lots of fantastic gear related articles. Just go to: mattblades.com.

Introduction

Welcome to the latest Know Your Gear article series: Gear Trends. Sawyer is doing such a fantastic job with The History of Gear, we thought it would make sense to also try looking into the future. Rather than just throw out our own predictions and opinions though, it seemed much more valuable to get the informed ideas of those working in various parts of the industry.


So, over the coming months, I’ll be bringing you interviews with experts and professionals from every corner of the world of gear. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on changes we can expect to see in the industry, the direction of innovation, the growing role of social media, and more.


As boutique and small pedal companies have come to such prominence recently, we thought it would be fitting to sit down with some analogue wizards and pick their brains about the years ahead for pedal builders. First up, I was very fortunate to get to talk with Lawrence Petross of LPD pedals, a one-man, handcrafted, analogue pedal operation based in Mesa, AZ.


The Interview

I wanted to consider where we are with pedals in 2019 and where things might go from here. The market produces a lot of variations on the same theme, as well as out-and-out copies. Is this something unique to pedals, or is it related to the more general characteristics of many guitarists as traditionalist and nostalgic?


LP: I think it’s probably a little bit of all of those things. Guitar players – being one myself I can vouch for this – like to talk cutting edge and new things, but when it comes to putting it into practice we always go back to the old things. We’re quite a superstitious lot in that way, and it’s a nostalgia thing. A lot of the crowd likes to say ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could have all those old amps, but just better’. Then somebody makes it better, but better also means different, and so nobody likes it. They say, ‘wouldn’t it be great if it was exactly the same?’


And in any industry, once the field gets really crowded, even to the point of being oversaturated, it kind of starts to eat its own. It devolves from innovation into duplication, and that’s when you see hundreds of clones of certain things, which is where we’re at now I think. There are still people out there doing innovative things, but for the most part mass produced pedals – excluding the big pillars such as Boss – are not necessarily being innovative.


Just how much of the potential pedal universe is there still to be discovered?


LP: There’s still plenty of growth, though not necessarily in analogue. You have to be pretty creative not just to duplicate when it comes to analogue. It’s older technology, and as with all technology most of the innovation happens at its beginning, and as it goes on innovations become few and far between and people reimagine ways to do what’s been done before.


The new frontier is digital, DSP. The digital domain can be very creative and have mind- boggling sounds and processing, but guitar players don’t necessarily want that. Take Axe-Fx. I know it is capable of doing sounds never heard before due to its processing power and the main engineer’s mind behind it. We could hear really crazy stuff come out of that unit. Butwe won’t because, like I said, guitar players like to talk that game, but in the end they go back to the traditional sounds that were on all the records they listened to growing up.


This nostalgia comes up again and again as something prominent. When you’re looking to the future, is there a bit of a balancing act there? Between the traditional and adventurous? Innovation vs. good old-fashioned tone?


LP: I’ve kind of got an out there because I don’t design in digital, only analogue. So for lack of better phrase I don’t have to worry about it. (Laughs). If I were working with digital, I would have to. That’s a different kind of worms. For a digital designer you’re spot on, you have to push the envelope of new sounds and still have one hand on the base, the things we’ve been listening to for the last 50 years. That’s just how the musicians market is.


We still love to cling to tubes. Tubes are wonderful, beautiful things, but they’re 80 years old, they have plenty of problems, and are ancient tech compared to the stuff people are working with in the digital domain. It has to be frustrating for digital designers who know what their product is capable of doing but are shackled to having to emulate vacuum tube technology.


There has been kind of a pedal boom in recent times. What’s the role of social media in this? Particularly YouTube, which has become a centre of the community dominated by pedals.


LP: It’s an interesting question. From a sound standpoint it shouldn’t make any difference, right? Product is product, and whether it’s a pedal or an amp shouldn’t matter. Pedals are demoed through amps anyway, so why should people be attracted to the pedal rather than the amp? I would have to say it’s probably price point. Maybe it’s a situation where people don’t feel they can afford the amp so they don’t even look at it, but pedals are more affordable and small, so they’re just consuming more of those videos. But that’s really just my guess.


The economics seem in favour of pedal builders using social media in the ways they have. At the same time though, we’re hearing about the pedal market being very up and down lately. Does that expose a flaw in the way pedal builders are using these platforms, such as spamming with as much content as possible?


LP: I think it does. I don’t myself prescribe to that being something that’s useful for the future. Sure, when it first started, ten or fifteen people reviewing the pedal at the same time, people thought ‘oh, cool’. But it only takes three or four of those before it sets a trend, and then it’s not long for the average consumer to see that trend and be saturated by it and not want to see another pedal review. Companies that have done that are going to start seeing vastly diminishing returns on their marketing, if they haven’t already.


If I take a look at the thought that goes into that marketing from just my perspective: it’s banking on a large wave of purchases just after the product is put out, and then expecting a sharp drop off. They’re not playing the long game, they’re playing the short game. They hope they make enough to cover everything in the first two or three months, make a little profit, then move on to something new. They’re not really keeping that product as a mainstay. They just move on.


So going forward, what could be a more positive way to create a presence and connect with people as a pedal builder?


LP: Building a community, I think. Top notch customer service. Being accessible to customers. From a customer standpoint, if you’re paying a premium for a product there should be other things that come along with it, rather than just the product. You should be able to have communication with the maker of the product, for example. So I would say building a community that way – a good community of players who enjoy the product.


When I send product out to have it demoed, I talk a lot with the person doing the demo. I try to get a feel for the kind of player they are and match them with a product of mine they are really going to enjoy. For me – and this is something that larger companies who do blast marketing fail to see on YouTube – if the person presenting the product doesn’t have a connection to it, the viewer almost automatically picks up on it. It’s pretty easy to see shilling: there’s no connection or it seems fake. When I talk to people, it’s not interviewing them, just trying to make a connection and to give them a product they enjoy and hopefully want to keep. And then when they present it to an audience, it’s authentic and real.


I think that’s how small entrepreneurs survive in the market. This is a niche market anyway, but guitar players who are into pedals and willing to pay for something handmade is an even smaller slither of that market. So you have to find ways to interact on their level so they feel appreciated as a customer and a player, and will get product they will appreciate and enjoy and be inspired by.


So that’s a lot more long-term personal and less short-term transactional?


LP: Absolutely.


Interesting to think how long it will take that kind of thinking to catch on with the bigger players.


LP: If it ever does. From my limited experience, the mass manufactured Chinese products – I don’t see them achieving that. It’s just not part of their business plan. They don’t think that way.


In a way pedals are in the middle of the instrument, being affected on one side by guitars and on the other by the amp and speakers. We’re seeing those sides (the rest of the instrument) change a lot with modelers, floor units, plugins, new approaches to pickups, electric/acoustic hybrid guitars, etc. How much does this affect designing pedals for the future? Do you have to keep all of this in mind going forward?


LP: I’m first and foremost a musician. I spend as much time, maybe even more, on the consuming side than I do on the design side, which is good because I can talk to lots of players and find out what shortcomings there are for their particular rig. Yet the digital domain, with things like Helix, Axe-Fx or Kemper, pushes towards not having a traditional guitar amp. They are either going direct to a PA or using in-ears, so there are plenty of pro setups now with almost no stage volume. There’s been a societal move away from volume: guys in churches almost always run in-ears and go direct, there’s rarely any stage volume.


These new products excel in these environments because they sound and feel so good going direct; they don’t need a lot of air moving for you to have a decent experience as a player. I

believe most clubs and small venues still have some stage volume, but it’s going away a bit. It’s the natural evolution of things.


I do keep all that in mind in some instances. I do design pedals that are specifically to go in front of guitar amps, because that’s part of the market. I don’t know the percentage and won’t even hazard a guess, but I’d still say that’s probably a majority, though maybe getting closer to fifty-fifty. I also have several designs that are fully functioning preamps that can go direct into an audio interface and be used with cab IRs to get the interaction you would get with a full amp, and you can record that way. But I try to envision how products are going to be used by the majority of players and try to accommodate them.


Considering everything we’ve talked about, what thoughts about the future get you up and excited to build pedals every day?


LP: Talking with customers. Most of the time that’s what does it because they’re excited about the sounds they hear. They’re inspired and want to be inspired, and that’s very motivational.

It’s my first NAMM this year, and I’m preparing to be completely overwhelmed. Because it’s terrifying! It’s like looking into the void because there’s just this sea of product. I try not to let that cloud my vision or bring me down. I keep one eye on that only as much as I have to, to be able to see what’s out there, what’s coming out, and make sure I’m doing something different because I don’t like just reinventing the wheel.


I definitely get inspired by customers and potential customers. Social media is a wonderful thing for that, you can come up with an idea and float it out there and get an immediate response, so you can determine whether it’s valuable enough to put time and energy into designing.


But I would say for inspiration it’s all about talking with current customers and potential customers. Their excitement is just about enough to keep anybody going.


In Closing

I’d like to thank Lawrence for his time and such a fascinating interview. It’s always exciting to hear the connection that the smaller guys can have with passionate musicians, and hearing Lawrence’s thoughts on social media blast marketing made me wonder if that sort of thing doesn’t do more harm than good for a brand in the long run. In the future, those who get the most value out of the online community may be those who don’t treat it like part of a business plan.


If you’re interested in hearing a further pedal-building perspective, check out Part 2 next week with Paul Flattley of Flattley Guitar Pedals, who took the time to give his thoughts on the future of pedals. We’ve also got more articles on Gear Trends coming very soon, featuring interviews with guitar builders, digital pedal designers, and many more.


Check out LPD Pedals here: https://www.lawrencepetrossdesign.com/


Catch you all soon, and Know Your Gear.


Contributed by Matt Blades