My name is Kyle Tompkins and I'm the OG of this gang.
My background was in the visual arts/computers, but I've been playing guitar and recording original music for myself and others since I was 18-19. I was a 4-track wizard. I could make your band's demo tape sound dope, but please don't ask to hear any of my original stuff from back then. At the time I was really into bands like Ween, The Butthole Surfers and the early Flaming Lips stuff which was all very effect-laden, so I always kept a harem of random effect pedals around. But let's skip nearly a decade ahead...
The beginning of the electronics thing is rooted in the cliché story of a DIY-minded guy sitting at a kitchen table with a crappy soldering iron from Rat Shack. At first it was just modding and fixing pedals/gear/guitars and then graduated to building pedals for myself and some dudes. Really I should have been playing guitar instead of fooling around. It was an awesome kitchen though, so I succumbed to its nightly siren's call.
I was employed as a Graphic Designer when I started seeing legs under what was at that time just the idea of Blackout. Being active on a few of the more prominent guitar/effects forums and some DIY electronics forums I felt that I had a pretty good grasp on what was happening in the small builder scene at the time and ultimately came to feel that I had some ideas that would rival and perhaps even best some of the current offerings.
Blackout Effectors was officially started in that kitchen in downtown Vancouver in early 2008 A.D. It was a humble beginning without much fanfare, real direction or even hopes for any definable success. Girls just want to have fun, eh? If I had to make a checklist now of some things that I had going for me at the time it would read: a few cool ideas, some balls, some free time and the ability to focus like a laser beam on a single task for hours on end into evil, unspeakable parts of the night/morning and then still go to my day job where the real money was.
Basically that was the first year of Blackout. A few pedals ordered per week turned into a dozen which turned into chronic insomnia. Not sleeping for a year probably doesn't sound like fun, but it was a blast. Maybe you had to be there? There were lots of lessons learned along the way. The biggest of which was probably that the actual time spent building pedals was only going to be equaled by the time spent running the business end.
Obviously at some point in that first year the line was crossed between screwing around/having fun and really making a run at something more solid. That meant quitting the day job, bringing on some more help and finding some dedicated space for the business. In the early part of 2009 my wife and I relocated ourselves and Blackout south of the border. Way, way south in fact, to the mountains of western North Carolina.
A big part of the move had to do with cost of living and cost of operations in Vancouver. Everything was just so expensive; the rent, the constant cross-border shipping and the cost of getting our parts into Canada. Blackout is a much more viable operation in a place like Asheville. We can afford to employ more people and work out of a kick ass space, which I couldn't see happening in Vancouver. Basically, we outsourced to the US, which I find endlessly amusing. It kind of sucks that we left right before the Olympics though.
2009 was a huge growth year for us and technically the first year that I could start saying "us" and be literal. We found a rad new space for the shop - directly above a bar. Around June, my brother Ross came onboard fulltime as my right hand man to help out with the pedal building.
My wife Marianne also started helping out part-time around that time tackling various things that the rest of us didn't want to do. Cheers to her! That year also saw our dealer list shoot from under ten to a couple dozen and we got to work with some awesome big name bands and help out a lot of bands that aren't quite there yet. New pedals were released, bottles were popped, babies were made (not mine).
Skip to 2010 and our staff bullpen is now a couple of people deeper. We're now able to get out 40+ pedals a week and still give all the attention that a hand-built pedal should receive, plus tackle all of the day-to-day business stuff that the average pedal buyer isn't going to see.
I still don't get to sleep much or get on the forums nearly as much as I used to, but its still fun. The last couple of months has been great in that with more help around the shop I'm getting freed up to spend more days on the breadboard instead of the build table. Hopefully that extra R&D time will be making itself evident very soon in some new releases.
Even with all of the craziness and growth, our motto still holds true. I think at this point we have a very clear vision of what a Blackout pedal needs to be, so that means tossing aside a lot of otherwise cool circuits because they just don't fit the Blackout mold. We always have a bunch of new stuff on the go and most of that will probably never see the light of day. We're only going to release the coolest of the cool stuff and in the Blackout world no one gets to decide what is cool besides us. And that's the story so far.
"Built by us, for us... but available to you"
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