I blame Andy Summers from ‘The Police’. I was a guitar-patch cord-amp kind of guy banging out Teenage Head, Ramones, and Sex Pistols tunes in ’79 until I heard ‘Message in a Bottle’.
By the time he made the September ’82 cover of Guitar Player magazine I already owned every type of effect pedal he used. This marked the beginning of my fascination with guitar gear and the search for tone.
Fast forward to ’85 when I arrive at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario for the Music Industry Arts/Recording Engineering course. Armed with a Squier 52 re-issue Tele, a Traynor TS 10, and a pedalboard the size of a Toronto Bachelor pad, I set out to further my education in sound manipulation.
Lucky for me, part of the course requires that we take basic electronics. Unfortunately the classes are Friday mornings at 7:30am and I barely scrape by with 51%. Turns out it’s very hard to stay awake, let alone make it to class that early after the ritualistic Thursday night partying. My introduction to electronics while in college was not totally lost as it was through one of the teachers there that I first saw a copy of the guitar gear enthusiast’s bible; Craig Anderton’s Electronic Projects for Musicians.
Fast forward to ’87 when I finish college and continue the sound manipulating with a band formed while I was there. We called ourselves ‘the Saddletramps’ after a passage read from a paperback found in a dumpster by Ken Horne our drummer. Cowpunk is all the rage and Saddletramps lead singer Andrew Lindsay introduces me to R.E.M. Our band falls somewhere in the middle of all that, rendering extra tone tools unnecessary.
As a result, my monolithic pedalboard has now been reduced to an Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man and a Boss CS-3. Besides that, I had learned only a year earlier about ‘True Bypass’ from a prominent local London musician/gear tinkerer. That and a chance outing to see ‘The Alarm’ in concert in Detroit opened my ears to the pure sonic power of unaltered guitar tone.
Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s in the Saddletramps, a time when we were a 5 piece band that included singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer, my gear selection was consistently changing. I had gone from just a few pedals to a rack mount Roland GP-8, (a much underrated product) and Korg (Cylon- Knight Rider) Tuner combined with an interface panel/power supply I built myself. What remained constant however was my growing interest in how all of this stuff works. The internet and a job/career change to follow helped there.
In August of ’99 I was hired for Electrical Production at Wescam in Burlington. At the time Wescam was gaining a strong reputation for their development and integration of Gyro Stabilization technology used with cameras for Entertainment, News Gathering and Military applications. We all remember the famous slow speed chase footage of the White Bronco driven by O.J. Simpson. That was Wescam!
Having to conform to Military specs coupled with using $1000.00 soldering stations helped me develop my soldering and circuit board assembly skills. This goes far beyond the ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ rules that the mechanical assemblers had to abide by. Just prior to my new job I bought a board making kit from Radio Shack and had started to make my own pedals. With my new daytime surroundings lousy with Electrical Engineers, electronic components, and oddly enough, other like minded musician’s, the atmosphere was perfect for continued learning.
Also in ’99, The Saddletramps had morphed into a new band called ‘Loomer’ after Scott Loomer our lead singer, and in 2002 we decide to record an album with an old friend who has a studio. By this time I’ve built a handful of Tube Screamers and Dyna Comps and have officially earned the title of ‘gearhead’ by my band mates. At the end of one recording session the studio owner ‘Lurch’ (Chris Rudyk) gave me a couple of pedals that he had scored at some yard sales in exchange for studio rack and cable wiring I had done for him.
One of them was this obscure desk top device called the ‘Duet Vocalizer’ by Lynn which, at the time, was yet another piece of gear that needed fixing but would turn out to be very fortuitous. After unsuccessfully ‘Googling’ for information the ‘Vocalizer’ was relegated to the out of sight, out of mind heap of unused gear, pedalboard parts, and repair jobs I’ll eventually “get around to”.
During the next few years I build a few more pedals. A Roger Mayer Octave pedal, a couple more Tube Screamers, a handful of True Bypass wah mods, and a few Univibe-like pieces all thanks to the ‘World Wide Wonder Web. Remembering Andy Summers and his Pete Cornish made pedalboard, I divide my idol time between pedal and pedalboard building. After redoing my own board for the umpteenth time I build one for Andy and a few other local guitar players. Word gets around and I’m fortunate enough to build boards for Colin Cripps and Juno award winning Blues guitarist and personal hero, Jack De Keyzer. Thanks to my borderline OCD, the nonfunctional Vocalizer starts to get to me after awhile and this time round Google proves more successful.
If anyone in the continent of North America is going to own another one of these pedal rarities it’s Scott Hager, owner and operator of ‘Axe and You Shall Receive’. After discovering this, I send Scott an email asking if I can have a look at his Vocalizer so that I might get mine working. By this time, I’m well aware of Build Your Own Clone and soon find out Scott sells them. Scott and I hit it off as well as you might expect two helpless gearheads would and when I mention my pedal building pastime Scott’s eyes light up.
He explains to me the pre-build service offered by Keith, on his BYOC website, is demanding too much time lately and asks me if I’m interested in helping out. A year or so and a hundred plus kits later I no longer need to refer to a resistor chart to know its value. 20 years ago, way too early on Friday mornings when Chuck our Basic Electronics instructor tried teaching us that, I was a non-Greek speaking, hung over, deer caught in the headlights. Not anymore. Brown 1, Red 2, Orange 3, Yellow 4, Green 5, Blue 6, Violet 7, Grey 8, White 9. It’s the rainbow really, when you think about it.