I've basically been building all sorts of gizmos since childhood: a D.C. motor (from scratch) for extra credit in the fourth grade, and a reverse engineered walkie talkie that could receive different frequencies. I tore all of the "modules" out of a "150 in 1" electronics project kit, ultimately becoming part of some other gear that I'd "augmented" in some way: a photocell in one thing, an oscillator in another, and a relay in yet another. At one point the relay was activating a pair of LED's that I'd mounted in the guns of a tie fighter model!
I grew up with rock music in the house - my father has been a gigging guitarist since before I was born, back in '68. Zeppelin, Stones, Hendrix, Cream, Floyd - it was all either being played or being played along with! I got my first guitar when I was 6 - a cherry burst ES335 copy. My brother Eric was playing the drums. And my brother Neil was playing just about everything when he was old enough. Do you notice a theme with our names?
I've been maintaining many precious pedals for a long time, and have found a lot of ways to improve all of them, but building from scratch was primarily a dream for the longest time, other than the occasional one-off design. This was mainly due to the fact that I spent the better part of the 80's and half of the 90's building (and rebuilding) guitars. And from the mid 90's to just a few years ago I was primarily focused on scratch building and completely rebuilding tube amps. But in April of '08, the recession hammer fell on my previous place of employment.
I needed something to fuel my mind while trying to look for another job (that wasn't there). It was actually the perfect opportunity to finally bring to completion all of the fragmented ideas rolling around in my brain for over a decade, but had taken a back seat to guitar and amp building. So finally by late fall of '08, the Nitrous Boost was squared away. And by January of '09, the 72 Degree OD was ready for production.
I'm lucky in that I own a house with a big basement and fairly decent garage. And for years I've maintained all of the family cars, so the garage was already well equipped. Still nothing state of the art (within reason), but nothing overly modest, either.
I find it fairly easy to physically build something like a pedal. What's hard is the myriad of compromises that are made to satisfy a laundry list of criteria. Since I'm obsessed with improving every conceivable facet, as soon as the first one was done I needed to build a revised one immediately. And then a third, and so on.
I'm not talking about what gets ironed out with breadboarding. I mean where the rubber hits the road, and the guts are in the box, and the pedal is now intended to be used for more than just for bedroom playing (not that there's anything wrong with that!), and we're talking about building at least a few hundred of the same thing - or potentially thousands!
My very first pedal did some things well, especially those I set out to address: build something that would cover from boost all the way up to fuzz, using currently produced parts only. It did boost well, the fuzz thing was "interesting," and there was a sweet spot for OD purposes, but very far from refined.
I've got a background in graphic arts, so I built the MHP website myself. It started out as just a few basic pages, and I constantly refine it in small increments. I also tried to get the pedals in the hands of folks who can differentiate between a "yet another ___________" and something that's either a blatantly clear improvement, a clear variation, or left of center in a way that would be greatly appreciated. I wasn't going for big names, but they had to be either pro players, or serious players.
I got into parenthood late, so I rarely play out, which meant that the MHP stomps needed another source of exposure. That bridge was built thanks to Atomic Music in Beltsville, Maryland carrying the 72° OD pedal. Musicians can go to the store, and try the pedals for themselves. They basically sell themselves when put up against similar designs.
As for big artist names playing MHP pedals, there are two big potential irons in the fire. The operative word here is potential. The average person may not realize how much gear the big names have to sift through, and how little time they have to devote to it. One big name needed a year before my pedals were even auditioned.
While the verdict was very favorable, it will probably take another year before anything gets finalized. And big fish number two just received their pedal last week, so once again some time will need to pass. Patience is definitely a virtue in my experiences.
Currently I build a few hundred pedals a year - for production. But this doesn't include prototypes, custom requests, revisions, or projects. If those are included, it would be quite a few hundred more. When it's all done by hand, it's an important consideration.
I'm applying the brakes with any new designs, as we currently offer four in MHP's first year of existence! I said I wasn't going to have the Lead Stone Fuzz ready for another year or two, but my arm got twisted so hard that I just gave in - a day didn't seem to go by that I didn't get questions regarding when a MHP fuzz would be available. I gave the people what they wanted!
Regarding the shop, I've got more tools than you can shake a stick at, and I add to them all the time. Everything is done in house, and I mean EVERYTHING. Drilling, powdercoating, pcb etching, box graphics, and so on are all done on the premises. I take pride in that, as it's something that's almost extinct in the 21st century.
While musical gear are just tools, I see them a little differently than other tools like a flashlight or hammer. Musical gear exist for creative and emotive purposes - I think you'd get a lot of extra mileage and vibe out of something that wasn't built either by a robot, or assembled by someone who doesn't even know what it does.
Finally, the no B.S. approach is a cornerstone to the way that MHP is operated. It doesn't have the most sex appeal, but it provides a much more accurate assessment of why a guitarist should choose our pedals. All steak, and no sizzle.