What’s the first pedal you ever owned?
Geez, that’s a good question. It’s been so long ago. I remember getting 5-6 pedals all at once for Christmas one year; they included a Boss TU-2 Tuner, Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, Boss DD-3 delay, Crybaby Wah and Ernie Ball VP Jr.
So, what’s on your personal board now?
It changes a bit but the signal chain of my personal board right now is as follows (all on a PedalTrain PT-3 powered by a Walrus Audio Phoenix):
TC Polytune Mini -> Swindler Workers Comp -> Earthquaker Bit Commander -> JHS Double Barrel -> Swindler Iron Drive -> Swindler Iron Drive (yes two of them) -> Ernie Ball VP JR (modded) -> Swindler Red Mountain -> EHX Deluxe Memory Man 1100-TT -> Strymon Blue Sky -> Strymon Timeline -> MXR Carbon Copy
A couple utility pedals I use as well:
– 3 Button controller for Timeline looper control.
– Expression knob to control Timeline looper volume.
– Selah Quartz tempo controller.
– Keith McMillen Softstep midi programmed to control Timeline.
The longest pedal I’ve had on my board has been my trusty, tried and true, Ernie Ball VP JR. I’ve had it for like 15 years and only broken a string ONCE! (Knock on wood.) I’ve cleaned the pot a time or two though.
You have an overdrive, compressor, tremolo, reverb and a delay in the Swindler Effects family. Why did you choose to create those specific kinds of pedals?
We chose to create those first because they are really staples of any well-rounded pedalboard. They are things most people have. We just wanted to give our take on them. Plus, they’re very accessible because the majority of people know what those pedals do.
Did any of the pedals you own help inspire your designs?
Not necessarily. There hasn’t been any single pedal that I was really like, “man I need to make something that sounds like that.” In general, it was more of taking great aspects of many different designs and combining them in ways that work well together and offer plenty of flexibility. I guess the closest would be our Iron Drive, which is our loose take on the Ibanez 808 Tube Screamer.
When you’re building a new pedal, how do you know when it’s done and ready for the market?
You don’t! No, but for real. You have to take the plunge at some point. There are always improvements that can be made. Small tweak after small tweak. I’m an engineer by profession and when engineers create things there’s a very real problem called “feature creep.” The endless cycle of, “What if it could do this? What if we added this? Could I make this or that even better?,” until you end up with some crazy complicated monstrosity. Eventually if I don’t cut myself off or give myself a deadline or constraints I would never release anything. The perfectionist in me would say it could always be better. It’s determining where that point of diminishing returns comes into play and the time you’re devoting doesn’t justify the improvement.
Where is your shop?
Everything from Swindler comes out of my little workspace/shop I have set up in the basement of my Hoover home. A true garage start-up. I’ve got a desk, some storage bins, shelves, and a few necessary tools. That’s really all there is. Emphasis on the word small in small business but we’re constantly growing and trying to keep up with demand.
My good friend/business partner, Sam Light, works on all the graphics/media/marketing and circuit-building out of his home office in Tuscaloosa. We actually met through our wives being great friends growing up. We are very alike and have similar interests so we work well together.
Who does the wrap design work for your pedals?
Sam does all the designs for our Signature pedals as well as anything else you visually see on our website or social media.
The Functionalist design has a bit of a story to it. This actually started as a custom request from a customer. Matthew Kraus, a photographer out of New York, came up with the idea. We didn’t know it at the time but he runs a company that does promos and photography for some serious high fashion clients. (Brands much more expensive than anything I wear, ha!) Well, he contacted us wanting a Magic City Delay but with a Functionalist design scheme. He really loved the work of Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer who worked for Braun and kinda created the Functionalist style of design. So he designed something special for his pedal and we built it. We posted it on Instagram after we finished it and people went crazy! Kraus saw how much interest we were getting from it and kindly offered to do the same design for any current or future pedals. We’ve been offering both design schemes ever since because everyone is different and people like different looks. This way we can cater to more people and hopefully more people can enjoy our products without being forced to get something they may not like the look of. We’ve got options!
The design process usually starts with the name first. We come up with a name that seems to fit whatever effect it is and ties in to the Birmingham/industrial theme. Once the name is decided, we try to brainstorm ideas that bring the name to life and drive it home while trying to stay true to our overall design feel of everything else. This is definitely an art, not science. The process is fluid and changes a ton. We’re always learning things and trying to make them better. You would burst out laughing if you saw some of the original renders of our first pedal. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time.
We can’t keep the Red Mountain pedal in stock at our studios. Why do you think that is?
Probably because we can’t build them fast enough! Kidding. Sort of…
Really the Red Mountain has been our most ambitious endeavor to date. We crammed SO much functionality into that small pedal, made it easily accessible, with a very affordable price for what it is. I have a love/hate relationship with that pedal. It was a major pain and headache to develop and debug but all the hard work and sleepless nights have paid off well with all the new recognition we’ve gotten for the brand as a result. It’s the perfect pedal for people who want a tremolo that does everything they’d want but doesn’t sacrifice as much pedal board space. If I’m not mistaken it’s also the smallest tremolo on the market that is true stereo with tap tempo.
A lot of your pedals have names and designs that are Birmingham related. What is it about Birmingham that made you want to use those names?
Well, firstly, it’s where I grew up and have lived most my life. Besides when I was living in Tuscaloosa for college, it’s my home. Always has been and will be for the foreseeable future.
Secondly, I feel there’s a real revitalization that is going on in Birmingham that has been awesome to see. I feel like it’s a great time to be living and working here and I wanted to use the names to bring attention and interest to those who are unfamiliar with the city.
Thirdly, some of Birmingham’s landmarks and history as an industrial center really lend themselves well to names and designs for pedals. It felt like a bit of a no brainer to me.