How long have you been a musician? How did you get into it in the first place?
I got a late start when it comes to guitar but I have been playing for almost 25 years. I started as a musician by taking piano lesson when I was a kid. I took lesson for about 4 years but it never really clicked with me. I think piano teacher have a tendency to try to make kids classic pianists instead of making music fun or significant to the student, and I quit around the time I went to high school. When I went to college I started hanging around a bunch of guys that were musicians and started learning to play guitar. I played bass in a band with those guys for a while, but as soon as the band broke up I sold my bass rig and went right back to guitar.
Who have been some of your major musical influences, past or present?
A lot of the classic rock, blues and 90’s alternative bands were a big influence on me. Some of my favorites were Pink Floyd, Queen, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. I was learning to play guitar in the early 90’s so the alternative/Grunge music was probably the biggest influence.
What led to the start of Vick Audio? How long have you been in business?
I was always interested in electronics and somewhere along the line got very interested in making pedals. At first is was just me making pedals for my son and I to use. I really enjoyed making them and as I learned more about electronics and pedals I started selling some on a very small scale. It just kind of grew from there. I say the company had been around since 2013. In reality I was around for a couple years before that but that was when I really started treating it as a business and not just a hobby.
I am the only employee. We joke around at my house that my wife is the distribution manager, but really that just means she mails the outgoing packages after she drops the kids off at school. I hire someone to do the bookkeeping but other than that it is just me. I really enjoy the variety of tasks it takes to design and create pedals and to run the business. I do everything from building the pedals to designing the website, to writing the press releases for new products.
Did you have formal schooling, or are you self-taught? Take us through that story:
I am self-taught for the most part. I started out building clones of existing circuits based on designs published online. There are several pedal building specific forums that are stocked with information and they are a great place to start learning. Most of the forums have discussions about how to modify the circuits to fit your specific taste. The site/forum I used most was http://tagboardeffects.blogspot.com. I find for the beginning builder using strip board instead of PCB’s gives you a lot of flexibility and keeps your build cost down since you don’t need to buy PCB’s.
Eventually I took some basic electronics classes online and read some books specific to guitar effects circuits. Craig Anderton’s Electronic Projects for Musicians is a great book along with How to Modify Guitar Pedals by Brian Wampler.
What drives you as far as new pedal creation is concerned? How long does it typically take for an idea to come full circle and become a demo pedal? What’s the process behind new gear, and the eventual release of it to the public?
As a small one man shop I have to keep a pretty limited line up and typically only release one new pedal a year. The process is different every time. If the pedal is a classic reproduction on an existing design it can take as little as 3 months to be ready for production. Any research and development time for a new circuit would be added to that and if I have a problem with the PCB design or enclosure design it will increase the time frame. This may seem long to some but I have lags where I am waiting for the PCB’s to be manufactured and the enclosures to be powder coated, drilled and printed. I like to wait until I have the PCB manufactured and tested fully before I order the enclosures since if I have to move things around it can change the layout of the controls.
Typically, I always have a couple different circuits that I am playing with and will naturally end up gravitating to one of them as my favorite. In 2017 my “plan” was to release an original fuzz pedal since I did not have one in my current lineup. However, I had been playing around with the circuit for the Mount Pleasant overdrive as a passion project for a couple years and ended releasing that as my 2017 pedal since that was what I liked best. Maybe one of those fuzz designs will end up being my 2018 release.
What are some of the biggest concerns facing your profession today?
I don’t really have a lot of concerns. If I had to name something I would say my biggest concern is that someone will improve the sound quality of digital effect units. From the perspective of space, cost and flexibility a digital effects unit makes a lot of sense. I feel that the digital units lack the sound quality of the analog pedals but if they ever improve that they would be hard for small shops like mine to compete with the big companies.
Where do you see pedal building going in the future?
Not really sure. A lot of what I do is firmly based in the past. I still use through hole components and solder by hand like they did in the 60’s and 70’s. My best-selling pedal is a classic reproduction of a design that was originally released over 40 years ago. So, I am probably the wrong person the ask about new innovations in the future.
Who are some of your favorite builders in the industry right now?
I really have not tried enough of the current builders work to have a favorite. Most of the pedals I use are my own or vintage pedals.
Name the last 5 records you listened to:
I don’t listen to albums in there entirely that often any more. In the shop or around
the house I use Pandora and Spotify playlists a lot. In my car I have a USB drive with
a couple thousand songs shuffled that I listen to. Usually when I listen to an album it
is to either check out a new album by a band I like or I am checking out a band I was
not familiar with because I liked one of their songs.
1. Radiohead – Ok Computer (I was reading and article on Radiohead and realized I was only familiar with Creep and Karma Police so wanted to check out some of their other work.)
2. Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark? (I loved there first album and could not wait to check this one out.)
3. Leopold and His Fiction – Darling Destroyer (One of my son’s guitar teachers told me about these guys when they were playing in Phoenix.
I loved pretty much everything on this album. I was so excited by the album I contacted the guitarist/singer and sent him a box full of my pedals.)
4. The Pack A.D. – Do Not Engage (I had liked some of their songs that popped up on my Pandora so I checked out the album)
5. R. L. Burnside – Burnside On Burnside (I am a blues fan and had one of his song on my Pandora mix but did not know anything about him. Then I read an article about him in Premier Guitar and he has an unbelievable story everything form living as a sharecropper to being sent to Parchment Farm for shooting a man in a moonshine dispute to gigging with his grandson playing drums for him.)
The Klon hype: Love it or Hate it?
I have never used a Klon personally so I can’t really say if the hype is deserved or not. I have no problem with the hype itself though. I think anytime you have people feeling so strongly about a pedal you are going to get people that are going to go the opposite way just because they are sick of hearing how great it is. The way I see it is a lot of people love the pedal so that is good for the pedal maker and the musicians that love it.
Any last comments, or anything you’d like to talk about?
There seems to be a trend in the pedal industry right now where companies are trying to fit as many controls as possible on pedals to maximize how much control people have of the sound. I think this sounds like a great thing but backfires when it comes to people’s overall satisfaction with the pedal. All of those possibilities cause many people to endlessly tweak their settings looking for that perfect sound instead of just enjoying playing music. For this reason, I try to limit the controls on my pedals to four or less. I think this is the sweet spot for enough controls to shape your sound without overloading you with options. I know this might not be a popular opinion for some but I challenge people to go through their pedal board and see if the pedals with tons of controls are really their favorites.
Thanks so much to Michael for taking the time to answer some questions! Make sure to go check out VickAudio.com to peruse all of his gear – Cheers!
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