It’s no secret that we love DIY’ers. Whenever someone lists a local pedal maker on a forum, tags one in a facebook thread or wherever it may be, it’s always worth a look. One such internet click recently led me to a page for DCB pedals from Ipswich (QLD) and I got in touch to ask Joe a few questions about the whole operation.
Give us the backstory, like how you got into building your own gear? And… what does ‘DCB’ pedals stand for?
The name DCB pedals came from my first ever experience in DIY music gear, so it also explains how I got my start in building gear. I bought a run-down Yamaha bass guitar from Cash Converters when I was 17 so that I could learn to play bass. It had a natural finish on it that was chipped all over the place, the hardware was rusted, one of the pots was bent and missing a knob… but it cost me like $50 so as long as it plugged in and made sound I really didn’t care. A couple years after I finished school, I decided I wanted to fix it up so I stripped the clear coat from it and used a pyrography (wood burning) pencil to burn a dream catcher onto it, then clear coated it back up and reassembled it with some new hardware. That was the first time I really got into working on music gear myself.
From there I tried my hand at a few kit guitars and enjoyed it but the kits were pricey, especially since I was at uni at the time. I wanted to try something different so I looked into building guitar effects. I was already using a couple pedals when I played guitar, mainly a wah and distortion pedal, so I figured it would be cool to learn how to build them. I bought a soldering iron and a few tools, put together a few point-to-point effects using perfboard and it all just went from there. Once I got to the stage where I decided I was going to post them on facebook and instagram for others to see, I knew I needed a name so I went with DCB in honor of the dream catcher bass guitar that got the ball rolling for me. DCB = dream catcher bass.
At what stage did you figure…’hey this is going alright, maybe I can sell a few?’
Firstly, the pedals were starting to pile up at home – I learned quickly that pedal building is super addictive and once you’ve built one you just keep coming up with ideas for new ones! Secondly, I had been posting some photos of my builds online and as I got better and made cooler stuff, I started to get some interest from people that wanted to try them out. So eventually I decided that I needed a way I could keep building pedals but at the same time not fill my entire house with them, so why not sell a few to make the money I spent on them back and reinvest that money into new builds?
The idea of selling pedals to fund more builds is still my main reason for selling pedals today. I love building them – it gives me the opportunity to try different effects and I enjoy the learning process involved in each one. I’m not out to make money from them, I just genuinely enjoy building and learning. Pedal building will always be a hobby for me, something that I do with my spare time and if I get to help others by building pedals that they want to play, all the better.
Do you do MODS for people, custom builds or do you prefer to stick with a set line of models?
The majority of my work to this stage has been one-offs and custom builds. The process for both are pretty similar, just coming up with an idea for a build and then getting to work making it come to life. I love working with each pedal on its own this way because you really pour all of your effort into it, and everything comes out looking unique. I have a view towards making small runs of 5 or so of each pedal I build just to save time and costs, but for now I’m pretty happy with how things are going.
Mods are definitely something that I’m capable of doing – I’ve modified a Boss DS-1 and a couple other random pedals in the past. These usually depend on what the person is after and whether or not I can find a way to implement the changes they want to see. I’ve also done a few repair jobs here and there, so I’m pretty open to whatever people need.
Are you connected or in touch with any other pedal builders? The DIY scene seems to be something of a niche field which takes a bit of digging to get into.
I follow a lot of other builders through facebook and instagram, it’s awesome to see how everyone has their own style and way of doing things. I’ve always loved how people in the DIY pedal scene seem to genuinely support others in the scene, everyone seems so friendly. It’s not a competitive thing at all. I also subscribe to a couple DIY forums (DIY Stompboxes and Free Stompboxes, to name a couple), which came in handy when I was originally learning because I could ask questions and see how others do things. I mostly use them for checking out pictures of builds to get some inspiration and for researching mod ideas for circuits these days. There’s so much good information out there that people in the scene have put together, I can’t imagine things going so smoothly for me if it weren’t for the work that others were doing. I try and contribute wherever I can as well.
So talk us through some of your favorite builds so far. What’s been most challenging, most popular…that kind of thing!
Oh man… I’ve built so many cool things over the last few years that I could talk for days about this. I’ll keep it down to three that I think were the most influential for me, in terms of how I do things now.
The first was a Noise Ensemble, or as I called it “Noise Box” – a strange mix of fuzz and modulation that Freppo of Parasit Studio posted to his website. The big thing for me on this build was that it was my first time etching an aluminum enclosure. Before this pedal, I had tried painting and printed decals to finish my pedals, but I was never really happy with the finished product. So I came across etching when I was looking for something new to try, and it really inspired me. I loved the way that it could achieve some level of precision in the artwork but at the same time look rugged and natural. So I gave it a try, and the results were… okay, I guess. For my first try and with the equipment I was using, it was pretty good. The words and the artwork came through okay, but there were a couple pits created by the acid were I hadn’t masked the box properly which you can see in the photo. It definitely gave me the hunger to improve and work harder, which shows in my more recent etches.
The second build that really stood out for me was a Rebote 2.5 delay build that I called the “Infinity Delay” because I had modified it to include a switch that would make the repeats endless. The artwork on this one was really cool, I took it from a poster for the TV show Resurrection. It gives the delay a really haunting look, which fits with the sound as well. This one was important for me because it was the first etched pedal that I think I really nailed, and the process I used to get there is more or less the same that I use today. It also shows off my preference towards adding features to pedals that weren’t part of the original design; whenever I build something I tend to include as many options for changing the sound as I think is practical for that pedal.
Lastly, I’d say the “Savant” pedal I built a couple months ago was pretty high up there for me in terms of taking a bunch of ideas that were floating around in my head and putting them together.
The basic idea was to take the Big Muff circuit, of which I am a massive fan, and blow it completely out of proportion. I compiled all of the mods that I could think of and worked out how I could put them all together. The finished product was pretty much what I was looking for: Big Muff style fuzz with as many interesting options for changing the sound as possible. Besides the original volume, tone and sustain controls, the “Savant” had extra knobs for a pre-boost, mids control, and focus control. Then there’s a foot-switchable post-boost with a level control, two 6-position clipping diode switches, and a feedback loop controlled by a momentary footswitch and a knob that basically feeds the output of the fuzz back into the input to create all sorts of screaming, oscillating sounds. Plus a toggle switch that allows you to remove the tone section of the circuit (tone and mids controls), giving a boost in volume and a flatter frequency response. A lot going on in there! But it was a really cool pedal to build and I think the finished product was really impressive.
Beyond those three pedals I’ve built so many different effects, from fuzz/distortion/overdrive to different filters, delays, compressions… I’ve really tried to build as many different pedals as possible. A few noteworthy ones are the Ultrastoner fuzz with Feedback loop I built for Michael Romeo (see below) a couple years back now, a 2-in-1 Klone and Germanium Boost I call the Klonmaster that I’ve built twice for two different people, a Neptune Delay I built for myself and a cool Shoot The Moon Tremolo build that I also built to keep.
Anyone of note playing your gear? (feel free to name drop here man, bands and stuff people can follow for examples of sounds etc etc)
Here’s a couple people I know of playing various bits of gear I’ve built in their music projects:
– Michael Romeo (Transit Gloria) owns a modified “Ultrastoner” fuzz and a 2-in-1 Rat/Dirty Boost that I built a while back: https://www.facebook.com/transitgloriamusic/
– Joseph Rabjohns (Kodiak Empire) owns some of my earliest stuff, including a Foxx Tone Machine clone, Red Llama clone and a compressor: https://www.facebook.com/KodiakEmpire/
– Gary Abkin (Born Obsolete/The Fractured/The Easily Offended) has a clean boost and a Big Muff variant I put together for him: https://www.facebook.com/Born-Obsolete-578716228840043/, https://www.facebook.com/fractured.the/, https://www.facebook.com/The-Easily-Offended-173433713003666/ .
Any advice you can offer to people wanting to try and have a go at doing something of their own?
When I first started, I jumped right into the deep end building effects point-to-point on veroboard by reading schematics, but what worked for me might not be the best for everyone; it’s really about choosing for yourself how much you want to take on at first. The cool thing about building pedals is you can start anywhere from building a kit with detailed instructions and everything included to sourcing out everything yourself, designing artwork and PCB layouts… it’s really up to you. Google everything, the internet really is your friend. Here’s a couple links that should be enough to get started:
– BYOC, suppliers of complete kits with instructions: www.buildyourownclone.com
– Tayda, parts supplier for when you really want to do it yourself: www.taydaelectronics.com.
– DIY Stomp Boxes, an awesome forum for learning and asking questions: www.diystompboxes.com
When you’re done checking all that out, go visit the DCB page for info and pics of all the latest builds and stuff available to buy! We obviously cant have it ALL on here!!! Get in touch if you want a custom job, a mod or even just want to talk gear! Once again it goes to show that players have more choice than just whatever the local shop has in the glass case! Support your local, buy a pedal!