[interview] Basic Audio: John Lyons

Here's FXDB's interview with John Lyons of Basic Audio:

How did Basic Audio start?

I have always enjoyed taking things apart and trying to figure out how they work. I repaired and modified guitars and amps for friends as well as building some mic preamps and patchbays. Jack Orman had a fuzz circuit in a recording magazine
that I built which was a modified Rat circuit. I stared at the schematic for weeks trying to see how it all related. Around 1998 I got into DIY Stompboxes and got interested in making my own pedals. It unfolded from there. I was hooked!

Jack Orman (AMZ fx), Doug Hammond, Joe Gagan (Nine Volt Nirvana) and RG Keen's Geofex all had a lot of information to keep my brain and soldering iron busy. I bounce ideas off Brad Davis (Creepy Fingers) and Joe Gagan as well as Scott Kiraly (BMF Effects).

Where does the name come from?

I published a little audio/recording "Zine" for a few years called Basic Audio. The name was also used for a recording studio I ran. When I started making pedals I kept the name.

What sets Basic Audio apart from other builders?

I like simple clean graphics or none at all. Textured finishes and earth-tone colors are my favorite.

I try to make something that I myself would like. Naturally I need to make a pedal that others will like but if it's not something I like the sound of I don't take it further into production.

I try to get the most out of each circuit. Everyone's amp/guitar setup is different and if I can get a few sounds out of one circuit then I'm happy with it and feel that the customer will get something they can use, if not a few different sounds to choose from within one pedal.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Generally I will take a circuit or circuit blocks and assemble them on a solderless breadboard. Invariably I will make changes and alter the sound of the circuit while trying to keep the stock sound available as well, often replacing fixed component values a knob to vary the response of the circuit. Adjusting the bass early on in the circuit can make a huge difference in how the pedal sounds and responds to your playing.

If I can get a unique sound that I like, I will make a pedal and send it out to see what other people think of it. If they like it as much as I do then I go from there. I'll make some recordings and hopefully people like it...

Some people want a direct copy of the original circuit. I try to keep the original sound in tact and then add variability (knobs) to expand on the original.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All of my pedals are made by myself at this point.

I mainly use PCBs that I design and fabricate myself.

I use several different commercial and custom made enclosures. I have made wooden and even ABS plastic enclosures as well. I powder coat, spray, hand paint, etch, rust, weather and decal the graphics if I use any.

How important is the look of your pedals?

I spend a lot of time wiring and on aesthetics/painting my pedals. It's something I obsess over really. A lot of work goes into the bare aluminum boxes even before the paint goes on. The box, paint, art are something I do to please myself. If people like it then that's good but I mainly go off what I want the box to look like. Color, gloss level, feel of the knobs etc etc. I want them to look nice and sound nice.

Is parts selection important?

I mainly use modern production resistors and capacitors. Each type pedal is different as far as transistors.  I experiment until I find something that I like. Some parts of the circuit are more critical.

Some pedals use all film capacitors and some use mostly old ceramic capacitors to get a gritty fuzz tone. I don't think that there is a huge difference a lot of times but it depends on the circuit and what you're trying to achieve.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I like building small circuits mainly because they have more character than the larger ones. The lower the part count the more each part affects the sound.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Scarab Deluxe, Gnarly Fuzz and Tri/Ram (Big Muff) pedals have all sold well.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I make pedals based on what I like and the feedback I get from players. Sometimes I will be asked to make a certain vintage type pedal and then I will play with the circuit and make improvements based on what I hear when I change certain components in the circuit.

Some famous players use pedals I made. Scott Holiday from Rival Sons uses the Gnarly a good bit live and on record. I have sold a couple pedals to Henry Kaiser as well.

Are you working on any new products?

I probably have 20 or so pedals I'd like to tinker with and refine but I just don't have the time to tinker with them. I usually get bored with what I'm doing and will pull out a schematic and work on something new to clear my head (which usually just causes me to get wrapped up in screwing around with the new circuit for a couple days or more and then I get even more behind).

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