[interview] Blackout Effectors: Kyle Tompkins

Here's FXDB's interview with Kyle Tompkins of Blackout Effectors:

How did Blackout Effectors start?

Early 2008 I started Blackout by releasing the Fix'd Fuzz. I had been DIY long enough to know that I had a killer circuit and I knew the boutique scene well enough to know that my killer idea itch wasn't being scratched elsewhere.

It was all just word-of-mouth purchases in the beginning. I was able to snowball that first handful of sales into 2 handfuls of sales and eventually into something bigger. Some folks at Harmony-Central and elsewhere embraced what I was trying to do with Blackout and we owe a lot to that early support.

Where do the name and logo come from?

For me the Blackout name conjured images of those dreadfully hot Summer blackouts on the East Coast, when everyone would be trying to run their air conditioners at the same time. That huge drain on the infrastructure, that would ultimately cripple it, was all caused by a mass choreographed sea of people isolated in their homes simultaneously seeking relief from oppressive environmental conditions. Abstractly I thought that was a damn sexy notion that this one appliance could save people from the heat, but then if all turned on at the same time could bring about some level of societal disruption. To me the Blackout name implies that sort of potential for salvation and relief and yet also the danger and damage, as if all the Musket Fuzzes in existence running at the same time could bring humanity to its knees all the while faithfully serving the individual to blast people's faces off.

The Blackout logo is a lightbulb with its element being a 1/4" phono plug. The graphic ties back to the idea behind the Blackout name. It projects an imaginary scenario of homes with lights flickering and dimming as an army of musicians simultaneously plug into our little destructive sound devices.

How do you name your pedals?

The Musket Fuzzes name (and graphic) was in tribute to my great, great, great grandfather, the inventor Christopher Miner Spencer, and his most famous invention - the repeating rifle.

While not a musket itself, it ushered in the demise of the single-shot musket. At first deemed too expensive to equip an entire army with; lower ranking, budget-concerned officials at the White House repeatedly dismissed his invention in favor of the more affordable single-shot weapons. But his persistence eventually led to the infamous story of Christopher Miner Spencer engaging in target practice with Abe Lincoln on the White House lawn and convincing him in person of its potential usefulness. His rifles went on to become a battlefield staple for the Union in the latter days of the Civil War and were noted as being a deciding factor in such battles as the Battle of Gettysburg.

He is also credited with patents for a steam powered "horseless carriage", the first repeating shotgun, the fully automatic turret lathe (screw machine), and many, many other patents.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We do all of the PCB loading, building and wiring in our shop. We don't subcontract any of that out. There are currently three of us doing Blackout full-time. We're extremely organized and for such a small crew we can really crank out the magic.

We've experimented with a lot of different finishing methods, from handpainting, to heavy-duty lexan graphics, to our favorite method of powder coating and silk screening. We still like to mix it up every once in a while and release a small batch of handpainted pedals, but we're 99% powder coat and silk screen these days.

All of our pedals are built on high-quality multi-layer PCBs designed by me. It's the method that allows me to make Blackout pedals the best (and most consistent) they can be, yet remaining fun for us to build on a daily basis (unlike SMT).

How important is the look of your pedals?

Important. Before indulging myself by turning my pedal building hobby into a business, I was in the business of design. I'm still probably a better visual artist than a musical artist.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Musket Fuzz has been our most popular pedal. While we certainly weren't the first on the scene doing a muff derivative, Blackout was the first to incorporate some of the features the Musket has (which have since become industry standard modified-muff features). The Musket was the first and, in our opinion, still the best "Swiss army knife" muff-type circuit. If you have a muff pedal from whatever era, the Musket can cop its sound.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We've tended to work with a lot of bands in various underground metal scenes, but that wasn't by design. It was just natural to reach out to bands that I was listening to a lot at the time, plus our initial offerings were so well suited for the heavy. And once that ball gets rolling down hill don't get in the way.

Between the three of us though we have some wildly varying interests and we're always looking to diversify the roster of bands we're working with. We like working with indie, pop, jazz and country bands too. It really makes for a good day at the shop when we get to hear our stuff being used on something different than we've heard before.

What does the future of Blackout Effectors look like?

Our plan is to keep kicking ass and having fun. We always want to be releasing new stuff, yet walk that line of keeping the Blackout brand focused and awesome. We're not the types to release a bunch of derivative crap in order to have a bloated product line with a pedal to fill every gap type.

Are you working on any new products?

We're always working on new stuff. We just released the Crystal Dagger. It's a unique octave-up fuzz on one side and a ring modulator/phaser on the other. It is going to blow minds.

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