[interview] Blakemore Effects: Blake Hickey

Here's FXDB's interview with Blake Hickey of Blakemore Effects.

Blakemore Effects is run by Blake Hickey, the owner, CEO and sole employee. The company is located in Detroit, Michigan, but before that in Nashville, Tennessee.

How did Blakemore Effects start?

I've been a huge pedal nerd forever, but back in high school I couldn't afford to buy them. My senior year (2007) I found out about the Build Your Own Clone kits, and decided to give one a try. Luckily, my dad is an electrical engineer, so he was a great resource. Any time I had a question about something, I could just ask my dad.

After years of building pedals straight from kits, I realized I was never fully happy with how they sounded. I tried to mod the pedals I owned, but it seemed slow and tedious. For Christmas 2010 though, my dad bought me a breadboard. Once I realized that I could build pedals on a breadboard, and just swap parts in and out to see how it changed the sound, I was hooked. I ended up going back to school that semester, breaking up with my girlfriend, and spending all of my free time designing pedals. That's where the Mustang Overdrive, Bi-Polar Octadrive, and Deus Ex Machina all came from! Originally I just designed them all for myself, but the other guitar player in my band at the time runs a studio, and he was incredibly complimentary once he tested them, and he sort of convinced me to start selling them, and Blakemore Effects was born.

The biggest resource was Ryan at Dr. Scientist. I can not say enough good things about that man. He has a huge pedal company, with some of my all time favorite effects pedals, and I know he's always busy, yet I've had a 3 year e-mail conversation going with him. Haha. Once I started designing pedals, he was incredibly helpful in helping me troubleshoot designs, giving me tips, and helping me figure out the business side of things too. A guy named Timm Horn was also incredibly helpful in helping me figure out the octave circuit in my Octadrive pedal.

Finally, Michael Blakemore from DMB pedals has been a great resource for my business questions since I met him. I actually met him when I found out he was replacing me in my band, after I was set to move to Detroit. What are the odds that someone named "Blakemore" who builds pedals would be taking my old job? Haha.

Blakemore EffectsWhere does the name come from?

When I was living in Nashville, every day I had to drive on a street named "Blakemore Avenue" to get to class. I was looking for a name for my pedal company, and I started joking with friends that since my name was Blake I should name the company "Blakemore Effects" since the world needs more of Blake's effects! So a joke about my ego ended up sticking, and that's where the name came from.

What sets Blakemore Effects apart from other builders?

Unless I'm doing a custom build for a friend, I don't like to make clones of pedals. If I'm going to release a pedal, I like to make sure it has some sort of feature that sets it apart from other pedals whether that be extra EQ, like the 3 band EQ in the Mustang, or the clean blend and mid boost in the Deus. I'm not saying I'm the only one who adds these features, because I know that's not true, I just don't want to be making the exact same pedals that have been built for 40 years.

How do you start on a new pedal?

A lot of the time I get inspired by pedals I have that frustrate me. For instance, I had an OD pedal that I loved, but it was always either too bright or too dark with my rig, so I decided I wanted to build an OD that had more EQ so I wouldn't run into that problem any more. My current issue is that I love my phaser, but it only has a rate knob, and I want a bit more control over the volume and depth of the effect, so my next plan is to release a phaser with some extra options. Once I know what type of pedal I want to build, I try and think of some feature that would set my phaser apart from other companies, and then I hit the breadboard to try and make that a reality. Whenever I come up with a design that I think is worth putting on the market, I send the working schematic off to get PCBs designed, and I'll tell one of my artist friends the concept I have in mind, and I'll let them design some art for me. It's hard to say how long a design takes, because I only work on new designs when I really feel inspired, but I'd say it normally takes about a month to get the design to where I want it, and then I start building prototypes, and make tweaks from there.Blakemore Effects Mustang Overdrive

How do you name your pedals?

The first university I went to was SMU, and their mascot is the Mustang, so I named my OD after that. Then the Deus Ex Machina was named like that because "God from the machine" seemed like a cool name for a fuzz box. Haha. The Bi-Polar Octadrive was named just because it went from such a light overdrive to this gross octave fuzz tone, so it seemed bi-polar to me.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I hand build all of my pedals by myself, in my house.

Once I came up with my designs I sent them to Madbean to have him design my PCBs for me. So, I have Silver Circuits print my PCBs for me, and then I buy all my enclosures from Pedal Parts Plus. PPP also does all my drilling, painting, and screen printing for me.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Since I didn't design the art, I feel ok bragging about this part, but I think they look great! I had OMP do the design for the Deus Ex and the Bi-Polar, and then a guy named Gardy Perez did the designs for the Mustang and my Custom Shop pedals. I met both of those guys through the Harmony-Central effects forum, and I think they did an incredible job.

Is parts selection important?

I wanted to use name brand parts as much as possible (Panasonic, TI, RCA, etc.), but in the Bi-Polar Octadrive I went a bit crazy and used some NOS transistors and diodes. That decision is coming back to bite me in the butt though, because my source for those parts is quickly drying up, so I'll either need to redesign or discontinue the pedal. So, yeah. Using name brand production parts seems like the route I want to keep taking.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I would have to say I'm most proud of the Deus Ex Machina. That was the first pedal I ever designed and I don't really know of anything else that sounds exactly like it, and I try to use it as often as possible with my bands. Haha

Blakemore Effects Bi-Polar OctadriveWhich of your pedals was your toughest build?

I would have to say the Bi-Polar Octadrive was my toughest build. I knew I wanted to add a footswitchable octave effect to the Mustang, but it took my a lot of hours of breadboarding to figure out where the octave circuit worked best with the pedal. Then once I had the octave circuit in place, I spent quite a few more hours just comparing different types of transistors to see which ones worked best in the circuit, and then a few more hours trying different diodes. The differences were normally really subtle, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I had to do that. It was brutal though. Haha.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Deus Ex Machina is my most popular pedal. If I had to guess I would say that it stands out because of the clean blend, and mid boost. Those are two features you don't normally see on a fuzz, but they really help the pedal to cut through a band mix. Plus, cranking the mids knob gives you a "parked wah" effect which can be really fun for solos.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I started by building pedals that I wanted to personally use in my band, and then it seemed like other people liked the designs, so I started to mass produce them. That stemmed from never finding pedals that could exactly replicate the sound I had in my head though.

I'd say the biggest artist using my pedals is Lincoln Parish from Cage the Elephant. I've built a bunch of different fuzz pedals and delays and stuff for Lincoln. Right now he's actually got me building a few custom one-off pedals for him to take into the studio while they go to record their third album. Also, Josh Ritter is an extremely cool singer-songwriter who has been using my Mustang Overdrive, and his bass player is using my Deus Ex Machina fuzz.Blakemore Effects Deus Ex Machina

What does the future of Blakemore Effects look like?

My current plan is just to keep building pedals! I'm always looking for new dealers, and I've been doing a lot of custom work for people. I love my job though. I just want to keep building pedals, talking to musicians, and testing my pedals while playing in bands for as long as I can.

Are you working on any new products?

The next pedal I'll be releasing is called the R.O.U.S. It's my take on a very popular distortion pedal, and it will have some extra EQ options, and a diode selection switch. I'm waiting on my prototype PCBs right now, but once I decide on the final design, it'll just take me a few months to get PCBs and enclosures printed. I'm hoping to have that released before the end of the year, but I'll be posting updates on my Facebook.

After that, my next pet project is definitely a phaser. I'm still working out all the features, but it will be based off of my favorite OTA phaser, with some extra features.

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