[interview] ClinchFX: Peter Clinch

Here's FXDB's interview with Peter Clinch of ClinchFX:

How did ClinchFX start?

I had been a guitar "strummer" since I was about 13. I have never become a good guitar player, but I have always had a good ear for sound.

In the early 80s I began jotting down original schematics with the intention of building pedals, but fate intervened and postponed pedal building for a long time. 

In 2004, I was working in the Australian based R&D department of a small Asian electronics manufacturer. We were encouraged to develop our own sideline projects, so I finally began to develop a pedal, code named "tubedist" This became our first pedal, the Blue Classic. ClinchFX became a Registered Australian Business early in 2005.

In the 80s, in a previous business, we were Warranty Service Agents for some major music electronics manufacturers, covering mainly amps, pedals and keyboards. This led to other work, including tube amp, PA and recording gear servicing. During this time, I performed a large amount of studio installation and service for an Aussie producer who had been responsible for a string of 70s hits. While I was working in his studio, we would discuss all kinds of sound-related things. His thoughts on guitar sound inspired me, but it took almost another 20 years before I was finally in the situation where I could go ahead with my dream.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Just Clinch with FX tacked on the end.

Our logo, a pair of somewhat crumpled musical notes, was designed by a guy named John, who originally set up our website. It is his vision of what a pedal does to change tone.

What sets ClinchFX apart from other builders?

We use the slogan, "Unique Pedals".

We do our best to design something that is just different from the rest, resulting in new and special sounds.

We bridge the gap between "cottage industry" and mainstream manufacturing. Our combined knowledge of practical electronics enables us to manufacture to a high standard of consistency and reliability. 

Our pedals are aimed at professionals who need solid, reliable tools.

How do you start on a new pedal?

The ideas sometimes form as a result of discussion with other folks.

  • The EP-PRE was my response to a thread at The Gear Page, asking why nobody in the pedal business had put an EP-3 preamp into a pedal.
  • The EP+ is just a natural progression from the EP-PRE.
  • The EP+ Custom was made to fulfill a request from a customer.
  • The TxFuzz was a result on building a silicon Fuzz Face for myself, at the suggestion of my friend Greg. I didn't really like the way it sounded.

From idea to production it can take anything from a few months to 20+ years :))

How do you name your pedals?

I don't really name them. I can be creative and imaginative with guitar sounds, but it doesn't extend to pedal names. As a trained Electronics professional, I tend to tell it like it is.

I could have called the Blue Classic the "Scotty" in honor of the guy who kept pushing me to finish the project. 

I guess I could have called the EP+ Custom the EP+ Colin in honor of the guy who first asked me to make a special version of the EP+.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We do not have any builders on staff ("Builder" always conjures up, in my mind, someone with a saw and hammer ;)). Mandy and I are both Electronics Technicians and we assemble pedals ourselves. Mandy does most of the assembly work, replies to customer inquiries and postage/shipping, while I do design, prototyping, advertising, website maintenance, parts sourcing, accounting and most of the other little jobs that come with running a business.

ClinchFX pedals use SMT PCBs. At the time of this interview, we hand assemble our PCBs, using solder paste, tweezers and a combination of convection heat with a hand held hot air source. As production quantities grow, we intend to use a local (Brisbane, Australia) electronics assembly provider with Pick & Place facilities. This will result in a potentially more reliable product.

We hand wire our pedals. Pots, switches, jacks etc. are not directly soldered, but connected to the PCB by wiring. To ensure optimum noise immunity we use twisted wiring and shortest practical path. We adhere to the principles of bend radius, stress relief and allowance for repair, as recommended in professional wiring standards.

I designed the sheet metal enclosure for the Blue Classic. We have the component parts laser cut from sheet steel. I designed and built the press that we use to fold the three pieces of steel to the required shapes. After folding, we fit nutserts and then send the enclosures, unassembled, for powder coating.

For the EP series of pedals, and for the TxFuzz, we buy die-cast enclosures. We jig drill the jack and DC socket holes and then send the enclosures for powder coating. After powder coating, we apply anodised printed aluminium labels. The labels are printed with drill centre marks. We use these marks to drill the holes in the face of the pedal for pots, switches, LED, etc.

The labels are supplied by another small Brisbane business who developed the printing process.

How important is the look of your pedals?

From the beginning, my vision has been that our pedals must look solid, business-like and reliable. We market our pedals as tools for guitar players, not as works of art. Yeah, that may sound boring, but it works for us and for the large number of professionals who use our pedals.

Is parts selection important?

I refuse to use "NOS" components. I have seen 30 year old components stored in plastic bags in a warehouse where temperature reaches 40ºC (104ºF) and humidity can be 100%. Then someone decides to turn this old stock into cash, and puts it on the market.

In the EP-PRE, we use one particular JFET because, in the most important parameters, it very closely matches the original 30 year old TIS58. We then use a test jig to select those that will perform best in the EP-PRE. Sometimes, we discard 60% of these, something you just can't afford when paying excessive prices for old stock.

There are times when it is better to pay more for a component that will definitely do the job, rather than waste time trying to make a cheaper component work properly. An example of this is the Charge Pump IC that we use in the EP series of pedals.

Our PCB design is a technical exercise, not artwork. A neat looking PCB with all components geometrically aligned can be a technical disaster. We design for optimum immunity to noise.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I am rather proud of all our pedals. It's not easy to choose among them.

I am, however, very proud of my EP-PRE design work, in compensating for the preamp section being removed from the overall EP-3 circuit. There are nine components in the preamp section of the original EP-3. There are more than 20 components in the EP-PRE.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

It hasn't happened yet. When I designed our first pedal, the Blue Classic, I was working in R&D with an industrial electronics manufacturer. We just did not design things that were difficult to build or to service. I followed this doctrine with my own designs.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The EP-PRE of course. It's popular for a number of reasons, but it was the first commercially available EP-3 preamp in a pedal. That will never change.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Rather than selling tweaked versions of existing pedals, we do our best to innovate, looking for concepts that have not been previously attempted. The Blue Classic is a completely original design, making use of transformer coupling, something that is rarely seen in pedals.

Before the EP-PRE, there had never been a stand alone commercial version of the famed EP-3 preamp. We believe that our TxFuzz is unique, in that we are the first to re-engineer the classic Fuzz Face circuit to use an output transformer.

We engineer our products to withstand the rigors of being used in a professional "on the road" situation. As a result of this, many of our customers are professional musicians, however we are more than happy to sell to enthusiasts who play guitar purely for enjoyment.

We treat all customers as notable artists, however the front man for a major southern rock band bought three EP-PREs. On the Aussie scene, Dave Leslie, lead guitarist with the early 90s band Baby Animals, uses a Blue Classic and an EP-PRE. Like Dave, many Blue Classic users are earning their incomes from playing music.

What does the future of ClinchFX look like?

Our main short term goal is to, by the beginning of 2012, increase production so that we can supply pedals to retailers. We have received dealer inquiries from many parts of the world. An integral part of that goal is to improve efficiency, so that there is a fair margin for our dealers as well as a fair hourly rate for the time we spend in designing products, locating and purchasing components, manufacturing and distributing the finished product.

Our main focus is, and has always been, quality. Even seemingly small details, such as applying adhesive/sealant to the nuts that secure pots, switches, jacks etc.,are part of our commitment to quality. We jig drill our pedal enclosures, vastly reducing probability of errors, when compared with hand measuring and marking every enclosure. As production quantities increase, we intend to investigate having drilling done by CNC. We see our position in the market not as a boutique builder, but as a small volume manufacturer of quality products.

Are you working on any new products?

Yes, always. Tremolo, OD, maybe Delay. You can expect them in 2012.

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