[interview] Copilot FX: Adam Romero

Here's FXDB's interview with Adam Romero of Copilot FX:

How did Copilot FX start?

I started doing some electronic stuff for a friend of my dad back in 2000-2001. Some light sequencers for neon and bulbs signs. It was my dad design, but he stopped working with electronics, but his friend insisted that he still wanted those.

In the meanwhile, my dad also had some pcb material, and I asked if I could have those, so I could offer to build pcbs for people on HCFX. That's how I got into pedal building.

I started experimenting and studying electronics with some books my dad had. Once I had more experience, I thought why not make a small ring modulator, because nobody was doing them, and I started working on what would become the Android. Looking at it today the Android was a very raw idea, that's why I took some time and designed another ring mod, the Planetoid.

Most tech help came from my dad, books and datasheets. I also learned a lot by troubleshooting, I had to build the same pedal (I think it was a tremolo) 6 times in 2 years before it worked from the first time.

Inspiration came from the 3ms/4ms crew and Prophecysound, lots of knobs, weird sounds and crazy paint jobs and Moog stuff.

Devi from Devi Ever / Effector 13, recommended my stuff to some of her retailers, I'm very grateful for that.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Autopilot is my username on the interwebs, so I liked "Copilot", and it sounded better than Adamtone or Romerotone or other derivatives. Also I like the fact that with some of my pedals you need the pedal to express itself, so your playing has to co-exists with the sounds, like you aren't in total control.

The logo came from the Android fonts, that my friend did, it wasn't on purpose, but it sticked

What sets Copilot FX apart from other builders?

Honestly, that's a question for the users. I like weird sounds and I like to make weird faces when I'm making weird sounds, so I try to create stuff that helps me to do weird sounds and weird faces while I play. Also I love to tweak the knobs, if it was my choice all pedals would be at least 6 knobbers.

How do you start on a new pedal?

I design around sounds in my head, sometimes I lock with a certain idea, and do everything I can to try to reproduce the sounds. An example is the Arrow and Arrow Airwaves, I always wanted to do a white noise generator, one day I got very close while experimenting, and I kept trying for a while, until I almost got it, but I couldn't make it work with an instrument so that make me do the Arrow, but I wanted to make it work with an instrument as well, because not everyone is into table top and modular stuff, and one day everything made sense and I was able to have the trigger and balance with an external signal.

Other times ideas come from an evolution of sounds or ideas that push me to go to the next level, that's why you see some pedals have a second version (Antenna & Antenna 2, Mantis & Mantis II). I even have plans to do a "Supreme Series" which is mainly a 10 knob version of the pedals with more crazy stuff added, but don't know if it will happen or how soon.

I also have a closet full of prototypes, that never came to fruition. Sometimes I just go there to pick some parts to prototype, and while playing that prototype (before dismantling it) I think "I could fix this" or "this will be amazing if I combine with this".

Sometimes, it takes me just a couple of days, sometimes a couple of years. For example:

  • the Mantis concept was done in one week
  • the Orbit was a couple of weeks
  • the Caracol almost a year
  • the Dubscope idea was an evolution of 2 years, the final concept took a month or so
  • the Arrow family a year and half
  • the Gyroscope 2-3 years (the Dubscope came from the original Gyroscope concept, check the Gyroscope prototype demo and you'll see).

How do you name your pedals?

Names are mostly the thoughts my brain associates with the sounds:

  • Orbit: since the fuzz and VCO battles going back and forth, creating those spaceships lasers sounds, it was the movement of the earth/planets around the sun.
  • Caracol: (seashell in Spanish) this was more the concept of having an external source controlling/modulating the input, it was how the slugs (animals) get in and out their seashells. Yeah, I played with slugs when I was a kid.
  • Mantis: it's glitchy, like a male mantis doesn't know if he's going to be alive (in tune) after dating a female mantis.
  • Arrow Airwaves: white noise, you don't know how to explain, just like you don't know where the airwaves are going, and like arrows they have a trajectory.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

Copilot is one man operation, I design, build, pack, test, etc.

I use powder coat cases, the graphics are from transparent vinyl which are layered with another coat of vinyl to protect from scratching the artwork. The insides are PCBs, I hate perfboard and point to point because I don't have the patience to do it.

How important is the look of your pedals?

It's important, because if it looks cool you would like to test it, and also if it looks cool you'll remember the name.

Is parts selection important?

Yeah, it's important to have quality parts, mainly because I live in the Dominican Republic and most users are far away from me, so I need stuff that is strong, good and reliable, because I have to pay every time to receive pedals from abroad to fix.

I don't use much NOS parts, because they're hard to get, and you don't know if you'll get it again.

Matching components is important in the design stages.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I really love them all, I'm very proud of them. I rock them all, they all have their purpose in my noise making and weird faces playing time.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Dubscope, too many parts, knobs and stuff, I was building one today, and I spent 15 min just looking thinking seriously I have to solder all of this. but then I played and I was ready :)

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Most popular are the Orbit and Antenna, the least popular are the Mantis, Caracol and Terra.

Ask the users, why.

What does the future of Copilot FX look like?

To me pedals/designs are like songs, I'm just creating stuff in hope to inspire users and when the time goes around they'll still be relevant and appropriate for them to use.

I would like to grow the brand, being able to hire help and go into modular and tabletop designs, do more crazy pedals as well as more normal pedals.

Are you working on any new products?

There's a lot of stuff I'm working on, but I don't know how long they will take to finish. There's the Cubic an octaver (down for bass), there's a gate with external trigger option, there's something for which I don't know how to describe the sound but it's ultra cool, plus a closet full of prototypes that I have to sort out.

I have been thinking of creating another brand for more weird/out there kind of stuff, like the Molecule, stuff that isn't appealing to some users but it will be interesting for a couple of people. Like Mars Volta and Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Queens Of The Stone Age and the Dessert Sessions.

I have some crazy bizarre sonic stuff, that I have to free my brain from.

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