[interview] Diamond Guitar Pedals: Michael Knappe

Here's FXDB's interview with Michael Knappe of Diamond Guitar Pedals:

How did Diamond Guitar Pedals start?Diamond Drive

I had started a company along with an ENT surgeon back in 2002, Polyblend Systems Inc., designing portable audiometric systems for measuring hearing loss. I happened to meet Tim Fifield in the summer of 2003, a certified engineering technologist, and we decided to meet every Monday night as a hobby to work on our own drive pedal. Long story short, by 2004, Tim had joined Polyblend Systems full time along with myself, LeSalle Munroe and Steve Greene to work both on the portable audiometer, and to get the 'Diamond Pedals' branded guitar pedals off the ground. By 2005, Polyblend Systems dropped our audiometer venture and jumped full time into the business of making guitar pedals - including several drives, the Compressor, and the first Memory Lane Analog Delay with Tap Tempo, all shipping by the summer of 2005.

Two companies were real inspirations for me as we began Diamond Pedals - Fulltone, for their no nonsense approach to providing great sounding pedals, and Analogman (Analog Mike), for his devotion to customer service and satisfaction (and great pedals as well!).

Diamond Guitar PedalsWhere do the name and logo come from?

Diamond Guitar Pedals was a name that we felt embodied our product vision - timeless beauty and permanence, dependability, high performance (e.g. like diamond cutting tools), a hint of audio's golden age (like the diamond tip on a turntable stylus), and of course it's a 'hard rock'!

We do have a logo of a stylized 'shadowed' diamond that we introduced with our very first products back in 2004. I had asked a family friend, Justin Pitcher, who was in high school at the time and very involved in graphic design, to come up with a Diamond logo and font choice. Our request to him was that the logo would embody a feeling of quality and permanence, with a modern yet hopefully timeless nature. We think he did a great job, thanks Justin!

What sets Diamond Guitar Pedals apart from other builders?

Our company mission focuses on three core areas:

  1. Customer satisfaction - in today's corporate-speak world this may seem cliched, but this is absolutely our #1 focus. We have a company goal of turning 'every negative into a positive' - so even when the occasional hiccup occurs, we'll take care of that affected customer to the point that they're even happier than before the problem occurred!Diamond Memory Lane

  2. Innovative sonic excellence - our products always couple great sound with a unique feature twist, from tap tempo on the analog Memory Lane, to the tilt EQ on the Compressor, to a delay-like 'chop' mode on the Tremolo.

  3. Intuitive interfaces - we've put additional emphasis on this with recent products like the Tremolo and Memory Lane Jr, where we've made access to sophisticated features very simple, intuitive, and 'stage friendly'.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Although we have longer term product roadmap directions based on customer feedback and trends, individual pedal inspirations tend to be fairly organic. Some start as discussions between several of us that gradually morph into an official design, others start as individual 'a-ha' moments that later get vetted through similar group discussions. Almost all start with 'wouldn't it be cool if...'

The time from drawing board to production has unfortunately been far less predictable than we'd like it to be. Some of our earlier (and simpler) designs were completed in under a year, most of our later designs have been closer to two years from start to finish.

How do you name your pedals?

Pedal naming is always interesting... we typically do a company brainstorm, then trial balloon one or two names for a while to see if they 'sit well'. And of course the google search to make sure it's a new pedal name. Some of our names just use the actual function name so that it tandems with 'Diamond', like 'Diamond Compressor', 'Diamond Tremolo', 'Diamond Phase' etc. The 'Memory Lane' product family name came from a Musicstop employee suggestion - and coincidentally also from the street that our company was located at back in 2005.

Diamond CompressorCan you tell us something about the production process?

PCB's are populated and soldered at a local contract manufacturer literally next door to us, and assembled & hand soldered into chassis' by two builders on staff at Diamond Pedals.

For the circuits, it depends on the exact product, but we typically have a mixture of through-hole and SMT in our designs, all of it on PCB's.

The enclosures are purchased cast aluminum boxes which are powder coated and screen printed in a three step process

How important is the look of your pedals?

It's very important to us that the pedal look reflects the company itself - reliability, permanence, quality.

Is parts selection important?

Component selection has always been an important design factor for us. My side hobby has been audiophile music listening for as long as I can remember, and Diamond has the same audio path simplicity and high quality component choice philosophy that audiophile stereo equipment manufacturers have.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?Diamond Tremolo

The original Diamond Memory Lane is certainly up there - we overcame a number of significant technical challenges to get the first tap-tempo analog delay out to market, and there was a time in the summer of 2005 that we were all concerned whether we'd be able to pull it off.

We're also very proud of the Compressor and the impact that it's had on so many players, sometimes a design comes along that just seems to fall into place on many fronts (certainly compared to the Memory Lane!) Thanks to everyone who have 'that yellow box' on their boards!

Finally, I'm very proud of the usability progress we've made with the Tremolo and Memory Lane Jr, it's been very encouraging to see the positive response we've gotten back on these.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The original Memory Lane... tough initial design, tough to manufacture, tough to get the MN3005 bucket brigade chips...

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Diamond Compressor continues to be our most popular product. The customer feedback that we've received on the Comp has been that its simplicity and 'sweetening' effect has made it an 'always-on' pedal for many.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We try to make Diamond Pedals as universal as possible for use across a wide range of player interests and genres - in fact, their use isn't limited to just guitar and bass as we often hear players using them with keyboards, vocals, violins, etc.

We hear so many great players each year when they stop by our NAMM booth, all of them notable players but not necessarily well known - it's just always fantastic to hear their amazing playing in our demo setups.

One of the greatest thrills for me in the last few years was having Andy Summers use our pedals on the Police reunion tour - I've been such a huge Police fan for 30 years. Another effect-centric 'vote of confidence' for me came when Ed O'Brien from Radiohead, another of my band favorites, began using our effects last year - that also was very exciting for all of us here at Diamond Pedals. We even came across a picture of Norah Jones performing with a Memory Lane perched up on top of her keyboard! And to have influential players like Buddy Miller, Johnny Marr, Mark Goldenberg, Rusty Anderson, and more, using our pedals, it makes us all here at Diamond both very proud and very humble all at the same time to be selected for use by these great players.

What does the future of Diamond Guitar Pedals look like?

Our focus on 'Innovative Sonic Excellence' continues, with 'interface ease of use' now an absolutely integral part of our design process - and exemplified in the Diamond Tremolo, Memory Lane Jr and upcoming Quantum Leap.

Customer feedback plays a significant role in our product evolution - for example, our customers' desire to see smaller pedal form factors has been a driving influence behind the smaller Marquis boost and Cornerstone drive packages, and it's an industry trend that we expect to see continue.

Bottom line is that customer support and satisfaction has always been the #1 priority for us, and part of that support process has been to build 'on-the-ground' availability worldwide, with retail distribution now in 28 countries on five continents and growing. Many many thanks to customers worldwide who have helped bring Diamond Pedals to their favorite music store!Diamond Quantum Leap

Are you working on any new products?

We're just finishing up the 'Quantum Leap', a 'short delay' pedal that can range from sub millisecond flange delays to chorus up to about 600 ms of delay, along with some cool pitch shift functionality. This should be available in the March / April 2012 time frame.

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