[interview] Dirk_Hendrik: Dirk_Hendrik

Here's FXDB's interview with Dirk_Hendrik of Dirk_Hendrik:

How did Dirk_Hendrik start?

I’ve always had interest in pedals and their insides. I think the first reverse job, drawing a circuit diagram from a real unit, must have been my TS10 tubescreamer somewhere around 1992. However it was not till somewhere around 2002 that I got more seriously into a) collecting effects and b) repairing them. The combination of buying broken stuff and fixing it can make an effects collection grow fast. This, combined with the FX related internet activities, resulted in more and more people inquiring if I could fix their pedal as well. Often pedals that were already proclaimed unfixable by one or more other repair guys. Sometimes justified, usually easy fixes.

I have been amazed about crappy and potentially unsafe repaired equipment full time musicians have been sent on the road with. Doing a decent and safe fix (usually determining the root cause failure correct) seems to be very difficult for many.

Repairs and often full restoration is still the majority of what I do, next to a full-time job in... electronics repairs. Pedal building is a side activity and pretty often on a 1-off order basis.

I had little help, but I do get inspiration from the guys at FSB though, which still come up with stuff I never did see before. As for designers that I do consider inspirational, Robert Moog immediately crosses my mind. Incredible designer.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Dirk was a quickly chosen nickname for some activity at a computer related forum somewhere around 2001. While I'm very confident I never shared any sensitive information about the computer hardware manufacturing company I was working for at the time it felt good to keep some distance between those online activities and the daytime job. Later, when diving more and more into the music electronics bizz I kept the nick which started to lead its own life over the last 10 years. While perhaps not the most exotic or exciting name it is easily recognized and remembered.

My wife made the logo. She tended to draw circuit diagrams for fun based on what she saw me drawing. That meant completely non-working and weird drawings that did seem to mean something at a first glance. From those circuit diagrams she took the stereo jack symbol and converted it into the logo I still use.

What sets Dirk_Hendrik apart from other builders?

I don't do boutique. I build/modify effects that are matched to what the player wants, not what someone else has made up and promotes as the newest "God's gift" to guitarist. I don't spend years on the design of a circuit. Days rather. I tend to stay away from mojo-trends.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Starting a pedal is based on an idea, concept or hunch. Often the desire to experiment with a specific circuit snippet. Of every 20 experiments only one or less will evolve to a PCB version and even less will ever get cased. When the concept works and does make it it's usually a timeframe from about a month from start to pedal.

How do you name your pedals?

No special stories or meaning. Association, usually.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

What I do, I do myself.

Usually a product, whether initially for first, personal use, custom order or to be made in larger quantities, starts off on in the experimentation phase in which the circuit is thoroughly tested. From this a circuit diagram is made which, in the CAD system, is used to do the PCB layout. This ensures that when the circuit diagram is correct, the PCB layout is correct as well. Electrically that is. In the PCB design phase multiple requirements are set to ensure that when the PCB is physically made it will fit the case and all components that reach out to the outside world (pots, jacks) will fit when all is mounted in a case. Cases are 1590's in the B or BB variant. Based on that size limit I also choose whether to go with through hole or SMT components. I do not believe in mojo-talk that SMT would sound different (and for an obscure reason, worse) than through hole. Similar, the argument that SMT is harder to repair says more about the tech skills of the repairguy than about the technology used. If there were ever a case where I'd have to produce so many boards that it would be worth to have component mounting and soldering done automatically rather than hand built I'd go the automated road straight away. Quality control in an automated soldering process is far easier than when everything is done by hand. I do not see any reason why "hand built" would sound any better or be more reliable. Humans make errors. Machines don't.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Important enough not to use a water resistant marker to write the tags next to the controls and jacks "because it's the sound that matters". Not more important than decent design of the internal construction of the build.

Is parts selection important?

All parts I use are chosen for proper availability and having of multiple sources. I only use rare/obsolete parts when I do have enough stock that I can build multiple pedals without running out of parts and having enough left to be able to do possible repairs when a pedal becomes defective. Another selection criterion is that a part is suitable for the job. No need to use 400 volt capacitors in a 9 volts application and no, I do not believe that’s going to sound better either. When it comes to component quality I can only relate to experiences with makes and brands I have from the past. There is no way in which I can influence part manufacturers quality control. Therefore I will never make claims I use “the highest quality”. It’s an empty claim. I use the highest quality I can define and source. That's all.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Hmmm. By far the most fun was doing the Deluxe Memory Baby last summer, showing that the EHX Deluxe Memory Man can be built into a 1590b Hammond case. Since that project was a parody it will not be sold as a Dirk_Hendrik pedal. Most of my builds are one offs on order. Of these, clones of the Maestro Parametric Filter and the Maestro Stage Phaser come to mind. In the category of personal use it's the knobless Sferasound pedal that's based on the Leslie sim circuit of a Farfisa organ. Just 2 buttons. Bypass and Fast/Slow.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

None. Doing a circuit design means making sure there's nothing unclear in the circuit. If something fails usually math is the simple tool to correct the error. Similar when going from a paper design to a physical design it's a matter of catching most difficulties as early as possible. By setting as many constraints as possible (based on errors of the past) chances of running into real difficulties are little. If so, define, measure, analyze and correct the error.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

That must be either the Twoverdrive or the Real Tubescreamer. Design files for the Real Tubescreamer are in the public domain as a DIY project and I've seen multiple build reports.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

What I do is what I'm asked to build. However I never build clones of bouteekers' pedals and when asked to quote I usually quote to kill. That is, higher than the price for the real thing.

Is it important to have famous users? What's the difference between a famous player or my 14 yr old cousin?

What does the future of Dirk_Hendrik look like?

As it is right now. A major focus on repairs, modifications and restorations and some building activities at the side.

Are you working on any new products?

Currently I'm playing around with the old A/DA Flanger concept. That is the SAD1024 one and without all odd adaptations of the circuit to use other BBD's. Since ADA released their 2nd reissue of that pedal rather recently I don't think I'll market it and will spend that time on repairs.

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