[interview] Ed's Custom Shop: Edwin Thoen

Here's FXDB's interview with Edwin Thoen of Ed's Custom Shop:

How did Ed's Custom Shop start?

I got involved in building pedals about 20 years ago. Since I'm a traffic engineer for my main profession, I've had a life as a student and during that phase of my life, money was a bit more tight so I didn't have all the money to buy everything that gazed at me through the music store windows... plus I had ideas for effects and tone tools that just weren't and still aren't available in the stores... Since my father was an aircraft engine mechanic and was into electronics long before I even started to exist, I've been practically raised with a solder iron in my hands... In my early teens this was first and foremost transmitter-circuitry but as my love for music and the guitar progressed this interest within the electronics shifted accordingly.

Big bonus was that since my father is 79 by now, he got raised with tube-electronics exclusively...  He was a huge influence on me as for the love of tube amplification. My first amplifier I used for guitar was an audio tube amp my father built for amplifying the turntable back in the 70's! But amplifying a guitar or bass is a very different ballgame all together as opposed to audio amplification. This was very funny regarding discussions I could get into with my father because he had a totally different background into the application of tube circuitry (which was more oriented towards radios, audio-amps and TV's).

In the early days I had a Silverface Fender Deluxe Reverb that sounded like shit (mostly because of the Silverface mods compared to the Blackface series but that was way, way later that I found out that one), so my father would put the oscilloscope on the amp, checked the voltages on the tubes and everything was good... so it IS good... but dad... it sounds shit!... Hey, it is what it is, ok?... But he really wouldn't hear whether the reverb was on or not.... so he had the knowledge back then but not the ears... and I had the ears but not the knowledge... So I had to do something on that last part on my behalf!...

I developed my knowledge based on books... I'm from the pre-internet generation so information on this subject was very rare not to mention the availability of the right parts! It would really make my day if I'd enter into an electronics store that would have coupling capacitors of a 400V+ rating! Not to mention I'd have to drive 50 km for that! Things changed so dramatically since the internet... but in those early years guys like Peter van Weelden (who worked for Van Halen, Joe Bonamassa,...), Dolf Koch (Koch Amplification), Arie Jan Folkerts (Marble Amps) along with guys like Lee Jackson, Jose Arrendondo and Paul Rivera really inspired me to get into this thing more and more. The books that really opened a lot of possibilities were "inside tube amps" by Dan Torres, the books from Gerald Weber to a certain extend, as well as "The Ultimate Tone" series from Kevin O'conner's London Power... But when all is said and done, you can read half a mile of printed paper on this subject, you'll really learn the most by doing and therefore discovering... not available in books or on the internet!

Ed's Custom Shop Pico Plexi HeadWhere does the name come from?

Well, since my pre-twenties, people got to call me Ed instead of Edwin... and since this a real custom shop in the most true sense of the word and run by me exclusively, I guess you've already got the picture...

I don't have a real logo or anything like it but my website has got great graphics IMHO and really defines what it's all about... electronics and the freedom of expression within that ballgame so to speak...

What sets Ed's Custom Shop apart from other builders?

Like stated before, I'm a true custom shop. I can accomplish things other companies can't because they work primarily with production runs. I don't. Every product is unique inside and out. Even the more or less "production" models like the Pico Plexi Head, Tube Booster etc. are all tailored towards the customer, either cosmetically (color of the box and knobs, layout) or functionally (integrated effects loop, line out or whatever).

How do you start on a new pedal?

That really depends on the product itself... Sometimes, products are determined within a few hours but it can take up days, months or even years before they really get to the final stage of perfection...

How do you name your pedals?

No specific system or inspiration... It's just like making music... when inspiration strikes you, you come up with beautiful things...

Ed's Custom Shop Tube BoosterCan you tell us something about the production process?

All pedals are built in-house. No builders on staff. The way I build my circuitry involves a lot of knowledge of the actual circuit. It has to be done with the utmost precise kind of mentality that only the builder itself can provide. So I have to do it myself.

All production activities are fully done by hand, except for the painting of the boxes for stompboxes. This involves cutting pcb's, all wiring and soldering, all the drilling and mounting of controls, sockets etc. labeling of the product and so on.

How important is the look of your pedals?

This is a subject where I can get into a lot of discussion with people around me (usually not customers)... Especially the labeling of the pedals, some people think this is very amateur-like... For me, this is part of the custom look... Many so called boutique builders aren't really boutique builders in my opinion... They produce standard circuitry, standard boxes, silk screened and all that... So essentially, they produce their pedals in a similar way as companies like Boss and Ibanez make them, only by a smaller amount. To me, a boutique builder should build products specifically for a certain need of a customer... Because I work this way, I can't even have products silkscreened because every product is different. The labeling I do also expresses this, so all in all, I feel that the way my products look, expresses the true custom approach I do like no other company can...

Is parts selection important?

Oh yeah, once a circuit is determined by its specs, I never, ever, leave those... I know which kind and brand of components operate at their best in a certain part of a circuit and I have certain things that I like... things like silver plated wire with Teflon coating for high voltages and preferably pure copper wire for the signal path, things like that...

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The Pico Plexi Head for sure: although inspiration came from the Z. Vex Nano Head, certain things were really important for me like the use of regular tubes instead of the miniature tubes like in the Z. Vex and fully hand wired as apposed to using pcb's. It's really important that the delicate, more serviceable, components are easy to obtain and can be exchanged relatively easily (either by the user or by some basic tech)... And of course the tone this little amp can put out... It's really a micro plexi Marshall tone... so the element of a wolf in sheep's clothes also attracts me in this little amp... But building these amps sometimes feels more like being a surgeon than a technician...Groove Street Delay

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Groove Street Delay pedal I developed for the Groove Street music shop in Brussels, Belgium... It took forever to accomplish that one... The routing was very, very complex.....

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

That will be the Tube Booster along with the Pico Plexi Head... The Tube Booster is popular because it's extremely versatile. The amount of boost that's available easily drives a power amp so it can really turn things into crazyness... The amount of low end that's also available to be boosted using the color switch is also tremendous... I really like those qualities in a pedal... It should be able to sound huge, organic and dynamic as well... The Tube Booster provides all those qualities...

Ed's Custom Shop Pico Plexi PedalWho uses your pedals and for which genres?

I don't make pedals for a specific genre, when I started out the first and foremost goal was that it truly should be a custom shop. So the customer really comes first in what he'd like to have... This goes for the kind of circuitry he wants as well as the cosmetics...

Richie Kotzen is an artist that I've build pedals for. He uses the Tube Booster and Pico Plexi Pedal in the studio, especially along with a Fender Vibro King. He also has the Pico Plexi Head. He really likes them... "Your pedals rock"... is one of his quotes on behalf of these pedals...

Are you working on any new products?

At the moment and I don't have any new pedal up my sleeve but that can change at any time... Right now I'm rebuilding an old Blackface Fender Bassman head to a '59 Bassman along with KT66's and power scaling so this is yet a whole other assignment right now...

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