[interview] Elephant Stomp Boxes: Bob Helfant

Here's FXDB's interview with Bob Helfant of Elephant Stomp Boxes.

Elephant Stomp Boxes is run by Bob Helfant. He runs the company out of his garage in Redondo Beach, California.

How did Elephant Stomp Boxes start?

First let me say I am a pedal junkie and a guitarist. I have a great collection which I draw from that goes from wahs from the '60s and '70s to Mike Piera, Geoffrey Teese and Robert Keeley from the present. I started this company about 4 years ago when one of my sons wanted new wheels for a skateboard. I thought it would be better if he could earn the money instead of just asking for it. I experimented with a few circuit boards in production for classic effects and built a few different versions of several effects using a variety of parts from a few vendors until we came upon combinations that worked best.

Not much help from anyone on this. You try it and then try to figure out why it doesn't work the way you hoped it would. Tracking down the problems was the best teacher.

We have kept it a one or person operation without any great breakthroughs to put on the timeline. We almost had a breakthrough when I was in discussion with Roger Mayer a few years ago. I took some of his classic effects (Axis Fuzz, Classic Fuzz, and his Octavia) and mounted them in smaller boxes that would sit on a pedal board better than his spaceship pedals and tried to convince him that guitarists still wanted the classic sounds but now needed them in smaller boxes. He told me that he would never do that and sue me if I tried to do it without his permission because it was not "forward" thinking" which is what he claims to have. Two years later, he released all his classic pedals in smaller, pedal board friendly sizes. Had he allowed me to manufacture and co-brand the smaller boxes, I would have invested in the business to make it into a larger operation. Instead, he took my idea and ran with it himself. Thank you Roger!

Elephant Stomp BoxesWhere do the name and logo come from?

It comes from my family name "Helfant" which gets misspelled and mispronounced into Elephant.

The logo is a picture of a happy elephant to match the name.

What sets Elephant Stomp Boxes apart from other builders?

I don't do this for a living. I do it to help make my sons, who are now in college, a little extra money and to help people get the sounds they are looking for. We all like the idea of creating products that musicians around the world use to make their music.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Usually this happens because someone at Harbor Music asks for a pedal they can't buy easily. Recently they had a request for the Green Russian version of a Big Muff Pi. The originals cost $400 to $700 and were way to large. We took the time and built one for him and liked it so much, we are building another for me (or for sale). The other great pedal that came out of that store was when Scott Gerber, the owner and gear maniac asked me to put two of my Tube Screamers in one box. I made a few of those for him and they have sold well. Once we get a request for something new, it can take two to four weeks to finish a production model we are happy with.

Elephant Stomp Boxes Psychobrahe OctaviaHow do you name your pedals?

I just try to make up names that will remind the user of the original pedal we re-created. Some are better than others. The TS-808 became a DH-808K, using my sons initials and the K is for the Keeley mods.

The Tychobrahe Octavia which is a copy of a 70s pedal made currently by Chicago Iron was re-made by us using the name Psycobrahe. That was one of my favorite names. Chico Iron said they would sue me if I used the word Tycobrahe in the name which is kind of funny as they are not the original makers of the pedal. They just trademarked the name which came from the astronomer Tycho Brahe. Whatever.

We have a loop pedal called "In 'n Out" which you will recognize as a great hamburger restaurant if you are from California. They haven't threatened to sue yet.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All pedals built in-house by me or one of my sons. All pedals are tested by me.

We locate PCBs in production for pedals we want to make. Everything is hand-wired locally. We have tried drilling and painting the enclosures, but for the most part have them custom painted and drilled by a third-party company.

How important is the look of your pedals?

They have to look great to me.

Is parts selection important?

Of course you have to pay attention to the parts. They are responsible for 99.9% of the tone. We buy high quality parts with good specs like 1% or 2% resistors, etc. so each pedal has the same great tone. We don't do many fuzzes so matching transistors isn't that important.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I was really proud of the job I did moving the Roger Mayer pedals into small boxes. They came out great and looked a look better than the line he eventually put out using my concept.

Elephant Stomp Boxes DH-80808 KWhich of your pedals was your toughest build?

The 80808 pedal, which is two 808s in one box, is the toughest pedal to make. It uses two boards and is always a challenge to fit into the box, but it sounds amazing.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Our hand-wired Tube Screamer is our most popular pedal. So many guitar players use that pedal and ours sounds better than most. The other popular pedal is our version of the old StratoBlaster. It gives the guitar a big, warm sound and can be used to overdrive an amp or other distortion pedal.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We market to the players who want something that sounds really good and doesn't cost a small fortune. We have very limited production so we don't try to place them in many retail locations. The only store we make them for at this time is Harbor Music in Redondo Beach. We sell them there and in our eBay store.

I don't know if or how many famous people are using my pedals. A lot of players say very nice things about the pedals. Here are a few quotes:

  • I've played Ibanez and Maxon Tubscreamers, the DH-808 K destroys them all. A++++
  • Top! 10/10 the Elephant Stompbox Tubescreamer is really really fantastic!!! Thx
  • Great pedal at a great price! (S Blaster)
  • AWESOME! Thank you! A+ Fuzz 1 Silicon BC 108 Fuzz Face Hand Wired True Bypass

What does the future of Elephant Stomp Boxes look like?

Short term goal is to keep making quality, hand-wired in the USA products, one at a time for guitarists who want the great, classic sounds and aren't afraid to buy from a smaller, less known company. I think that Analogman and Robert Keeley are at the top of the custom pedal business. They do wonderful work and make fabulous pedals. They charge properly for their work and reputations. I have as many or more Analogman and Keeley pedals on my board as my own. We charge less as we are less famous but turn out some of the same products. For example, our best seller is a copy of the TS-808 Tube Screamer with the modifications that Robert Keeley published as to how he improved the tone and range of distortion to make it sound even better. They sell a TS-808 with the modifications for $349 and we sell ours which is 100% hand-wired for $149.

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