[interview] Frantone Electronics: Frances Blanche

Here's FXDB's interview with Frances Blanche of Frantone Electronics:

How did Frantone Electronics start?

I have always had some hand in electronics as far back as the age of 10. I am self taught, as in most things. Frantone came out of a unique internal overdrive pedal I had made in 1995 based on the LM386 that became the Hep Cat. I had made the pedal because I just couldn't afford the gray Russian Big Muff I really wanted. Ironic considering that as a result of this I would later go on to design the next American Big Muff for Electro-Harmonix in 2000.

I brought that first pedal (well, honestly it was a box not a pedal at that time) to my friend and mentor Mert Kenniston in the summer of 1995 because he wanted to launch a new manufacturing venture. He liked the idea of a 'boutique' effects pedal company and we launched Frantone in Lancaster PA in 1995. The first Hep Cats came out in January 1996. A couple years later when the two knob Frantone Peachfuzz came out I bought the company from Mert and became sole owner.

I moved to Manhattan in the fall of 1998 to work for Electro-Harmonix. I oversaw the production of all the EH reissues of that time, built the tube burning and testing machines with JC Morrison, and and left that company in the summer of 2000 after the Big Muff was done. I then started up Frantone full time again in Williamsburg Brooklyn with EH co-worker Mia Theodoratus who managed all sales and public relations.

Frantone moved a few times over the years so I built several versions of my factory, each time refining the design of the workspace. I constructed several pressurized paint rooms and a lot of unique tooling to make the quality of the finish, screening, and circuit boards as consistent and as good as was possible.

I got to meet all my heroes, and I got to have some great friends. There was the Dave Hunter book, many articles and reviews, and so many great players using my gear. MusicRadar put two of my designs in their list of the 42 best fuzztones of all time - the Frantone Peachfuzz and the EH Big Muff reissue. I did what I hope is some good work and many people have told me that they appreciate what I have done in pedal design. I sat down about 5 years ago and thought that I would make a list of every famous person I had met since starting Frantone, and when the list got to 100 I just stopped. That is a pretty good ride in the music business for a really weird girl from the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Fran and Tone... There were a few other names considered in 1995 like Frantronics, but Frantone seemed to ring best. I added the Electronics to make the name more specific.

There were several logos over they years, all based on various 1950's American commercial art styles that I am quite fond of.

What sets Frantone Electronics apart from other builders?

I designed what I wanted to use, so rather than think about what guitar players might really be looking for I just made what I wanted.

How do you start on a new pedal and how do you name them?

Most of my inspiration comes from food and candy. I always loved the idea of being a candy maker, and so my designs tend to follow that idea. The Cream Puff is a good example - I came upon the paint and thought that I needed to make a pedal with this - like a Hostess Sno Ball you could plug into and play... so then the name came to me quickly, then I thought of the tone that it should have and designed a unique circuit with the right filtering to emulate what I felt this should sound like. No exaggeration, I went from initial concept to the first sold product in 20 days... and most of that was waiting for the paint to dry. There was really no one else in the business at that time that could turn around a completely new product like that. Many of my dealers told me that they would NEVER sell a pink pedal, but it became one of the biggest sellers. I think that you should build what you like and just hope that others will appreciate your taste.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I had a few part time employees over the years and tried a few contractors for some outsourcing but it always ended up that things worked best if I did everything in the manufacturing myself in house.

I wish I could say so but I was always a firm believer in vertical integration (doing everything in house). I always manufactured my own printed circuit boards, did my own case milling, coating, and silk screening, used custom knobs and other features that you could not get anywhere to make Frantone effects unique and truly boutique.

What does the future of Frantone Electronics look like?

None that I am at liberty to discuss at the moment. But perhaps soon...

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