[interview] Kami: Sylvain Muller

Here's FXDB's interview with Sylvain Muller of Kami:

How did Kami start?

I was making amps, pedals, and all kind of electronics years before going into business. So it wasn't so difficult when customers asked me for a distortion unit. Actually they asked me how I could get these sounds when listening to the site's samples for the pickups. I was using a tube preamp plugged into an analog amp&speaker simulator, a digital reverb processor, all made by myself, and straight into the soundcard of the PC, with no post-processing.

I had to release something in a box, capable of delivering huge tones, but without the forest of knobs, just plug and play, and three basic controls, gain, tone, volume.

Now customers ask me when will I release tube amps, effect processors... (laughs) I have a lot of proprietary schematics already, but no time enough to turn them into marketable products for now.

For making products, I am a very individualist person, and the simple idea of being helped to make things scares me. You know when dealing with great luthiers, they are often very humble, and let me do my job with confidence, after all I don't want to show them how to glue wood pieces, they do the same naturally.

Where do the name and logo come from?

From "Sylvain" coming from "Sylvanus" which is a latin name, meaning god of the forest, known as "mori no kami" in Japanese.

When I first made pickups, I asked myself what kind of imaging could I use to represent my work. Some years ago, a well known PU maker used to show a chilli pepper on their ads, maybe nice for the USA, but in France, what could I use for myself, Dijon mustard?

Then I thought about the Japanese wasabi, but friends used to ask me why did I borrow the name of a not-so-good movie with Jean Reno? I came back with that idea of "KAMI". Now "Wasabi" is the name of one of my PU models, just fine!

What sets Kami apart from other builders?

When you're a guitar player, you always try a lot of things, buy some stuff and finally sell it, I only want to make things that you want to keep for yourself!

How do you start on a new pedal?

I will only talk about the only one I'm selling. Nowadays, environment is an important thing to my eyes, so plugging tubes into a pedal is not really an alternative. I had to make it with solid state, opamps are great, just choosing one with nice audio features, low noise and low power consumption was tricky. It is the core of the unit. Then, a clipping stage is added, lots of pre and post filtering for having a nice singing tone and a firm bass without being muddy, and then I add a tone control which can be very easy to use, one knob for having lot of variations; the player is not an engineer, I have to work so he doesn't have to. The box just has to be a box, with an input and an output, some things happens inside, you even don't have to know what's going on, but sure you will feel it. Lots of filters are chosen with software, with complicate curves etc. but they are adjusted by the ear day after day, and when the results are pleasing after months of trying, the schematic is done. The Lead Drive pedal took me a bit less than 1 year to complete.

How do you name your pedals?

KAMI means "God", and the color chosen for the pedal is "evil red".

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I'm the only person making anything, from answering the order mail til the shipping. Only the PCB's are printed by a craftsman, and verified by me.

The PCB's are made by a selected artisan, then verified by eye with a magnifying glass by me, and continuity tested. All components are bought from several sources, tested one by one before being soldered by hand. Then circuit is connected to the power supply and has to pass many electrical tests.

I'm using standard plain boxes, hand drilled, hand filed and sanded and hand sprayed by me.

The PCB is wired by hand into the box, some controls are done here. Then the unit is tested as if it was mine, played with guitar and amp, with several power sources and EMC risks (influence by electromagnetic gear). Then it is cleaned, decals, rubber feet and screws on the bottom are added, and a last test with a guitar, shock proof test, sound test and final inspection.

How important is the look of your pedals?

I want it to be very simple, almost like a 3years old child's toy, but in the same time cool and attractive, geometrically simple.

Is parts selection important?

Sure, in certain places of the circuit, some components don't react the same as in other places, so, some technologies are good for some things, very important for other things, and not so important at some places. Some tricks are used to make some parts sound consistent even with some unwanted tolerance.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

For now, I only have one model of distortion, I do hope this one can satisfy a number of tastes.

What does the future of Kami look like?

The most important is to NOT grow up, in the past I was working as designer in electronic companies, and every attempt to industrialize is a loss in the spirit of the product. It can be well polished, but the essence is something else.

I always have made things in the opposite way than others do, I could sell hundreds and thousands of units in making them rationally, but I don't want to. I make every one of them as if it was the only one ever made. Even more, they aren't expensive, even compared to industrial products, because I know that not every talented musician has unlimited resources. I don't want to make gear for the collectors, they ARE actually used on the records you're listening to.

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