[interview] Leila Vintage Electronics: Morgan Hargrave

Here's FXDB's interview with Morgan Hargrave of Leila Vintage Electronics.

Leila Vintage Electronics is run by Morgan Hargrave. It's a one-man operation located in Truckee, California.

How did Leila Vintage Electronics start?

It all started when I moved to northern California about 10 years ago. I didn't know anyone who played up here, so I sold my gigging amp and most of my gear. All I had left was my strat, a few pedals, and a 1966 Fender Vibro Champ that promptly crapped out on me. I wasn't going to go buy a new amp, so I decided to try and fix it. I think I bought a referb kit from Torres Engineering. Anyway, I basically gave it a cap job and the amp came out sounding better than it ever did for the previous 10 years that I owned it. I was blown away and had to have more. So I started buying broken vintage amps off of Ebay, fixing them and reselling them. After a while of that I started building whole amps (tweed champs & deluxes), then figured out you could also build pedals when I ran across Small Bear Electronics' website - Steve's booster pedal on perf was my first pedal build. Pedals seemed a lot more fun since there was much less risk (both financial and voltage wise), so I started building a whole bunch of pedals. I got connected with Build Your Own Clone, built all of their kits, and eventually became a moderator for their forum. I began selling pedals under the name of Leila Vintage Electronics in 2005, I believe.

I received tons of help over the years! Keith from BYOC and members of that forum, particularly Jeff from Geekmacdaddy, have always offered help and inspiration for me. I was also inspired by Dereck's early work with Tone Freak pedals. Scott with BMF pedals gave me quite a bit of help with silkscreening and getting me in on parts buys when I was doing runs of SoftDelays and PulseTrems.

Where does the name come from?

When I started working with electronics, all I did was fix and restore old, vintage amps and similar things like old tube radios. That's where the "Vintage Electronics" bit comes from. Leila was my mother's middle name; she passed away 11 years ago at the age of 54.

What sets Leila Vintage Electronics apart from other builders?

LVE is part of that DIY groundswell of the last few years, where you can talk to the guy that designed and built your pedal. That guy cares about, and is familiar with, every single component and solder joint in your pedal and will loose sleep if your pedal is not performing right for you. I think that sort of customer service is extremely valuable for the consumer. Leila Vintage Electronics Pulse Trem

How do you start on a new pedal?

Most LVE pedals come to be from solving an issue that I come across while playing with my band. Like, "I need two separate delay settings but I hate tap tempo", or "I really want to add a tremolo to the pedal board, but only have one space on the board for modulation and can't get rid of my vibrato pedal".

Can you tell us something about the production process?

Everything is in-house; I am the only builder.

Pedal circuits are hand-wired onto custom pcbs. Enclosures are powder coated, graphics for pedal runs are silk screened, graphics for custom and one-off builds are typically decaled and clear coated.

Is parts selection important?

Absolutely. Each part is chosen for voicing and/or durability. I use similar jacks, wire, construction techniques as found in many of the amps from the 50's and 60's that I've tinkered with and are still kicking around today. I was always surprised that I can take a broken 60 year old amplifer, and not only make it work but make it sound fantastic. So, I built each of my pedals to the point that I am confident that they will be able to last for a few generations of musicians. I want each of my pedals to last for at least 50 years; I want my great-grandchild to come across one of my pedals in a futuristic pawn shop in 2102 on Mars.

Leila Vintage Electronics Soft DelayWhich of your pedals makes you most proud?

The dual channel SoftDelay. I designed that pedal because I needed to have two delay settings; slapback and something longer and more ambient, but didn't have space on the pedal board for two different delay pedals, could never get along with tap tempo, and didn't want to be hunching over my pedal board adjusting settings in the middle of a gig. Since I first added one to my pedal board in 2007, it has never left. Not for a lack of trying either; I've built and/or bought just about every style of delay since then to see if I could find something better for me and I haven't.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Germanium fuzzes are always difficult to dial in to sound "right" on different rigs. When I build one for myself, I have the luxury of tweaking it for my personal rig. But when you put it out in the ether, it might sound amazing on one guy's rig, but sound like poo through another guy's rig...

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The SoftDelay has been the most popular production pedal. I think it helps solve a lot of people's needs.

Leila Vintage Electronics Mark II FuzzWho uses your pedals and for which genres?

LVE pedals are always based on a proven vintage design with added functionality. They are for people who play tube amps.

Godfrey Townsend plays one or two of my fuzz pedals.

Nathan Carrol is a fantastic country musician in Canada who plays a couple of my amps and a PulseTrem in addition to some custom pedals I built for him.

I'm a big Wilco fan and tend to chuck pedals onto the stage at their shows when they play nearby. I got to talk to Nels Cline one time and vowed to get something on his pedal board someday.

What does the future of Leila Vintage Electronics look like?

I stopped doing runs of pedals in 2010 after my son was born and my wife and I bought our home. With the economy what it was, I had to focus on my day job to keep the mortgage paid, and needed to devote my evenings to my family. Since then, I've focused on doing custom amp and pedal builds for a few professional musicians I connected with, returning customers, friends, and friends of friends. My wife and I currently have a second child on the way, and I plan to return to a more robust building schedule in a few years when both kids are in grade school.

Are you working on any new products?

I am a die hard user of the Boss VB-2 Vibrato circuit. I keep trying to find a better vibrato pedal but haven't. I absolutely love the sound of that thing. Except, I don't love the hiss it produces. I'm working on an update of that circuit; it will use the same vibrato engine, but will have a much simpler, cleaner, and more transparent dry signal buffer, will have expanded functionality, and will be smaller.

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