[interview] Made-Rite! Effects: Dave Martinka

Here's FXDB's interview with Dave Martinka of Made-Rite! Effects:

How did Made-Rite! Effects start?

I started taking VCRs apart when I was 15, and the first important lesson I learned is how to put things BACK together. I started specifically modifying effects pedals in the early 2000's, branching out eventually into amplifiers, studio equipment, and even computers.

In 2003 I opened a guitar shop called B Sharp Music with a guy named James Day. We started out doing mostly used stuff, and as of 2011 we're an established part of the Providence, RI music scene. I started working on the Malazadas, my first design, in 2005. Prior to this I had built a few one-offs, mostly clones of popular designs, often with my own modifications built in, but the Malazadas is where I decided to invent a better mouse-trap. I set the bar high in terms of quality, and that's remained my standard. I believe we introduced the Grim Rimmer in 2007, the Black box in 2008, and since 2010 I've got five or six new designs prototyped, auditioned, and ready for release.

I wouldn't know half of what I do without the internets! There's so much information out there - it's like nothing the world has ever seen before. If you've got the right mindset and motivation, I'm convinced you can teach yourself anything short of brain surgery just absorbing info from websites. The trick is getting through all the crap, misconceptions and general drama - these are the pitfalls of learning.

Specifically, I've watched folks like Keeley, Wampler, and others grow from really tiny operations to established independent manufacturers in a matter of a few years. It's an exciting time for this industry!

Where do the name and logo come from?

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. :)

The name is meant to invoke the cool marketing/branding of the 1950's. ACME, stuff like that, ya know? That post depression, post WWII era was a golden age for industrial design and manufacturing, and I kind of think it's all been downhill from there (in the manufacturing world). I build my effects with the same sense of "this-thing-has-got-to-work-or-we-die" that US Naval Engineers take into it - practical, functional, reliable, etc. Of course, none of that would matter if the pedals sounded like crap!

The logo is pretty basic. :)

What sets Made-Rite! Effects apart from other builders?

Made-Rite! pedals are designed and manufactured by gigging musicians.

Every pedal is built to perform perfectly, from one gig to the next, night after night, for YEARS. The first Malazadas pedals we made in 2005 are still in use today - they've been across the USA, Europe and Japan, through countless tours and gigs, and they are hard to kill. Ok, maybe if you pour a beer directly on top of one, you could severely hinder its performance, but a little splash won't kill it! :)

How do you start on a new pedal?

There's an initial "hey this might be a cool sounding circuit" idea, then an initial design is thrown together. We'll play guitar through it, turn some pots, play various different styles of music through it, then decide what we like or don't like. Many ideas get scrapped at this point, but others are pretty awesome to very awesome, and those go through the tweak/demo process several times until the design and features seem "finished". The quotes are there because there are two little gremlins that don't believe in finished. :)

Any really good company will listen to its customers and make revisions based on their feedback - and that's exactly what we do! (That's the first gremlin.) The other gremlin is obsessed with re-engineering everything, and sometimes he comes up with great ideas. We made the Grim Rimmer (aka the Redrummer) for a couple of years before realizing that it might sound really awesome *without* the ring-modulation circuit on, so we tried it, it sounded really cool, and so we added a footswitch to the standard model. We also called everyone who bought a Grim Rimmer and offered to retrofit a toggle switch on their pedal so they could use this feature, and we didn't charge them for the upgrade - kind of an early adopter deal.

How do you name your pedals?

Made-Rite! is an homage to the brand names and industrial approach of the 1940s and 50s. Our pedals allow for many traditional and non-traditional guitar sounds, but the design motto is "They don't make 'em like they used to!".

The trend in manufacturing probably since the end of WWII has been to cut costs, and usually quality, repeatedly. What do you do when your super-micro-fridge-car-TV breaks? Throw it out and buy another one! This can't work forever, and people are starting to wake up to this fact. Cheaper is not always better!

Can you tell us something about the production process?

Up until 2011, we were making pedals under the B Sharp Music name, as our in house pedal line. David Martinka is and has been behind the design, development, and production, with development and production support from Domenick Panzarella up to 2011.

All Made-Rite! pedals are hand wired using excellent quality jacks, switches, pots, wire, PCBs and components. We use only through hole (no SMT) metal film resistors, metallized film capacitors, and high quality Nichicon electrolytic capacitors. All original circuits, although as with most audio electronics, There may be a family resemblance in some cases. :)

The enclosures are basic die-cast boxes; hand painted from 2005-2011, with exception of the first production run Malazadas, which from 2006-2011 featured white powder coat and vinyl "M" and "B Sharp Music" labels. All production models starting in 2012 will feature powder coat and screen printed graphics, special editions may retain the early "mystery box" look. :)

How important is the look of your pedals?

Not NEARLY as important as what they do and how they sound! However, we make them look very nice, in a practical manner. :)

Is parts selection important?

We test every component for its effect on the sound of the overall circuit. We mostly use modern "metal film" type components for their consistency, low noise, and excellent sonics. Where there is a sonic benefit, we do use some old technologies, such as Germanium transistors. To use the Germanium example, sometimes there's no benefit from using "NOS" or "vintage design" parts - in some circuits you can't hear a difference between a Ge or a Si transistor, so why waste a Ge on that circuit?

The most important thing is how all the components sound together. It's a matter of the "whole is more than the sum of its parts" kind of thing!

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The HVY-D has been the most satisfying to design thusfar. Oddly enough it was the easiest in terms of development, even though it's got triple the part count of any of our other designs! It was the easiest transition between concept and final design - When I built the first prototype and played it for the first time I knew I was done... that's the first time that's happened!

The Malazadas has been the most popular, and is the pedal we've been known for, but once more people try the HVY-D, I think that'll be our #1.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

I never feel like they're tough - I really enjoy designing and building creative effects. It's a very satisfying thing, when you create something from what seems like nothing!

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Malazadas has sold steadily with very little marketing, because it does something people want, does it well, and is a really good deal. It's a clean boost and an overdrive/distortion in one box, separately footswitchable and cascade-able.

I've been a proponent of the "double gain boost" approach to creating distortion, where you use two distortion pedals in series, one set for a little gain, the other set for a little more gain, then when you use both, you've got a third, higher, cascaded-gain sound with a lot of distortion. For years I tried various distortion/overdrive pedals in this configuration, but I was never completely satisfied with the results, so I decided to build my own. I started with a clean boost, since that's what I usually set the first pedal for, and then I set about designing a simple distortion circuit with very little coloration. I've got a great guitar and amp, and I want to hear them just as much as the pedal itself, right? I'm not going to call it transparent, because some people get really mad at that (go watch the documentary "Fuzz" - you'll love it!), but I like to say that the Malazadas doesn't "get in the way" of your guitar and amp sound, like many pedals do.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

The design philosophy is this: practical, reliable, repeatable, and sonically excellent. Made-Rite! pedals have minimal controls, high-quality, durable components and hardware, and sound good at all settings. Our pedals will get you consistent, awesome results at every gig for YEARS. They sound awesome and take abuse.

These qualities make them very popular with gigging musicians, who want excellent sound, reliable performance, and ease-of-use.

Some famous guitarists use our pedals:

  • Ted Leo uses a really early version of the Malazadas - I think he bought the first one!
  • Ian of Deertick is on his second Malazadas - his first was stolen at a gig! :(
  • Dave of Battles uses a Red Malazadas with a few slight tweaks. He mentioned B Sharp in a recent blog interview... More to come!

What does the future of Made-Rite! Effects look like?

The next step is wider distribution, marketing, advertising - all the stuff that ISN'T designing and building pedals!

I build amplifiers as well, under the name Worth. All tube, same level of quality as Made-Rite!, but much more limited scope at the moment.

Are you working on any new products?

I've got a tremolo design that sounds very much like a Fender amplifier tremolo, and a few Germanium fuzz designs. I was hesitant to start using Germanium due to lack of supply, but I found a huge stock of parts that sound good, and I feel better about designing something that won't become obsolete any time soon!

Expect these and a more by late 2012.

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