[interview] Manlay Sound: Román Gil Romero

Here's FXDB's interview with Román Gil Romero of Manlay Sound:

How did Manlay Sound start?

It was a long time love derived from being a guitar player who wanted to know where my idols' (Hendrix, Belew, Ronson) sounds came from. I started building some pedals for my own use long before starting the company.

The story is that I was obsessed for many, many years wanting to know what was the fuzz used by Mick Ronson in the seventies, the info I could get in the web was little and wrong. Finally the mystery was revealed some time ago by David Main: it was the Sola Sound Tone Bender MKI, only about 50 units were made in 1965, so it was going to be easier to build one than to buy one. I made it for myself first, but then also for more people and I began to sell some units on eBay around 2009 and I started the company in 2010.

I was inspired to get into pedal building (as a hobby) years ago (before Manlay Sound) thanks to Jorge Bueno (George Tube Amps), he gave me a book for beginners with lots of projects to build. I built some of the book's projects and then I jumped to fuzz faces, tube screamers, foxx tone machines,...

Where do the name and logo come from?

When I was a kid my mother had a Chinese friend, she was called Man-laï and she was a very beautiful, smart and cool looking girl, she was a model.

I recorded a CD as a solo artist in 2007 called Vía Láctea, I put it out in my own label, the label was called Manlay Recording. I took that same name for the pedals company and I also took the logo (modified). I created the font in Autocad.

What sets Manlay Sound apart from other builders?

I think the look of my pedals is somehow nicer than most builders although I'd like to improve some elements in the future.

My pedals are handmade, most of them use germanium transistors which are carefully selected and tested (by ear of course). That only sets my pedals apart from all the factory and assembly line builders.

I'm very careful with every pedal I build and use my musician's ears and good guitars and tube amps to test the pedals.

How do you name your pedals?


Can you tell us something about the production process?

I do everything. Some artwork designs are by my Japanese distributor Tats Ohisa who also gives me some advise about possible models to build.

The circuits are hand-wired, soldered point to point. Circuits are attached to potentiometers.

The enclosures are bought, for some models I buy them painted, others I paint myself (hammerite finishes). Decals are transfered by hand and then a layer of protective varnish is applied (spray).

How important is the look of your pedals?

The most important is the inside but the looks are also very important. The looks has to show that the pedal is also good in its guts.

Is parts selection important?

Yes, I pay special attention, it's important to use good quality components: good caps in the signal path, good potentiometers, jacks etc.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The Ronno Bender is the reason I make pedals, it was the first one, it's the best fuzz and it's the best seller. It's also quite difficult to build, it takes time to find the right transistors. Nels Cline and Henry Kaiser have their Ronnos (Henry's got two of them, it's one of his favorite fuzz pedals of all time).

I'm very proud of The Sound (an overdrive) it sounds amazing and everyone that plays it falls in love with it.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Ronno Bender because it's a difficult circuit to tune and The Sound for its larger circuit.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I admit I make pedals after my own taste. It's difficult to me to build pedals for a specific style or sound that I don't like. I'm very classic in my tastes so I produce classic circuits and sounds.

Some notable users of my pedals are Henry Kaiser, Nels Cline, Jérôme Soligny, Aziz Ibrahim (Stone Roses) and maybe some other...
Henry Kaiser has four of my pedals and is absolutely in love with my Ronno Bender, he has two of them, one as a backup. He said: "I probably have over 70 different fuzz boxes at home. Packing now for a gig, any gig, the two essential pedals for me are the Ronno Bender and the Comptortion."

What does the future of Manlay Sound look like?

I've been building mainly for Japanese distributors and for individual customers, now I plan to get some distribution in the USA and some other countries. My main problem is that I'm not really a sales man and I didn't really take time for marketing/sales.

Are you working on any new products?

I'm working on a bass pedal, it will be a dual one: overdrive and fuzz (two in one). I can't really say when it will be ready, I hope in a couple of months.

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