[interview] McPherson Stompboxes: Waylon McPherson

Here's FXDB's interview with Waylon McPherson of McPherson Stompboxes:

How did McPherson Stompboxes start?

I was always interested in electronics as a kid and did electronics classes at school, also playing guitar from when I was about 10 years old.
After leaving school I started a diesel mechanic apprenticeship for a local Bus company. I completely loathed the job but did enjoy the odd bit of electronic repairing that we would occasional have to perform.

Through all of this time I was playing in bands and it soon became obvious to me that I was on the wrong my career path. Music is a very strong passion of mine, but to the disappointment of many people I left my apprenticeship and started working at the local music store. While working here I was reintroduced to electronics where there was always a lot of repairs coming into the store to "practice on" and this gave me a chance to learn a lot. An advantage of working in a music store is you get to try out many different effects pedals and really find out what you like or dislike about them, functionally and tone wise. Still playing live regularly I found I was never really 100% happy with the units I was using, this lead to me to modding them and also building my own. A local tech named Phil Murray or "Fixit Phil" would answer all my endless questions and bring in many of his musical creations for us to test out

From there I finished up at the music store to be a "full time musician" playing in bands and teaching guitar. I also started building my first pedals to sell. The following year (2008) with the support of my wife McPherson Stompboxes NZ was started.

Where do the name and logo come from?

My family surname is McPherson. So, as we are a family run company, I felt this would be an appropriate name to call our effects pedals.

Funnily enough my wife brought some soft innersoles for my shoes which you cut around the the ends as indicated to fit your shoe size. The off cuts, when held together, created a 'stylish' oval shape, that inspired the initial outline for the logo.

What sets McPherson Stompboxes apart from other builders?

Apart from our circuit designs, one of the main defining elements that makes a McPherson Stompbox different from many of the other effects units on the market today is our circuitboards. We do not use machine printed circuitboards (or PCB's) in any of our products, but rather choose to build using a point to point method. This Vintage technique of circuit building is unique in that one component is directly connected to another without going through a copper trace like on a PCB. We use high quality heavy duty Phenolic matrix boards to build (point to point) our circuits.

The advantages of point to point wiring:

  1. You are ensuring the shortest possible path for your guitar's signal to travel:
    This helps preserve the detail in your guitar's tone throughout it's journey through the circuitboard. The further your signal has to travel the and the more circuitry your sound has to travel through degrades the subtile detail within your guitar's tone. Once the more delicate frequencies in and around the human hearing spectrum within your tone are lost, they are gone forever and no amount of EQ'ing can get them back. This detail is one of the main elements that gives your tone a live, human like organic feel.
  2. Reliability:
    Building something by hand means that we are there every step of the way throughout the entire building process. We can inspect each and every solder join and also make sure every connection is properly bonded. We are also able to test each individual stage of the circuit as it is built, unlike machine produced circuitboards. Also none of the jacks, pots or switches are directly mounted on the circuitboard and used for attaching the circuitboard to the pedal's chassis, this can stress the board and cause pedal failure. All McPherson Stompboxes are mounted on a shock absorbing foam to minimise circuitboard damage that can occur from rough handling and transport.
  3. Upgradable:
    All McPherson Stompboxes are built by hand one at a time from start to finish and we are constantly improving our building practices and evolving circuit designs. This is something that is very difficult to impossible to do when you use machine made printed circuitboards as they are normally produced in batches and any changes to the design can not be made. When purchasing a McPherson Stompbox you know that you are receiving the latest tweaks and upgrades along with the most reliable building techniques.

How do you start on a new pedal?

It normally starts with something that I personally need. I will build a prototype and start gigging with it to see how it handles in a live environment. If that goes well then it is time to look at design and any options that would make the unit more versatile and/or suit a wider range of musical styles and gear.

Once I have a working unit I am happy with, I know a few musicians that I can let loose on it to give me there thoughts also. From here some changes may be made, then we start looking at producing the pedal and getting a run of enclosures drilled, powder coated and laser engraved.

This process from idea to finished product is usually about 6-9 months.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All our pedals are built in house with only the power coating and laser engraving done outside of the workshop. I am currently the sole builder with my wife Shelley taking care of the book work and helping with design.

For our circuit boards we use very durable, heavy duty Phenolic matrix boards to build (point to point), using close tolerance high quality components.

All our enclosures are heavy duty die cast aluminum that is powder coated locally with all the graphic's now laser cut for durability. 

All our pedals are hand wired using durable switches and switchcraft jacks, all this ensures they can stand up to the rigors of the road.

How important is the look of your pedals?

We try to keep the look and layout fairly simple and uncluttered but classy.

Is parts selection important?

We only use close tolerance metal film resistors and high quality capacitors in the signal path.
I also prefer discrete transistorized components for boost and distortion circuits as aposed to opamp based. I feel Jfets and Mosfet in particular produce a very natural/organic tone that an opamp in this particular application cannot match.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The Antique Overdrive.

This unit started out as the FET Drive and was a fairly popular unit. It was based on an old mu-amp design with a few alterations that gave it its own unique flavor.

The Antique Overdrive was a complete re-design of the FET Drive and the result is a unique circuit that can produce the sweetest, smoothest overdrive through to raunchy and raw. It really feels more like part of your amp than an effects pedal.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

I built a one off working clone of a Univibe entirely using matrix board. It was a bit of a nightmare to be honest!!

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Red Boost is our most popular unit, it's a clone of the infamous Dallas Rangemaster.
I think it is the most popular unit we sell because people are already familiar with the Rangemaster sound, we have also sold one to the great John Fogerty which would have also helped sales.
The White Fuzz would be a close second which is our Mosfet based fuzz.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Our pedals are designed for the working musician, as one myself, durability and reliability are as paramount as tone.

What does the future of McPherson Stompboxes look like?

We will to continue produce our quality range of effects units for the foreseeable future with new, innovative ideas and designs that are built with the working musician in mind.

Are you working on any new products?

We are always working on new ideas/designs, there is always something else I will need on stage.

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