[interview] Neo-Classic Effects: Steve Mavronis

Here's FXDB's interview with Steve Mavronis of Neo-Classic Effects.

Neo-Classic Effects is run by Steve N. Mavronis in Baltimore, Maryland USA.

How did Neo-Classic Effects start?

I got into the DIY world in January 2010 researching the vintage 'gray' DOD 250 Overdrive pedal and how it works. After many months of development I created my own unique PCB layout pattern using ExpressPCB and finished a stompbox based on the sound of the last 1979-1980 gray version. I called it the Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive. It represents a classic overdrive that's become very popular with guitar players of the Neoclassical Rock genre for its midrange 'Grail Tone' guitar leads. I learned that you don't have to pay high auction prices to get the same tone as a vintage original stompbox. Just build your own and it's easier than you would think! My first ever DIY project turned out so nice it encouraged me to build my Neo-Classic 3080 Compressor, based on the classic 'script' era MXR Dyna Comp pedal from the 1976-1977 era by referencing the factory schematic and as before the PCB part-to-part connections for an authentic recreation. I hand-built both pedal projects myself but my father Nicholas was a big help in transferring my PCB layout artwork to printed circuit boards that he also tinned for protection using his homemade electroplating rig. He also etched my aluminum photo-resist faceplates from my custom label artwork.

My first pedal builds would not have been possible without the help and support from experienced DIY'ers at web forums like DIYstompboxes. There are too many to name but I would like to thank them all.

Neo-Classic EffectsWhere do the name and logo come from?

"Neo-Classic" reflects to my love of the Neoclassic genre of rock music, thanks to my deep appreciation of Yngwie J. Malmsteen's style of playing. Since my pedal projects were inspired by vintage pedals of the 70's they are "New" classic renditions of the originals.

The lettering style used in my Neo-Classic FX logo is based on the Bradley Gratis and Deutsch Gothic fonts. Those are generally associated with the neoclassic rock genre in band names and album cover art.

What sets Neo-Classic Effects apart from other builders?

I strive for commercial level quality in my own builds. They have to meet my own high personal standards of what I would expect of any pedal I'd want to own.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Once a pick a subject to base a pedal project on I'll research it for months to capture every aspect so that the final result doesn't disappoint.

How do you name your pedals?

My main inspiration for the first pedal was obviously Yngwie Malmsteen who uses a DOD 250 for his main overdrive sound. As an amateur guitar player I was tone chasing my favorite artist like everyone else probably does at first. I fantasized about giving him my pedal as a fan tribute. But once I played with my finished pedal and all the time and work that went into it I said Hell No! LOL.

Neo-Classic 741 OverdriveCan you tell us something about the production process?

I built all pedals in my home by myself with photo-etching support by my father on the side.

Circuits are hand-wired etched and tinned PCB's.

Enclosures are bare and factory powder coated Hammond 1590B's, the labels are photo-etched polymer coated thin adhesive aluminum sheets.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The look of my Neo-Classic FX pedals is very important. It has to grab your attention or you may not give it a second thought no matter how good it sounds. It's also one of the reasons to give it a pseudo brand name with an interesting font. It has to look like something professional off the shelf.

Is parts selection important?

A lot of people put stock into using NOS parts. On my pedals like the Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive I like to feature an onboard IC socket that can be used to compare replacement 741 op amp chips and even can take 'metal can' versions with the same pinout like the 1979 vintage RCA CA741T inside my own Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive. I think some are fooled by mythical 'NOS' parts some promote as having a certain 'mojo' tone, because in reality they really sound the same as their modern equivalents do. But they are still cool for cosmetic reasons by adding a little vintage era authenticity to any DIY clone or modded commercial pedal. For electrolytic capacitors I like to use Tantalum ones because I feel they are better quality than old school caps.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I'm most proud of my Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive because it was my first pedal and I learned so much about the DIY process of making a successful pedal. I still have both my 741 and 3080 on my pedalboard and could never part with them. They make a good team and sound great together.

Neo-Classic 3080 CompressorWhich of your pedals was your toughest build?

My toughest build was my Neo-Classic 3080 Compressor. With a PCB size half that of the MXR Dyna Comp it is based on, I had to design a tight layout featuring vertical mounted resistors to save space. At first I didn't think it could be done. It was a nightmare in ExpressPCB to come up with a layout that fit all the circuit connections without using jumpers. Luckily, everything worked out fine.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

My Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive is the one I still get almost all inquiries about. People seem to like my graphic label style and professional looking PCB build.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

The audience for my pedals would be rock guitarists into neoclassic, metal, or classic rock.

To me the only notable artist in my opinion using my pedals is Dean Cascione from the Boston, Massachusetts area in the USA. He became my friend over a decade ago having met because of the Yngwie Malmsteen 100% fan tribute webpage that I used to run. Dean studied under Joe Stump who teaches guitar theory at Berkley. Some regard Joe as just an Yngwie clone but he taught Dean well. Check out his two albums Guitar Chop Shop and Neoclassical Fire. The later album is really epic and needs to get more out to the masses. I've since begun neoclassic shred guitar lessons from him via Skype and he's really a great guy. After I sent him a Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive to get his opinion if it was even good or not he has this to say: "The pedal arrived safe my friend. I have to say the first thing I noticed was the quality of the fit and finish is impeccable! Also I noticed that the pedal has beautiful tonal characteristics and in my opinion perfect output - Your pedal really enhances the Voodoo (amp) tone and is much quieter than the four or so gray clones I have in my possession - Truthfully this is by far the best sounding gray clone I have ever tested! In comparison, your pedal actually has midrange where all the rest of my (250) clones sound tinny and scratchy. I don’t know what you did to enhance the circuit, but I love the tone and the pedal totally kicks ass. Excellent job man - I would say you have re-created the holy grail of tone!!"

What does the future of Neo-Classic Effects look like?

When I completed my first Neo-Classic 741 Overdrive pedal it turned out better than expected and I got many email requests from fans wanting one. I toyed around with the idea of selling a few here and there under the Neo-Classic FX name but in the end decided the logistics of such a home based operation was not practical. I still get email requests and have to give them the bad news. Instead I suggest it would be better and easy to do a basic couple part mod to a 90's DOD 250 Overdrive reissue or better yet a DOD YJM308 Overdrive to make them sound exactly like my 'gray spec' clone and the original. I guess they like the looks and quality of my build.

Are you working on any new products?

Right now I'm not working on any pedal projects. I've been a career PC Tech since 1985 so computers have always been my main hobby and takes up a lot of my free time. I barely find enough time to practice guitar like I really should! Being married with children keeps you busy too.

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