[interview] Penfar FX: Chad Leavitt

Here's FXDB's interview with Chad Leavitt of Penfar FX:

How did Penfar FX start?

A few years ago I had a Fender Hot Rod DeVille and it was way too loud for my living room. I couldn't turn it up and get good use from the tubes and a good sound unless I wanted my ears to bleed. I started looking for a pedal to allow me to play at decent volumes and later when the family was asleep. I found some I liked that were way too expensive and some that were decent price that I really didn't like the sound of.

I remembered a Gearmanndude video mentioning a site called Build Your Own Clone for DIY effects. I checked it out and was intrigued with the idea of building my own pedal. I came across a video of Brian Wampler playing through his Cranked AC pedal. I really liked the sound and found a place I could buy a PCB for it from. I bought the PCB, sourced the parts and did a lot of research at the DIY site I mentioned. That led me to become friends with Paul Stevenson from England. He helped out a lot with understanding basic electronics and still lends me a hand. I decided to start experimenting and came up with the Fat Foot. I got some good feedback on it and decided to start selling. In the fall of 2009 Penfar FX was up and running.

Where do the name and logo come from?

I came up with the name "Penfar FX" out of my love for the late 60's British sci-fi series 'The Prisoner'; not that hack job remake AMC did recently. One of the prominent icons from the show is a penny farthing bicycle. So, I just mashed the words together and came up with "Penfar FX".

The logo is also derived from 'The Prisoner'. In the series all the characters wear badges with their numbers inside the front wheel of a penny farthing. I drew up my own penny farthing, used transistor symbols for the wheels and voila!

How do you start on a new pedal?

When I get an idea for something new it's usually because I want a sound that I don't have yet or I hear something I like and want to try to replicate it. I keep my effects simple; I'm no electronics engineer. I don't try to match a certain amp sound or anything like that either. There's a lot of other builders out there that do that well. I just make what sounds good to me. I'll draw up an idea and use that as the basic plan then spend weeks hovering over my breadboard changing components until I like what I hear. Once I get something I like I usually play through it on the breadboard for quite a while before soldering it to a board and make little tweaks to fine tune it. The graphic part a lot of times comes before I even start on the breadboard. I think coming up with what it looks like and what it's named is my favorite part of the process.

How do you name your pedals?

The names of the pedals just come from whatever I'm thinking of at the time. like with the Aces High; I had been listening to a lot of Iron Maiden again and thought the name would be cool for a pedal. I didn't try to make it sound like Maiden in a box. I just liked the name. Sometimes the name and graphic is made first then I create a circuit around that. I have a lot of ideas that never get made.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All of the pedals are built by me from start to finish. I buy all the parts I need from various places and store them at my house. All the boxes are drilled, sanded, painted and graphics applied by me in my garage. The circuits are currently soldered on to vero/strip board that I cut myself; I'm in the process of looking into getting PCB's fabricated. Sometimes my stepson helps with soldering the circuits. Everything is hand-wired, assembled and thoroughly tested by me before shipping.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

So far, the Aces High and Fat Foot have been my best sellers. When I started getting feedback on the Aces High everyone was saying how well it emulated a Marshall. To tell you the truth, I had no intentions of making it do that. I just did like I said earlier and made something I liked the sound of. The Fat Foot I consider the "flagship" of Penfar FX. It was my first attempt at creating something on my own. Since it's release I've redone the circuit and made it a little better.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

To my knowledge, I don't think there are any notable players/artists out there touting "Penfar FX" on their board... yet. I haven't gotten any orders from anyone "famous" that I know of and I haven't gotten any notifications saying "Hey! So-and-so was using an Aces High on stage last night!".

What does the future of Penfar FX look like?

Currently Penfar FX has six pedals in the line-up. I just released a new overdrive, the RagnaRok, and have several ideas that I'd like to work on for the future. All of that takes time and I juggle Penfar FX between my full time job and my family. Earlier this year I took on a few dealers and that keeps me busy. At this point I'm just trying to keep up with demands and build some stock up when I have time. I'm also looking into having PCB's made. I currently do everything on veroboard. It's time consuming to make all the boards myself. My friend Paul Stevenson just did a PCB layout for the Aces High that I plan on ordering and testing soon.

Are you working on any new products?

I'm not working on anything new right now. Too busy with current orders and family life for developing. I do have ideas drawn up for some things, but they'll have to wait. So, probably nothing new coming for a while.

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