[interview] Phoenix Custom Electronics: Alex Anest

Here's FXDB's interview with Alex Anest of Phoenix Custom Electronics:

How did Phoenix Custom Electronics start?

I started building pedals to replace the ones that were stolen when my pedal board got ripped off after a gig. I started selling them to pay for the parts to make more for myself. And it just went from there.

General Guitar Gadgets, Small Bear Electronics and my friend Kevin were a big help.

Where do the name and logo come from?

The Phoenix is a mythical bird that self-combusts every 500 years and is reborn from its ashes. Since my pedals are generally based on classic effects of the 1960's I felt it was an appropriate name. Plus I like the phoenix.

I keep the layouts simple because I do most of the design work and I'm not very visual-arts oriented. A few of the pedals have been designed with help from customers and those are very cool looking. Lady Stardust and Rampage Menace Spitting Out Fire are two that come to mind.

What sets Phoenix Custom Electronics apart from other builders?

Everything is handmade. Everything is made well. Everything has a lifetime warranty. Nothing leaves the shop unless it sounds good enough that I don't really want to box it up and send it to you since I'd rather just keep playing through it. I have great customer service and I often work with clients on custom pedals. I'm primarily a player so I approach pedals with the philosophy of a player. I used to make Fuzz pedals without adapters or LEDs until I tried to use my own pedals in loud, dark clubs. Now everything has an LED and an adapter. If you must have a Fuzz with no LED that's a custom order.

How do you start on a new pedal?

I usually build two to four prototypes with slight changes until I settle on something I like. The dB is a simple pedal but it took a year of on and off work before I was happy with it.

How do you name your pedals?

Cream Tangerine is named after a Beatles song. It's based on the Orange Squeezer, so there's some commonality there.

Lady Stardust was named by a customer after the Bowie song, and it's based on the Vox Tonebender that Mick Ronson used.

SuperNova because I like supernovas.

The Rampage Menace Spitting Out Fire is apparently what the name "David Bowie" means in Japanese.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

It's just me. Sometimes my buddy Sam helps out but it's usually just me.

Circuits are usually done on perfboard. Everything is wired by hand. No switches or pots or jacks attached to circuit boards, ever. I use metal film resistors and poly caps.

Enclosures are designed by me but I order them drilled, powdercoated, and screened from Pedal Parts Plus.

How important is the look of your pedals?

I like the pedals to look as good as they sound.

How important is parts selection?

Important! I use the highest quality parts I can get. Germanium transistors are hard to find. I prefer the CV7003. I also use AC153 and OC75 often. I use poly caps and metal film resistors. Alpha pots and Switchcraft jacks.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The Lady Stardust sounds incredible. Sometimes I think it might be the best fuzz around these days, but that's just when I'm feeling cocky.

SuperNova is the most versatile and it's the one I use the most. I love it and I feel it has the most changes from the original circuit so it's got the most of me in it.

Which of your pedals is the toughest to build?

The triple pedals are toughest. Lots of layout issues and they are usually custom jobs.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Lady Stardust by far. People want the germanium tone. They want the Tonebender sound. I can't blame them.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

If you want a classic fuzz or boost with some added flexibility I'm your guy. I make pedals that I am interested in, usually starting by cloning something. If I feel I can add something of interest to the original circuit, then it becomes a PCE product. For example, the SuperNova is a Fuzz Face but it's negative ground so it plays well with other pedals. It also uses low gain Si transistors, which I feel gives it the Ge sound without the Ge tendency to stop functioning on hot black outdoor stages in August. It has the external bias control so you can get some really messed-up sounds as well. Adding a range control to cut the bass and an impedance knob for use with a wah makes it way more versatile than an original Fuzz Face.

Nels Cline owns two Lady Stardusts. A few other touring pros use my pedals as well.

What does the future of Phoenix Custom Electronics look like?

I took a break from building for most of 2010. I'm back to selling pedals on eBay as my dealers aren't ordering too many pedals these days. I don't expect to get rich doing this but it's fun and it sometimes helps pay a bill or two. I also teach guitar and gig, so I have a pretty well-rounded musical career.

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