[interview] Plan-9: Orlando Ferreira

Here's FXDB's interview with Orlando Ferreira of Plan-9:

How did Plan-9 start?

I graduated as a historian and was a teacher for some years. In 2003 I was tired of giving classes, so I went to study guitar building and repairing, maybe to become a luthier. Soon I perceived that I was a disaster working with wood but on the other hand I'm very good with electronics and small things. At that time I began to study electronics seriously. I started building pedals for myself and friends, and the results were so good that soon I begun building pedals commercially.

As I am an historian and very found of antiques I also nurture a deep interest about everything related to old electronics, as old amps, pedals and guitars. So I built Plan-9 as a company that focuses exclusively on vintage technologies, having as its main goal the recreation of classic pedals from the 60s and the 70s.

I admire and was inspired by commercial and electronics concepts of people like Mike Mathews (Electro-Harmonix), Roger Mayer, Pete Cornish, David Main (D*A*M) and Mike Fuller (Fulltone), among others.

Where do the name and logo come from?

The name comes from Ed Wood's movie "Plan 9".

The logo was inspired by the old 50's oval 'futuristic' logos.

What sets Plan-9 apart from other builders?

Above all we value our customers, and we offer things that large companies can't do: I answer our customers personally on the telephone or by mail. We offer a 5 years warranty and technical assistance in Brazil.

I handcraft myself every Plan-9 pedal with the best components. I match and test electronically every transistor that goes into a Plan-9 pedal. I also sound test the transistors before they are soldered in the PCBs.

How do you start on a new pedal?

As we work mostly with classic vintage designs, our pedal development is usually based on reverse engineering. Generally it takes 3 to 4 months to turn an idea into a real Plan-9 Pedal. It may take longer if we have a lack of some component, specially transistors.

  1. First I do a research on the web and compare as many schematics and information as can be found (or bought) about the history, variations and character of a given vintage pedal.

  2. If the schematics available are dubious or insufficient I try to find a real unit for reverse engineering. In this case I compare the schematics with the real PCB.

  3. I build a test unity with sockets for certain components: diodes, capacitors, transistors and bias resistors.

  4. I check the avaliability of the components in the market. Of course this is critical to the development of the pedal, especially because we work with vintage designs. Germanium transistors are the hardest to find and the more difficult to select. Sometimes 50% of the gemanium transistors ordered are not good enough to use.

How do you name your pedals?

I try to be kind of ironic sometimes, as with the Plan-9 Super Wild Fuzz, that makes fun with the Univox Super Fuzz name and the 60's and 70's affection for the 'super' adjective.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

The PCB's and enclosures (powder coated and silk screened) are designed by us, but made by other companies. The PCB's are hand-wired by me in-house and I also do the final assembly.

How important is the look of your pedals?

It is important, as we as musicians like to have visually beautiful instruments, but we consider the durability, component quality, wiring and most of all the sound quality more important than the cosmetics.

Is parts selection important?

Yes! It was very difficult to design the Power Driver Si, based on the Colorsound Overdriver from the 70s. I had some schematics from the web, but it just didn't sound good in the tests. So fortunately I received a real Colorsound Overdriver dated 1970 that sounded fantastic! Reverse engineering this vintage unity I discovered some discrepancies between the schematics available on the web and the actual pedal.

After that, I had to research where to find Micro Electronics 70's BC169 transistors. Before I solved this matter I had build a socketed prototype and tried lots of transistors to set the ideal gain and bias. And in some point after more hard work... Bingo! my Power Driver reached the sonic excellence of that golden era rusted Colorsound Overdriver.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Our Plan-Vibe pedal is technically the most challenging (it's not released yet).

I love the Suppa Fuzz Ge, it has a fantastic fuzz tone and produces marvelous feedback.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

As mentioned earlier, the Power Driver Si, based on the Colorsound Overdriver was very difficult.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Power Driver Si and the Rams Head Si are our most popular pedals. It seems that people like pedals that have been used by someone famous.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I make pedals mainly for people interested in vintage effects, especially fuzz pedals from the 60s and the 70s, people that know the character of these effects and that value the difficulties involved in the process of researching, building and finding vintage components for this kind of pedals. Our public understands that the sonic reproduction of vintage pedals critically depends on the use of the same components of the original designs, mainly the same transistors.

What does the future of Plan-9 look like?

Plan-9 is a very small and a REAL boutique/DIY company. I think about Plan-9 more as a luthier 'atelier' dedicated to the research and recreation of antique electronics, than a big company. Of course I'd like see Plan-9 bigger, to expand our effects line and custom services, but I don't want to grow to the point it would smash our boutique character.

Are you working on any new products?

Yes, we are preparing the release of the Plan-9 pedal inspired by the old Univox Uni-Vibe, the Plan-Vibe. It is going to be very similar to the vintage unit.

We also have other plans, a Plan-9 overdriver, a more 80s sounding unit than the Power Driver, as many customers request, and a Zep MkII fuzz powered by NOS OC75 germanium transistors.

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