[interview] Providence: Takeshi Okuno

Here's FXDB's interview with Takeshi Okuno of Providence:

How did Providence start?

At the beginning of Providence, there was no source for high quality A/B boxes in the Japanese musical market; therefore Yuki Hayashi made one by hand. Later, some professional musicians and/or guitar techs asked us for some custom products like a booster or a buffer amp. This was the turning point for getting into building pedals. Yuki Hayashi started design and development in 1997 and released the first Providence pedal,Stampede OD SOV-1, in 1998.

We take suggestions from everybody like professional musicians, amateur musicians, dealers, etc. because they give us suggestions and ideas based on their free and open thinking. We listen to them carefully and implement some of the ideas after examining them in-house.

Where do the name and logo come from?

The brand name “Providence” came from a song by King Crimson, the band our president used to love when he was young. He thought instinctively that it would be a good brand name and later he realized that the meaning of Providence matches his credo that we aim to build a foundation of happiness derived from music.

The brand name was chosen after discussion between Takeshi Okuno and a chief engineer (currently owner of Free the Tone). After that they discussed with a graphic designer for a long time about a logo design suitable for the brand name and finally decided on the current logo.

What sets Providence apart from other builders?

Our goal is not just selling products in volume but in providing the highest product quality and absolute customer satisfaction. Also, we believe our products should be designed to be the best possible tools for making music. We are not interested in a cash-oriented business. Providence products are designed and developed specifically to meet the needs of leading artists, tour staff and recording engineers. Each and every Providence product undergoes extensive, rigorous testing to ensure solid reliability as well as truly musical sound and response.

How do you start on a new pedal?

New Providence products start from a handmade prototype by our two top engineers Yuki Hayashi and/or Atsuki Saito, after collecting various opinions from professionals and regular users. We exchange opinions among engineers and sales staff, as well as pro-musicians, and improve the prototype as required. Sometimes, we never actually commercialize a product beyond the prototype stage. Once we decide to commercialize a product, we discuss the design with a graphic designer.

The lead time from an idea to a pedal that’s ready for production really depends on the product but it would sometimes take more than one year from the idea to the product.

How do you name your pedals?

Naming is basically done by the development engineer after discussing idea in-house. The development engineer will generally name a new product as he has an image of the sound and characteristics and can best choose a suitable name. We believe that is the best way to give an image of the sound, from the name of the pedal.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

Depending on the products, we build in-house or use external contractors. For in-house products, three people are building our products. The external contractors have 3~6 trained staff working for us.

The production process of Providence pedals is well controlled. Our quality level is the same whether we manufacture one unit or 10,000 units. We use our own Providence original die cast enclosure. Regarding parts, we select the most suitable ones, considering quality, not cost.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The look of the pedal is very important. We do not like an unusual design but prefer a basic and sophisticated design. We spend a lot of time considering the position of a logo or the characteristics of a font, size etc.

Is parts selection important?

We consider the performance and durability of parts when we select them. We do not care about the country origin and/or cost of the parts. If we focus on the cost of the parts too much, we cannot employ the best parts. It is important to consider the cost for the product price but we consider that the quality of the products is more important. We continue to make every effort to find better quality parts with good cost performance.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

We are proud of all of our products, but particularly the Flame Drive (FDR-1F) and Chrono Delay (DLY-4).

The Flame Drive has a strong and natural guitar sound and also includes the unrivaled Vitalizer circuit for optimum signal quality and noiseless switching. This pedal is an extremely versatile overdrive pedal that can deliver anything from sweet, silky overdrive to edgy overtone-rich distortion.

The Chrono Delay pedal was developed to reflect the desires of professional musicians and it is a very practical and musical pedal. The Chrono Delay provides precise tap-tempo setting and it can also memorize two separate delay times. This pedal is employed by many top musicians in the world.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The toughest build pedal was the Velvet Comp VLC-1. This is a compressor for guitar. To get the compressor to sound right it was not enough to simply check it just by using a guitar, but we insisted on seeing how it would sound in the context of a whole band. This took the most effort and time to complete.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Sonic Drive SDR-5 is the most popular in Japan, and is used by guitarists who represent Japan, and also seems to best match Japanese music styles.

The Stampede OD SOV-2 and Anadime Chorus ADC-3 are popular in the overseas market. Matt Schofield is one of our main users. The Stampede OD SOV-2 is a compact pedal but it has wide dynamic range and fat sounds. The Anadime Chorus is popular for it’s unique sound and is employed by many top musicians like Steve Lukather, Michael Landau and Scott Henderson.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Providence pedals are not designed for specific genres. At the beginning, we made overdrive/distortion pedals only, but we responded to expectation of customers by releasing compressor/chorus/digital delay pedals.

We have made pedals for Steve Lukather. When he visited Japan on tour, we asked him to try our pedals and he selected some of them (Velvet Comp VLC-1, Anadime Chorus ADC-3, Delay 80's DLY-83) and he used those pedals for his shows. However, as he did not like the switching noise when the effect was turned on/off, he asked us to make the switching noise less and we modified the pedals to keep the same high sound quality without switching noise and delivered them to his next show (one week later). This was the start of our friendship with Luke.

What does the future of Providence look like?

Providence products are used by a lot of professional musicians and we are making good progress in sales and marketing in the Japanese musical instrument market even in the current recession. We have also been able to successfully expand to the overseas market too. We do not reduce costs by compromising sound quality just to expand our market. We aim to develop the highest sound quality both for live performance and for recording as well as providing great reliability, which also helps decrease the stress of musicians. In the near future, we will release a new high quality and user friendly switching system, and also a new high quality digital delay. We will be trying to provide an extensive product line up including various kinds of effectors.

Are you working on any new products?

We are planning to release the new Delay 80's DLY-84M with modulation function in early 2012, as a follow-up to the most popular delay pedal Delay 80's DLY-83.

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