[interview] R3FX: Jim Rodgers

Here's FXDB's interview with Jim Rodgers of R3FX:

R3FX True GritHow did R3FX start?

I suppose my interest in electronics started many years ago; taking things apart and see what made them tick.

I didn't actually get involved in building pedals until about 2009 I think it was. I started off building the simple projects like clean boosts and spending countless hours cruising the online forums - learning as much as I could. I hadn't thought of starting an effects business at all - it was almost pulled out of me.

Early on, I built a Phase 45 clone from one of the DIY sites - then posted a demo of it to show my progress. I received a couple messages from others asking if I would build them one as well. I decided to do it and charged enough to cover the parts. About a month after sending out the first unit; the person that bought it sent me a message saying "Hey, this thing doesn't work - I want my money back". I asked what was wrong with it and he said it never worked. I asked why he waited a month to let me know and then told him if he'd send it back, I'd fix it or return his money. He said "No, refund my money now!". Anyways - long story short, a second person had asked me to build them the same unit about that time, so I decided to record a demo video of it to prove that it worked before I shipped it out. I posted that to YouTube and then it started getting views from all over the place resulting in lots more guys asking me to build for them. I started off with the trend of recording a demo showing that units worked before sending them out. Had I known that I'd still be doing it a few years later, I would have done better videos -- those early videos are BAD. Me stammering around 'um...yeah...um...duh'. Guitar was outta tune, I had no real goal other than to power up the unit, show that it affected the signal and then move on. I keep thinking of deleting those old videos, but I had gotten so much business from posting so many of them that I figure I might as well just leave them and hope that people realize that the newer videos are better.

I often seek help from the DIY guys when I come across things that I don't know. I've not been doing this very long and those guys are just phenomenal when it comes to their knowledge on the subject. I read some of their elaborate responses to difficult things sometimes and it blows my mind.

When I get a new Guitar Center magazine or Musician's Friend magazine and see a new pedal brand show up that's not a large company - it inspires me to keep pushing and hope that I can someday get to that level.

R3FXWhere does the name come from?

I had started out using a different name for the business; but later realized that someone else in another country was using the same name; so I changed mine since I was the newer guy. I wanted something short and easy to remember since having a short URL in the online world is always better than a long URL.

Basically it breaks down like this:

  • R: from Rodgers; my last name
  • 3: My full name includes a suffix of 'III' since my father and grandfather share the same name. Written here as a number 3 instead of the roman numerals for simplicity.

Then you just tack on FX after that which stands for 'Effects'

So, technically, it's R3 Effects, but that doesn't work as well as R3FX for keeping it short, so I went with R3FX.

What sets R3FX apart from other builders?

I am a guitarist that plays in live bands and records quite a bit - so I like to think of pedals more in terms of how they can be useful in those sorts of settings. Crazy effects and tones are so sparingly used that I don't dedicate a lot of time to that sort of thing. Overall tone is where my interest lies. I don't use a lot of 'effects' when I play live, so developing a ton of different modulation pedals and crazy effects doesn't really appeal to me that much.

I like pedals that have a more contemporary look; with a color scheme that's not too wild and a layout that focuses on function. Wild paint schemes are not my cut of tea. There's a market for that and it usually adds a lot to the cost of the unit. I try to keep my prices reasonable and that isn't feasible to get into when I have so many other things that I'd rather focus on.

R3FX ResistafierHow do you start on a new pedal?

Some ideas are born from a need that I have as a guitarist; some are born from seeing what others are doing and putting my own spin on things. Changes to existing ideas can also be very rewarding - I know there have been many times where I've purchased pedals and wanted them to have a little more this or that and the tone control be a little darker or brighter... I try to take those ideas and expand on them to get where I would want them to be. Almost all of my work starts on a breadboard but I also have taken previous designs and concepts and tweaked them to my liking. There are a million companies building tube screamer variants, what can I do that is a little different than the other guy? That's how I like to look at it. I have a couple dozen ideas that are in various stages of development around the shop - some have been sitting for a couple years, some come together much quicker.

As I have only been doing this a few short years, there are some pieces that I want to put into production that I simply haven't learned how to do yet. I have ideas that I know I want to do, but learning HOW to do some of them can sometimes be a roadblock. As soon as I get better with relays and PIC programming; which I've been working on - then I'll really start to have some awesome new products.

How do you name your pedals?

The Resistafier is a word that I made up because it's essentially a FET version of the Mesa Rectifier circuit. In the DIY community - the Dr. Boogey project is a great build and I take that project and expand on it and change a few values here and there. Since it's not a 'Rectifier' based project and it's build using caps and resistors and such; I thought the 'Resistafier' was a pretty clever name.

The name 'True Grit' for my newest overdrive/boost pedal was chosen by the guys on Facebook. I posted a demo video of the unit and asked the guys on the R3FX Facebook page to vote on names or suggest names and they came up with 'True Grit'

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All aspects of PCB board production are done in house: etching, drilling etc. No SMD parts, all thru hole components and traditional sized components. All part stuffing, wiring etc. is done by me.

Enclosures are purchased in their unfinished aluminum state and I powdercoat them on site.

Decals are at this time adhesive labels, but I hope to move to silk screen labeling in the near future.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

I have a great idea for a new product but unlike my current designs, this one would require some DSP processing; which is way over my head - If I can find a partner to work with that knows the DSP side of things - I think have a new unit that is so unique that it would not only be a huge seller, but also something groundbreaking in terms of what others may then start to be able to offer.

As for what was the toughest build, I'd say some of the easiest pedals to build are also the toughest. I've been working on a germanium fuzz that I want to release; but I can't find the right transistors in the right quantity and leakage to really make them feasible, so that makes it difficult.

R3FX Cabinet SimulatorWhich of your pedals is the most popular?

The most popular product in my lineup is the R3FX Cabinet Simulator because it has such a usable function. It will simulate the tone you'd get from playing thru a guitar cabinet.

Not only will it allow you to record direct and get great tone from pedals or preamps running into it without needing a real amp and cabinet - it's also great for live use to really thicken up guitar tones. Because it has a thru out connection on it - you can run it in the effects loop of a head with the thru out going back into the fx return and then run the Sim out to a PA to get the tone of your heads preamp section running thru a cabinet simulator. It's not a load device, so it still needs a cabinet - but what I like to do is run the Cabinet Simulator along with a mic'd guitar cabinet and it really blends together nicely for a HUGE guitar tone.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I have built pedals for a few high profile artists as well as done mods for several others. I haven't asked their permission to drop names, so I'll avoid that at this time.

As I get around to working on my website more; maybe I'll put up an 'Artists' section as my business grows; but yes, I have built for several guys and have gotten great responses from them. One artist is on a huge summer tour right now and my gear is on stage with him every night and that speaks volumes about my products.

R3FX Super Clean BoostWhat does the future of R3FX look like?

Because R3FX started off as a side business, I couldn't spend as much time on getting new things to the public nearly as quick as I had wanted. I was spending all of my time building the same couple units that had proven to be hot sellers; which limited the amount of time I could put into other new circuits. Now that I am doing R3FX full time, I have a lot more time to dedicate to it and have a bunch of new products that I am in various stages of development with and when I get them how I want them, they will gradually be released. I still etch every circuit board by hand, drill all holes by hand, powdercoat enclosures in house - basically every step of the process is done by hand and that makes for longer build times. I've been working on some various methods to speed up processes to be able to crank out units faster. One of the biggest is getting my PCB boards printed at a board house instead of me doing them by hand. I expect to be doing that over the next couple months; which should greatly improve my output. I have been looking into outsourcing my enclosure drilling and powdercoating; but that cost is a bit higher than I like right now; so that may have to wait.

I can do silkscreening, but doing it on pedals is tougher than doing it on T-shirts, so that may have to wait - but if I'm outsourcing the powdercoating, I may outsource the artwork on the enclosures as well. We'll see. I have new ideas all the time and my processes sometimes catch up and sometimes don't.

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