[interview] Rockett Pedals: Chris Van Tassel

Here's FXDB's interview with Chris Van Tassel of Rockett Pedals:

How did Rockett Pedals start?

Well, I spent 20+ years working in the recording industry in Hollywood. I was fortunate enough to have recorded many of the greats. I remember having many conversations with session players about effects. All of them had their unique ideas but most of them were wanting certain similar things. 90% were interested in overdrives that could achieve more amp like sounds. With that said, we started to explore what it would take to create some of these sounds. Years later the Rockett Boost was born. From there it was a matter of exploration and consulting with many of these guys. We did take our time in each and every product to try and meet the requirements set forth by some very well respected players. Any given effect can be hit or miss for anyone as we all know so we really tried to focus on what translated to tape and live similar to an amplifier.

We were absolutely inspired by others. We had great help and inspiration from Mark Stephenson of Stephenson Amps in Canada, Tim Jauernig of T.C. Jauernig effects, Brian Wampler of Wampler Pedals, Mark Sampson of Star Amps/Matchless Amps, Lex Bos (Creator of the Lex Bos Super Drive), Paul Trombetta the fuzz guru and our kids as they stepped up to the challenge of naming the pedals. Lookout for the Rockett Sponge Wedgy in the near future... hahaha!!

Where do the name and logo come from?

The name is obviously from Jay's last name which we thought was cool for a pedal company name. The name has actually changed now to J. Rockett Audio Designs since we will be introducing products other than pedals in the future.

The original logo was pretty obvious, in fact too obvious. We liked the logo but it was a bit too contrived for us. We have now changed our logo to coincide with the modified company name. The new logo can be seen on the newest site which is simply an R.

What sets Rockett Pedals apart from other builders?

I wish I could say that it is because everything we make is the greatest that the universe has ever seen but that does not exist. We are poignantly aware that tone is purely subjective and what is one man's treasure is another man's trash.

We try to offer high quality, value and inspiration through our products and hope that it translates to the public. We are proud of the fact that we have a very custom product in many aspects, I think the unique enclosures make for something not in the ordinary but everything is subject to change or improvement.

There are a lot of great pedals out there and I personally own a lot of them and use a lot of them. They are tools for specific things and I hope we can supply a variety of the needed tools for as many players that we can.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Well, aesthetically we designed the product around the enclosure. the PCB was sized to fit the enclosure. All respective pedals do have an identical layout in terms of I/O jacks and DC jack locations. That way we can use the same middles and backs for all respective products. With that said, each pedal has its own faceplate. This enables us to stock the middles and backs and when we add a new product we simply create a new faceplate. From concept to finish it is usually a 6 month process. We do all of our own PCB layouts, graphics, CAD work, CAM work and then once our vendors produce what we need we build a few prototypes. If they all come together as they should we send them off to some well respected players to tweak, beat them up and suggest changes. Once they are ready we start the bulk order/build process and get them out to the public.

How do you name your pedals?

  • Animal - Because it is a beast... ;-)
  • Chicken Soup - Does the country tele thang
  • Blue Note - for the Blues
  • Josh Smith Dual Trem - because two Joshes are better than one???? Hahaha!
  • Flex Drive - Because it is so flexible
  • 10 Ton Hammer - My step brother is the bass player for Machine Head... sorry Adam, we stole the name!!
  • Lemon Aid - notice it is spelled Aid not ade...it is a pedal that can really help a bad sounding amp or guitar sound better. So if your amp or guitar is a lemon....pretty stupid I know but I love it!!!

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We do both in-house work and outsourcing. Jay is the solder jockey professional.

We are now teamed up with a manufacturer in Carlsbad, CA and these guys are great. They specialize in military and medical gear so they are certainly proponents of high quality as are we. Jay will continue to build the Master Built series and the CM will build the Pro and Signature series units. If anyone would like to meet or manufacturers they will be sharing our NAMM 2012 booth with us #1112 downstairs.

Sure, to clarify the above in regards to amps. We are partnered up with Naylor Amplifiers and soon also Bletchley Amplifiers (the creation of Danny Russell who was the creator of the Naylor circuit back in the early 90's). Our favorite amps by far... we are immensely excited to have them on board.

Anyway, our Master Built pedals are 80% hand wired with a small PCB... quite a project to build with the custom enclosures and plating etc.

The Pro Series was our jump into the PCB world. They are all through hole PCB's but military grade so they are super high quality. Our enclosures are custom made by Hamilton Metal Craft in Pasadena, CA. Hamilton is the single greatest vendor we have ever dealt with. They helped us create these beasty enclosures and have supported us through some pretty heavy times. Scott and Karen, thank you!!!

These enclosures are or should I say were solid 6061 aluminum with pressed PEM nuts and welded at the bottoms... quite a process. They are super lite and extremely durable however, we have made some changes. We will be releasing a slightly modified look and feel at NAMM this year. The new enclosures will be 75% Stainless Steel and 25% 6061 aluminum. They will have a much more substantial feel and weight, more durability and better looking powder coating... all guts will be identical to how they have always been. We just wanted to continue to improve upon the aesthetics.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Very, I think it is difficult to stand out in a market of 37 billion pedal makers. The appearance is the first impression.

Is parts selection important?

Yes, it all comes down to how they sound. Some cheap parts sound the best and the opposite is also true. I remember using a $14.00 Auricap in the original Rockett Boost... yikes!!

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Well, if you ask me you will get one answer and Jay will give you another. I am still most proud of the Rockett Boost because it was the product that launched all of this. Jay... I think he changes his mind on a daily basis. He was all about the Flex Drive first, then the Animal, then the Blue Note and now he is all Chicken Soup.

The one pedal I cannot do without is the Rockett Boost which is the same as the Lemon Aid but the LA has no buffer. To me the LA or RB is a Swiss army knife and compliments any other pedal or amp... very useful. It is also an amazing acoustic guitar preamp and bass preamp and vocal preamp... and probably paper weight as well... ;-)

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Afterburner by far... Crazy wiring and many parts and pieces.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Flex Drive... probably because it was the first release in the Pro Series line but also, it is so "Flexible" very useful in many situations. The Animal, Blue Note and Chicken Soup are right on the heels of the Flex though... My poor Lemon Aid gets no love!!!

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I would say we don't make pedals for specific genres, we try and supply a little something for the entire spectrum, especially as we grow. We certainly have a more prominent demographic in the 30+ category. However, that will not stop us from bringing products in that appeal to the younger crowd as well. There are some amazing players popping up that need the same tools as the old guys... ;-)

We have several famous users: Allan Holdsworth, Tim Pierce, Josh Smith,... well each of them had a hand in the design so they better like em... ;-)

No real quotes just yet but NAMM (2012) will tell. In fact Allan is going to be at our booth on Saturday so anyone can feel free to ask him. Tim is coming by sometime but not sure when. Josh I'm hoping is in town and will be required by law to hang out with us.

What does the future of Rockett Pedals look like?

Yes, we plan on supporting the lost in the mix session players that we have all heard but are not truly aware of. For NAMM this year we will be releasing the Allan Holdsworth Signature OD to compliment the already released Josh Smith Dual Trem. The next release to follow will be the Tim Pierce Signature OD. We plan on supporting the guys that are really behind the scenes mostly as a personal desire of my own after working with and getting to know some of these amazing players. We also plan on a full line release over a period of time of the Mark Sampson Signature series... there is one almost ready and it is really cool!!!

Are you working on any new products?

  1. Alien Echo - simple delay with modulation that truly resembles a random tape warble. Mod is foot switchable
  2. Allan Holdsworth Signature OD - OD and Boost with some clever eq options
  3. Tim Pierce Signature OD - Same as the Holdsworth but different EQ and gain structure
  4. WTF Fuzz - Co-Design with Paul Trombetta. Similar to the Minibone but EQ'd differently and has a foot switchable boost with its own volume control
  5. Mark Sampson signature series - first release is a true Beatles jangly top boost sound... Yes, there will be a lot of DC30 influence.

Most of this will be at NAMM... Sampson stuff will be down the road just a bit.

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