[interview] Rolls: David DiFrancesco

Here's FXDB's interview with David DiFrancesco of Rolls:

How did Rolls start?

I was an LDS (Mormon) missionary in Argentina and I had a companion (Paul Overson) from Arizona that was a guitar player. Mondays were sort of a free day and I build amplifiers and effects for local members. I was already deep into electronics when I went to Argentina and there it is common to build things 1 off. The local shops are set up for that sort of thing (totally different from here). Anyway, there was a local band in Villa Maria, Cordoba called the "Rhythm Devils" (Diablos del Ritmo) and they wanted to play "Satisfaction" so I built them a tube based fuzz and that was the first effect I ever built - and I was hooked. I loved that stuff and still do even though I have moved on to other things. When I got home I registered the name DOD and started building fuzzes and wahs, then partnered with John Johnson for sales and built up DOD Electronics. We sold that business in 1988, but I was restless and started Rolls and built the RFX pedals. We have discontinued them some years ago, but I still think they were a good design.

Who helped or inspired you to start building pedals?

Well that is a good question, all of us got help from Maestro and Mike Mathews, Electro-Harmonix who basically did all the real market research for the industry. Every pedal today has it's roots with them. They didn't intend to help, but they did.

Where do the name and logo come from?

When I started DOD electronics (my initials sort of) I had no idea that DOD would be so hard to pronounce and get so confused. So when I started a new company I wanted a name more main stream and harder to confuse. Rolls has no meaning except the name of the new company.

Originally I was going to make tube guitar amps as well as other things and I had an idea for a cabinet that would be easy to assemble and sturdy and it had corner brackets to were on a 45° angle. So the original logo was a cabinet outline with Rolls in it. But anyone who has ever started a business knows, things can evolve different than planned.

What sets Rolls apart from other builders?

All of our pedals had something different like 2 switches or wider range. We tried not to be just a "me too".

How do you start on a new pedal?

We would get requests from our reps or music stores or musicians and we would decide if it was something we could do well. Try to come up with an innovative design and produce it in our own manufacturing process. It usually takes from 6 weeks to a year to finalize a design.

How do you name your pedals?

For a name we just brainstorm and pick our favorite.

We only have one name story and it isn't a pedal. We made an oscillator to use in house for testing, but decided to sell it as a product and named it the "Testoscillator". All the women hated that name.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

Everything was built in-house, we had about 20 assemblers

I developed the circuits myself and everything is through hole FR4 PCB, wave soldered.

Enclosures were all NC bent sheet metal with some parts molded plastic of our own design.

Paint was all powder coat by our metal supplier.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The look was always important, but not as much as the function.

How important is parts selection?

We always use the best parts we can for the function and do a lot of tests of various brands for different functions. For instance the Rohm 4560 is our favorite op amp since it always exceeds it's specs and works better that than the much touted JRC 4580. of course there is higher spec stuff but the cost/performance trade off is just not there.

Most proud? Toughest build? Most popular?

My favorite pedal was the RFX402 stereo volume/control pedal for it's simplicity and functionality. Very simple to service passive pedal with smooth response.

The RFX960 Twin Spin Chorus was difficult because there was so much it such a small space for through hole type construction.

Actually our biggest seller of all time is the RFX128p MIDI pedal, we still make it and we have sold about 30,000. Not really an effects pedal, but our most popular anyway. We were really the first to make one and our production methods still make it viable.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

All our stuff was pretty much for the most under appreciated people on the planet, guitarists. (Not the rock stars, the regular working musician).

The Keyboard Player for Moody Blues called from England once and asked questions about a MIDI Pedal. that was a good day. 

Once at DOD Rick Nelson (Cheap Trick) called and sent us pictures, but we hadn't heard of him and blew him off, OOPS!!!

What does the future of Rolls look like?

We ended pedal production in about 2005 since the market is so saturated and our contractor install pieces consume our production capacity.

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