[interview] SBE Master: Sergey Efremov

Here's FXDB's interview with Sergey Efremov of SBE Master:

How did SBE Master start?

Guitar electronics and making music are inseparable things to me. I started to tinker with electronics around 1987, it was a difficult time, lack of electronic components and materials for training, but I had an interest and desire. The start of constructing guitar effects coincided with music lessons and participation in various musical projects to play guitar. I also became interested in heavy rock. I listened to many recordings of foreign bands and artists and I was especially fascinated by the growling "heavy" guitars.

In the Soviet Union the quality of domestic instruments, amps and effects was not good, but around this time good and cheap equipment became available. Information was scarce in such a closed society , so a lot of time was spent learning the basics of electronics, power amplifiers,...

I was searching for good sound and schematics. In the late '80s and early '90s there were a lot of cooperatives that produced consumer goods, including guitar effects. These instruments were not very good workmanship and often broke. Most of them were copies of well-known pedals in the west. Without schematics we often had to repair the equipment blindly. The big brands also became available, who did have schematics and repair documentation. This was a good school and a great experience. Studying schematics, noting positive and negative features of existing devices, changing the circuits after my own ideas,... I learned how to do that and to not be afraid of doing it. With this experience from modifying repaired pedals I started working on my first serial effects.

It did it all on my own, but now I use my spare time to share experiences and advice with younger and less experienced DIY colleagues. This will help them to avoid the mistakes and "discoveries" that are common to beginners.

The first effects under the brand name "SBE MASTER" were released in 1993. At first they were gifts to friends, musicians, later they were sold to fund my hobby.

As time passed, much has been done, which is difficult to describe in a little story.Today there are so many plans and projects, but it is still too early to talk about them.

Where do the name and logo come from?

The name originated in 1993. SBE are my initials, master was originally meant to refer to my products being different than other products in Russia. Now it also refers to the high handmade quality.

The logo is the name in a double oval. This happened by coincidence, but it looked like a logo on the very first cases. Later it became a tradition. There are other options for the mark, but we prefer this logo because it symbolizes our history - from the inception of the firm to where we are today.

What sets SBE Master apart from other builders?

I have great respect to the many manufacturers of musical equipment, especially in Russia. Everyone has their own way, their history, their vision and business affairs. I try to go my own separate way and do my job with maximal quality. and the maximum quality to do its job. Do not compare yourself to love someone.

In the first place the construction of the pedals is a pleasure for me to do. Secondly I managed to combine work with my hobby. And third, I'm pleased that musicians rehearse, play gigs, record with my effects.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Making a new pedal is easy and difficult at the same time. Everything is changing and we must be aware of what is happening in the music world, monitor trends and specific standards in making music and sound. Manufacturers have to monitor the situation and be able to respond to requests from musicians. I'm not an exception.

That's the easy part:

  1. Listening to different music, playing music and constant communication with the musicians is a good source of inspiration.
  2. A good knowledge of circuit design, frameworks and methods for forming a particular sound character can help in solving technical problems.
  3. Layout and build a prototype device, check how it performs live.

But then, things get really complicated and difficult. Launching the first batch of effects on the market with minimal funding. In many ways, the success of the project depends on the ability to advertise it, to show its uniqueness, record good sound samples, find the first buyers. Musicians and creative people are often rather conservative. Therefore, as experience shows, the new devices often fail.

How do you name your pedals?

There are a lot of pleasant moment while developing a new product. Those help finding a name. For example, the name should reflect the character of the instrument. The line includes a Stinger overdrive, a Napalm Machine (distortion),... The name describes the pedal and the nature of the sound. :-))

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All organizational, technical, assembly work and testing is done by myself. For some work, such as painting, drawing stencil labels,... I use contractors who stood the test of time and have proven to deliver quality work.

The new pedals use handwired PCBs with through-hole components and powder coated aluminium enclosures in various colors with screen printed labels. They are all tested for compliance with the specifications and tested for their sound. With accurate manufacturing and assembly I can achieve maximum results.

How important is the look of your pedals?

For a long time little attention was paid to the look of the pedals, the focus was on sound quality and reliability. But with the broader market, we revised our approach to the look. It's important to look good, so people want to pick it up and want to listen to it and buy it.

Is parts selection important?

Of course. We use only high-quality components, film capacitors, integrated circuits and transistors with low noise, qualitative potentiometers and switches. Almost all the pedals are built using a passive bypass.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Our favorite pedals:

  1. Metal drive - the first production pedal, with this pedal SBE Master began. Originally developed for myself, but it was very popular among musicians.
  2. Analog chorus and delay, much more complex, also because the chips are out of production.
  3. King Screamer, a classic overdrive and a great pedal. Used by Dmitry Andrianov, a very good musician who participates in many projects, during his concerts.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Again, this was in the very beginning. The first difficulties arose from the lack of quality packaging and materials. But over time this problem was solved, mostly because of internet and modern communication.

Another problem was to find sufficient funds for all current projects and to work on new devices.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

In our work we are guided by a variety of musical styles in guitar music, as well as study of supply and demand. The range of effects partly reflects the personal taste, or many of the effects would not exist. I'm still playing guitar and participating in diverse projects. I use effects to give my music a particular expression, depending on the song or situation. I have a huge and long-standing love for chorus and delay, so I often use them.

As a Russian manufacturer, most of my pedals became widely known in Russia. A lot of good musicians use them, but it's not enough to just be a good musician to be famous. For example guitarists like Alexei Huzhaeva, Alexei Gavrilov, and many others... But the well-known guitarist Dmitry Andrianov also uses my pedals.

What does the future of SBE Master look like?

Despite the relatively long history, which was not always easy, we look at the future with optimism. We have much to aspire to. A lot of plans and new projects, new horizons,...

  • Create our own website and online store with good products and quality sound samples.
  • Bring production to a new level with full-time employees.
  • Continue to work to improve the build quality of the current line of effects and expand the product range.
  • Expand the dealer network, making our products more accessible to musicians not only in Russia but also in the rest of the world.

Are you working on any new products?

Of course. There are a number of projects ready to launch, but we have to see if they're commercially viable.

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