[interview] ToadWorks: Ryan Dunn

Here's FXDB's interview with Ryan Dunn of ToadWorks:

How did ToadWorks start?

I was into working on old radios and tube amps, and I decided to build a fuzz box for fun. After some experimentation, we came up with something unique, so I made 4 - one for myself, one for Doug, and two extras that I gave to friends. I then put one online to sell it, and orders started coming in almost immediately.

Other than working with a few different EEs down the road, we've never had any outside help.

Where do the name and logo come from?

My ex-wife called me (Ryan Dunn) Toad, and the original pedals were made for fun, not profit, so I used it.

The logo came first - "Toady" was my own personal logo. I just tacked it onto the end of the company name when I built the first few pedals.

What sets ToadWorks apart from other builders?

I honestly don't know enough about any other builders to give a definitive answer... but there seems to be a lot of clones, and copies of designs available. Other than our Texas Flood (which is a substantially modified TS-808 circuit), all our designs are ground-up original circuits.

How do you start on a new pedal?

The process pretty much always goes like this: I think up some wacky effect idea, and Doug proceeds to shoot it down. Sometimes the idea dies there, but if he cannot make a compelling argument, or I just don't care what he thinks, I will build a proof of concept. At that point he will start offering constructive criticism, and then we start to tweak the circuit. The process can take a few weeks, or a few months, depending on the complexity. If I run into a snag I will call one of our EEs for help.

Once the basic circuit is finalized, we start thinking of a name (beer is usually involved). After we have decided on a name, I layout the circuit on a PCB and we have prototypes manufactured. Then comes testing, tweaking, and sometimes a new set of prototypes.

Then when we are ready, I design the artwork and mechanical layout, then we start to build.

How do you name your pedals?

One of our discontinued pedals was called Death Rattle. A guy who used to work for me in San Francisco said we needed to make a pedal that was huge, black, with tons of knobs, and had "death" in the name... so we made it and put his name on it (Matt Buster).

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We build everything in-house.

The circuits are designed in-house, occasionally with the help of a high-level EE. All soldering of components is performed in-house. Most designs incorporate some SMD components wherever appropriate.

We own the molds used to manufacture our die-cast enclosures. We have them manufactured overseas and shipped to the US in bulk. Some arrive pre-drilled in a standard layout, and others arrive blank (no holes). 

The enclosures are painted using the powdercoat process at a local facility. The silk-screen is done in-house.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Very important - we feel that a coherent look and feel to our pedals is important to brand recognition. In fact we were told by another builder that our pedals were help up by Fender as an example of good branding.

How important is parts selection?

We do not use NOS - there is no future in using obsolete components. Wherever possible we use SMD to save on space, but when necessary we use through-hole components for the best audio quality.

As far as domestic vs overseas brands, it's a global market place. We prefer to keep as much labor in the USA, but we use the best quality components we can find, regardless of the country of origin. It's a philosophy we hope our overseas customers will embrace :)

Which of your pedals are you most proud of?

I'm very happy with our Barracuda pedal - it too a long time to get finished, but it was worth the wait, and we have developed a very good relationship with Howard Leese as a result. In fact, all the guitar players in Heart now have one, and we feel like it's our small contribution to rock & roll history. 

Other pedals I am proud of are Li'l Leo (discontinued), which is still the most natural, realistic overdrive I've ever heard. Nothing else even comes close.... and our new Vermilion SuperDrive - it's pretty much the only heavy OD I've used for the past year.

Which of your pedals is your toughest build?

Hands-down, it's Barracuda - there are A LOT of components in that little box, and it's all SMD... and BBD chips are sensitive, so you have to take alot of care when handling them... all in all it's a very difficult pedal to manufacture.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Texas Flood, because it's a tube screamer, and for reasons I can't fathom, everyone seems to need a tube screamer. Plus it really does sound awesome.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We have sold a number of pedals to notable artists. Obviously we manufacture the Howard Leese Signature pedal, Barracuda, which is currently being used by Eric Johnson. Joe Satriani, Joe Perry, Prince, Don Felder and Jerry Cantrell all also have a Barracuda.

Our Phantasm pedal is part of both Billy Corgan's and Paul Jackson Jr.'s live rigs. Brent Mason uses our MEAT Jr. pedal in his live rig, and Jimmy Vivino is currently using our Texas Flood and (Primitive brand) Neanderthal Fuzz on the Conan show.

We do not have any specific target in mind when we design a pedal. We simply design something that we would use - and we do use that. Both Doug and I gig 3-4 times per week, and we use our own effects.

What does the future of ToadWorks look like?

Short-term goals include expansion of Deco, Primitive and True-bypass lines. We are also looking into rack-based effects and switching, as well as licensing and OEM work.

Are you working on any new products?

We are working on a number of pedals, including DSP-based effects, an analog chorus, and a few other top-secret items.

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