[interview] Tone Freak Effects: Dereck Tabata

Here's FXDB's interview with Dereck Tabata of Tone Freak Effects:

How did Tone Freak Effects start?

I always had an interest in electronics. I used to look inside effects pedals thinking that they didn't look very difficult to build. I started modding TS9's and Distortion+ pedals, but eventually it grew into a desire to build them from the ground up.

I took engineering level physics classes in college that specifically dealt with electronic circuits and components, so I already knew about the very basics of electronics. There is a wealth of information on the Internet if you look. Build Your Own Clone, DIY Stomp Boxes, Circuit Workshop and Free Stompboxes represent a few sites with a community of great people working and experimenting with guitar effects circuits. Guys like Jack Orman (AmzFx), R.G. Keen (GEOfex) and the people on those communities I mentioned are the ones that inspire me. Names you will never see in print, but were instrumental in creating, modding and educating people in guitar effects electronics. All before the internet!

Where do the name and logo come from?

A friend and I were having a conversation about how we needed to get the "freaks" out of our lives because of the drama they create. Fast forward a couple year later... I was trying to think of a domain name for a website I planned on developing, which would highlight my sound clips and pictures of my guitar gear. The conversation between my friend and I popped in my head suddenly. Then it came to me... ToneFreak.com. I didn't realize at the time that the name would eventually become the name of my company, Tone Freak, LLC.

The logo features a guitar pick with the "T" in Tone Freak.

What sets Tone Freak Effects apart from other builders?

I've spoken with several builders. I'd like to think we all have similar goals in mind... to create products that guitarists will enjoy. Create products that are musical. Create products that provide tonal solutions.

I'm never under the impression that every guitarist will like my products. I'm more than glad to recommend them a product from another manufacturer that I know builds great products. After all, we all hear things differently. And as builders, we hear things differently. If there is something that separates me from other builders in this boutique pedal market... it's the way I hear things that's different from the way another builder hears things.

How do you start on a new pedal?

I have several friends I count on when it comes to deciding whether or not I pursue a new product. I talk with retailers, customers and working professionals.

Dave Friedman of Tone Merchants/Rack Systems has incredible ears. Same with guitarist friends of mine like Chris Nix, Brian Oaks and Shawn Tubbs. Then I talk with the retailers to see if a viable market exists. If it doesn't, but I still believe in the product, then I will reserve to make it available direct on my site.

You have to be willing to listen to everyone involved from the customer to the dealers to the stage... I consider the recommendations and advice from all sources.

How do you name your pedals?

The Abunai 2 originates from the name of my dog that passed away several years ago, Abunai. He was an Akita, which is a very large breed. He used to lie at my feet while I soldered, tinkered and assembled. Abunai was always eager to keep me company while the rest of the family went to sleep. Putting him down hit me hard... I miss him everyday. It seemed fitting that my first pedal be named after Abunai... he was there when it all started.

Abunai in Japanese means "dangerous"... though he never was... maybe intimidating because of his size.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I assemble and I utilize the skills and talents of two contractors.

I put a lot of thought into every pedal... not just the circuit, but also the enclosure and the placement of everything inside.

The wiring I use is Teflon coated, silver stranded wire for the durability. PCBs are all MIL-Spec'd.

Enclosure have silked screened graphic designs over powder coating. They have a really small footprint, which presents a challenge when trying to fit a PCB, two mini-toggles, LED, a footswitch, as space for a 9V battery, knobs and power tap all in and on one enclosure.

All my pedals are hand assembled in the USA. I could probably reduce my cost significantly by moving assembly overseas, but I wanted to make sure that I support the USA economy the best I can by keeping labor at home.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The visual of my pedals certainly play into the whole emotional response that I try to evoke. A nice package contributes to the "cool" factor. My graphics have an understated look. I really want the whole experience with Tone Freak Effects to touch the guitarist in sight and sound.

Is parts selection important?

I try to use parts that have exacting tolerances and dependable performance. But sometimes a circuit doesn't call for the latest and greatest. I find that some circuits sound better with carbon comp or carbon film resistors rather than metal film. Sourcing parts is always a challenge. You have your main source, a back-up source and then a back-up for your back-up source.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I'm proud of all my creations. The weird ones that never made it off my bench to the pedals I currently have in production. This question is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child... there are no favorites.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

I have a prototype chorus called the "Kai Chorus". With a flip of a switch, you can go from a Small Clone type tone to a CE-2 type of chorus tone. Tough because it has a lot of parts and take a while to build.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Guitarists gravitate towards the Abunai 2 and Severe evenly. I can't speak for my customers... I can only assume those pedals have a tone that inspires them musically.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I have customers that play very diverse genres of music.

For example, a good friend, Chris Taylor, plays and writes jazz with a very creative twists and turns. He utilizes my pedals to generate tones and noises that he weaves in his music.

Then you have the guitar talents of Jeff Schroeder, who plays for The Smashing Pumpkins. Jeff's demands for my pedals are very different in order to record and play the Smashing Pumpkins new and deep catalog of songs.

I don't design pedals for a specific genre of music. I'm not trying to set the world on fire with incredibly innovative circuits and designs. I create pedals that have some very familiar tonal characteristics, while offering the ability to vary those tones. My goal is to create pedals that will inspire... to evoke a musical and emotional response from the guitarists.

There are several famous guitarists using my pedals. Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains) has a couple of my pedals. Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Tom Dumont (No Doubt), Peter Thorn (Melissa Etheridge), John Shanks (Grammy winning producer)... I've been very lucky that these great talents have my products.

What does the future of Tone Freak Effects look like?

I have many projects that I've put on the back burner that I would like to surface again. I decided to start a "custom shop" where guitarists can email me their idea and I will see if I can make it a reality. I decided to sell blemished and refurbished Tone Freak Pedals, which will be available direct off my site soon. I'm very fortunate to have so many dealers and great customers... there would be no Tone Freak without them.

Are you working on any new products?

The "Fuzz Buzz" is my newest. I have pre-launched them as part of my Limited series of pedals, but the production model will be released late 2011 or early 2012.

I'm working on a Phaser, which will be called "Dazed Phaze". I have a lot more, but all in good time.

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