[interview] Totally Wycked Audio: Kevin Bolembach

Here's FXDB's interview with Kevin Bolembach of Totally Wycked Audio:

How did Totally Wycked Audio start?

I've been running Godlyke, Inc. for 13 years now, and before that I worked at Electro-Harmonix for a few years. While at EH I helped with voicing some of the reissue pedals like the Q-Tron, Deluxe Memory Man and Bassballs, and I've always helped out the companies we distribute like Maxon and Guyatone with voicing and naming new models, etc. It only felt natural to eventually branch out and do our own brand of pedals in order to create some of the products that we really wanted to see and had an immediate passion for...

We didn't get any direct help from outside parties, but there are lots of companies and people in this industry who inspire me. Even if I DON'T like a company, then they influence me NOT to be like them! However, on a positive note I'm inspired by guys like Zachary Vex, Dave @ Pigtronix, Mike Matthews & Electro-Harmonix, and Moog - I dig pedals that are bit off the beaten path and have a variety of uses and applications and are not just for guitar players...

Where do the name and logo come from?

It has a dual meaning - first off, "totally wicked" is a slang term for something that's cool or great. A friend of mine who is an important sounding board for our company always uses the term "wicked" when he's describing something he really likes. So, it's kind of a homage to him.

In addition, the abbreviation for Totally Wycked Audio is "TWA" which was the airline that eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes owned. I have a lot of respect for HH and his innovative ideas in aviation and cinema, not to mention his tenacious attitude and battling of both the Hollywood film industry and the U.S. Government. We also felt that TWA would seem familiar to some people, which we thought to be a good thing.

Lastly, we spelled wicked with a "Y" as a direct nod to parent company Godlyke, so that's how it all ties in together...

The TWA logo was my own design. I love logos where all the letters are connected and form a symbol in their own right, like the old Electro-Harmonix logo or Sun Microsystems, or even Toyota, where all the letters in the word are there in the logo design. I also wanted to have something that looked "space-age" so that's what I went for - I just drew out a rough sketch of what I saw in my head and gave it to our graphic designer to fine-tune it....

What sets Totally Wycked Audio apart from other builders?

I think our design engineer knows a LOT more about analog circuit design than about 95% of the people out there, which means our pedals sounds great and are designed to survive a reactor meltdown. In addition, all the power sections are done properly, which is a big aspect to low-noise operation that many builders overlook.

I feel that the aesthetic appearance of our products is head-and-shoulders above most other companies out there, the vast majority of whom are just using stock enclosures. Of course, this means our products cost more, so it's a double-edged sword.

Certainly we're targeting a niche market, so probably not as broad of an appeal and the latest Fuzz-Face knock-off. However, we still feel that our products have a very wide potential market, it will just take time to realize their sonic value...

How do you start on a new pedal?

It depends - the first couple of models were "clones" of rare vintage pedals that we dug but no one had attempted to build/market at the time. The Little Dipper is based on the Colorsound Dipthonizer and the Triskelion is based on the Systech Harmonic Energizer. Please note that they are not "clones" in the traditional sense of copying exactly - we spent a lot of time coming up with improvements and new features for the circuits and making them our own.

The latest model, the Great Divide - is based roughly on the Pearl OC-7, but as you can see we've taken it WAY beyond the basics of that vintage pedal. It just started with trying to build a pedal with the sounds/features that I like and would like to see, and it morphed into this monstrous project!

We've got several other models in development, but I'm not sure what will come out next. My tastes are a bit left of center and since I'm a bassist I'm looking for different tones that a guitarist might. So, you'll probably see more synth/filter/fuzz/octave type things from us as opposed to straight overdrives and distortion, etc.

Time from concept to production varies based on a lot of factors, including excitement, money, frustration, and attention to details. We try to put out one TWA pedal a year, but we hope to increase this to 2-3 per year eventually.

How do you name your pedals?

As far as naming goes - I'm sure you've noticed the LED arrays on our pedals, and that kind of ties into the whole aestethic aspect of the TWA design. SO, once a circuit is developed what we try to do is come up with a name that somehow reflects the circuit concept, and then also tie that in to the LED array for the pedal.

For example:

  • Little Dipper - Since it's based on the Dipthongizer, there's that play on words (Dipthong - Dipper) and then of course that ties in to the constellation layout of the LED's.

  • Triskelion - since it's based on the Harmonic Energizer, we tried to find a symbol that represented energy. In Sanskrit, kinetic energy is represented by the Triskelion (a 3-sided symbol). So, we used this symbol for the LED array but it turned out the exact one we chose had also been used by some white supremacist groups in the past, so we took some heat for that! We've since changed the graphic to an original design, and I can assure you we are not white supremacists, we love everyone equally...

  • Great Divide - Pretty obvious, since an octave pedal takes a note and divides it in half to a lower frequency. Since the pedal does so many different voices we named it the Great Divide, which is the geographic split in the rocky mountains that divides the United States. For the LED array we used a division symbol and each LED in the graphic represents a specific voice on the pedal.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

PCB's and Chassis are assembled out of house and then we load the PCB's into the chassis here and do testing and final assembly. When doing a production run we typically have 2-3 builders on hand working on it...

The ciruits are initially hand-wired and tested for audio, etc. then converted to SMT for production, making sure that audio quality is not lost during transition process. All production carried out in USA.

The enclosures are custom-made for us here in NJ, all done by machine. 16-gauge bent steel, etc. They are powder-coated by the same facility that builds the enclosure and silk-screened by them as well.

How important is the look of your pedals?

VERY - I think pedals should look sexy and sleek. I'm not a big fan of the DIY look...

Is parts selection important?

YES - for every part of the circuit and hardware as well.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I love all three of the models that we've released, but certainly the Great Divide was the most complex and challenging to build, and it is the most versatile out of three so that probably gets my vote for now. I'm sure that will change as we develop more models.

We're very proud to have Dweezil Zappa using THREE Triskelions in his touring rig. That' probably the most famous steady user we have, although we've sent Little Dippers to Bootsy Collins and 311, and a bunch of metal guys and producers are using the Triskelion including Michael Sweet from Stryper, Matt Hyde and Joe Baressi...

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Great Divide is VERY Complex - there are 5 PCB's in the pedal with various PIC programming IC's and a bunch of other goodies. Quite frankly, it's nuts and we're looking to put it into a larger chassis so we can cut down on the amount of PCB's and reduce the costs somewhat. I double-dog ANYONE to try to clone that pedal!!!

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

They vary in popularity depending on what's going on in the market, who's talking about the pedal, what magazine just reviewed it, etc. There's so many factors that determine people's purchasing decisions nowadays, I wouldn't venture to figure all that out...

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We're not really making them for specific genres, we pretty much just do circuits that we'd like to see/hear, and the critics be damned!

We did not make the Triskelion specifically for Dweezil Zappa, but we knew his father had used a Systech so we had it in mind to approach him about trying our version. As soon as we released the pedal, he contacted us and asked for three!

What does the future of Totally Wycked Audio look like?

Our short term goal is to get the word out on the Triskelion and how awesome it is for creating more aggressive guitar tones - I think this info is starting to take hold, and now that DZ is on board this should help spread the word...

We have several other pedal designs ready to go, so long-term goal is to get some of these other circuits out to market...

Are you working on any new products?

Yes, we have several new models in development. I'd prefer not to discuss them but the are all REALLY cool, or at least I think so...

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