[interview] Uncle Ernie's Effects: Tim Wagoner

Here's FXDB's interview with Tim Wagoner of Uncle Ernie's Effects:

How did Uncle Ernie's Effects start?

I've always tore gear apart and tried to figure out how it worked. I built my first pedal in college, a simple Big Muff clone which still works. It's pretty nasty sounding but I thought that was the idea.

UEE started as a home project tinkering with some builds for my own use. I took them to some open mic evenings and immediately had players wanting one or two. I had my first order the first night, paid up front!

Basically, I designed everything from the ground up and then had musicians who had the ear test drive whatever I built. There have been a few updates as a result of that. My Biggest inspiration for all my music career has been Dave Parman. He was my college mentor when I went for my music degree. Dave was one of the original members of John Cougar Melloncamp and gave that up to become a college teacher. Without Dave I'd have NEVER stayed the course and that ultimately led me to my wife and family whom I wouldn't have if I'd gave up. Dave later became a pastor and presided over our marriage.

Where do the name and logo come from?

UEE came from two things that came together. I've always been a fan of Keith Moon, The Who's drummer. He had this crazed way about him but he also clearly knew what he was doing albeit unpredictably. Also, one of my early influences in the tech end of music is Kevin Silva of Uncle Alberts. He's brilliant. So I couldn't very call it Keith Moon's... but there's the character he played in Tommy, Uncle Ernie. A name is born.

UEE has always used the same font which is actually from the old cartoon Space Ghost. Otherwise, it has been laid out in various ways. We do also have a monicker: "One Man's Distortion is Another Man's Reality". Thought that up one day, just sounded good.

What sets Uncle Ernie's Effects apart from other builders?

My philosophy is to provide the highest quality hand made products available at a competitive price in a boutique market. This must be supported with the highest customer service I can provide.

The pedals are the only builds I know of using trophy plate for the name plate. They are most certainly distinctive . They are also very durable and I've only ever had to repair one for a bad run of 4558 ICs that I threw out.

How do you start on a new pedal?

A fair share of them have come from one off builds that someone asked for.

A design can take from a week to a month to flesh out, then I can spend several months working with various players refining the design.

How do you name your pedals?

I've done a few with one off names, the FrankenDriver, the Magic Buzz, and the HoneyBoy.

The FD was for a customer in PA. who loves Frankenstein and wanted a themed pedal.

The Magic Buzz was a fuzz box based on a fuzz that Pete Townsend was supposed to have used.

The HoneyBoy was made for a solo artist who wanted an analog guitar preamp that would fit in his guitar case and sound like a tube amp.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I build every pedal personally at present but at one point I did have a helper who did milling and packaging. I've always wired and tested every pedal I've made.

For most designs I have circuit boards made for the components but there are some built on perf boards, very tough to do but super durable. I only use off-board pots, jacks, switches and the like. Only the highest quality components I can find are used.

My enclosures are Hammond factory black powder coated aluminum cases. I use trophy plates that are custom made for me as nameplates so there's no painting or stenciling in shop. I mill the chassis myself with a simple drill press.

How important is the look of your pedals?

I believe the cosmetics are very rugged looking with a neat, clean and simple look. I want a customer to be confident that when they need it, it will work. Not that it has a fancy paint job.

Is parts selection important?

Yes, that's why I use the real Hammond enclosures. They cost more but I've found that cheaper types tend to have poorly fitting backs and often enough fouled threads or crappy screws. This is just an example but gives the idea that I don't want anything in my boxes to fail. I try to avoid vintage parts as I've found far too often that they aren't NOS but rather recycled, washed parts that fail more than they work. There are a lot of counterfeit parts out there and I do what I can to know that I'm using the best I can find.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I always have felt the Booster was the best design as it frankly is the simplest little thing that can do wonders for some amps. It's not really all that big a deal as a circuit goes but it has this wonderful effect on the front end of most vintage tube amps.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The ColorDrive+ is clearly the hardest build. This thing has 7 gain stages in it and is built on a perf board. One mistake that doesn't get caught and you're better off tossing it and trying again. It can take several hours to build the circuit board.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The most popular pedal is the EchoDriver. This is a delay that is often copied but seems that few of the bigger builders using this basic circuit can seem to get right. I think it's the use of higher quality jacks, parts and chassis along with that hand made magic. It's really just simply doing it right.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

These designs are for professionals. I've found there are a few things most important to truly working musicians. Gear must sound good, be low noise, be crazy durable and be simple to operate. The older a person gets the more they want simple toneful gear that they can rely on. I don't build with a budget in mind so my customers tend to be older and more secure in they're musical careers.

I made a LiveDriver for Billy Morris, formerly of Warrant. He was working in Quiet Riot at the time and every show he used a rented back line. He found the LiveDriver provided the familiar gain and crunch night to night and helped greatly with sometimes not so great rentals.

I've also been working with John Petrucci's tech, Matt, to develop something that will catch John's ear and although he likes the pedals he hasn't tried one that he had to have. Anyone who knows anything about him knows he's very particular and I'm glad to be in this position to bounce pedals off him. Maybe someday, fingers crossed.

What does the future of Uncle Ernie's Effects look like?

The Economic collapse of winter 2008 has severely hurt business to the point that I had to shut down the website and about anything else to keep the doors open in any fashion. It has been a painfully slow recovery but I'm focused on staying available to my customers and supporting the products I make.

Presently, I'm focused on rebuilding the name. I have also been considering making a few low watt amps as I have just as many players wanting my amp work as my pedals.The largest hurdle here is building one at a time results in high parts prices and thereby high amp costs that tend to make players shy away especially with the market as it is and most people are driven by price and not quality which has always been my hallmark.

Are you working on any new products?

No, rather I'm trying to find ways to get production costs down using the same quality parts, not easy. Also, one of my favorites I've built is the ChoralDriver but I'm having a terrible time finding a source for parts that's consistent. This is one of those vintage designs where I'm finding too many washed parts.

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