[interview] Wattson Classic Electronics: Chris Michael

Here's FXDB's interview with Chris Michael of Wattson Classic Electronics:

How did Wattson Classic Electronics start?

Well, Jim was in the air force and graduated from electronics school. He has a EE and has been working with electronics or programming of some kind for like, hundreds of years. I was always interested in electronics and discrete circuitry, and Jim basically gave me an electronics crash course. I was hooked.

As far as how Wattson started, Jim had been recording my band at the time, and we had been having conversations about what we did and didn't like about specific guitar gear. Stuff along the lines of "why don't they make them like this?" or "if I would have done it, I would have done it this way" and Jim kinda said "why don't we?" and thats how it started.

There are a lot of people that have helped with ideas. Our first pedal, the FY-6 (Superfuzz), was something we had looked at but weren't really sure if there was a market for a reproduction. There was a dude on the shortscaleguitars.org forum who said we should do the superfuzz,and we decided it was a good idea.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Thinking of names, I came up with "Sherlock Amplification" and Jim said "why not Watson? Sherlock's sidekick? Think of the pedals as your perfect sidekick". Made sense! We just added the extra "t" to imply Watts.

We don't really have a logo. We kinda have the oval from the FY-6, but the badge is different depending on the pedal.

What sets Wattson Classic Electronics apart from other builders?

Well, we are insane. I did one of our pedal demos dead drunk.

I think what sets us apart is the absolute refusal to buy into the mojo aspect of the music instrument industry. You will never find Sozo caps in our pedals or amps UNLESS that cap can give us the exact performance we need or want from a specific circuit, not because it's a Sozo cap and it must be good because so and so said it sounds better etc etc.

Also, you can bet your butt that our pedals will survive anything a tour or live performance can throw at it. Our pedals are heavy duty, man. And they look slick too.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Well, usually Jim or I will be like, "hey, wouldn't it be cool if blah blah blah existed?" or "why doesn't anyone blah blah blah?".

Then we do some research, draw up a schematic, see if it will work, test the crap out of it, redraw the schematics, test it some more, drink a bunch of beer, and when we are satisfied it is the most bad ass it can be, we move forward with production.

Jim is a perfectionist of sorts. He isn't satisfied until everything is awesome. I've never met anyone so dedicated to anything.

How do you name your pedals?

well, the FY-6 was originally called the Superfuzz, because that circuit is the superfuzz circuit. that's what it is. However, some other "pedal company" decided they wanted to copyright the name even though they had no real right to claim it since their pedal isn't even close to a Superfuzz. It's actually a totally different fuzz circuit, but whatever. So we had to drop it. Originally we were calling it the Classic fuz, because it's such a classic, but we have decided to just call it the FY-6, which is the original part number for the Shin-ei version of the pedal. same goes for the FY-2.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We build (assemble, solder, etc) all the pedals in house by hand using only the highest quality hands.

Everything made by Wattson is precisely controlled, and planned out to the T. Jim goes over schematics and conceptual drawings till his eyes bleed, and only then do we put soldering iron to board.

The enclosures are custom made for us by our exact specs, and the only reason we don't make them ourselves is because we don't have room for a sheet metal brake!

The circuit boards are also manufactured for us to our standards, but all of the circuit design and building is done in house at our shop by hand. We only use good stuff. Every pedal and amp company says that they select only the best components made, but it's not really about "best" or "coolest" but what works best. We make sure the components we use aren't dripping in faux mojo, but actual quality components that will allow us to maintain strict tolerances and repeatable sound pedal after pedal. Also, our electrolytic caps are blue, and I think they look awesome.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Wattson pedals just look tough. That's important. I also think they look pretty classy. I am a big fan of simple aesthetics, and the Wattson pedals exemplify that. I really hate crazy psychedelic paint jobs and weird graphics. I don't want to look down at my board during a show and see a smear of ridiculousness.

Is parts selection important?

We don't use any NOS, mojo, whatever components. only tested and reliable components that can be reliably sourced and properly integrated in our circuits to provide consistent sound and performance pedal to pedal.

Jim and I really hate the mojo aspect of the business. No one component offers the holy grail of tone. We believe that building a pedal the right way and repeatable performance is what is gonna make the best pedals.

Also, before we ship out the pedals, I lick each one for the best tone. Kinda like a mixture of SRV, Hendrix, Townsend, and Insane Clown Posse.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Oh man, the FY-6 for sure. That thing is such a beastly mistress.

Getting the sound just right was a journey. We didn't stop until we were sure that die hard Superfuzz lovers were gonna fall in love with this thing. Getting the look right was a whole separate thing. It was just a lot of exhaustive work, but so rewarding. I stayed up for a whole night building the very first Superfuzz build on my own. I was a freaking zombie! But it was totally worth it.

What really made me proud was when my favorite guitarist/producer (won't name names) got his hands on one and used it one of his bands records. I heard the track where he solos with it and instantly soiled my diaper. Such a cool moment.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

That would be the FY-6. getting it just right was a journey, but it was so worth it.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Well, we currently only have two, and the FY-6 is still top dog. It's just such a classic sound, people dig it.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Our pedals are aimed at players who need die hard badass pedals that will survive a nuclear attack and still give you the sound you want. So far, we have only done reproductions of classic fuzz circuits so that we could bring some dead pedals back to life in the best way possible, and with a price that reflects the quality and durability of the pedals.

I have personally built one offs for some famous dudes, but no names. I've made a few boosters and a/b switches, and a couple simple fuzzes. I've also done mods to other pedals.

What does the future of Wattson Classic Electronics look like?

In the short term, we wanna rock the hell out and quit our day jobs to do this full time.

In the long term, we want to expand to a larger facility with a full time staff so we can basically kick it in lawn chairs and drink beer and eat pizza all day while yelling "FASTER, SLAVES! FASSSSTTTTEEERRRRRR!!!".

But actually, we just want to do this 24/7 because we both love it, and it's really rad to see an idea go from conception to production.

We will always have a pedal arm of the company (or leg?) but we want to move into amplification as soon as possible. We have so many great ideas that I can't wait to see integrated into some rad amps.

Are you working on any new products?

We have some really cool ideas we are currently working on. There is something on the drawing board at this very moment that we are very excited about. Still trying to figure out how to do it in the best way, but I can say that if we get the tweaks out, it's gonna be soon.

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