[interview] WMD: William Mathewson

Here's FXDB's interview with William Mathewson of WMD:

How did WMD start?

Pedals have always been a hobby for me and I started cloning pedals from the internet in high school. Went to college for electrical engineering and dropped that in favor of a music degree and kept building clones for my own use while experimenting with components. Finally got to a point where I was comfortable with electronics and started to understand what I was building and began work on some pedal concepts. I had access to a milling machine at my day job, and etched my own copper for a trial run of 10 Fatman pedals. We built all ten up (without bandpass mode) and did a trial run with friends and local players. Did some updating to the design and started a run of 80 without knowing what the future would bring (spring 2008). We picked up a few dealers and got things totally off the ground. Shortly after (2008 summer) I started work on the Geiger Counter concept at night in the garage.

I built a lot of clones from the General Guitar Gadgets website. Ordered my first boards from JD there.

My guitar teacher (Dave Devine) inspired confidence that we would be able to make it in the pedal business.

Where does the name come from?

WMD stands for William Mathewson Devices

What sets WMD apart from other builders?

Our pedal design is from a background of synths and studio gear. We like lots of knobs and lots of versatility. I try not to over polish the designs as they can become sterile.

How do you start on a new pedal?

I usually start with a tone in my head and a breadboard with the amp on and guitar in my lap. Going through different circuit blocks and voicings until I start hearing what I want. I try to incorporate as many control points as possible so that the pedal has many uses, not just one tone. If I find a circuit that does only one thing well, it's probably not going into a pedal.

Our older pedals came into production much faster (4 months for the Geiger Counter), newer pedals are taking a lot longer time. The Acoustic Trauma took one full year from concept to production because it underwent so many changes in design. We're also starting to use more custom parts which adds 9 to 12 weeks to the production schedule.

How do you name your pedals?

The Geiger Counter gets its name from the "Nuclear" patch on my old Access Virus kB synth. I always loved the sample-rate reduction sound and wanted to make it available to guitar players.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We build all pedals in house, we have two full time builders and sometimes an intern.

We mill our own die cast aluminum enclosures and have a local powder coat shop and local silk-screener do the artwork.

We buy our custom blank PCBs and hand solder the surface mount and through-hole components. All pedals are hand wired and stuffed.

We spray paint individually each shipping box with stencils.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Very important, second only to the sound. The look helps inspire its use and should reflect the level of aggression and power you get from the pedal.

Is parts selection important?

For circuits that process audio we select capacitors and opamps/transistors for their sound and how well they do their job. We use mostly modern parts.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The Geiger Counter because it makes incredible sounds. I still get to playing too much and working too little when I test a batch.

It's also our most successful and is what allowed me to make pedals for a living.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The original Fatman was a really tough build. I hadn't discovered the awesomeness of PCB mounted switches and pots, so there are about 24 wires floating around inside. Often they would break and cause problems. The Range rotary switch was also difficult because it's 12 capacitors arranged in a circle wired to the pins. We now have a PCB for that which makes assembly much faster and more reliable.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Geiger Counter because of its broad range of new sounds. Plus it is pretty hard not to spot on a pedal board.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We make pedals that make sounds I like that I haven't seen in other pedals. The Geiger Counter filled a specific gap in the market, but had been an idea for a long time before I even thought about WMD. We stay away from vintage fuzz because so many other guys do it well.

We have a number of big guys that use our stuff. Standard versions, no one offs.

What does the future of WMD look like?

We are looking to push the envelope of sound creation by using digitally controlled analog technology. We're shifting focus to more extreme and new sounds, and also to better usability, versatility and more adaptive stage performance.

Are you working on any new products?

We are and it's going to be cool, but I can't mention much more than Geiger Counter Pro.

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