Big Knob Pedals not only have a name that will take you by surprise, but they also produce a range of top quality boutique effects at affordable prices. Guitar Jar catches up with manager Gary Kibler, to ask him more about the vision of the company and the future Big Knob Pedal releases we can expect to see over the coming months.
…we specialise in helping guitarists re-create those classic vintage guitar sounds you hear on all your old records…
Hi Gary, before we get into the details of your company and services, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
Definitely, I was fortunate to be raised in a musical household and playing the guitar has been a big part of my life. Some of my closest mates also shared my musical interests and I began playing in bands at an early age. The fact it was the mid-70s and Los Angeles certainly didn’t hurt either.
Looking back, most of the music we were playing then – what would now be considered classic rock, classic metal, and even prog rock – was coming, almost exclusively, from British bands. So when my family and I moved to the UK four years ago, it felt a bit like a homecoming for me as most all my musical roots are here.
I have to get this question out of the way early; why the name Big Knob Pedals?
I get asked this often. I think partly because the actual size of our pedal knobs is comparatively small; but also there’s apparently a British euphemism that, as an American, I wasn’t fully aware of in the beginning. The name actually comes from the first pedal I designed. It was christened “Big Knob” for having this massive control knob at its centre. I have to admit to not fully understanding the chuckles this elicited from my English bandmates when I first brought it to a rehearsal.
Anyway, the name stuck, even if the pedal itself did not. We’ve actually discussed bringing it back at some point; something like our mascot product. Even if it doesn’t sell, it would at least legitimize (somewhat) the company name.
What’s your vision for the company? Do you want to become the next “BOSS” or do you prefer to stay more “underground”?
Not underground, but I want to remain flexible enough to pro-actively respond to our customers’ needs. There is a huge gap between those two poles you mentioned – the commercial players working out of their factories and the small underground boutique maker working out of his-or-her garage – and this tells me there’s a place for a middle ground.
The quality and care the lone pedal-maker puts into his craft can be replicated to make higher quality pedals more affordable and accessible to musicians who – let’s face it – don’t always have the financial resources for getting the best and often have to settle for the cheaper, mass-produced commercial offerings.
Big Knob Pedals produce a range of effects that would sit nicely on most pedalboards. Is there a particular type of effect you specialise in?
Our catch-phrase is “Classic Tone You Can Own” and that basically sums up our product line. We specialise in helping guitarists re-create those classic vintage guitar sounds you hear on all your old records (yes, I said ‘records’ – that’s the type of vintage “vintage” we’re talking about here). My goal with Big Knob was to have our product line represent a veritable museum of classic guitar effects, but instead of being enshrined behind glass and alarms, these would be available for purchase at extremely affordable prices.
All our pedals are completely hand-wired onto stripboard, no printed circuit boards, and only the best components are used – poly-film capacitors and metal film resistors for low-noise, heavy-duty EHX-branded 3PDT switches, and solid die-cast Hammond/Eddystone cases – all top quality as in the most expensive boutique brands.
Often the realities of running a business tend to push most pedal-makers, both large and small, to adopt and promote products with the highest mark-ups; meaning the simpler the design, the less components, the higher the profit-margin. That’s only natural. But this also means that simple opamp-based distortions always tend to dominate most product lines. We intend to focus more on other types of effects, as we already have with our Echo Flex and Vibe Tone products; the kind of sophisticated effects that many boutique makers shy away from. I’ll have more on that later.
The prices of your pedals are seriously competitive. How have you found the journey so far breaking into the effect pedal market?
I found it to be hard work but incredibly rewarding. The feedback we’ve received has been most gratifying and we’ve made many friends along the way. The exceptionally high percentage of repeat customers and word-of-mouth is what has really sustained the business thus far.
With no real promotion or advertising – and not even a website until very recently – the plan has been simply to focus on producing the best pedals we can, post them for open auctions on Ebay starting at .99p, and then let the pedal-buying public speak for themselves. When we began seeing winning bids for our pedals consistently at £50-80 per pedal, that told us what people are willing to pay for a quality hand-made boutique pedal – not the exorbitant price-tags of £150-300 we currently see in the upscale boutique market. This validated one of my founding concepts: At the end of the day, it’s the sound that really matters.
People aren’t as concerned about brand-names or the prestige of owning an authentic vintage pedal; they are much more concerned with the quality and the sound at a good value.
Do most of your sales come directly from your website, or alternative sites such as eBay?
The website (www.bigknobpedals.com) will be the focal point to showcase and sell our pedals going forward but it is relatively new and most people are still not aware of it. Ebay has been very helpful in introducing us to the general public and I can’t think of another way we could have managed to get that number of musicians’ eyeballs focused on what we are doing. We will continue to offer select pedals on Ebay but our entire line of current and future pedals will be available on our website. Again, the response has been so much more enthusiastic than I could have ever imagined when we first started.
What is your best selling pedal?
That would be our Tube 808, which is an exact replica of the classic 80s Ibanez Tube Screamer. One of our early customers bought this thinking of it as simply a backup for his original vintage 808, but when it arrived and he actually heard just how identical it sounded, he opted for selling his expensive original and putting that money to use buying other equipment – (as well as more of our pedals – he too joined the list of our dedicated repeat customers).
Interestingly enough, the Tube 808 had its first major concert stage debut last weekend when Jim Kirkpatrick, the guitarist for the band FM, used it onstage at the London Hammersmith opening for Thin Lizzy. There’s a clip up somewhere on YouTube. Exciting stuff.
…we also continue to base our future product line on suggestions and requests forwarded to us by our customers…
Which pedal was the most challenging pedal to design and manufacture?
I would say the Vibe Tone which is our Uni-Vibe clone. Again, this is the kind of modulation effect smaller shops tend to steer clear from, not only because of the smaller profit-margins due to the cost and effort of building, but getting that rotary effect just right using the original 60’s methodology of having four separate LDRs (light-detecting resistors) and their strobing light sources, is more art than science. That’s why the Dunlop models and other vibe clones out there tend to be so expensive.
Being a self-described ‘vibe fanatic’, I was determined to design and build one that would not only incorporate all those original design concepts but, more importantly, have that unmistakable classic Trower/Hendrix ‘vibe’, yet still come in for under a hundred quid. I’m proud to say ‘mission accomplished’.
A close second to this would have to be our germanium-based fuzz pedals, of which we have 3 in the current line-up. Unlike the silicon-based pedals, the specs for germanium transistors tend to be all over the map; they’re also very sensitive to things like temperature. I buy these in huge lots of NOS stock and need to individually test and measure each; nearly a third don’t ever make the cut. Those remaining must be matched for use in our Fuzz Face and Tone Bender circuits. Like the work on the Uni-Vibe, what in a perfect world should be a science, takes on the aspects of an artform.
Do you have any new designs in the pipeline?
Coming up with new product designs is one of the more exciting aspects of the job, though I have to admit loving the whole process. Just as we typically have a backlog of orders, I always seem to have a backlog of product ideas waiting to be realised. As I mentioned before you’ll soon see us with a renewed focus on introducing more sophisticated modulation and other effects outside of the typical distortion and fuzz units.
We also continue to base our future product line on suggestions and requests forwarded to us by our customers. We now have planned a compressor based on a classic Dynacomp; a classic germanium Rangemaster-like treble booster; we’ve also a tremolo unit, an octave effect, a classic phaser, a ring modulator – all these designs we’re expecting to introduce in the next 3-6 months. It’s an exciting time for us.
What are your thoughts about RoHS compliance? Is this a stumbling block for effects/guitar manufactures; will adhering to these regulations compromise on “tone”?
I don’t believe RoHS compliance will impact the performance or quality of our products.
A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
With all my talk so far one would expect me to hit that 60s/70s classic rock era button, but I’m really all about the future at the moment. I would love to see what Big Knob is doing 10 or 20 years down the road. The past has already been done and, besides, it all comes back recycled anyway.
Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
It would have to be my ‘old faithful’, my cheap black MIM Strat. I’ve replaced nearly every part on her so she’s now closer to actually being a ‘Jeff Beck Signature Model’, so I could never allow her to go down in flames.
If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Definitely Bonzo. Don’t even have to think about this one. That sound, that physicality (is that a word?) John Bonham is THE drummer of not only the classic rock era but perhaps of all time.
Lager or Cider?
My life-long love of beer certainly made easy my initiation into English pub culture. That being said, I’ve yet to appreciate the whole cider experience here. You don’t see it in the states so it’s probably just a cultural thing.
What’s the plan for Big Knob Pedals for the next 12 months?
Exciting things – we’ve now an American distributor coming on board. We’re also hoping to receive more reviews and endorsements for our product-line this year. Plus those new products I mentioned will begin launching very shortly. All in all we’re very excited to see so much happening. Thanks so much again for giving us this chance to share with your readers.
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