I recently talked with Misha Mansoor, guitarist of Periphery and founder of Horizon Devices, a brand new pedal company that he started with some friends.
Gear Gods: Hey Misha, good to talk to you. How’s the life?
Misha Mansoor: Pretty great Trey. New year, new opportunities. Very excited between Horizon Devices, GGD, some new things with Jackson and other companies, and a new tours!
It’s great to talk with you too, always a good time.
So I recently said in a video Q&A that no one should start a pedal company these days because the effects market is the most oversaturated in the industry. Mere days later, I saw that you had done just that. What made you want to not just create your own pedal, but actually start a company to produce them?
That was a reason I was reticent to start a pedal company, believe it or not. I am definitely not the financial guy, but my partners are great at that sort of thing. They pointed out some really interesting things to me from a market analysis standpoint.
There are a lot of pedal companies already, but many of them are very similar to each other, almost exclusively making products for more vintage players, making things at very high price points most people can’t afford, or making low quality products.
Furthermore, a lot of them don’t really have any community outreach. They’re not making anything for players, they’re making things for dealers and hoping players like them after the fact.
So I guess you could say it comes down to two things: making pedals people actually want at a price point that makes sense, and actually talking to the community, making demos they want to see, answering their questions.
The pedal market looks way more open when you analyze what over half of them are actually doing.
I hope to see you prove me wrong!
Me too! This was a pretty risky passion product because I really just wanted to share the pedal with people, but it would be nice to make a little money too.
Your website describes Horizon Devices as a community-driven pedal company. What does that mean, and how does it work?
I think what it means is “the hard part, but also the fun part.” We actively polled over 4800 guitarists prior to the finalization of the Precision Drive’s designs.
It’s great because I love interacting with people, and they are so opinionated and will definitely tell you what they want. It can just be difficult hearing so many opinions, strong opinions, and trying to decipher that into a prevailing opinion. Totally worth it in the end, though.
Basically besides the polls, we have a huge forum on Facebook where people can suggest ideas and ask questions, and a lot of emails go out that people who signed up can respond to.
Are you/were you worried about the possibility of too much crowdsourced input going wrong? Like allowing them too much input could create a false sense of what’s actually needed or possibly some unfulfilled expectations?
It’s funny, because some of our very first feedback we got was from guitarists worried about that. We had a lot of people giving their input on overdrives designs, people suggesting really out there things like bass drop pedals, but we had a surprising amount of community members (who actually wound up buying the finished pedal) saying “Hey… we know you guys are the experts… please just do your thing.”
We have our own version of checks and balances in a way. We know what a pedal needs to be, we ask the community what they need so we can introduce new features and make sure we aren’t totally offbase, and then the engineers at MXR actually get to tell us what is and is not feasible.
For example, more people than we thought wanted to run the pedal at 18v. It’s still designed to run at 9v, but will accept 18v and the tonal changes that come along with it now. However, three band EQ just barely lost. We decided not to include it because the cost would increase by a large amount, and it would sort of turn the Precision Drive into a totally different pedal, but now we know we want to implement that into another design going forward.
The first offering from Horizon Devices is the Precision Drive pedal. What’s the next pedal or product you’re looking at developing?
Well, we’re still in the early stages and just making sure everyone enjoys the Precision Drive. It has been going remarkably well though, so we are definitely looking towards the future of Horizon Devices in 2017. There are about 5 designs we’d really like to do at the moment, but we’re looking extra hard at our time-based ideas right now. Sort of like how the Precision Drive has a built in gate, they’re some hybrid designs I’m very excited about.
You’re a notorious pedal junkie. Aside from your own, which pedals are your current favorites?
Oh man I do love me some pedals, but as of late I have been playing around with a lot of newer pedals like the Walrus 385 and Luminary, Earthquaker Transmisser, Catalinbread Echorec, Free The Tone Flight Time, MXR Echoplex, Caroline Kilobyte, Way Huge Conquistador Fuzz (having a lot of fun with that one!) and cool and unique pedals like the TC Electronic MIMIQ doubler, which is just such a cool idea for a pedal! Sorry for the long list, my collection is large and I love love love delays delays delays.
What was MXR’s involvement/input in the Precision Drive creation process?
They’re definitely the people that know what they’re doing moreso than anyone else in the process! As I said earlier, we asked for feedback from guitarists to tweak the final circuit and make sure it had the features people need, and I had a basic design and list of requirements going in. MXR were the actual engineers that could do things like swapping components in and out, doing over 6 revisions on the gate with me, getting increased headroom.
They’re so good at what they do and I’m proud to have worked with them. It’s funny, these are the people that work on Phase 90s and Carbon Copies, and they actually made a point to email and tell me they were impressed with the finished pedal. That’s a huge moment for me.
What other areas do you see needs in as far as gear for the performing and recording musician? What’s the next horizon for manufacturers and builders?
Tone is already so good, that I think most advances will be in ease of use for gear. Great pickups, great guitars, great amps, etc. already exist, the barrier to entry (whether it’s price or complexity) is just too high for many people.
I’ve obviously had tone I liked on albums and live before, the Precision Drive just makes it exponentially easier for me to get that tone, and opens up new possibilities for my tone in the future.
I think that’s where this is going. DAWs and plugins that are easier to use, amps with more useful features, and pedals that do more than you would expect one pedal to do.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Best of luck with Horizon Devices, can’t wait to see what you come up with next!
I appreciate that Trey!