As part of Overdrive week we interviewed a couple of pedal makers who are making strides in new designs and new ways of thinking about tone. Today we interviewed Tore Morgensen, Guitar Product Manager at TC Electronic, whose Spark Booster and Nova Drive were included in our Ultimate Overdrive Shootout this week. He’s also the mastermind behind the Polytune, TonePrint technology, and the Ditto Looper.
What inspired you to start building pedals?
I’ve been playing guitar for most of my life and coming from Aarhus, Denmark – the hometown of TC Electronic – it is the obvious place to apply for a job as a musician. I started out in the marketing department coding and designing websites, but I guess I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about all the cool ideas for pedals I thought I had, so in the end I was asked to run TC’s guitar department. For a bona fide pedal junkie it’s a dream come true. :)
Why do pedal makers still make tube screamer clones and variations? Will we ever have a “better mousetrap” overdrive?
Well, it’s easier to take an already tried and true design and “improve” it slightly rather than come up with something new from scratch. Plus a lot of guitar players really are just looking for a Tube Screamer sound, so it’s natural to supply your customers with what they ask for.
As for “better” that’s a really tough thing to define. In my book, there is no such thing as good or bad sounds… it all depends on the context in which they’re used. So fx Jack White’s tones on some of the White Stripes albums might not qualify as great in the traditional sense, but it works perfectly within the context of the music. I’m all for options and new sounds, so in that sense the answer is yes – I think there are tons of cool overdrive designs yet to be invented.
Most OD designs are based on existing chips such as the JRC4558D or the MC33178. Are there any new chips being manufactured that could change the OD game? Or is there a kind of chip you wish someone would make that’s different than what’s out there?
FETs with the same headroom as real vacuum tube would be pretty neat.
What is your favorite kind of clipping?
It depends on the application. For amp-in-a-box type pedals FETs work really well. For more traditional type overdrives, I gotta admit I like soft clipping.
Whose guitar tone do you think is the single greatest ever?
There are so many… I’ve had my SRV, Eric Johnson, EVH, Dimebag Darrell, Yngwie, Cream-era Clapton-phases but the one I always come back to – and the reason I started playing in the first place – is Jimi Hendrix.
Whose is the worst, and what would you do to fix it?
Urgh… I really don’t like to dis fellow musicians, but I got to admit that I as much I LOVE Randy Rhoads playing, I never dug his tone that much. But with that said I am 100% there is millions of guitar players out there with worse tone. We – thankfully – just haven’t heard them. :)
Where’s a good place to start for someone who wants to start building pedals?
Either learn to solder or join a great team of engineers who can make your ideas come to life. :)
What is your design philosophy?
Don’t do me-too products. Every single pedal you do has to have good a reason to exist.
How are your pedals different from the other manufacturers out there?
I think we try to innovate a little more than most companies out there at the moment. Guitar players are a notoriously conservative bunch but we try to push their horizon a little bit every time we make a new pedal.
What other manufacturer’s designs do you like?
There are so many great ones out there, so here are a few shout outs: I think Electro-Harmonix is a fantastic company that really come up with cool new ideas. Z.Vex is another maker that really has carved a niche for themselves in the market by making completely unique sounding pedals. There is also a bunch of newer makers that do some great great stuff like Wampler, Xotic, Catalinbread, EQ Devices… the list goes on and on.
There are a couple basic effect types, of which most effects are just variations, ie: flange, delay, overdrive/distortion, boost, reverb, phaser, wah, etc. Do you think there’s an undiscovered effect type just waiting to be found?
Yes… I know there is. :)
What’s next for TC Electronic?
We have so many cool and fun ideas that we wanna do – both in terms of more traditional effects and some really cool new stuff – the tough thing is actually picking on which ones to work on next. Which is kind of a luxury problem I guess.