I read the Craig Anderton book, Projects
for Guitarists, while I was still in high
school. I studied the designs and built
some of the things. I had a neighbor who
was studying how to repair TVs. He helped
me with the soldering and basic stuff. I
couldn’t afford to buy good equipment, so
I built it—mostly overdrives and boosters.
When did you decide to get
into it commercially?
That’s what I wanted to do since I was a
kid. My plan was to go to engineering
school then get hired by Electro-Harmonix,
but by the time I got into school [it was one
of the times] they went out of business. I
didn’t build anything for many years, but
while working at NASA I discovered people
on the internet who were designing and
building pedals. That triggered my interest
again. I began looking at every schematic I
could get my hands on.
I was doing repairs for friends and local
stores in 1998, when I heard a track that
got me seriously working on pedals. I
heard Robben Ford’s version of “Golden
Slumbers” [on an instrumental anthology called Mike Manieri presents Come
Together]. I thought the tone was amazing.
At the time, I didn’t know who it was or
what he was playing through—I just liked it.
So I spent many years on getting a sound
that was close to it. Eventually people told
me about Robben and Dumble.
In 2003, I had my first pedal, the Mosferatu.
I was able to get it into Robben’s hands,
but it had too much gain for him. I based
the Mosferatu on the track I had heard,
which had more gain than he usually uses.
Also, I responded to other people who
wanted more sustain and more gain. Like
Robben, I am the opposite: I want more
dynamics, more tone. So I went back to a
pedal I designed before the Mosferatu. I
sent it to him and the rest is history—that
became the Zendrive.
He put his stamp of approval on it?
We don’t have any endorsements. Musicians
use whatever works for them. There were
no strings. I was happy to send him one
because it was inspired by his sound.
Did you do any back and forth, with him
saying, “Could you add a little this or that?”
No. The first Zendrive had only three knobs
[Volume, Gain, Tone] because I was in such
a hurry to send it to him before he left for
Japan. I later sent him a four-knob version,
but he never said, “Change this or that.”
Was the fourth knob the Voice knob?
Yes. It adds or subtracts a little of the bottom end, and at the same time it affects
the gain. It makes the knobs interactive—if
you add more bottom, it will reduce the
gain, but you can turn it back up again with
the Gain knob. It is a way of tuning the
pedal to your amplifier.
What was the next pedal?
A friend asked, “Why haven’t you done a
tube version?” I am not a “me too” guy.
I only do something if it is going to bring
something different to the table. So I came
up with my own approach, and that was the
Zendrive 2 Tube Overdrive/Distortion.
Were you doing your speaker cabinets at
the same time?
It was after I did most of the pedals. I
was trained at NASA to make everything
compact—weight is a very big issue.
That’s why you don’t see a 4x12” in my
house. I wanted a speaker cabinet similar
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