An Interview with Steve Demedash

Sound Shoppe:

I noticed that Jordan from Pine Box Customs gives you credit on his site for partially designing “Crooked Teeth”. Would you mind talking about that?

 

Steve:

So there’s this dude in the UK named Vince Ives, just a normal guitarist and pedal enthusiast who I’m always joking around with back and forth on Instagram messenger. Not sure how we originally started talking, but anyway, a couple of years ago he started going on about his ideal tremolo pedal. Sort of a dual trem, with 2 independent tremolos in one that could maybe be synched up with a tap tempo footswitch, but otherwise could be set to run at different rates and depths using different waveforms. The idea being that you could run them in series and create polyrhythmic, overlapping patterns, or run them in dual-mono mode for a wacky stereo effect. He told me I should make this. I didn’t really intend to, but the idea stuck in the back of my head.
 

There’s also this Discord chat group that I’ve been part of since about 2017 or 2018, made up entirely of pedal builders. We do a Secret Santa every year, and the general guideline is that it should be something cool, preferably that you made yourself, but which isn’t necessarily part of your main catalogue (or, say, maybe a cool variant of something in your main catalogue). So what I’ve always done is use this gift exchange as an excuse to try to get a fun or weird idea working in a very short period of time in order to gift it. That year, Vince’s idea came to mind, and I came up with a very straightforward way to make it work, along with some cool extra features like some wild routing options that configure themselves automatically depending on which jacks have inputs/outputs plugged in at any given time. I managed to get it working after 2 attempts. I then promptly shelved the design as I’m already working on another trem that’s a bit more up my alley.

 

Anyhow, Jordan from Pine Box have been good friends since back when both of us were tiny little unknown companies. He is (or at least, at the time, he was) more comfortable with drive and gain design work. So when he brought up that he was wanting to make a trem but not really sure where to begin, I offered to sell him my dual trem thing for a very good price, with no licensing or strings attached or anything. I helped a bit with layout and getting some bugs worked out in the tremolo side, but besides that, I’ve had very little involvement. It sort of just switched hands, rather than being super collaborative.

Sound Shoppe:

This may lead into my next question. Who do you bounce ideas off of? Do you use this discourse group for just shooting ideas out?
 

Steve:

No, not really. I used to use Instagram for this, and that was fantastic, because you’d have all sorts of people from different experiential backgrounds hop into the comments and give their opinion. So I’d post a graphic idea and professional graphic designers would just give me suggestions. It was wild. I find that has become more difficult as my company has become more known within the general public eye though. As you become more known, your early fans and quote-unquote ‘ride or die’ group becomes outnumbered by people with a more passive interest. So when you post some wonky idea, those folksdon’t necessarily get that you’re throwing ideas out there. They just want to know when you’re releasing it. Which, you know, I don’t even know if I even will be if it’s something I just thought up. Bringing things to market is so much work and requires so much investment. You don’t do it casually hah. Which is all to say I still have random ideas and projects on the go all the time, but am very much less inclined to share and bounce these ideas off of the public.
 

But there are a couple of individuals I still bounce ideas off of now and then. John Snyder from Electric Audio Experiments, who I bounce ideas off of a lot. Like I said, my friend Vince in the UK. He’s not a pedal builder, but he's just a funny guy to talk to. Yeah, a small group of people.

 

Like I said, I used to kind of just throw ideas out there on Instagram. When the company started, I was just building shit in my spare time and selling it online. I was paying off student loans with my job, but I wanted to buy gear and I was like, okay, well maybe I'll just do a side hustle here and started the Instagram. Then I kind of built up. So I always treated Instagram as, “ I'm just posting things I'm working on” rather than this is my company I'm marketing, you know?

 

That became a bit problematic sometime last year when I started posting things, like T60. I'd be like, Hey, these are some graphics I'm working on for the T60. What do you think? And so many people started sending messages and commenting things like “When can I buy it??! When are you releasing it?” Which would have been cute and encouraging if it wasn’t such a heavy and sustained response.

 

It still happens from dealers. It’s not out yet and people still try to buy it. Which makes more sense now, since the design is finished and it’s listed on my website. But this was happening a year ago too. Like, I just got these graphics to a place I kinda like the overall aesthetic, and I don’t have a circuit I’m happy with. I wasn’t secretive about either of those things. But it’s like… dude, not only is there a huge manufacturing pipeline between now and then, there’s also all this unfinished design work that I refuse to rush. AND we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s interfering with global supply chains. I don’t understand how you can expect me to give you a release date right now. It’s literally just an idea at this stage. So I just pulled back from sharing idea I hadn’t finished or didn’t know if I’d be interested in bringing to market or not.

 

Sound Shoppe:

I mean I do see it, literally I see it on Instagram all over. I saw you posted one the other day. Someone was like, "oh, when are they available?"
 

Steve:

Yeah.
 

Sound Shoppe:

In the post, I saw the pedals are out by the tree.
 

Steve:

Oh no, that was like yesterday, the day before. Yeah. That was about a year ago that happened and so the past year I've really pulled back from Instagram. I still try to post like once a week, but I don't know. I think that's maybe not the best move on my part. So I'm going to try to start posting more and then just try to live with it, having to explain to people that there’s a manufacturing process. It's decent marketing to connect with people and I need to be better at marketing. So yeah. I'm an introvert with some reclusive tendencies by nature. So I don't really mind putting things out there now and then and getting feedback on it. But when people are like “When can I get it? When can I get it? I love your stuff”. I mean, that's nice and everything, but it's not ready and honestly it’s just exhausting to explain manufacturing bottlenecks, the design process, and the difficulty and expense involved with bringing any new thing to market to every single person who asks. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the enthusiasm. But I don’t have assistants. Every person who I need to individually explain how things work to takes time away from me doing things that might make releases go faster.

Sound Shoppe:

Okay. This is my favorite question. This is the one I started with. I remember once you told me you were having trouble with your pedal printer. This fascinated me. Of course pedals have printers. It just never occurred to me.Recently, a builder remarked that he loved his new laser cutter. Now all of his drill holes were precise. Could you tell me about the pedal printer and any other cool equipment, a person like yourself might need to accomplish what you do.

 

Steve:

Sure. I don't have a pedal printer myself. They're like $35,000, and that's not even covering ink, up-keep and maintenance. It’s the kind of thing you’d get a business loan to buy, and then you’d pay that back by taking on printing jobs for other companies. I don't have the time or the space to do that. I love doing everything in house, but there is a certain point at which you cannot both do everything yourself AND meet demand.

 

So the pedal printer, I've used a couple in the past. I started using Mammoth originally. They closed down in 2019. I used F5 Metal Works for a long time, and lately I've been using Disaster Area.

 

Sound Shoppe:

So when you said that you were having trouble with your printer, you meant that you were having problems with the company?
 

Steve:

Okay. Yeah. No, not the printer itself. The company with the physical printers often have trouble with them, and it seems to happen whenever I’ve placed an order. Not every time, but it’s almost funny how frequently it happens and slows things down. I order fairly well in advance so it rarely causes real issues, but it’s still a headache at times. So things basically always take a really long time to get. And this is also why I never announce release dates for products until I have everything needed to assemble them in my house. I can't predict other people's wait times. So usually I have to plan at least two months in advance if I want something printed.
 

Sound Shoppe:

So it dries nearly instantly, right?
 

Steve:

Right. Yeah. I mean I've never seen the process in action so I could be totally wrong about that. But yeah, that's what I assume happens. It's interesting. Like every time I try a new design, it's like learning something new. I've got this, the T 60 here. And I don't know if you can see it but there's a grid on the black. It's very faint. You can see it better on the computer graphic. I have it on my website, but it took like about three or four tries. I was sending in proofs to get the grid right. ‘Cause on a black surface they have to put white underneath the color so it shows up.
 

So with the grid, there's no way it's going to perfectly line up. You're going to put the white down and then if you do another shoot, you're not going to get the grid perfectly lined up. The lines are just too thin. So they had to figure out the black and white content and just do it all in one shot. And it took a few tries before I was happy with the grid, like how bright it was. I don't have them here, but I can show you some of the other ones that I got. It was just way too bright or way too Dark.

 

Sound Shoppe:

Absolutely. I understand. Is there something that you've had your eye on equipment wise that you might like to make your life easier that you just want to utilize?
 

Steve:

There's things I know I would like that I don't know if they exist, so that's different

So I've been working on an analog chorus, so I don't know if you're familiar with how analog choruses work?

 

Sound Shoppe:

Not particularly. I mean, I get the modulated signal. Take two modulated signals compared to one another. One’s on a delay?
 

Steve:

Yeah. You're modulating one signal and then overlay it with your original. Well, a bucket brigade device, like an analog delay line is something that's like, things going in and you're just sampling charges, the level of charge at any given time, you know, at even points, do your sampling, where the voltage level is. And then you clock it through this delay line and then output it. You get it reconstructed. It's the same waveform coming out the other side, but delayed. And so you need to generate that clock, which is just up, down, up, down, up, down. Just a voltage. It's called a clock, but it's just, a very fast squarewave. And the speed of the up and down, you know, every time it goes up the charges advance by one in that delay line.
 

So to modulate that you just modulate the speed of how fast or how stretched out or compressed the pulses are. So like in a fascial pulses, the quicker the things go through the delay line. The slower they are, they take longer to go through. And so you bend the pitch by stretching and compressing that wave. You know, so the samples come out slower then faster, slower then faster. So you get a Doppler effect. So I'm using a microcontroller to generate the wave form that modulates the clock speed. So anything that you can select the waveform on, that's also like an analog kind of chorus or something. That's exactly what's happening. Even like a tremolo pedal, that's the same thing. There’s a microcontroller in it that’s generating the waveform.

 

And it's manipulating in some way. You know, it's outputting a way form, that's modulating something. So with anything like an analog delay line you're modulating the clock, so you're just controlling how fast it's going up and down. But there's a weird issue around this, if the voltage level you're putting into that clock is too high, it sort of red lines. It's not going to actually increase the clock speed anymore. Same with going down. So there are limits. Your waveform can kind of distort. The pitch swing doesn't necessarily reflect what you're putting in. And so what I want is something where I can measure, like, show me the frequency, like graph against time so I can actually see frequency, you know, cause with my oscilloscope, I can see the waveform. I can see it stretching and compressing. But what I can't mentally see, is that a perfect triangle or is that like…?

 

So I wanted to compute the frequency and graph that over time. And then I want to be able to overlay the waveform I'm inputting and do the voltage over time, and then compare and see like, you know, figure out what the parameters are. I need to get it to match. It's like I was able to do it by ear on this thing, but it would have saved me a lot of time if I was able to do that. And I'd like to be able to do that in the future. So in a different clock circuit I’m going to need to do this whole thing again. like if I ever want to do a flanger or something, so yeah. Okay. Yeah.

 

Sound Shoppe:

It doesn't appear that either COVID or the microchip shortage has really slowed you down. Am I wrong? If I am correct, what do you attribute that to?
 

Steve:

Well, it totally re-shaped how I had to operate my business. I used to use a waiting list system. And while it was absolutely brutal to maintain, it worked. Then, as soon as COVID hit, I’d reach out to folks at the top of the list and all I’d hear back was “Look, I’d love a pedal but I don’t know if I’m going to have a job or a place to live next month so I really can’t spend that money”. So it very quickly became obvious that the waiting list system was not going to work anymore. So I started doing batch drops on Reverb instead. That way, people who were in a position to purchase would be able to, and it wouldn’t require tons of correspondence labour on anyone’s behalf (which was a huge issue for me with the waiting list system, amongst a half dozen others that I won’t get into right now). But the batch drops were very much a better system on my end, as they cut the amount of work I had to do significantly, while increasing my output capacity and giving me far more time to work on new designs.
 

As for the microchips shortage.. I think that has more to do with specialized microchips chips for cars and shit, not really what microchips I'm using. But shipping has definitely slowed down. Things take forever. I mean I submitted all the design files for manufacturing the T-60 PCBs in early April and it’s now nearly August and I still don't know when I'm going to get them. I wanted to release this like in July, but it's not gonna happen.

 

Sound Shoppe:

I know you use the PT2399. I just assumed because it's a chip, that might be a problem.
 

Steve:

Yeah, no, I haven't had an issue with those. No, I'm not really sure because it hasn't impacted me. I haven't really looked into it much. I think it's more modern chips. A PT2399, it's a karaoke chip meant for karaoke machines in the night. It's not a thing in mass production that everybody's using. So I think demand on it is much lighter, so it's not as much of an issue.I did hear about somebody having issues, sourcing them, but I haven't had that issue.
Steve Demedash of Demedash Effects

 

Sound Shoppe:

How does competition with other manufacturers affect you?
 

Steve:

I guess for most Indie manufacturers, There's not really any competition between us.
 

Sound Shoppe:

It sounds like you're all friends, but you are a business and technically you're in business. I mean, it could be a positive effect. You may look at somebody else's sales and be like, “Oh, I look up to him. I want to meet that benchmark or followers on Instagram. “ Does it affect you in any way? Do you feel good if you hit that number?
 

Steve:

No, I wouldn't say so. It doesn't really matter to me. I mean, yeah, if I got like 3000 followers out of nowhere, that's cool. But I will say there's different levels of manufacturing. “Boutique” in the classical sense: there's the one artist, or auteur, who runs a shop that makes specialty, luxury goods. It might be clothing, purses, shoes, pedals, whatever. The shop is there to make the artist’s creations available for public consumption not by the masses, but by a small number of people who appreciate the craftsmanship and don’t mind paying a bit more for that kind of thing.
 

“Boutique” in the more modern sense is a type of marketing, applied to shoes and shit. It means doing “limited edition” versions of the same things in different prints or colors. That's what JHS and Earthquaker and walrus are, they're not ``boutique” in the classical sense. They’re marketing. they're big. They're not in it for the love. And of course the classically boutique companies can participate in this sort of marketing too. I certainly do now and then. It’s not black and white a lot of the time.

 

But those bigger quote-unquote “boutique” outfits, they've got business people running it these days. you know, you get to a certain size. That's what happens. You can pretend you're a small business, but when you've got a certain number of employees, you're no longer a small business, maybe in the government’s eyes you are but...

 

Sound Shoppe:

Yeah. And then there's the essential employees, an non- essential employees. There’s definitely a gray area.
 

Steve:

Yeah, I mean, and I get that for like things, but it's for the people that are making stuff. There's a line between making it because you’re passionate about design and trying to make cool new things and getting up every day to meet production and sales goals.

I do it as kind of like my creative outlet. And yeah, it does make me money. And that's great, but I'm not motivated by money. I'm motivated by wanting to make interesting things.

So I would say businesses run by people who want to make money are the kind of people that you look at like, “ I hope they don't tread into my territory” because that would be competition. ‘Cause they're always trying to get things to people for the cheapest so they can make the most overall, you know, they have more manufacturing capacity. ‘Cause they're all about, you know, making sales. So somebody like that starts making something that's too close to your, your product that's competition. But somebody else who's doing it for the love of doing it. That's not competition.

 

Sound Shoppe:

Thank you for that. I like that. Let's see. I think it's worth mentioning that you alone are the only authorized dealer of Demedash Effects on Reverb. products sell quickly. How long does it take to sell out stuff on Reverb?
 

Steve:

Oh God. Who knows? It’s different. It's different depending on what… Sometimes I put stuff up and don't tell anybody and just let it sit there. Cause you know what happens? I got a comment on a drop sale. It was “Oh, you shouldn't announce it. So people have a chance to get it”. And I was like, so you think I should not try to sell this shit I just invested a bunch of money in making. That doesn’t make any sense. But the funny thing is that I do do that, I do. Not big drops but I do that. But that guy didn't notice! He never noticed it when I did it any time prior to him asking me not to announce that things were for sale. So it's like, well then what the fuck do you want from me? Like, do you want me to direct message you specifically? Because that's not why I started this business, to cater to you specifically. You can't win with people, but you know, it depends on what it is. Sometimes things go really fast. Sometimes things go fast at first then trickle a bit and then sell out. It depends on how much I put up and probably where people's finances are, amongst other things.
 

Sound Shoppe:

This doesn't have to be about pedals, but what do you wish you could do better?
 

Steve:

playing violin I guess?
 

Sound Shoppe:

Do you play violin?
 

Steve:

I did for like two years in university, I picked it up and I could play fiddle and I played fiddle in a folk band for a while. And then I stopped practicing ‘cause university got hard and I stopped being able to find the notes and I gave up.
 

Sound Shoppe:

You'll have to explain to me, what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
 

Steve:

People play it in different styles. Violin is like, if you're playing a classical instrument, it’s violin. If you're kind of like, just going at her and kind of like playing licks or maybe like doing a chomp kind of thing, those people call it a fiddle. What else? Probably marketing. Marketing, I could do that better. I've been lucky in that. My stuff looks nice, so other people take pictures of it and post, so people do marketing for me, which is great because I'm not great at it.
 

Sound Shoppe:

Your products are not only pretty but you have the most beautiful packaging.
 

Steve:

I think the packaging is kind of like, dress for the job you want. Always try to look better, you know. I spend quite a bit on like, you know what I put into that.
 

Sound Shoppe:

I think people appreciate it.
 

Steve:

Oh yeah, for sure. You know the way I think of it is, so like maybe you spend a lot on this pedal, you know, it’s not cheap. And then you're like, aw, that was an impulse buy. Maybe for the week it's shipping or whatever, the few days go by and you start regretting it. But as soon as you get the box and you open it, good packaging reassures you that you made the right decision. I guess it's like, okay, I appreciate this.
 

Sound Shoppe:

I appreciate it. Thank you Steve. I’m going to write all this up

Thank you again for your time.

Steve Demedash

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