When it comes to modern guitar effect pedals, and music gear in general, there are quite a lot of companies out making it. Some companies are large, and some are small. Some suck, some are great. We all know how it goes.
To the end user, aka the music gear consumer, there are advantages to dealing with both big and small companies, as well as cons.
On one hand, large companies are trusted and have years of experience doing what they do, and can back up any of their products (usually) with guarantees and warranties that protect the musicians buying them from lightning storms, jam hall fires, irresponsible siblings getting their slimy mitts on your pedal board, etc.
These big, established companies that have household names make pedals that are the go-to gear of working musicians, and the cycle of rock continues.
On the other hand, you have companies that run a slightly smaller, tighter ship, but have more creative freedom, and are able to experiment.
They also have the ability to keep a meticulous eye on everything that goes on, and their customer service has the potential to be a lot better, as they can offer things the big companies can’t, and come up with technology that is mind-blowingly inventive.
A company of this sort that is small but spunky would be T-Rex Engineering, a company out of Denmark who manufacturers a number of guitar pedals, including distortion/overdrive, tremolo, looper, delay, reverb, octaver, wah, and more.
They also make power supplies, boards, bags, cables, brackets, and tape cartridges.
Basically, TRex makes a lot of what your average musician will need to get through the next show, plus a bunch of stuff that a lot of musicians wouldn’t mind getting for their birthdays if only their friends, family, and loved ones knew a thing or two about cool music gear.
Lars and Sebastian, childhood friends who both have a passion for music, and who founded the company back in 1996, always make sure the components with which they use to make their pedals and gear is of the utmost quality. They have a small but dedicated team who work together to keep on top of things.
Being music gear nerds here at YTMS, and fans of boutique guitar pedals and crazy/cool effects, we managed to set up a little Q&A with TRex, with the hopes to get a better idea how their business works, and also so we can learn more about their pedals, which we are big fans of!
You gotta figure, if their stuff is good enough for the likes of Steve Lukather (Toto), Marc Tremonti (Alter Bridge), Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Carl Verheyen (Supertramp), Patrick Matera (Katy Perry) and Luke Potashnik (Katie Melua), they must have their shit together.
And in the following chat, we find out exactly how TRex goes about things! Enjoy!
Can you, in a nutshell, describe what TRex Engineering does?
We design and manufacture effects, amps, power supplies and accessories for guitar players, as well as other musicians that need useable tools for real-world applications.
What inspired you to get into the effects pedals business?
Lars (founder) is an electronics guy and for his graduation project, he made a switching system for pedals, so they could be turned on and off in presets. Sebastian (childhood friend, founder) did the digital part, since he was also graduating in electronics, although back then, you did either analog or digital.
They had both between the two of them, so it worked quite well.
A few players saw it and wanted to buy it, so the guys started a small production.
So really, it was as simple as a “good idea” that people bought into, which is still very much the philosophy around here – ask and listen to the players and see if you can come up with stuff that they feel is useful, not just impressive or “en vogue”.
How was the guitar effects pedal world different back when you guys started in 1996?
First of all, there weren’t that many competitors (or should I say colleagues?). The boutique thing was just happening and things were still pretty old school regarding the setups/rigs.
Nowadays, programmers can make the planet rotate the other way using a chip that costs 0.02USD, it seems.
In many ways, the pedal world hasn’t changed one bit since Hendrix tracked “Hey Joe”, because there seems to be an incredible interest in “classic” effects and sounds, but at the same time, we embrace new technology like there’s no tomorrow.
The requests we get are sometimes physically impossible to meet, but I get why the question is asked because from the outside world, it certainly looks like anything’s possible.
One guy wanted a pedal that could detect what key the band was playing in, so that he could pick the right harmonica for the song – I don´t want to put the guy down at all, but a book on music theory is 5 bucks and needs no power.
In short, we are all a lot closer to each other now and manufacturers must listen harder and react faster on the market demands.
What are some of your top sellers these days…and why?
The Soulmate Acoustic and our tape echos are doing pretty well right now. I guess they serve a purpose that players can relate to.
With the ASM, it sort of takes out all the guesswork of playing live with an acoustic, because everything is there – effects, signal conditioning, pre-amplification, D.I. box, etc.
The tape echo units seem to be “fun” and offer something completely different to what else is out there, good AND bad. But most customers like them for the exact same reasons.
Shoot, who doesn’t like to press a switch and watch stuff turn, roll, slide and blink? And then it also puts out sound!!
We all connect to our inner 3-year old child when we see such a thing, which I think complements the precise, predictive and controlled nature of a modern DSP-based effect.
These speak to the grown-up part of our brain and provides safety in use, but they are not as lively or random.
I think music that has some irregularities in it speaks a bit louder than something that’s maybe slightly too polished, and I guess that’s why there’s room for a tape echo on the market, also.
You’re obviously into more than just pedals. For those who don’t know, what other stuff do you make?
We make some power bricks called FuelTanks, that share a common topology but differ in size, total power and in the various options for powering pedals.
We also make ToneTrunk pedalboards, which are also available in various sizes.
These differ from the competition by being two-tiered, so you get to turn on a pedal in the back row without hitting knobs or switches on the goodies in the front row.
I know you take pride in your components. From where do you source the materials?
It depends. Where “standard” stuff gets the job done, we use it.
If a certain design calls for some special component, we try to track one down that might fit the purpose or simply have them made according to our specs.
So the philosophy is that the customer should only pay extra if extra is needed.
We have several custom made parts in our products – some are from Danish manufacturers, others from the US or Asia. It all depends on who can make it for us.
We source mechanical parts for the tape echo locally (because of high tolerance), we make custom knobs right at our factory in China, and our custom made transformers and coils come from our transformer supplier in Denmark.
What’s the main factor in making a more durable pedal?
Obviously, the parts have to be connected tightly and the parts that see the most stress should be up to the task.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much more to do for mankind here – do we really need a design that can be run over by a truck and still work? I mean, who plays gigs involving running their equipment over by trucks? (I’d love to go see this band, though).
Basically, it’s about sticking to the laws of physics. Making sure that the parts stay connected during use.
As for the components, humans don’t even know how long, say, a resistor will last, because they haven’t been around long enough for us to even know.
Some drift or fail, but as a component “species”, they work forever (so far) as long as they don’t run too hot. So staying cool is always preferred.
And then you test, to try and catch the “lemons”.
Maybe if we all stopped kicking those poor circuits they would last longer?
Pedals are about the only piece of delicate electronics that are purposely made to be stomped on all the time. Food for thought.
Is there one type of pedal you feel that you specialize in?
I don’t think we necessarily excel at a certain type of effect, but I do believe we have gotten pretty good at finding the sweet spot between “one trick pony” and “it can also make you a smashing café au lait and take your kids to school”.
Musicians can’t always manage 200 choices at a gig/rehearsal when they feel something ain’t quite right, but a few choice options are quite valuable because you wanna get the music going, not fiddle around for hours on end.
But for a certain effect TYPE, I don’t know. Delay? We’ve had good success with the Replica.
What do you think is your dirtiest pedal of all?
Easy: Michael’s Mudhoney. Or his Soulmate. Both have seen numerous stages and, being Michael’s, it shows. Not even a chisel helps. It’s like a superman mix of beer and epoxy glue.
Even Mike doesn’t know how he did it…
Seriously, I would pick the original Mudhoney. Not in terms of gain levels but in terms of “sound”.
What do you consider to be your niftiest pedal? The one that strikes you as being most ingenious?
That would probably be the tape echos.
We sort of made them because we couldn’t help ourselves, but I think we managed to incorporate some not-seen-before features, making them not only a fresher version of some long forgotten technology but also something that peeked into the new millennium.
Then there was the Spindoctor, which had motorized pots for preset storage of settings. That was pretty “nifty”.
How has Danish music in general influenced your approach to making guitar pedals?
The Danish music scene has changed a lot, too, since T-Rex started out. I guess it’s not that much different from the rest of the western world.
We can’t ignore the power of “computer music” or the change in gear requirements – it´s been ages since I’ve seen a 4×12 stack in a club, for example.
But that fuels the creativity at the same time, because there´s a need for new gear.
And we’re not about to do another TS clone, so for us, it’s cool.
How often do you sell out of certain products?
It’s actually a situation that one tries to avoid, because it means you can’t send out products to your distribution chain.
But it has happened many times, mostly because we misplaced our crystal ball that we used to keep track of future orders.
It’s like buying beer kegs for your backyard party – if you don’t know who’ll show up and how much beer they can drink, how will you know how many kegs you need? And again, you definitely don’t wanna run out before midnight.
What do you think are the advantages of being a relatively smaller company in this day and age of mass production?
It’s easier to change a few little things here and there, design-wise or work-wise in the process and the very same developers that created the products are also somewhat involved in the sales/marketing side of things, which creates the glue that holds it all together.
Also, people would be surprised how many hats we all wear here.
We have to, being this small. It makes coming to work a lot more fun, because you can be an R&D guy one day, and a warehouse guy the next.
And this creates a mutual understanding of the whole organization, which I believe is a positive thing.
What do you think keeps certain artists like Martin Gore, Steve Lukather, and Carl Verheyen coming back to T-Rex Effects?
The coffee. It’s shit, but we have loads of it!
No, first of all I think the artist relationships we have ARE based on relationship rather than actual gear.
It’s not like those guys have their cases stuffed with T-Rex gear front to back, but they (and their techs) are always up for checking out our stuff and hear what we’ve got cooking.
And then we show up at shows and give them some support through our channels.
I have to give serious credit to my colleague Michael who is our A&R guy, because I think he manages to keep things on a “friend” level, and I think that is the main reason why guys like those you mention stick around. It’s all very down to earth.
Sure, they play bigger stages than the average guy, but the common interest in the biz, gear or life in general prevails.
And they are just so nice, friendly and helpful on all levels, and that´s the kind of people you want close by, right?
I hope that´s not too far from the truth.
Thanks for the chat!