In Peterborough, Ontario there is a place where electronics, art and design come together to create something greater than their parts. A place where one lone individual effortlessly reconnects with the sounds and tones of the 60’s and 70’s while engaging with the future. A studio were old, dying pedals find new life and where fresh concepts come alive. This place is Tribute Audio Designs and that individual is Jeremy Spencley.
Pedal Finder was able to convince Jeremy to peel away an hour from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his passion, his business and the local music scene.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you start designing/building pedals and when did you decide to start selling them to other people?
I started building pedals sometime in mid 2009. I really wanted a vintage Univibe, but found the cost to be prohibitive. Quite by accident, I found the website, www.geofex.com and started reading articles by the great RG Keen. I found an article on an effect called the EZ Vibe by John Hollis. The schematic seemed to be within my understanding (my day job is in a technical field working for a Fortune 10 Company) – so I decided to order some parts and try it out. Lucky for me, the pedal fired up the first time and from there I knew I was hooked. The internet is a trove of information on classic pedal designs, so after building several others for myself and friends, I had my first request for a “paid commission”. When more and more request started coming in from acquaintances, it seemed natural to put together a simple website and open up the possibility to outside sales.
Is there a story behind the name Tribute Audio Design?
When starting off, I wanted a name that captured the essence of what I do, without limiting the future possibilities of expanding my offerings. My core products are basically classic pedal designs that I add circuit improvements or tweaks on to add reliability and to suit the needs of modern musicians. My pedals are usually not exact copies…but rather “tributes” to the original. In the future, I would like to expand my offerings to amplifiers, and other items musicians crave.
What does a visitor see when they come to your shop? Do you work with others or is every pedal a solo mission?
At the moment, this is a one man (me) show. Given the demand I have experienced with little advertising or exposure, I will be leaving my “day job” in July to expand the operation. My goal is to expand into a small but mighty outfit with 5-10 employees – all dedicated to making the customer experience a great one.
You mention on your website that your effects are inspired by the designs of the 60’s and 70’s. What, to you, makes those designs and sounds so unique and sought after?
The majority of the music I listen to, and grew up with either came from that era, or was inspired by that era. The pioneers like Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Beck, Santana, Richards, Iommi, etc. came up with what is the foundation of rock guitar tone. The limitation of the equipment actually helped to create the iconic tones. Although I will never have the hands of these great musicians, I can certainly try to cop their tones by using similar equipment. Additionally, I find that as a songwriter, whenever I need some fresh inspiration, it can come by way of a new guitar tone, amp or pedal. Something to change your reference point and push you in a new direction. To me, there is no better feeling than plugging in a new and different pedal, and seeing what inspiration it can create.
Tribute Audio Designs is located in Peterborough, ON Canada. Are there any local bands in your area that you think others should know about?
Absolutely! Peterborough is a hotbed of musical talent. There are so many I am sure I will miss some. Right now my favorite acts are coming from a local record label called Seventh Fire Records which is run by James McKenty of the Spades. Some of my faves include Express and Co, Mellissa Payne, The Weber Brothers, and Dave Tough. Other acts from Peterborough to watch out for are Roboteyes, Al Black and the Steady Band, Rick Fines, Colt Harley, Andrew Shedden, and Wyatt Burton. Another guy you may have heard of is Adam Gontier from the band Three Days Grace. Adam is currently recording his first solo album, and my good friend Tommy is playing bass for him. Tommy is a big user of Tribute Audio Designs pedals.
Is there a pedal tone that you’ve been chasing and just haven’t captured yet?
I am always chasing a great delay/echo. I have built lots, and they are all good – but it is something that there are so many different flavours of! And then one has to decide on what features to build in….tap temp, subdivisions, tails/no tails…..AHHHH! My research continues.
You obviously have a firm grasp on pedal electronics, but even you had a first time putting solder to circuit board. Any advice for people who might be cracking open their first pedal for repair, or might be embarking on a new design?
Read a lot, and practice on test pieces before tackling the real thing. It is a skill, same as anything, and practice helps a lot. The good news is there are a lot of resources on the net and YouTube to help jump start your knowledge. Also – check out my website, as I will be publishing repair logs into my blog. This may help give some ideas on how to repair your pedals, and troubleshoot common issues. (Like this one he did on a Malekko Omnicron Fuzz)
What sets your pedals apart from other builders out there? Do you feel like your pedals are filling in a gap for something that was missing in the industry?
Firstly, there are a lot of great pedal builders around today. In most cases it is not a matter of being “better” per se, but rather offering a “flavor” that others may not. I think one of the big issues in Canada is the availability of boutique style pedals, and awareness of what is possible. In Canada for instance, something like a Fuzz Face with the perfect gain selected germanium transistor is simply not that common. It is not likely you would be able to walk into a local music store and find something like this on the shelf. I can fill that void. Also, for many musicians, once you get to a certain level of playing you realize you may be looking for something more than what, say, BOSS or Ibanez have to offer in terms of pedals. You may really like a Tubescreamer – but really wish you could add more gain and bass to make the sound work specifically with your rig. The idea of customization becomes a really big deal, both with sound and with the pedal art. Who doesn’t want something that is unique to them right?
With that in mind, do you take custom orders?
I do – both in terms of pedal design (type) and Artwork. People should not be afraid to ask if they don’t see what they want on my web site. If we can physically build it – there is nothing I won’t do to try and make someone’s idea for a pedal come to life.
What’s coming up in the future for Tribute Audio Designs?
Look for some major ramping up in the summer of 2014 as I will be expanding the operation at that time. I have some exciting new projects I am working on – taking the common threads from my custom orders and “standardizing” on them to offer to everyone. The one I am working on right now is basically a tube screamer from hell! The basic idea is that the pedal will be my Classy Lady overdrive, with many switchable mods to expand the tonal possibilities. Even though the TS is a tried and true design – by adding the mods in a switchable format, there is no end to the new life that can be had from this wonderful unit!
So there you have it folks. 2014 sounds like it’s going to be a big year for Jeremy and Tribute Audio Designs. We wish him all the best and hope you’ll check out his site and check out his pedals! And, if you already own some of his pedals, stop by the Tribute Audio Designs page at Pedal Finder and leave a review!