Create your own pedal company: good or bad idea?

If you already have made a few pedals yourself, you surely have thought about selling them or at least build some of them for other people. Create your own guitar pedal brand seems like a good idea on paper, however there are many pitfalls.... Lets talk about it!

Disclaimer: I make effects myself, and this post is not intended to "kill competitors" (with my 30 pedals a year...)! On the contrary, I think it is way better to be transparent and to talk about it: this is only my opinion, and feel free to express yours in the comments section :)

It is a complex matter that is not always easy to discuss peacefully because of money, and there are many different opinions on the subject. It is also the source of really long yet exciting threads on DIY forums (check this one!). The simplest option for me is to discuss it from my point of view as a builder. Thus, I will talk about Coda Effects, and well, just once will not hurt, about me, and give you some tips if you want to jump in it!

Early 2013, I started to show interest in guitar pedal building: after opening a Fuzz Face, I was quite astonished by the simplicity of the circuit (there is almost nothing in there!), and I realized that building guitar effects might be simpler that I thought.

Fuzz Face inside



I quickly discovered a parallel universe full of people passionate about building guitar effects, and sharing a lot of  information and tools for other peoples: guitarfxlayouts, madbeanpedals, diystompboxes...etc. I decided to be part of this community by creating a blog about the effects I build and sharing my (little) knowledge about DIY guitar pedals.

I made my first pedals, with the classical issues that go with it: no sound at all, lots of noise, not very good sounding...etc. And finally, my LPB1 worked out :)  What a great feeling when you plug and play your first guitar effect!

I started this website a bit later, at the beginning of 2014, with the idea of sharing advice and my builds. I created my own brand to have a bit more visibility, and maybe create a small community around it... Coda Effects was born!

As I made pedals, I gradually started selling my finest builds: it allowed me to continue my passion without investing too much money in it, and try riskier and more complex projects. Questions started to appear: how much should I sell my pedals? Which pedals should I sell? Is it really ethical to sell clones? How? A lot of questions which I will try to answer, with a classic "Dos and don'ts"



Dos

Take your time before selling anything
Electronics cannot be learned in one day, there are a lot of fairly complex concepts to master before creating your own circuits. At first, we usually make a lot of clones: it is a good way to learn a lot, and sell some pedals a bit cheaper than commercial equivalents. However, pay attention to the ethical aspects, check whose pedal you are cloning (is it a big company? A small builder?), and most of all keep it at a reasonable scale. Moreover, when beginning building, we tend to make small mistakes in spite of us. No rush then!

Be ethical and transparent
Today, the guitar pedal word is completely saturated by thousands of builders offering mostly the same thing, and trying to sell it with a not-always-so-honest marketing approach... Thus, there are so many "mojo", "tube-like" overdrives, which are most of the times Tubescreamer, that we cannot even count them! A transparent, honest approach is really refreshing for everyone I think, and I am very pleased to discover more and more brands with "nothing to hide", showing their circuits and strengths: vintage NOS components wired on turret boards, new technologies using digital chips, or even extreme customization with a one by one assembly system!

Create your website!
A website, an Instagram account or even a Facebook page can be a very good way to create a showcase of your work and to meet people passionate and motivated about your work. With coda-effects.com, I met a lot of different people, from the professional musician touring the world, the pedal geek with an overcrowded pedalboard or the effect collector with a lot of vintage stompboxes (like an original Maestro Fuzz!). Today, creating a website is easier than ever, so do not hesitate to make one!

Do it as a hobby
I think that it is very, very difficult to make a living from building guitar effects: margins are low, there are many competitors, it is a saturated market with hype trends that are difficult to control. The only way is to commercialize your effects on a big scale (difficult when you start, and risky), or to purpose very innovative products answering unfulfilled needs of guitarists (difficult without a deep knowledge in analog and digital electronics). However, it is completely possible to keep it as a side hobby that is completely self-financing! By selling a few effects, you can buy things to make more or them, and enjoy your hobby without spending any penny :)


Don'ts

Sell off your work
Create your own effects is very easy today, and this is a good thing! However, do not underestimate the work you do when making effects. There are many builders out there selling their work and time for almost nothing. A pedal takes times to make, you have to consider the labour force used to make it in the price. Same goes with the time you spent tweaking and designing the circuit!

Sell your "not-so-good" pedals
I have one simple rule that I use to decide whether I can sell a pedal or not: could I have it on my pedalboard? If I say "yes", then it is OK to sell it. Ask yourself: can I use it on my rig? Is it looking nice, is it easy and fun to use? Does it sound good? Is it reliable? It allow you to take a step back and judge if you pedal is salable or not.
Never, never, never sell a "borderline" pedal, with some little issues without saying it very clearly to your customers. It is very bad ethically speaking, and it creates huge trust issues with your customers!

Neglect the visual aspect of your pedals
Bare aluminum enclosures can be good to test your pedal quickly, or for your own use, but if you intend to sell a pedal, I think it is not always a good idea... It does not reflect the quality of your work inside the enclosure: why should people think that you spent a lot of time on building really nice electronics if you cannot take 2 minutes to make a nice looking pedal? Polishing an aluminum enclosure is easy, takes 15 minutes max and looks really better than the bare enclosure. There are many prepainted enclosures that have a very professional look with powder coating. Finally, with decals, or etching, you can give your pedal a nice personal look, in a very professional way!

Only make clones
Making clones is a really important part of the learning process, you always start with easy, well known circuits like a LPB1, Fuzz Face... Today, almost every pedal is cloneable (and is already cloned by manufacturers). If you only clone without trying and experimenting new stuff, there are great chances that you will not learn as much in electronics as you would when tweaking your effects: by replacing components values, you will learn more than by reading any book in the world! Moreover, you can create that way your own custom effects with the sound that you like!


To conclude: creating Coda Effects did not enrich me in a money point of view, however I really learned a lot! I discussed with amazing people, from the touring musician to the vintage stompboxes collector, I discovered new areas that were completely new for me as a biologist: advanced analog electronics, digital electronics, PCB development but also managing a website, English writing... For all these reasons, I really advise you to create your brand and website if you are into DIY effects and remember: the more you give, the more you get!

What is your opinion about building for others? Post a comment!
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11 Comment
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This is all really good advice. I've been tossing around the Idea and have come to much of the same conclusions. Good read thanks man.

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This is all really good advice. I've been tossing around the Idea and have come to much of the same conclusions. Good read thanks man.

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Thank you! Glad to see that I am not the only one to think that way

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Great Advise my Brother. Glad to have met you and thanks for the PCB board. I havent started it yet, but want to use quality components. Taking my sweet arse time. lolol
Talk soon my brother.
Jer

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Your advice should be tattooed to the inside of every builder's eyelids. :)

Your site, this article especially, has been invaluable to me. Thank you.

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Thank you very much for these advises! It's exactly what I was looking for :) I'm glad that I found it.

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Thank you! Happy to see that my posts are useful to many builders :)

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Thank you for your amazing website and for your wonderful work!

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JHS seems to do pretty well just cloning others’ circuits...
And they are also a pariah amonst most folks who can read a schematic.

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