Xotic Effects USA Interview (from Japanese 'Overdrive Book')

"The pedal becomes part of the amp"---that is the basic concept.

It is not about adding the "effect". It should be about "transparent sound".
Pedals are supposed to gently support the guitar and the amp, which essentially are the core of the sound.

Interview & report by Junya Shimofusa.

It doesn't paint the guitar's sound into a completely different color but it will tailor the original sound just with a subtle adjustment. You wouldn't get a dramatic effect out of this pedal but once you realize its charm, it will become something you wouldn't be able to do without. That is how I would describe a Booster.
For those that base their sound on the amplifier, the quality of the amplifier is your lifeline. You want to stay true to the original sound but you don't necessary want the harsh side of the sound to be amplified.
You want to feel more drive but you don't want to add any odd characteristics.
Xotic's Booster series has become popular as the solution to all those severe needs. Xotic brand products are receiving extremely high remarks from those who pursue the ultimate quality in sound. What is the secret in these products?

Product development striving for "clear sound" and not processed sound.

Xotic was already quite known as a bass builder and in recent years, you started manufacturing effect pedals. What got you started with the effects?
Xotic effects ("XE"): Actually, we had already introduced effect products like Robotalk and Tri-logic Bass Preamp. Our team of developers was established in order to answer to the needs of LA's local professional guitarists

So AC-Booster was introduced as the answer to those needs. What was the concept behind the development of this model?
XE: At the time, overdrives were literally used to add the obvious "effect" to the sound. We wanted something more pure€ we wanted to pursue "transparent sound". Idea was to not to interfere with the characteristics of the guitar and amp, which are essentially the core of the sound. We wanted to give it a supporting role.

"Transparent sound"... I think I understand what you mean. I can see the same concept in the later released RC-Booster as well.
XE: We were very fortunate that AC series received such a great response. It allowed us to connect to lot of musicians. There after, we received requests for cleaner booster and those requests lead to the birth of our RC series.

But RC series is not just about boosting the signal?
XE: It's similar to the sound structuring of early Jeff Beck or Eric Johnson. They used to bring the tone on the guitars down and the treble on the amplifiers up. This thickens the sound. RC Booster was designed under the same concept to dial in the sound and function as a bridge between the guitar and the amp.

I understand that the control of the mid frequency is the key point in developing overdrive pedal. Was this especially true in deciding the sound for the AC Booster?
XE: That's right. This mid frequency is one of the reasons why the pedal "sounds like a pedal". So in during the development, we kept "sheen sustain" of great amps like Blackface Fender, VOX, or Dumble and pursued smooth and natural compression. In other words, our basic concept during the development was to see if a pedal could become part of the amp.

Is that why the tone is structured with 2 knobs, Bass and Treble?
XE: When designing a sound, you don't really want to mess with the mid frequency because that is where most of the guitar's characteristics and behaviors are. Our intention was to be able to correct the sound without touching the mid frequency.

After AC and RC, you introduced BB Preamp which has the most range of sound. How did the development of BB start?
XE: When we introduced the AC Booster, we received a request from Scott Henderson. He said "AC works great with humbucker. Can you arrange it to work better with single coil?" We worked on his request for 3 years before we were able to develop a product that satisfied him.

3 years€. Did it take that long for AC and RC as well?
XE: BB took 3 years and AC and RC took one and a half year.

In developing these pedals, what did you focus on?
XE: Speed, tension and adaptability of the sound.

To achieve those points, how important are materials like switch and case?
XE: In fact, even leads for resistance can change the sound. That is why we put extreme care in managing durability and sound quality.

What about the case? I see that you have put a lot of thoughts into choosing the material.
XE: That is correct. It is not very well know, but the material of a case can change the sound quality. Our die-cast box is a part of the sound as well.

For each model, could you tell us the recommended setting?
XE: I can tell you the setting of artists we work with.

Eric Johnson's setting for AC:
Gain: 10 o'clock, Volume: 8 o'clock, Treble: 11 o'clock, Bass: 2 o'clock
He uses Marshall JMP 50W (Plexi).

Scott Henderson's setting for BB:
Gain: 2 o'clock?Volume:2 o'clock, Treble: 11 o'clock, Bass: 2 0'clock
And for RC:
Gain: 2 o'clock, Volume: 2 o'clock, Treble: 12 o'clock, Bass: 11 o'clock
He uses Marshall JMP 100W or Suhr OD100.

I see. That is very useful reference. Any tips to better utilize these pedals?
XE: For example, you can combine 2 pedals. All AC, RC and BB have individual characteristics but you can easily create a great sound while keeping the uniformity if the combination is right. For example, you can make the basic distortion with BB. Then put AC in front of BB with lower gain setting and add the AC to the BB for solos. This way, you can achieve a solid sound that wouldn't be buried under other instruments.

New product that allows intricate "sound making" with a simple controls.

AC, RC and BB became an instant "modern classic" after their release. AC+ was released in 2007 reflecting the user's feedback, followed by the BB+ released in 2008. This is an interview from the recent issue of "The OVERDRIVE BOOK" about the development of these new models. As you can see in the product photo of AC+ and BB+, they look like combination of 2 Xotic pedals. They took the known tricks amongst the Xotic's core users: the combination of AC&RC and BB&RC and added more convenient features. This is a new product that reflects how sincere the Xotic receives their user's opinions.

Please tell us how you came about the 2 new product series with 2 independent channels. What was the concept behind it?
XE: We received a lot of feedback for AC, RC and BB. It seems many guitar players use 2 or more overdrives or boosters simultaneously and we found out that many of our pedal users are incorporating the combination of AC with RC, BB with RC to correspond to various situations. Taking those data into consideration, we started developing products with more parameters for our hardcore fans 2 years ago.

Since pedals are named after AC and BB, can we assume that they were developed based on the original AC and BB?
XE: Yes. You can say that.

Both model's CH-A and CH-B seems to be tuned into slightly different sound characteristics compared to the original AC and BB. Was it difficult to decide what type of characteristic to give each channel?
XE: Yes. One thing we had to keep in mind was that even in same circuit connection, the sound is greatly affected by the differences in format and layout of these 2 channels. I won't say they are completely different but in developing these pedals, we tried to take advantage of those different nuances.

How did you decide on the final combination of sounds for the product?
XE: Our basic development concept is to convey the good characteristic of the instrument and to have "the perfection of an instrument" that can inspire the player. In order to achieve that we spent months conducting15 minutes test in the early mornings when our ears are most sensitive and another 15 minutes in the afternoon. And that is how we settled on the final version.

Why did you add the MID controller? I believe in our last interview you said "I prefer not to mess with the mid frequency".
XE: Yes. That was indeed the concept for the prior model and that concept has not changed. 4 knob style is a timeless design and many people find it easier to dial in their favorite sound. Taking that into consideration, since our product has penetrated the market in recent years, we decided to add more ability to control the sound. Although, we were aware that it could cause some inconvenience to our old customers that are already familiar with the old versions.

Please tell us about the sound characteristic of AC+ in both CH-A and CH-B.
XE: CH-A is designed so you can achieve good tone in wide range of gain. Most effect pedals are "good low gain pedal" or "decent high gain pedal". Only few have good sound in wide range of gain. We were able to achieve a good balance in AC+. For CH-B, we tired to focus on the characteristic of the original AC. So naturally, this channel includes more nuances that are closer to the original AC.

Do you agree that AC+'s CH-B emphasizes mid range frequencies (muffled sound)?
XE: CH-B was originally invented as a boost for CH-A. When we made it flat, it actually made a very annoying sound. We figured the circumstances that would require the stacking of gain stage is limited. We imagined a thick lead sound, just like a large violin. We believe this put the emphasis on warmer frequency. You have a flat response depending on the gain setting, which makes this a very all-round pedal.

Could you tell us about BB+'s channels as well?
XE: Basic concepts for both channels on BB+ are the same as AC+ but it is designed to have the good characteristics of the original BB. For CH-A, it peaks in the mid frequency with an open sustain. It has a rich mid harmonic overtone. It will remind you of British Combo Amplifier to match its name "BB". CH-B on the other hand, has a very concentrated mid frequency. We designed it to have a punchy distortion of a full stack.

That is true. I did feel CH-B on BB+ has more of an amp sound. Did you have more of a high-gain Marshall amp in mind?
XE: No. Although lot of our users did wish for the ability to create high-gain sound, we didn't aim for a high-gain sound. Our primary goal was to achieve a reaction that is linear to the guitar signal. With that in mind, we wanted to shy away from the "boomy" nuance of newer Marshalls that cascades amplifier circuit in the first stage. We wanted to feel the output trans being pushed.

Each of BB+'s channel has a Comp switch. What is the idea behind it?
XE: It is for the convenience of switching between single coil and humbucker and also to give more range in sound.

You have explained that Comp switch in the CH-A of BB+ boosts 500hz and above in Soft mode, and 1kH and above in Hard mode. Why did you choose these numbers?
XE: We decided on these numbers after playing around with it for a long time. We searched for the right number that has the best balance in different combination of pickups and variation of sound.

CH-B's Comp switch has a different number. Is it 350hz and above for Soft and 1kH for Hard?
XE: By setting the numbers little lower than the CH-A, we were able to create more complex harmonics when 2 channels are combined.

Both models are capable of making colorful and intricate sound but on the other hand, the controls are more complicated. What would be a faster approach for dialing in the sound?
XE: It could appear overwhelming at first, but both pedals are designed so that the controls are very simple. First, you set all the knobs to 12 o'clock and check the sound. Most sounds should easily be found from this setting. And especially BB+ is a very rare pedal that is designed to have "usable sound" in any setting. So I would want everyone to try and experience the ease of controlling the sound.

For next step, will there be a new version of RC?
XE: I think that would be interesting but I don't want to confuse our users by throwing in too many new products at once. I think I would wait until everyone is more familiar with the current new product.

 

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