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May 2014
more... Builder ProfileGearEffectsJune 2013Visual Sound

Builder Profile: Visual Sound

Builder Profile: Visual Sound

Clint Lagerberg and Bob Weil demoing the Time Bandit with the Tap Delay.

Going to the Garage
As reasonably priced as Visual Sound effects are, in 2008 the company felt a need to produce the even more budget-friendly Garagetone line. The timing couldn’t have been better. “I was reading articles about emerging-market countries,” says Weil, “places where people didn’t have a lot of money but if you could give them something high quality at a reasonable price they would buy it. I was reading all this just before the financial crisis in 2008, after which I realized I could sell them right here at home. R.G. and I took a lot of time designing those circuits, making sure they were simple enough to be manufactured inexpensively, but still sounded killer. We put them into metal housings and made them as reliable as we could. We didn’t skimp on features. Frankly, we took a lot lower profit margin.”

In addition to the lower prices, Weil offers hefty product warranties—even on the more affordable gear. “We offer a lifetime warranty on our V2 and V3 pedals,” he says. “It is a pretty audacious move—it exposes us to unlimited warranty returns—but our stuff just doesn’t come back much.”

Although the superiority of true-bypass switching has been debated of late, Weil says that whatever the sonic advantages true-bypass switches may or may not have, those switches can be wanting when it comes to roadworthiness. “True-bypass switches are not designed for switching low-voltage signals,” he explains. “A typical guitar signal is between a tenth of a volt or half a volt, maximum, depending on whether they are single-coil or humbucker pickups. If a tiny bit of oxidation happens on that true-bypass switch, your signal stops as if it hit a wall. Those switches are designed to have 240 volts going through them. That many volts can get through a little oxidation, but with a tenth of a volt, the switch needs to be replaced. For that reason, I have never used them—and because they have a loud mechanical thump that comes through the amp. When I designed the V2 series, we started using our buffered Pure Tone system with a switch rated at 10 million hits, so you can stomp on it all day and night for the rest of your life—it’s just not going to wear out.”

Evolution of the Visual Sound Volume Pedal

Left to right: The first pedal Bob Weil ever made was a wooden volume pedal, followed by “Slide,” which incorporated plastic housing and a zero-to-10 scale on the sides. The third pedal pictured was the first official Visual Volume pedal, which Weil brought to NAMM in 1995. The fourth incorporates a special fader, and the last pedal on the right is the most current model.

The very first pedal that Visual Sound founder Bob Weil made was a wooden volume pedal that he “cobbled together” around 1989. Early versions had a 0-10 scale on the sides of the pedal, as seen in the second pedal shown in the photo. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about electronics, so I just stuck a fader in there and soldered some wires to jacks,” the self-taught pedal builder remembers. “It hummed like crazy because I didn’t know what shielding was!”

The second VS volume pedal, which Weil calls “Slide,” was created around 1991 and was slightly more advanced. It had a plastic housing that he routed out to serve his purposes, as well as shielding he made out of aluminum foil glued to paper. “Up to this point, I was only prototyping for my own needs and for a few interested musicians.”

The third version was the first true Visual Volume pedal, and it was among the first samples Weil brought to his first NAMM show in January of 1995. “This was the pedal that started Visual Sound,” he beams. “I’d learned a bit more about electronics by that time—along with a little mechanical engineering—so my vision of having a zero-to-10 LED scale was finally a reality.”

In 1996, Weil made several improvements to his fourth version, mostly to address reliability concerns. “I couldn’t seem to stop reinventing the wheel,” he says, “so it too used a fader inside, with a really odd strap mechanism to pull the fader back and forth.”

The current version of the Visual Volume came out in 2006. “It was supposed to be the 10th Anniversary Edition, but we were a year late,” Weil admits. Features include a die-cast aluminum housing with some artful lines to it, a standard rack-and-pinion mechanism like that in a wah pedal, a buffered and boostable preamp for no signal loss, a custom-tapered pot, and blue LEDs. Weil is quite happy with it … at least for now. “We didn’t hold back on features for this one, and the technology is far more advanced than my clunky early versions.”

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