Producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Pavement, Ben Folds Five) with his beloved Mu-tron Bi-Phase.
What can you tell us about the Mu-tron III+ from the 1990s?
A guy who used to work for the company came out with something called the Mu-tron III+ in ’94. It looks the same outside and used some surplus parts, but it used a circuit that I had tried and rejected—though he doesn't know that. It doesn't have the mojo, in my humble opinion. It was unethical for him to claim it was the original design when it wasn’t. Originally, I had tried to get the board of directors to make him a stockholder, in which case he would now legitimately be able to say he owns the trademark. So it was a lucky accident that I failed to convince them to do that.
At some point you were making custom products, right? [Walt Disney World and Disneyland performer] Michael Iceberg was a guy who enchanted many people at the NAMM shows of the late ’70s. I made him a 20-channel electro-optical volume pedal. Another guy named Don Tavel had an idea for a single-voice guitar synthesizer without using a hex pickup design. It started out as a suitcase design, but ended up in a rack. For its time, it was a very powerful instrument, though it didn't always track right. [Songwriter/session guitarist/producer] Marlo Henderson asked for a fancy rackmount Mu-tron. That led to the Beigel Sound Labs Envelope Control Filter, of which 50 were made.
During the period when I was in my consulting business, a guy who was married to a very rich lady came into my office. Her dad had a huge farm across the street from the Mu-tron/Gizmotron office. He said he needed someone who “knew about vibrations” because he wanted to build something that he could “stick into a suitcase.” It turned out to be something you could stick into a horse, so you could identify it. As a result, I built the first working prototype of an implantable radio-frequency ID system. That led to my second career in RFID from 1978 until the present.
The 1975 patent for the Mu-tron III
What about your work with Electro-Harmonix? Around ’95, I met Mike Matthews, whose company had been our arch-competitor. He asked me to redesign some Mu-tron products into his packages, so I worked with him until 2011. He’s a good guy.
Are there any future plans for Mu-tron products? Well, about 13 years ago I got ill with something that really takes my energy out and causes me a great deal of pain, but won’t kill me. I had to go on disability for three or so years, and I kind of got lost. I thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I have a little money left, and I want to get back into the music business. I had a project deal that didn’t work out, but it got me making a Mu-tron- like device, which I'm going to be coming out with shortly. My intention is to recreate a lot of the good Mu-tron products—only made with appropriately new technology. It’s not digital, though. It's meant to be analog. The goal is to resurrect the product line in a more modern form that's more compatible with pedalboards.
Meaning smaller in size? Yeah. I still put too many knobs on things, because I don't know how not to [laughs]. I've got one with a dozen or so controls, and one with six or seven controls. I'm going to try to make one with three, and maybe one with just one knob. I'm going to try to stratify the types of effects for people who have different budgets and different abilities to tweak the effects. Pretty soon, I’ll have an announcement about it.
You know, I still have one of everything that we made—and didn't make! I call it “The Inventor’s Collection.” So I also want to find somebody who's really good at modeling and then do plug-ins of them—even the unreleased products—but I haven't gotten around to that yet.
Any final words of wisdom? Yes. Back in the day when we had just started that think tank, there was a guy who shall remain nameless who was full of salesman talk. He used terms I'd never heard before, but one of his statements stands out in my mind as words to live by, and it applies very well to the whole Mu-tron/Gizmotron boondoggle. He said, “Don't get hyped on your own con.”