The man behind the tones of Jimi, Beck, Page and countless other Octavia users talks about the past and future of effects.
Although it’s a well-worn cliché, it’s only appropriate to say that Roger Mayer has seen it all. Yes, he’s been there—hanging out with Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan in the studio, soldering together brand new circuits, innovating and designing solutions for the earliest of tone chasers. He’s done that—watching Jimi Hendrix plug in his new prototype during a late night Olympic Studio session and laying down solos that would launch the dreams and careers of thousands of guitarists to come. Mayer has seen it all, because odds are he created it. His drive to innovate has made him a larger-than-life personality among guitarists, popping up at numerous junctions of music and gear history. He has made a life practice of always pushing forward, and rarely looking back.
Which, of course, makes an interview with Mayer a bit of a challenge. While he acknowledges that everyone wants to talk about Page and Beck and Hendrix—and is perfectly happy to revisit those stories—there’s a part of Mayer that seems indifferent to the nostalgia. He was there; he’s told that story before. And even though his company, Roger Mayer Guitar Effects, largely exists to dole out the effects that Hendrix made famous, they have not remained static. The company’s Vision Wah features a uniquely ergonomic profile and a treadle made of carbon fiber; he estimates that R&D costs for the project came in at over $150,000. Bread and butter effects like the Octavia and the Axis Fuzz are continually refined and re-engineered, because to Mayer it’s a simple equation: evolve or fade away.
We were able to spend some time with Roger Mayer, to talk about both the past and the present, about his days tinkering in Olympic Studios, and the future of guitar effects.
You started experimenting with pedal designs while you were hanging out with guys like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, right?
Yeah, basically. Going way back when I first started, when I was hanging out with them, we were obviously interested in the sound of the guitars on the American records, which were quite hard to come by. We had a really big interest in the different guitar tones that they were producing in America.
What guitar tones were you trying to replicate?
Well, you know, like some of the Elvis records, the Ricky Nelson records back in the sixties, and so forth. We were kind of interested in that, and the first pedal that I built was a treble booster, actually. And looking at the circuit of the Rangemaster, it looks virtually identical to the ones I built back then, you know? [laughs]
Did you have any examples, like the Rangemaster, to look at while you were designing these circuits?
Well, the Rangemaster actually came out after I built mine—they were after the fact. I don’t know anyone that was building them back then.
Did you have a name for your invention at the time?
We didn’t call them anything, they were all prototypes! They weren’t in production, you know. I really didn’t start producing commercial units until about the eighties. So you just called it a treble booster? We just called it what it did—it’s a treble booster, you know?
Were you hearing other fuzz tones around then?
No, no. The first fuzz boxes that Page and I really became aware of, I think, were on the record by the Ventures called “The 2,000 Pound Bee”. That was the first time we thought, “Oh, wow! What is that?” Obviously we had a few contacts in the States, and they said that was a fuzz box. And I asked, “What’s that?” And they said it was basically an overdriven transistor.
Did you like that sound? Or did you like your treble boosters more?
The early ones—especially like the early Gibson Maestros that were featured on “Satisfaction,” which was after Page started using them—didn’t have an awful lot of sustain. They were quite percussive in nature. So I never actually… I don’t think I’ve ever actually played through a Gibson Maestro; I’ve never even bothered with one. I kind of heard what they sounded like on the record, and thought, maybe we could do something a little similar, but with a little more sustain and make it smoother.
You were tweaking on all of these early prototypes in the studio. Do you still enjoy being in that environment?
Oh, definitely. I’m much happier in the studio.
I like the studio because it’s probably the ultimate creative environment. You have control over so many more things than you would in, say, a live performance. You’ve got control of echo; you’ve got control of pan. You’ve got multiple tracking, you’ve got all kinds of things you can do in the studio that can paint a very interesting sonic picture that you can’t do live. Listen to Hendrix on Axis: Bold as Love. Of course Jimi’s good live, but at the same time we obviously knew playing live you’re probably only going to use three or four sounds. And you’re obviously going to get completely saddled with the acoustics of the room, aren’t you? If the room’s got a nomic types huge amount of reverb, then you’ve got it—you’ve got it on the soft part of the song, you’ve got it on the loud part of the song. You’ve got it all night long, haven’t you? That isn’t going to change, whereas if you’re making a record you can move from echo to drive; you can do all sorts of things. So the amount of control on a record—it’s a far more satisfying experience to actually make a record that can be heard thirty years later and still be appreciated. You can’t say that with a live performance. Only the people that were there heard it live, and I’m not talking about some sort of quasi-live recording that might have been overdubbed four weeks later, you know? [laughs]
I hate to focus on the past, but how did you meet up with Jimi?
I met him in a nightclub a few days after my 21st birthday. I just went up to him and I talked to him—everybody was there, you know, the Stones, the Who, McCartney. I just said, “Listen man, I’m really into guitar sounds and I’ve done a few for Page and Beck and these people.”
And he was excited, I’m sure.
Oh, yeah, obviously. We were obviously on the same page from day one.
So did you just go into the studio with him after that?
Well, I went to one gig at Chislehurst Caves about two weeks after I met him and showed him one of the first Octavias backstage. He played through it and said, “Can you do that to it?” and I said, “Yeah, Jimi, you know these things are improving week by week as we get more feedback on it.” And he said, “Right; I’m playing at a club called the Ricky-Tick at Hounslow in about another week. Why don’t you bring it along to the gig and after the gig we can go back to Olympic Studios. I gotta record a couple of solos for a couple of tunes I’ve got.”
So after the gig—it was a very low ceiling at the gig, and he put the neck of his guitar through the ceiling; it basically fucked the machine heads on the top of his guitar, right? And we didn’t have a spare guitar then, so we went back to Olympic afterwards, and we had to send Noel around to the flat. He picked up his Telecaster, and that’s when we did the overdub for “Purple Haze” and “Fire,” using the Octavia.
What was the idea behind the original Octavia?
Well, I was thinking as you go up the fretboard, wouldn’t it be nice to double the frequency, so you could play notes that weren’t even on the fretboard, you know? That was the idea really. And then we looked at it, electronically and figured out what to do. We came up with the mirror imaging technique. Most people think it’s full-wave rectification, but that’s not an accurate description of it.
What would be an accurate description?
It’s a mirror imaging technique in electronics. The way it’s actually implemented virtually makes it like a mirror image, you know? It’s a phase-inverted mirror image of the signal, which makes it double.
The Octavia has evolved since those early days. Are you finally happy with the design, or are you still tweaking on it?
Yeah, because there are always things you can do, you know?
Will it ever be finished?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve got a Formula One attitude; there’s always development to be done. There’s always something you can do to make it better, to make it slightly different, to make it use a little bit more input from the player. The current range of, say, the Vision Octavias are much more expressive than the old ones. That’s one of the main reasons I never reissued the transformer version, because it’s like taking a step backwards—there’s no point whatsoever.
And that’s kind of your general philosophy?
It’s forward, never backward, you know? You wouldn’t want Volkswagen to go back to making the same cars they made back in the day. You’d say, “What the fuck is this? This is ridiculous!” Those who can invent, do, you know? Those who can’t, copy.
Digital modeling looks to be that next frontier, and Jimi’s rig has even been the focus of a few software packages. What are your thoughts on that?
[laughs]. Well, let’s put it this way: if you know anything about digital modeling, it’s basically painting by numbers. I mean, the whole thing about any modeling process is that you are making an approximation before you’ve done anything. So it has nothing to do at all about the live performance. It would be like the difference between adding echo to something and playing a guitar where the echo was part of the song.
Do you feel like the guitar industry is caught looking backwards more often than not?
All I can say is, don’t you think it’s like that? Of course it is. I mean, you’ve got so much supposedly retro stuff—retro effects, retro guitars, retro bands—it’s sad. It really is sad, because it’s not giving younger people something of their own, is it? And it’s crazy. Take the stupid concept of buying a guitar that has been aged. That would be like a girl hanging out a pair of ballet shoes in her bedroom that have been aged to look like they’ve been worn by a famous dancer. What’s the fucking point? You’re trying to buy into looking cool; it’s fashion, it’s like buying beaten up jeans.
But isn’t digital where we’re headed?
No, not at all. The fact of the matter is, and the thing that never changes, is that the ears are analog. And analog information is continuous; digital isn’t. Digital, if you equate it to a movie, would be like looking at a close-up where the face is in perfect focus and the background is fuzzy and out of focus, as opposed to a wide shot or another shot where the face and all of the background were in perfect focus. There’s obviously more information in the shot where the background is in perfect focus, right? And the major problem with digital sound, which they can’t get around, is that the majority of the bits are concentrated at the loud parts of the music. In other words, the first 10 or 20 dBs of the music has quite a few bits, but as the music goes down a level, the resolution goes down and down and down, which is the audio equivalent of being out of focus. So that’s why it’s very difficult sometimes to mix digitally on Pro Tools or anything like that, because you just don’t have enough information, you don’t have enough bandwidth. Unless the signals are loud, they get prioritized by loudness, you see? The actual definition of a signal decreases as it goes down, which is kind of crazy, because the ear has the reverse function. In other words, the Fletcher-Munson curves, which are the equal-loudness curves of the ear— your ear perceives frequency response at different sound pressure levels. And the softer it gets, the more treble it needs, right? Which is exactly the reverse of what digital gives you. So, you know, it’s one of those things. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take a recording that’s mixed perfectly in analog, and commit it to digital once. Many albums sound fine as a CD, but the actual definition and amount of detail digital provides is not really that great.
What are you looking towards as the next development in pedal design?
Well, I’m looking forward to—I cannot see any reason why when somebody plays a guitar riff that the whole guitar riff should have the same sound. Why should the front of the guitar riff have the same sound as the rear of it? I believe in more dynamics in the music, more player control, anything to impart to the listener that they are hearing a human performance. I’m not a believer in looping, because I believe that someone playing something ten times in a row is far better than hearing them play it once and having it looped. It’s more interesting and the public can immediately hear some of it is in the performance. It’s perceived as not being exacting, and I think that with instruments like the guitar, it’s nice to get that input. And obviously, I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons that people pick the guitar up?
As opposed to sequencer, yes.
And, really, I want people to have fun while they’re playing. Don’t go out and buy a piece of equipment and imagine that you can play like someone else. Don’t buy into that. It’s nonsense. I don’t follow anybody—I don’t want to be influenced in the wrong way.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
Sign up for PG Perks on the form below to make sure you don't miss the launch announcement!
About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.