Back in 2011, in a small barn conversion in the Oxfordshire countryside, audio engineer, designer and guitarist Simon Keats set to work creating effects pedals. Inspired by iconic 60s guitar sounds, he wanted to replicate those revered aspirational tones in an easy-to-access and affordable way.
Since its humble beginnings, Origin Effects has developed over the past seven years into an internationally-recognised brand, and throughout it all – and as the company grew from just Simon to a team of almost 10 – the desire to produce high-quality, hand-made boutique pedals has remained just as important today as it was back in the barn.
After several years of research and development, Origin Effects has announced its first ever overdrive, the RevivalDrive. Launching at the end of April, the pedal is the first new product from Origin Effects in two years.
MI Focus editor Laura Barnes caught up with general manager Ian Rees and digital media and technical specialist Jack Dunwoody to find out more about the “first ever overdrive of its kind”, what goes in to making an Origin pedal, and why it’s important for the company to use materials sourced in the UK.
How was business in 2017?
Ian: 2017 was an incredible year for us. We took on a number of dealers in that time here and in the US. Mostly for us, the best part of 2017 was that the increased sales meant that we could keep our component suppliers UK-based, produce the same pedal for less money, and pass that saving on to our customers.
We’ve grown pretty much 100% year-on-year for the past three years and that’s something that is incredible to achieve, considering we didn’t release a new product in 2017.
Jack: From my time of working here, it’s been great to see over the last few years how many people have started to know the name Origin Effects. Before we had to explain it all, but now we have people saying: “oh you make those excellent compressor pedals.”
Ian: We were watching coverage of Glastonbury and other festival the other day, and it was so good to see so many of our pedals being used on stage. It’s great to see that engagement from genre-to-genre, from London Gramma to Radiohead to Slipknot. Seeing those guys all finding a need for our product is a great achievement.
You’ve released your first new pedal in 2 years, and your first overdrive. How did that come about?
Ian: When Simon started the business, he didn’t build things to simply make money. He made products that were needed. The compressor market was very limited and the products that you could get at the time weren’t studio-grade. The overdrive pedal has been an idea that’s been brewing in Simon’s mind for a number of years now.
We’ve been told our previous pedals have reignited the compressor market. We’re hoping to do the same with the new overdrive pedal – to give people something they haven’t experienced before, that is not only tonally accurate, but the physically of using that pedal gives the same response as playing through a 68-valve amp of a revered brand.
“We’ve been told our previous pedals have reignited the compressor market. We’re hoping to do the same with the new overdrive pedal.”
Ian Rees, Origin Effects
Jack: Simon has built so many amps from scratch and he understands amp circuitry so well, that he has put all this into a great pedal. We’ve done a lot of research to ensure that there isn’t anything else out there that does that. Simon wouldn’t have made this pedal if there was someone else doing it.
Ian: We’ve spend thousands on R&D and hours and hours point matching against original amps to make sure this is not just a digital copy. We’ve gone right down to the circuitry, components and parameters and put that into the pedal. It’s not just an overdrive that tries to replicate and amp sound, it’s an amp in a box.
Are there more pedals on the way this year?
Ian: Yes. We’ve already teased that there will be a bass version of the RevivalDrive coming soon. The guitar pedal is geared specifically towards revered amps of the 60s and 70s, which will sound great with bass, but we want to give bassists something even more. The Revival series will continue. There will be things in the expected formats of our pedals, and we can’t really say much more than that at the moment.
In keeping with our growth, the team has doubled in size, we’ve taken on extra building space, we’ve increased our production and our R&D. We’ve just employed a new development engineer so Simon can have someone helping him bring his designs to life quickly and efficiently. It’s been a number of years since we’ve released something and at least 18-month that this pedal has been in the works. But we want to be bringing something out every six months or so going forward because people are receiving the brand so well.
“As we’ve grown over the past few years, we’ve made sure that the pedal our customer receives still could have been made by Simon himself.”
Ian Rees, Origin Effects.
We’ve had a great response of people buying the new pedal blind. They’ve seen we’re releasing something and straight away they want one because they know our other products and they know the quality of our pedals.
As the company grows, how important is it to stick to the hand-made, boutique ethos of the brand?
Ian: It is paramount. That’s the most important aspect for us. We didn’t get into this to have profit-maximising products, it was to produce something that was studio-grade, next-level quality.
As we’ve grown over the past few years, we’ve made sure that the pedal our customer receives still could have been made by Simon himself in his old farmhouse when he first started the company. Everything is the same process, same components.
Everything is sourced in the UK and our suppliers are all local to us. That’s something that we will 100% keep doing no matter how many pedals we make and sell, we’ll just need a bigger building and larger team.
What differences can guitarist expect from the RevivalDrive compared to other overdrives?
Ian: It’s more than an overdrive pedal. When we initially spoke about design, we decided very early on that this wasn’t a replacement for an overdrive pedal, it was a replacement for an amplifier. It’s the kind of thing we hope people will use and think “I need that on my board, my guitar and I’m set.”
Jack: There are a lot of other pedals that capture the sound of an amp’s preamp, but as far as we’ve researched, this is the only pedal that carries through from the preamp, all the way up to how the speaker reacts to the amplifier.
Speaking to guitarist, a lot had a gripe that they had an overdrive pedal that worked great with one amp, but not so much with others, so that was something that’s been designed to work with different amps.
Do you see digital pedals as an interest or a threat?
Ian: The more people out there making products the better. For us to be in an industry that is constantly evolving and growing is great. We 100% encourage that as much as possible. The more people interesting in the industry, the more chance we have of someone finding our products.
For us, digital is not really something we’re looking into as our company has been born out of the love for analog. It doesn’t mean that we won’t look at it at some point in the future, but we’ve got no immediate plans. However, we do appreciate the digital products that are out there. We don’t see them as a threat, we see them as peers doing great things.
The RevivalDrive is available for pre-order now and will launch at the end of April. Read more here.