We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jack Deville, founder of Mr. Black Pedals to discuss discrete stereo audio paths, classic video games, and getting jobs done right the very first time!
Can you give us a brief history of how Mr. Black started? What first inspired you to begin making pedals?
It all goes back to two primary elements/factors: I was sick of working on cars (I was an automotive tech specializing in driveability and electrical diag prior to my “career” as electrical/embedded engineer) and I found a solution to the problem of having 100w Marshall in a studio apartment: the Lovepedal Cannibal 1/2w amp. When Sean didn’t reply to my request for a schematic, I decided I’d just figure it out myself. Fast forward about 17 years and a few hundred designs later, and here we are!
You have a reputation of being a pedal genius for hire, a circuit therapist if you will. Where did that come from? How often do other brands reach out to you for help?
At the end of the day, I’m just an engineer who has bills and needs to eat like anyone else. I’ve been working on contract as a hired-gun for MANY different brands/companies since about 2011? It really comes down to earning a living with the skills one has and well… This is my skill. Throughout the teens, I was designing an average of 15 – 22 pedals per year for other organizations, in addition to designing for Mr. Black. Sadly, there really isn’t any pattern I’ve observed to frequency of inquiry/hire.
What pedal company or artist is your dream collaboration? We will call them right now.
Ya know, I don’t enjoy working with others (I work best and most efficiently/effectively alone). With that said: If they’ve got money, well, I’ve likely got the ability to design what they need.
Tell us how you honestly feel about the transparent overdrive market.
I’m not quite sure how to reply to this question, as the label “Transparent Overdrive” seems a contradiction in terms to my linear and literal mind. I guess I think that’s a nice marketing/sales label? I call horseshit.
You’re famous for making great stereo pedals. What do you feel makes them stand out among others?
While I cannot speak for all other designs, I have learned that the Mr. Black stereo units are somewhat unique in that I design all of them, from the jump, as two discrete and separate audio paths (left and right) which retain processing separation between the two channels. Combine this element with clever processing that exploits and plays on our aural perceptions and you have a wonderful and unique end result. I thought this was how all stereo effects processors were executed, but I have learned that more often than not, the right and left channels are simply replicas of one another and rarely play off each other to achieve the pleasing stereo spread people love about the Mr. Black stereo units.
What influence did the video game Doom have on the Doomstick Fuzz?
Ya know, the Doomstick was not originally called the “Doomstick.” The final prototype was called the “Boomstick” as a reference to Ash’s shotgun arm in Army of Darkness, but one of the guys who used to work here repeated “Doom Stick” and it just sounded better. It helps that the units do quite well for achieving that heavy, slow “doom” sound. The same guy came up with the graphic (he LOVES the video game Doom) and when the rest of us saw it we knew it was right.
The ship is sinking, which one do you save? – Black Sabbath, Black Keys, Black Flag
That’s easy: Sabbath. Any other reply is incorrect.
What is your favorite Mr. Black pedal? Why should it be my favorite?
I’ve said it a million times: the SuperMoon standard (the OG Black sparkle paint model) remains my favorite. 10 years later, we are still making that exact same pedal because it was done right the first time. This is kinda my guiding ethos when releasing a product: I’m strongly against Version X.Y as I feel if it is done right the first time, there is never a need for an update. A close second is certainly the Shepard’s End, because that design is SO cool (and it sounds rad too). At the time (in early/mid 2015) that process had never been executed in pedal format, so it really holds a special place in my heart as it was paving the way and pioneering for many future designs.
Is the dream of the ‘90s still alive in Portland?
Shit man. I was doing A LOT of drugs in the 90s. No idea what folks up here are up to.
What can we expect from Mr. Black in the future?
Lately, I’ve been really enjoying further explorations in the time domain and while I cannot accurately say what’s coming down the pipe, I would like to complete the expanded Mod Zero circuit.