Interview : Alfonso Hermida - The Zendrives Daddy
Alfonso Hermida owner of Hermida Audio sits down to chat with musicgearsource. Check out Hermida audio at www.hermidaaudio.com
MGS:First off Alfonso thanks for taking time to talk with MGS.
AH: Thanks for inviting me.
MGS:Say a guy like me wants to get started into
building pedals. What should i read and who should i listen to to get started?
AH: The best place to start is at Aron’s Forum: http://www.diystompboxes.com/sboxforum/
There are many other places but this one has what I consider to be the best collection of individuals that have been working on pedals for the longest time. Here you will find a nice collection of schematics, and excellent links to other sites. There’s also a link to R.G. Keen’s articles – he dissects various pedals and explains what’s going on. Not necessarily for the beginner but sooner or later you will want to get them and study them.
I usually recommend the following path to new guys trying to get started:
1) Start with a simple project such as a booster or the MXR Distortion+ and Son of Screamer (by Jack Orman) family of circuits. Do not start with a Fuzz Face because these circuits are low part count BUT require matched sets of transistors etc and you may loose sight of what is important at this stage: building something that is simple and that it works.
Note 1: If you decide that you want to buy the circuit boards already done, I recommend JD Sleep’s “General Guitar Gadgets” site. I have known JD for some time now and he has done an excellent job with my boards. There are other sites out there…check Aron’s link section for more on this.
Note 2: simple designs are great for learning how to solder correctly. The part count is usually low and you can complete projects in a few days (if all the tools/materials are available).
2) Now that you’ve built that 1st circuit, try modding it. Aron’s forum has many messages and articles dedicated to modifications. Do one at a time and make sure they work…take notes on what happens when you change parts and values.
3) After performing step 2) for a while, try now to aim at a specific sound. In this process you will need to interact with other DIY persons and they can comment on what mods they have done that might help you. Once you’re done, then its time to move on to another project.
In the previous steps, many things will happen. You will learn about the different components, their units and values etc. If you try to do this on your own, the process becomes very tedious, but by learning it as you build it will become a little easier to handle. There’s much more to learn but getting started with something simple is the key.
MGS:Can you list off the tools a newbie would most likely need and where are the best places to find these things?
AH: Most of the tools I buy are from Mouser.com and MCMElectronics.com. Here’s my list of
1) soldering station (temperature controlled)
2) wire stripper
3) desolder wick
4) X-acto knife
6) Tinned copper wire
7) Drill press
8) Wrench set
9) Wire cutters
11) Anti-static pad with grounding wrist band
I know there might be more but that’s a good start.
MGS:WHat was your first sucessful pedal build?
AH: It was a copy of a DOD 250 (similar to the MXR Distortion + circuit). I was lucky that my front neighbor was studying electronics and would always give me his old stuff when he upgraded to the latest and greatest.
MGS: What was the most difficult build you’ve come across?
AH: most of the builds have been relatively straightforward to do, but I repaired an EH Memory Man (one of the 1st ones) that was submerged underwater because the customer’s basement flooded. I received the pedal some time later and noticed that the copper traces were rotting out on top of all the oxidation that was going on. Lets just say I wanted to quit a few times during this repair.
MGS: Any funny burn stories? Any digits
AH: I get burned all the time. I usually hold the board, solder and soldering iron with both hands but when something slips, Murphy’s law dictates that one of your fingers will be burnt.
MGS:Who has been most influental to you as a pedal builder?
AH: My 1st two were MXR and EH. EH had a “cool vibe” that was great and I always wanted to work for them. MXR always stuck on my mind as having road worthy designs.
These days I like Dave Barber’s work. I met him personally in Maryland when I lived there. In the short time we interacted I knew he was an extremely dedicated guy, very smart and took his time to work out designs. He has a great ear and chops. I always try to get his pedals because they’re well made and have a great sound.
I also like Zvex’s pedals. Every once in a while I meet someone that has some weird contraption that Zvex developed and I’m just amazed at how he comes up with this stuff. I recently had to repair a Seek Wah that was damaged in a gig…the musician stepped by mistake on the knobs and crapped a few of them. I noticed the simplicity of the board and the interesting effects it does. We follow very different paths but it never ceases to amaze me how people can come up with cool stuff.
In terms of the DIY community, just go to Aron’s site. There are way too many people to mention them all, but they have a common interest to share and experiment and that motivates the new guy to follow by example.
The last project I helped a little with on the forum was for a heavy metal pedal. Ricky Vance wanted to make one similar to my Grinder pedal so I described the idea behind the design and he did the legwork and came up with a cool design. It was interesting to watch the development and how each version had some improvements on the original idea and I got a great kick from listening to the audio clip of the finished pedal.
MGS: Any tips and or advice for guys starting out?
AH: DIY required patience, passion and time. Start simple, develop the “chops” that will eventually prepare you for the complex projects. Eventually, you can get to the point were you start developing your own ideas. But this will only happen with time and a lot of curiousity.
Another tip is to get buy pedals that are inexpensive and can be easily modified. This will take the pressure of building something from scratch. If you have a pedal that has the potential of become something better then go for it.
MGS:How did your Mosferatu pedal come about? What all pedals have you had a hand in desining?
AH: The Mosferatu took a long time to develop in part because I was working full time and involved in so many other things that I really couldn’t put all the time it deserved. Eventually after moving from Maryland to Florida and having some time to think the pedal came together. I was working for the longest time on developing a pedal that would be more dynamic and that was soft when distorting without being fuzzy. I also started listening to Robben Ford and wanted a specific sound. Eventually while working on the pedal I was able to get a tone that satisfied the goals I had set for it. After a while, people liked the distortion/gain/sustain of it but also wanted a larger range for the clean and clean with an edge section. That’s when I started working on the Zendrive.
I’ve worked on a few pedals. For some time I interacted with Snarling Dogs’ designer when he was developing the Whine-O Wah. The design is very interesting and had a boost section that was causing the pedal to be noisy…we worked on that and the inductor issues. I also worked with Mike Piera (AnalogMan.com) on the Clone Clone chorus pedal. I researched the design and built the 1st batches for him. At one point I developed a simple solution for replacing the depth switch with a knob and how to increase the depth of the chorus. I also developed the Dynacomp to Ross compressor mod. In those days people were paying a lot of money for Ross Compressors and I knew that many designs in those days were really copies of others. After a little R&D I figured the needed modifications to convert cheaper Dynacomp units into Ross units.
I’ve worked with a few others that have never mentioned me so I’ll keep that private….you know who you are.
MGS: Whats next for you and Hermida Audio?
AH: I’m focused on getting the Zendrive out there right now. Its very special to me because if the most dynamic of all the pedals that I’ve developed. I want to get close to the dynamics of the tube sound and the frequency response of tube based amps. Eventually I will get into other areas but I don’t have any set dates for that.
MGS : Any chance you telling us the Mosferatu recipe? :0)
AH: Sure, here’s your recipe << sound of open hand smacking MGS in the back of the head.
MGS: Id like to thank you Alfonso for chatting with us. Its always an honor to speak with you.
AH: Thanks to you! Can I get paid now?