In the world of social media and personal branding, it’s uncommon for a small business owner to maintain a semblance of anonymity online. Yet in the guitar pedal industry, that’s exactly how the owner and creator of Land Devices likes it.
The soon-to-be Southern California-based pedal builder isn’t interested in publicity or fame, just continuing to make guitar effects that people clamor for (even when Land Devices temporarily closes up shop to move out of the Bay Area, as is presently the case). So far, that plan is working pretty well. They’ve got a solid start with the success of the unique Onset Auto Volume Swell and the HP-2 — a modernized spin on the InterFax HP-1 Harmonic Percolator fuzz made famous by Steve Albini — along with popular utility tools like the Land Mixer and Multi-Box splitter.
From the minimalist (borderline rugged) aesthetic to the complete lack of common circuits in their catalog, it’s clear that Land Devices isn’t interested in looking or sounding like any other pedal company around.
Land Devices spoke with SPIN in a rare interview to chat about their beginnings, building up the company, and what the future holds.
How did you decide you wanted to start Land Devices?
Land Devices is sort of an accidental company. I was trying to get music projects off the ground at the time. With the high cost of living in San Francisco, I was living in warehouses and building DIY pedals for myself on a tight budget. After auditioning countless dirt pedals, I found the Harmonic Percolator. Aside from the Albini connection, I didn’t realize how unpopular this circuit was. I wanted to purchase a “real” harmonic percolator pedal to replace my DIY version, so I went to see what was on the market. I only found two available units. One was a reproduction, so it was a bit old fashioned, inconvenient and pricey. The other pedal didn’t feel like an upgrade to what I already had, so I passed. That’s what led me to take a deeper dive into the pedal market as a whole.
In early 2017, the barrier to entry into effects pedals seemed lower than other industries. With less than $1,000, I could afford to take a gamble on building my own. I was familiar with Mammoth Electronics and was friends with Geof [Hancock] at Farm Pedals — so with Geof’s gracious guidance, I was able to stumble successfully into this new field. I spent about half of a year developing the HP-2 and released it in mid-2017. I made it primarily for myself, but wanted it to be as professional as possible. Since the minimum order for custom enclosures at Mammoth was 12 units, I was hoping to sell them anyway, [figuring that] maybe I could recoup my costs and move on. I threw them up for sale on Reverb and, within days, someone from Reverb purchased one, sent it to the team to film a demo and said that we should do another drop. Premier Guitar saw the Reverb demo, wrote up a nice review and gave us a Premier Gear award. Then other reviews came, people wanted to make demos, retailers started to inquire, and there were requests for interviews. There was no reason to stop, and eventually it became my full-time gig.
What do you think separates your pedals from the other manufacturers out there?
For physical products, I always consider the user experience and design around that. I’m very much into design philosophies and want to create beautiful objects. While the sound is obviously important, there’s something about how something makes you feel and want to use it that’s often overlooked. I found that to be the case for a large portion of the industry.
How did you decide to go with the very minimalist and outdoorsy look for your pedals, while so many others are trying to be colorful and elaborate?
I’m not sure if it was an active decision or just how I approach things in general. I do live a fairly minimalist lifestyle with utilitarian tendencies. On that note, I’m fascinated with the utilitarian nature of military equipment — with olive drab being a favorite color of mine, and why the HP-2 looks the way it does. I’m also very much into [German designer] Dieter Rams and share his design philosophies. Perhaps a little less serious though, as fun is an important aspect of life. As little design as possible — always.
What inspired you to go with such different types of pedals instead of just slightly tweaking some of the common circuits?
HP-2 and Onset come from similar mindsets and design considerations. Firstly, they were both something that I wanted to have personally, but couldn’t really find on the market. I suppose that would make them both very niche products. I try not to choose things that are more commonplace. There’s so much competition these days. The larger companies are already tweaking common circuits at a lower price point with marketing money and distribution channels. On the opposite end of the spectrum, every new startup pedal company is also doing that — usually as a side gig, so the price points are also lower. Secondly, both HP-2 and Onset come from the same design inspirations. A little bit Rams, a little bit military, a little bit Mu-Tron. Even the naming is very utilitarian and practical.
Is there a particular reason that you’re willing to share as to why you prefer to operate anonymously?
There’s no one reason. I’ve done music and art projects anonymously in a previous life under various names — so maybe it’s kind of a habit? There’s a certain sense of freedom to being unknown, and I do think people are attracted to that kind of mystery. Especially these days, everyone is very online and you can Google all of their personal information. I’ve been trying to delete myself off of Google for some time now, and I appreciate the privacy.
With so many companies entering the pedal industry in the last couple of years, why do you think Land Devices has continued to succeed and grow?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that. I feel like the luckiest small builder, and I think timing and luck have a lot to do with success, generally. For example, Reverb was just getting started into showcasing the boutique pedal scene, and I just happened to be there. They just happened to see my listing. I just happened to meet very cool small builders that helped me and continue to help me along the way. Instagram was a really huge thing. I honestly don’t know. As a former advisor once told me, just make it cool.
What are your plans for Land Devices in the near future?
I’m hoping to take it easy this year. The last three years have been hectic with supply chains and a hobby boom. Land Devices really ramped up production to try to meet all of that demand, which was great and everyone was quarantining anyway. But I think it’s time to ramp back down and enjoy life. I’ve got one product that’s been in development for a while now, and there are plans for another afterwards — but I’m not sure if that will come to light in 2023 or 2024. Other than new products, I’m making a change of scenery. I’ve been in the Bay Area for a decade now. It’s time to go back home to SoCal.