Interview with Sound Designer David Koltai

Q: Tell us your job title and what do you do at Pigtronix?

A: I am the co-founder and president of Pigtronix, responsible for product development, sales, marketing, artist relations and customer satisfaction. First and foremost, I am a musician who is in Love with TONE.

Q: Would you tell us about your history before establishing Pigtronix?

A: I begin taking guitar seriously at age 13, learning songs by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Johnson. During High School I studied guitar with Matt Smith, Jodie Fischer and Adam Levy at the National Guitar Workshop and later went on to study classical composition at King’s College in London where I was very fortunate to take guitar lessons from the late Eric Roche. I hold a BA in Music from Middlebury College in VT, where I studied jazz with piano virtuoso, Cyrus Chestnut and created a funk orchestra called Butter Side Down. It was during this time that I met future Pigtronix partner, Brian Bethke, who also plays a mean rock guitar. After college I worked at an indie record label in the West Village, NYC and continued to play club gigs in power trio and quartet formats.

At this point I had been searching for a unique set of sounds for over a decade and it was time to take matters into my own hands. I moved to Vancouver, Canada for a year, studying electronics and design with Verne Andru and returned to New York on the verge of launching Pigtronix. At this time, I began playing gigs with Hip Hop icon, Kurtis Blow as well as world music stars from Africa, such as Kojo Antwi (Ghana), Soum Bill (Ivory Coast) and Ras Kimono (Nigeria). My approach with these groups is to use effects to enhance the harmonic atmosphere and retain space within the groove. Often I would take a signal from the drums or bass and run this into the “trigger” input of a prototype Pigtronix envelope phaser pedal in order to learn or even “steal” rhythms from other musicians in the band.

Q: When did you start music?

A: Sax at age 10, Guitar at 13, Vocals at 18. I also play electric bass and Moog Synthesizer

Q: Any artist or music that gave your influence to get in to your music carrier?

A: Miles Davis, Debussy and Pink Floyd are the top three.

Q: When did you make your first effect or electronic device? What was it?

A: At Middlebury College, a Physicist friend that we all called Pigpen made a pedal from Craig Anderton’s 1970’s Electronic Projects for Musicians book. This device combined an envelope follower and a rotary phase shifter. I loved it. Pigpen then made me a second one with advanced switching features, but it never worked properly, so I commandeered the original Pigpen prototype, tore the other one completely apart, read the Anderton book and made the thing sound even better… The ~PIGTRON~! This design became the Pigtronix EP-1 Envelope Phaser that came out in 2004. 5 years later, we put out the Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser that is available now. This mouthy modulator has a similar root concept, but has been completely re-designed by Howard Davis to achieve the most vocal envelope and chewy uni-vibe effects to date and lets you combine them. The new version is also made in USA, which is a major upgrade from the original.

Q: How did you learn electronics and knowledge about effects?

A: It is a passion, so I chased after the knowledge. Little pieces come from all over. The most specialized electronics knowledge has come from creating Pigtronix products with Howard Davis. He is a genius and we work well together. The advanced knowledge of effects in music comes from listening to the great musicians, some of whom I have been lucky enough to work with. These influences, combined with 7 years of customer feedback and thousands of hours playing the guitar add up to the sounds you hear in our pedals and some that you have not yet heard.

Q: When did you start Pigtronix?

A: Pigtronix started happening when Brian and I snuck the Envelope Phaser prototype into the 2003 Summer NAMM show in Nashville, TN. This is when we met Bob Moog and Mike Matthews (creator of Electro Harmonix) and realized it was indeed our destiny.

Q: What was your concept and dream of Pigtronix when you started?

A: To make Futuristic Analog Effects. To build modern analog pedals in a digital era, is as offbeat as Pigs leaning to fly… David Gilmour anyone?

Q: We see Pigtronix is not all about reissue type vintage effects which many companies do these days. Bringing forth new ideas that challenge the boundries of effects is a hard job with much risk involved. It may take a time for consumers to understand such new products. Why take this road?

A: From boutique builders in basements making vintage variations, to big companies that try to emulate all the great classic amp sounds using digital modeling; most companies make “vintage reissue” type effects because it is easier to sell the glory of Rock and Roll past than to come up with a truly original idea of their own. The truth is that originality and attitude is what rock and roll is really all about in the first place. To start something from nothing, with no prior history, I feel that one must strive to make an original sound which is compelling for both audiences as well as musicians, a sound that is not available anywhere else. For Pigtronix to make “vintage reissue” effects would be like putting out album after album of cover songs. Make no mistake, there are a lot of classic sounds available in our pedals, but there is always something new in there, for those musicians who want to get to the next level of tone.

Q: Now you have a fine list of top artists who has strong character in their music. But How were the first musician picked up Pigtronix? Any episode with a specific artist?

A: The first major league band to use Pigtronix on stage was Maroon 5. Guitarist, James Valentine used Pigpen’s Envelope Phaser prototype on stage in 2003 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC… that place holds about 1000 people. James made use of all the sounds and features it had while tearing the finale guitar solo to shreds for the screaming crowd with strobe lights and Pigtronix in full effect. Teal, the M5 guitar tech and I went crazy backstage… a very cool moment. Maroon 5 was about to become famous. 6 months later I brought them several of the EP-0 Envelope Phaser pre-production prototypes for a stadium gig playing to over 20,000 fans. Sound checking the first Pigtronix creation through a stadium size bass rig = Good times.

Since then, Pigtronix effects have been used by many of my heros, from players like Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Vernon Reid, Andy Summers, John Abercrombie, Bootsy Collins, Tony Levin, Marcus Miller to incredible bands like Aerosmith, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Los Lobos, Living Colour, Soulive, Lettuce and many more. I am always open to input about our effects from top musicians, working cats and regular customers who love original guitar sounds.

Q: Pigtronix products has unique and wide variation of sounds that no one can offer. A Guitar player can create new sounds with your products. Why so much variation?

A: The reason I put a lot of features on Pigtronix pedals is because the touch of every musician is unique and each pedal should be able to reveal a sound that can be tailored to suit the player’s needs. Many studio musicians use our pedals to get a great variety of effects based on the needs of the song while other specialized players seek out Pigtronix because they can achieve “their sound” with the highly flexible designs. When I put a “sensitivity” knob on an envelope controlled pedal, I want every musician to be able to find a setting that works for their instrument and playing style. Every Pigtronix pedal is ready to handle an incredible variety of possible sound sources, from active basses to vintage Stratocasters, Hammond organs or even DJ mixers, while still remaining musical. The EP2 Envelope Phaser and OFO Disnortion pedals are great examples of this.

Q: We see obvious inspiration from Bob Moog in your work. What is your concept of synthesizer for guitar?

A: The entire Pigtronix product line is one incredible modular guitar synthesizer. Several or even ALL of the Pigtronix pedals can be linked to make the ultimate rig. While they can be used in any order, here is my current layout and how I use each pedal:

Philosopher’s Tone (Compressor) > Mothership (Synth Voice) > Philosopher King (Sustain and ADSR) > Aria (transparent overdrive) > PolySaturator (heavy metal crunch) > Disnortion (classic FAT distortion and octave) > Envelope Phaser (rotary and envelope sounds) > Echolution (delay and chorus) > Tremvelope (psychedelic modulation).

If I am using the Keymaster, in this rig, it will go after the Philosopher’s Tone and before the Echolution, with all the other pedals in the two Keymaster Loops so that I can expression pedal crossfade between and mix analog guitar synth sounds with classic rock tones.

Q: Every new products from Pigtronix are surprise. Would you talk about what coming up in 2011?

A: Next is a BIG surprise. A Pigtronix pedal with only one knob… the greatest guitar preamp ever. Class A all the way!

Q: Some people think your products are complicated because of number of knobs, unfamiliar controls. Would you give them some advice to people who think this?

A: The first thing to do is remember that each knob can cause a very big change in sound. I suggest you follow these simple rules when trying out any new pedal.

#1 – Read the manual.

#2 – Put all knobs at 12:00 and turn one at a time to hear what it does.

#3 – Watch Pigtronix videos.

#4 – Have fun

It is a science, but some musicians just have a feel for it that does not require technical understanding.

My job is to stand at the crossroads between engineering and musicianship.