It’s been a little while since I did a builder interview. This time around, I had a chance to send a couple of questions to Johnny Balmer of Alchemy Audio in one of my favorite cities.. Chicago, IL. Alchemy Audio is a shop that focuses on pedal modification, electronic repair… and are currently pumping out the Dead Bat, which we’ll be talking about very soon… so keep an eye out for that!
What got you interested in electronics?
From an early age, I was always fascinated with how things work. When I began playing guitar as a teenager, I bought a four track cassette recorder and began experimenting with recording techniques. Shortly after, I acquired Craig Anderton’s book ‘Electronic Projects For Musicians’. This led me to working in recording studios and running live sound for bands – where the ability to quickly fix broken gear comes in handy. I was hooked!
Are you a musician? If so, any links to your band?
When I was younger, I was in a heavy metal band in Minneapolis you’ve never heard of. We once opened for W.A.S.P.!
Do you do repairs as well as mod’ing pedals?
Yes. I spend about half of my time repairing gear for clients – including an unusual amount which have been run over by cars?!
Do you only work on pedals? Or do you work on other equipment?
Although pedals are my specialty, I also work on small wattage tube amps, microphones and vintage motorcycles! I’ve also started making custom instrument cables. I brew some damn good beer too!
Where is Alchemy Audio located?
I am based in Chicago, IL – walking distance from Wrigley Field.
How long have you been in business?
I officially launched the company in early 2013 after doing work on my kitchen counter (don’t tell my wife!) for a few years.
What are your favorite pedals to mod.. and why?
I really enjoy taking some of the common, inexpensive pedals (Boss, Electro-Harmonix, Ibanez, etc.) and improving the sound by simply upgrading the low quality circuit components and adding features. Specifically, I love modifying wah pedals – because they benefit the most from my improvements.
Do you build any of your own pedals, or stictly stay with mod’ing pedals?
I’ve built several pedals from kits and have a few of my own designs in development. However, I stay quite busy working on client projects. I’d love to release my own line of pedals but it’s a challenge to come up with something unique. The last thing the marketplace needs from me is another fuzz pedal. My flagship product, the “Dead Bat” dying 9 volt battery simulator, has been selling quite well. My second product will be an adjustable cradle for building and repairing amplifiers. I’ll be marketing this to amp techs.
Why do musicians like to purchase modified pedals?
Quite simply, the endless pursuit of tone (or, undiagnosed ADD). Also, I think people appreciate having something unique.
What type of popular pedal mods would musicians be interested in?
Sometimes, people want to add features to an existing pedal – such as true bypass or an LED. I also receive requests to “re-house” a pedal (placing it in a different enclosure). I also install mod “kits” people will buy but are uncomfortable performing the installation themselves.
Do you do custom modifications?
All of the time. A majority of the mods I perform are specifically tailored to the client’s needs. Before I even touch a pedal, I’ll consult with them to discuss what they like (or don’t like) about the pedal.
Anything new and exciting for Alchemy Audio for 2014?
Besides touring the world as a successful male model? Seriously though, I plan to offer both my “Dead Bat” and some of my modified pedals to select retailers. I also want to focus more on video demos of my mods so potential clients can hear what the pedals sound like before they purchase.
Reverb.com just put out a great “Shop Feature” video featuring Johnny Balmer. Next time I’m in Chicago, I’ll definitely be stopping in.
Let me know what you think by commenting below!