I’ve said this for years, one of the best things about running this blog is discovering new builders out there. Discovering great builders, and what they’re up to is something that really excites me. Recently, I received a message on our Facebook page and it was Charlie Fox of Pinstripe Pedals. They make super high quality.. and sweet looking DI boxes. I sent over a few questions to Charlie to talk about what they do and to get some basic understanding of DIs. Please read below and let me know what you think by leaving a comment! Thanks Charlie!
– Where is Pinstripe Pedals located?
We are located in the sunny, mid-coast state of Oklahoma, home to several notable boutique pedal manufacturers and a TON of talented musicians of all genres.
– What inspired you to start the business?
We have always been into guitar pedals. Some of the first pedals acquired by our head engineer as a young guitar player were a EHX Big Muff Pi (Rams Head version), a giant chrome super-heavy-duty Morley PWO Power Wah, a Boss BF2 Flanger, and a DOD FX60 Stereo Chorus (with some other junky things along the way). We built copies of the MXR Distortion + and played with different types and numbers of diodes and different opamps back in the mid 80s when you had to order parts from places like Jameco (by phone!) or dig through bins at the local electronics surplus store. Lots of well-meaning friends have prompted us into getting into building some kind of custom electronics over the last several years, but the timing never seemed right until now.
– What prompted you to primarily focus on DIs?
We knew that the industry did not need another Tube Screamer or Klone or whatever. We mean no disrespect to any of the manufacturers out there, it just wasn’t what WE wanted to do. We wanted to use our experience in engineering, electronics, music and pro sound reinforcement together to do something that we think is unique and cool, that is, a pedalboard direct box with a smaller footprint and with the jacks oriented like most guitar pedals. We know from our experience in live sound that all the extra switches and features aren’t used by most musicians anyway. The majority of the high end passive direct boxes are big and have a lip around the edge to prevent damage to their plastic jacks. This lip protects the connectors, but prevents the use of right angle plugs that would allow a more compact fitment on a pedalboard. Touring musicians are all about getting their boards smaller and lighter these days. Our basic mono direct box, the LWDI, is the first of several products we have in mind. The first prototypes were built about 8 years ago just as a fun project and because there was a need for a direct box that was simple and compact.
– For those not familiar- why are DIs needed by some musicians?
The signal coming out of most instruments is high-impedance and/or unbalanced, meaning that it can’t be run over distances more than about 25 feet without being susceptible to picking up noise or losing a lot of top-end due to cable capacitance. Cable capacitance is rated in picoFarads per foot, so more feet of cable equates to more capacitance and it stacks up quickly! What a passive direct box does is to use a transformer to change the impedance from high to low and to make the signal balanced/differential. Without getting into all of the science, it means that the musician can use a 15 foot cable between their instrument and the DI and then use a mic cable or a snake to run their signal HUNDREDS of feet without such a risk of picking up noise or losing so much of the high frequencies that make an instrument sound clear, clean and bright. The primary users of our product are acoustic guitar players, bass guitar players and keyboard players.
– What makes a great DI?
The heart of a great passive DI is a great transformer! It should be quiet and it should alter the original signal as little as possible. If a bass player wants warmth or EQ or any sort of tone-shaping before sending to the mixing console, it is easy enough to add that before the DI with a pedal or in the mixer itself. We have chosen to make passive direct boxes because they are much less likely to cause noise or to ever fail. We think that active DIs have their place but it wasn’t where we wanted to focus initially.
– Why do you prefer Jensen transformers in your DIs?
The guy that started the company in 1974, Deane Jensen, majored in physics and electrical engineering. He worked in broadcast and recording before becoming the VP of engineering for a mixing console manufacturer. He eventually wrote his own circuit simulation software to be able to design better transformers. He introduced the double Faraday shielding that Jensen is now famous for. Deane died in 1989 and his hand picked successor was his friend and colleague, Bill Whitlock. Mr. Whitlock has authored several papers on transformers, sound loops, system integration many of which are published by the AES. These guys literally “wrote the book” on high end audio transformers. They did all the research and measurements on core materials, winding methods and geometry as well as shielding. Jensen is THE benchmark for audio transformers. This is why we proudly display the Jensen Transformers logo on our product, We have our own Audio Precision and have never measured a better DI transformer…and we have tested a “few”.
– Any notable musicians using a Pinstripe DI?
We just had an amazing finger style guitarist join our family: Paul Finley from Austin TX. You can check him out on Youtube: https://youtu.be/tThach7BGN8 and here he plays an awesome duet with Phil Keaggy: https://youtu.be/fQ8LmCo7xJo
– Are you planning on developing additional different products or variants of your DIs?
Yes! We are currently working on a stereo version specifically for bass guitar players to allow them to send a clean signal to the house mixer via channel A, then use the “Thru A” jack to feed the pedalboard and return the FX pedals on input B sending the FX signal via output B. This way, the house mixer can control the blend of the clean fundamental versus the effected signal for the ultimate control. We have some other ideas on how a stereo DI can be used even more creatively too. We’ll be outlining those ideas in our product videos that we are currently working on.
– Can you talk about the LBPB Micro Pedalboard?
The LBPB was an idea we came up with as a convenience item for acoustic guitar players that just need a tuner pedal and a direct box. A lot of times, you see players on stage and their tuner pedal sort of scooting around and yanking the DI by the cable. The Little Black Pedalboard just makes for a compact package that is easier and quicker to set up and tear down and prevents those issues. It is custom CNC machined out of nearly indestructible ABS plastic that is a quarter of an inch thick. We even include the fastener strips (super velcro) and a cable to connect the tuner and DI.
– What is the best way to pick up a Pinstripe Pedals DI?