Saturday, September 6, 2014

ADHD Thoughts on Relabeling Pedals for Profit

I'll start out this post by saying I'm not going to call out any manufacturers. But I'm putting this out there so that you can know what to watch for if your doing research.

My Personal Experience with Deceptive Sales 
Several years ago I worked for a guy who was always trying to find a way to squeeze a few dollars out of people. He was very charismatic, quick with his answers, and seemed very sure of himself. In short he was a great salesman. One day one of our vendor reps was telling us about a product they had. It was a good product and suited our needs very well, and it was cheap about $38 for a Five Gallon bucket. We asked them if they had any problems with us putting our own label on it. They told us "we don't really care once we've been paid just don't ask us to stand behind it".  I thought it would be great to mark this up a little and resell it as a cost efficient alternative to other brands. But my boss had another idea "Let's sell it for a lot more, like $200 and we'll tell them that we mix it up here at the shop and at that price we could put a different name on it and sell it for multiple things." Not only we're we selling a cheap product at a premium, we were lying about where it came from. We were selling snake oil. A few months later, for a variety of reasons, I quit.

Deception in the Pedal Industry
So what does this have to do with guitar stuff? Recently a boutique manufacturer was outed as doing something similar. Taking a cheap Chinese made wah pedal (that was surprisingly good) putting "goop" on the circuit board to cover up components and putting his own label on it. The boutique pedal buying community is, of course, upset. Worse is that he has threatened legal action against forums in an effort to hide his deception. And of course this isn't the first time this has happened. A few years ago this happened with a popular cheap overdrive that I talked about here. Of course there is a line you have to cross to really make customers angry and for each of those customers that line may be a bit different.

So what is legal? We have clones and forgeries, forgeries are supposed to be illegal. Clones are supposed to change a bit not be built by the original manufacturer. I personally like it when brands say "we based this pedal on such and such and then changed some things like...". There are quite a few TS9 circuits out there with added bass, more gain, more available volume boost, and better switching among other things. I have absolutely no problems with this. Ghost building has been done by many brands, Ibanez did it with Maxon, and at the time Maxon wasn't importing in to the USA so for them it was a boom in sales and Maxon was building them for Ibanez. Ibanez has since moved production away from Maxon and both continue on. This is obviously legal.

But telling a customer that you are 1) building a product in the USA when it's being built in China, 2) that you are hand making some of the components when your not... well I guess I can see where someone who spent $250+ of their hard earned money would be upset. Especially when I've seen the original sell for $85 brand new. And it's not like he couldn't have sourced the components himself and done everything he was saying very easily. The wah is not a complicated circuit. I also have no problem with a company like Visual Sound who designs their circuits here and has them built overseas and shipped over. They are very transparent about where their products are made, it says it right on the label.

How to Protect Yourself
So how do you protect yourself? That's tough. The first thing is to do some research, I like to hit the forums over at to see if anyone has identified the circuit and any "changes" to it. I don't know that much about electronics but these guys do. Also I like to listen with my ears and not my pocket book. That's tough because it's easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of a product. Be aware that there are a lot of  guys on the internet who get pedals for free for reviewing them. (I haven't yet but if anyone wants to send me some... hint hint). Some of them like Pete Thorn and Bjorn from Gilmourish seem to know how to make almost anything sound good. If you notice on my pedal reviews I always say that I'm not being compensated and that my opinions are my own, if that is altered you might ask yourself why. When reading the marketing put out by a manufacture are they using vague terms like "musical" or more specific terms like "picking dynamics". You can tell if a pedal responds to your touch but will it make you more musical? Waiting to hear a product for yourself is always best, and if you can set up a blind test with some friends even better. One last thing going back to my salesman days, if someone brought up a competitors product we would always talk down about their product and talk about the benefits of ours, "why would you want to use that" is salesman speak for "I don't carry that but here is something I do carry that is sort of similar". It's a lot to keep in mind but your the consumer and it's up to you where you spend your money.

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