How A Cave Emerged In Brooklyn
This was supposed to be a hobby.
When I was a kid in the 50s-early 60s, it was usual for boys to have chemistry sets and build electronic gadgets. I survived the odd explosion and almost lit myself up like a Christmas tree, which was a lot of fun. I have no talent for math, so engineering was out as a career path. But I did learn enough basics to do "cookbook" electronic design, and I paid some college tuition by writing articles for the hobby magazines that were still heavily circulated at the time.
I had qualified to teach Spanish, but I left the school system because I wanted to write my own professional ticket. So I began making my living at various technical and technology-related jobs, ultimately settling on technical writing. I picked up my soldering iron again in the late '90s because I wanted to build some stompboxes, and it was then that I found Aron Nelson’s Forum at Ampage.
Originally, I intended to do custom stompbox design and offer some kits. But supplying specialty parts for DIY proved an easier route to having immediate cash flow and a business that would grow organically. Orders from commercial accounts followed, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since the early days starting on our kitchen table, SBE has become a substantial small business with a warehouse in Brooklyn and a staff of nine. I’ve enjoyed making it easier for many people worldwide to build and modify their own pedals, and my life has been well-filled with music, travel, guitar shows, interesting people and varied noises.
How do you keep your prices competitive with much larger vendors?
It’s not rocket science. Mouser, for instance, sells 150,000 items or more; I only carry a few hundred. So I buy large enough lots of those to get favorable pricing. As the business grew, I began buying directly from manufacturers, both here and overseas. While I moved out of our home and into rented space some years ago, I have done my best to continue to keep overhead low: no company airplane, only buy what we can pay cash for, etc.
How come you don't offer Kits for classic effects?
I started SBE as a vehicle for offering my own designs as kits and finished pedals. Eventually I concentrated more on the parts business, both to fund experiments and to acquire items that weren't readily available through distributors. Then some talented designers started issuing ready-to-solder PC boards for cloning classic pedals, so I chose to support them rather than produce Fuzz Face or Rangemaster kits of my own. By choosing from the offerings of the other DIY sites and my stock list, you can pretty much "roll-your-own" kit, with your choice of construction method, case, fittings and decorations. If you see a design you want to tackle and need help shopping, ask me. I can provide, for many classic pedals, a Bill of Materials that is keyed to my stock list.
What is Small Bear’s corporate philosophy?
We believe that world peace is encouraged when more people produce loud, growly, raucous instrumental noise.
Where did you get the company name?
It arose from private jokes between me and my much-beloved wife, Judy, concerning my appearance and demeanor on getting out of bed. Well, you asked…