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BOUTIQUE WEEK: Rainger FX

Daniel Gumble
BOUTIQUE WEEK: Rainger FX

MI Pro is kicking off the new year in style with Boutique Week – a brand new feature for 2016 in which we catch up with some of the UK’s top boutique traders.

For our inaugural Boutique Week, we’re homing in on the FX market, with contributions from boutique FX retailers and manufacturers on the state of the sector and what the future holds for businesses that exist outside of the mainstream.

So, to get things underway, we spoke to David Rainger, director and product designer at boutique FX pedal manufacturer Rainger FX, who tells us about the key challenges facing pedal builders, the importance of trade shows and what can be done to bring more homegrown brands to market…

 
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Tell us about how Rainger FX started and your background in the industry?

I’m an electric guitar player, done lots of playing live and recording – all sorts of pop stuff in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. I always turned up with huge bags of amazing guitar pedals – and some strange guitars. Lots of producers like Trevor Horn, Steven Lipson, Sly & Robbie, Michael Beinhorn, and they’d often specifically want hooks...hooky noises and parts, as well as regular playing.

So, that’s what I was into. I wrote gear reviews for musicians’ magazines and always got to try out great effects pedals – like the first Digitech Whammy, the ZVex Fuzz Probe, and eventually started to get pedals modified by smart guys I knew – or got them built from scratch.

Eventually in 2004 I thought ‘could I do this myself??’ I got some books out the library and worked through them, downloaded a circuit diagram off the Internet, made it…and it actually worked! It was a real thrill, so I made another, and another, then started to mix them together, come up with brand new stuff. I did a HND in electronics – and my dad is a big help. He ran the BBC’s R&D department in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and came up with some good inventions for them – like ceefax, the BBC microchip. A handy guy!

So Rainger FX as a company started in 2009 in London. It’s all manufactured in the UK.

 

How has your company, and the UK boutique pedal market as a whole, coped with the recession in recent years?

It’s been tough for a lot of pedal companies, including Rainger FX, but somehow we’ve always managed to move ahead. I guess working lean – like everyone has to at the moment – gets you in a good position and work ethic for when the economy does get going...whenever that is.

More than ever at the moment, though, there are billions of new pedal companies starting up – and a lot of them are really tremendous.

 

We recently heard from NAMM that the boutique pedal market is booming across the pond. Has there been a notable increase in demand for boutique pedals in the UK of late?

There has been some increase in boutique sales here, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as healthy as what I hear in the US. There are plenty of American brands making their way into UK music shops – and in a big way, too; much of it seriously great gear. That’s what we’re competing with. You have to try and stand apart from everyone in what you’re doing. That, and don’t disappear after five years.

 

Why do you think the US market is performing so well at present?

There’s a huge, constant rock music fanbase in America – and this is the traditional stompbox heartland. Here, we’re a bit more varied, musically – but of course that’s a great strength too.

I also think it’s a bit easier for US pedal companies in that they have an enormous market on their doorstep (low postage fees) and companies actually producing components fairly cheaply there, too.

 

What are the key challenges for boutique pedal manufacturers in the UK today?

For me, it’s always a balance of having fun making new sounds, but to make it understandable – and very useable – for guitar players wanting to progress in bands. You can’t just go wild and cover it in tons of knobs! You’ve got to be able to say ‘it does this kind of sound; you adjust it like this, and like that’.

Also a key challenge is somehow to get a look-in when a shop is thinking of trying a new brand. Plenty of dealers are finding things tough at the moment, and go for the cheapest stuff – often Chinese, and I have to say, a load of fun if you’re buying your first fuzz box. But properly check out the local companies too. It’ll be always interesting, and there may even be no postage fees at all – ‘cos someone walks the new pedals over to you!

I do think it’s quite important for pedal makers to visit shops and show what they’re about – something we can do here in person, not that I’m any good at it! It can be quite an eye-opener seeing how things are ‘on the front line’.

 

Do you think that boutique pedal manufacturers are sufficiently supported by the UK dealer network?

Well of course it’d be nice to get all of them ordering boutique stuff, but the ones that are at the moment, I think, are actually doing better than they have been. I think there’s a culture of experimenting and branching out that’s steadily growing everywhere. For instance, a whole bunch of record stores that have been shifting DJ gear, are now getting into modular synths - and pedals. People aren’t afraid of technology so much.

You know Teenage Engineering, the Swedish synth company? They’re doing great with their Pocket Operator synths, which have exposed PCBs and switches and stuff – no casing at all! People’s attitude is changing towards new things.

 

What do you think dealers can do to help bring more homegrown products to market?

There are some great UK makers about who they should give a chance – like Frederic effects, MWFX, and, of course, Roger Mayer – who pretty much started it all – as well as Rainger FX.

All the dealers should get together and have a big tradeshow. Why can’t we have the British Music Fair again?! There’s a load of incredible start-ups that have happened since last time.

 

How important are international trade shows for companies such as yours?

They’re huge. It’s the most efficient way of exposure around. We’re exhibiting for the first time at Winter NAMM this coming January on the Dwarfcraft ‘superbooth’.

I asked Dave Koltai from Pigtronix how they got such an incredible roster of artist users, and he said ‘just keep turning up to the trade shows, and they walk past your booth and get interested’. Plus, you get all the press coverage and bloggers just looking for new stuff to write about.

Also, actually having shop managers and players get face-to-face with pedals and listening to what they think, what they’re into, how to do things better. The whole thing just imparts momentum.

 

Are there greater opportunities for boutique brands overseas?

Well it’s bigger markets, but also, a ‘made in the UK’ sticker can give a product an exotic flavour in other territories. Something we can easily underestimate. Over the years we’ve come up with some truly groundbreaking products. And Led Zeppelin.

If you would like to get involved with MI Pro’s Boutique Week, please contact MI Pro editor Daniel Gumble at dgumble@nbmedia.com.

Tags: Retail , boutique , Rainger FX , Boutique Week

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