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23 February 11 words: Jonathan Wright
"Those daft names for the controls were on the original prototype and they just kind of stuck"
Mike and Chris from Coopersonic
Chris and Martin from Coopersonic in their Beeston workshop

The number of guitar sales in the world has risen dramatically over the last ten years, but with the increase of cheap effects pedals and guitars being imported from the Far-East, are guitarists destined to be sacrificing quality for affordability.

Not so for Nottingham based guitar pedal manufacturers Coopersonic who have been making high quality pedals at an affordable price. Coopersonic was co-founded by local Nottingham musician, Chris Olley (of Six By Seven fame) and their effects pedals are currently being used by The Arctic Monkeys and Ronnie Wood to name a few.

I dropped by their workshop in Beeston, for a chat with Chris and co-founder Martin.

So what’s your background before starting Coopersonic?
Chris: I met Martin when I was in a band (Six by Seven)
Martin: I used to run a studio and do sound engineering; and I’ve always been building bits of gear for myself because when I was a kid you couldn’t afford to just go out and buy it, so it was much cheaper to make your own, then one day I thought it would be a nice way of making a living instead
Chris: Well Martin used to build pedals for me, and they were always really good, and a few years back I left the band and I was looking to do something else so I thought of Martin and said “why don’t I come along and help you out and we’ll do it together”

Why are you based in Nottingham?
Chris: Well that’s very simple to answer because we live here (laughs).
Martin: Well we live here and I started doing all this stuff in the basements of both the previous places I’ve had, luckily they’ve had nice big cellars, which is a lot easier then renting some commercial premises.
Chris: It’s a good location to be, smack in the middle of England, because you can travel around easily from here.
Martin: There are also a lot of local musicians around here, even though there’s a lack of any successful ones really.

What is that makes your pedals stand out from the vast market of effects pedals such as those made in Japan or America?
Chris: Because it sounds amazing. It’s that simple.
Martin: That’s the bottom line, but they’re also hand built and they’re built properly. Some of your older pedals like the (Ibanez) Tube-Screamer they’re well built which is why they’ve hung around for so long. A lot of the cheap modern stuff is rubbish; you tread on the plastic box and it’ll bend and it’ll break. We’d rather build something a bit more decent.
Chris: It’s all built in China nowadays and it falls to pieces. You can’t even buy a pair of Dr Martens anymore because they just fall apart.
Martin: I’m sure it’s great for younger folk who’ve not got so much cash and they can get their hands on all this gear, but if you want something proper you pay more.
Chris: When it comes to sound you can’t pull the wool over a musician’s eyes.

Would you say that this quest for tone has lead to elitism amongst musicians?
Martin: Well I guess so because if you buy a Gibson Les Paul, you’re paying for the name. They do make great guitars but they can add a bit more for the name.
Chris: I’m not sure its elitism. I went into a shop fully expecting to buy a Black (Gibson) Les Paul, but in the end I bought a Rickenbacker, and I’ve played it ever since, and the reason is because it was better than any others I tried.

Why do you think guitarists need so much gear?
Martin: Well there’s never enough. I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 25 years and have kept nearly all of my guitars, because you like to have different things to go to and different sounds, most people like to have a bit of variety.
Chris: I don’t agree with that at all. I personally have only got one guitar, but I’ve found my sound, I know what I want.
Martin: But you’ve had all sorts of equipment before hand though.
Chris: Oh yeah I had to buy the lot first before I found my sound. But I think the answer is we’re all boys, we like to buy toys and gadgets.

The Valveslapper as favoured by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys

Why do you think people are drawn to boutique pedals rather then cheap mass produced pedals from the far-east?
Chris: A wise man once said to me. Buy cheap, buy twice. Don’t buy 3 cheap guitars, save your money up and buy a ‘67 Fender Stratocaster. I think the answer to that is people will buy these because they want something which will work
Martin: They maybe looking for something a little different but I think most people are looking for reliability.

What about the increase in the number of musicians around these days; do you think that the demand has increased the amount of cheap equipment available?
Chris: What you mustn’t do is confuse the fact there are more musicians, more bands and all that, with being better music.
Martin: Yeah the availability of cheap gear has probably influenced a lot of people these days.

It must be hard competing in a market full of cheaper products?
Chris: Oh it’s extremely difficult, but if there’s a lot of something about it means there’s a healthy competition and that a lot of it is being bought. Our problem is how do we muscle in on that and get our stuff out there?
Martin: Simply getting people aware of it is the biggest problem so far when you’re competing against major manufacturers with advertising budgets.

How did some of your clients such as The Arctic Monkeys start using some of your effects pedals?
Chris: The Arctic Monkeys, now that’s a funny story, because my mate works for them, and said “oh I’ll take this pedal down to show them; though there’s now way they’ll entertain you with the idea” because apparently (Alex) Turner has used a (Pro Co) Rat pedal and a (Ibanez) Tube Screamer since he was like 12 years old, and he won’t let anything else go on his pedal board. But he loves The Valveslapper and he uses it all the time.

Who is that names the pedals? Valveslapper sounds a bit dirty doesn’t it...
Chris: We both do really. The funny thing about that though is my wife came up with it, and Martin didn’t want to do it at first saying “Its demeaning, we can’t call it that”, well my missus doesn’t think so.
Martin: After a few months like anything, it lost its meaning, but those daft names for the controls (Balls, Tits, Thrust and Ass) were on the original prototype and they just kind of stuck.
Chris: We’ve toyed with naming them other things such as the… (list of expletives I really shouldn’t mention here).

Coopersonic Engineering are based in Beeston, Nottingham.

Coopersonic Engineering website

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