A Day in the Life of a Boutique Guitar Pedal Store Owner
In today’s golden age of guitar gear, many builders are creating everything from totally unique designs to improved recreations of vintage classics. This couldn’t have come at a better time, since the internet revolution in recent years has allowed anyone and everyone to sell products online. Brad Fee, founder of Tone Factor, has paved the way for many up and coming builders by giving them a great alternative to selling their designs by themselves. Brad generously took the time to reflect upon his experience in this very “toneful” market in the first SSS interview of 2005!
Tone Factor’s Universal Return Policy
SSS: Brad, what sparked the idea for you to open up your own online boutique guitar store?
Brad: I don’t know if there was a particular moment, just a gradual progression. I’ve always been into effects and guitar gear in general. Over the years of buying, selling and trading pedals (as a hobby) I developed friendships with several pedal builders. One thing led to another and here we are.
SSS: What are some of the obstacles to overcome thus far? Has the competition put the pressure on you in any way?
Brad: I’ve had the usual obstacles that any upstart business would have, (finances, setup, etc.) . Establishing your name in a crowded market is always tough, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. If anything my competition just keeps me on the ball.
SSS: How do you choose the equipment to carry before you become a dealer? Can buyers know that you recommend every one of the products that you sell?
Brad: When I started one of my main goals was to provide an outlet for up and coming builders. Several of my initial product lines were things that simply weren’t represented elsewhere in the market. I’m like anyone else, certain things may catch my attention more than others, but I stand behind everything that I sell. Obviously I have my favorites, but I make it a priority not to sell anything that I wouldn’t use.
SSS: What kind of Guarantee or Return Policy do you offer all of your customers?
Brad: We offer a 5 day return policy within the states on pedal sales . There are minor exceptions like blowout items and certain things sold on EBay. We generally handle everything on a case by case basis, but we don’t want anyone to get stuck with something that they can’t use. (2011 Update: Now a Universal Return Policy!)
SSS: For someone who gets to play so much good gear, you must have some favorites. Would you mind telling us what those favorites are, and what is unique about them to you?
Brad: Like any “Gear Slut” it changes over time, but I do have certain pedals that I truly love. I’ve been using an RGW Bad Bob for a long time. There are plenty of other great boosters out there, but that one fills my needs as good as any of them. I like pedals that truly offer something unique like the Catalinbread Teaser Stallion, Red Witch Moon Phaser, Pigtronix EP-1, and the Xotic Robotalk to name a few.
SSS: If you don’t mind me asking, what are some of your best sellers?
Brad: Some of the hot items right now include the MI Audio Blue Boy, Catalinbread Super Chili Picoso, RGW Bad Bob, Xotic RC Booster, the trusty Crowther Hotcake… I know I’m forgetting some.
SSS: From your experience with “underground” boutique gear builders, what are some of the “factors” that lead to successful product lines? We all may learn a little bit from this.
Brad: The tone is the most important thing. Something can be a work of art to look at, but if “that sound” isn’t there it may never take off. I think it’s also very important for manufacturers to stand behind their products 100% and make customer service a top priority. Word of mouth is a mighty thing. If you really take care of people they will take care of you in the long run.
SSS: Did you ever experiment in building guitars, pedals, or amps? If so, what were some of your designs?
Brad: I’ve done the usual hobby things, like custom Strats made from parts. I used to enjoy doing custom paint jobs on pedals. I still see one or two of them on pedal board pic threads on Harmony Central every once in a while. As far as building pedal the most I’ve ever done was an Anderton Tube Sound Fuzz kit that I got from Paia. I had to send that to someone else to finish. I’m not cut out for that part of the business yet.
SSS: What additional services will people find at your website?
Brad: Right now we’re in the process of adding a new feature called “Unkle’s Custom Shop.” This will be a page that changes on a regular basis. It will feature Tone Factor exclusives, limited edition pedals, custom finishes, builder one-offs, and things like that. I think you’ll see some interesting stuff. My good friend and eternal “tweaker” Joe Delisi also offers pedal rehouses, true bypassing, etc..
SSS: What types of products can we expect in the future from Tone Factor?
Brad: We’ve recently started to spread our focus towards accessories. We’ve added Big Bend’s Nut Sauce, Gerlitz Guitar Honey, Stash Picks, the Jellifish Pick, Industrial Strength Velcro, and more. Our primary focus will always be pedals, but as time and finances allow we hope to branch out into tubes, pickups and almost anything guitar related.
SSS: Okay, I love this part of the interview. I get to test your wit. Rearrange the words “Tone Factor” to make either one new word or a new phrase of some sort.
Brad: Fear Cotton. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one. 🙂
SSS: Thank you for your time Brad!
Brad: Glad to be of assistance!