Tone City Audio: Taking DIY to the Next Level
Lyrics by Peter Hodgson
How do you start a pedal business? For Tone City Audio founder J. Wong, chief designer and guitar and pedal geek since high school, it was born out of musical necessity and economic frustration.
J. Wong bought his first electric guitar and first distortion pedal in 2005 while in high school, and quickly found himself discouraged by the high cost of pedals: how are you supposed to build the rig of your dreams when you are in school and the equipment is too expensive? ?
It was an issue that scarred him for the rest of his time in high school. After going to college to study business automation systems, he had one of those big “ah-has!” moments: why don’t I make pedals myself? He spent all his free time reading books and resources in English on how to build pedals, and got so into it that it took six months longer than expected to complete his major. Whoops.
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The first pedal he designed and built was an overdrive inspired by that green pedal we all know, and it quickly caught the eye on guitar forums at the time. This led to diving headfirst into the world of pedal design after college, designing over 40 products for another company, whose players liked the sound but were unhappy with the build quality. . He realized that if he wanted his pedal designs to be built to the standards he needed, he would have to go out on his own. And that’s why Tone City was founded in 2014. Today, Tone City Audio is distributed by EGM Distribution in Melbourne, and you can find them at many stockists as well as Eastgate Music in Kew (where Marcello will make a pleasure to deposit his impressive knowledge of the range).
The business has grown steadily, initially with a modest 49 square meter facility and now occupying 700 square meters, expanding as the business grows. Each product is based on J. Wong’s understanding of what gamers want and how to get it. Tone City Audio also speaks with dealers and distributors to ensure the pedals give players what they need. The company believes that music is not a luxury but a necessity, and that drives everything it does. Inside, the pedals are hand-wired with NOS components, BBD chips, silicon transistor-style circuitry, classic JFETs, OTAs, and hybrid analog/digital technology.
The designs are inspired by modern boutique pedals and famous classics, with names like Dry Martini Overdrive, Wild Fire Distortion, Mad Stone, Golden Plexi (you can guess what this one does), Angel Wing Chorus and the hilarious name Fuxx Fuzz among the current model range. No less a talent that Greg Koch is quoted as saying of a Tone City pedal, “holy carumbas, it’s a good little pedal.” The dog’s gone!” (We don’t know which pedal he was talking about, but this writer had a similar reaction when plugging in the Blues Man pedal, which is modeled after a certain British amp with “Blues” in the name of the model. You can probably tell it from the name but you will certainly recognize it from the tone).
There has been a clear shift in the pedal market that started quietly around 15 years ago and has become a big part of the way we play today: the micro pedal. While pedals had been marketed with words like “compact” since the late 70s, the new ultra-thin form factor became ubiquitous. It wasn’t just the space-saving benefits, though you could get away with a much smaller crankset with a handful of those little baby stompers. It was also the fact that with each pedal taking up less space, you could fit more on your crankset. The majority of Tone City pedals are micro sized units.
With vibrant colors, high contrast graphics (which makes it easier to see what’s happening on stage) and status lights built into the control knobs. The pedals are designed to operate on power supply only (a battery would interfere with the specifications). Most Tone City micro pedals feature a set of two or three smaller pots above the main status pot, or the odd micro switch, but the Tiny Spring Reverb is beautiful in its simplicity at a single command.
These aren’t all tiny micro-pedals: there are other stompers in the line that use a larger (but still compact) form factor to provide more versatility and control in the Tone City format. For example, the Flexo Drive is an overdrive and a boost, with each effect individually selectable and with an effect order switch to select which effect feeds the other. And the Model B is inspired by high-gain American amps of the treadplate variety, with a Vintage/Modern switch and selectable boost. And the Model V is inspired by a classic British Class A combo amp, but with selectable High Gain and Crunch modes to dramatically extend the gain of this legendary amp to what “can” be practically royal levels.
And there is also a series of pedals in between these two sizes, a more traditional pedal form factor used for pedals such as the Funny Boy Auto Wah, the Blue Crystal Echo (which brings you the sound of a BBD pedal with 600ms and 1100ms Short and Long Delay modes.And of course there’s the Green Tube Overdrive, which traces its lineage back to that original pedal that J. Wong tinkered with in the very beginning.The Silver Angel Chorus is another unit that traces its history back to J. Wong’s early designs, it’s an all-analog circuit based on a famous BBD chip chorus/vibrato pedal, and the prototype was made 14 years ago. Since then, many core components have ceased production, but Tone City has sourced enough NOS components to bring the design of this series to life.
Everything about Tone City Audio pedals feels like it was designed by a guitarist, and you can feel that passion, that sense of fun and creativity when you flip the switch and get carried away by the riffs.
Visit Tone City Audio for more information. For local inquiries, contact EGM Distribution.