How did you get into designing and building effects pedals?
JN: From being poor...haha! No seriously, we didn't have much money growing up and it was a time when if you wanted something you either had to work to earn money or make it yourself. I did both. I would take the money I earned from odd jobs and hit the swap meets and flea markets looking for gear. This was back in the late 70's early 80's so stuff wasn't really "vintage" back then....it was just old and didn't work. I'd buy the stuff and either fix it by reading tech books or by consulting the local TV repairman. There was this great fuzz wah that I fixed and I have no idea what brand it was. Unfortunately it's been lost with my several moves, I REALLY wish I still had that one.
So are you basically a self-taught engineer, or do you have any formal training?
JN: Self-taught to a certain degree in electronics. I do have a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, but electronics was always a very serious hobby for me.
When did you start El Rey Effects?
JN: Officially we're going right on 2 years. The first year was a slow build as we tweaked our designs, streamlined some procedures and continued to improve the pedals overall. This last year has been an incredible boom that we really didn't expect. It's still a bit surreal.
How have you been able to get so many national artists interested in your products? I mean they sound fucking awesome, but that's a huge score for a relatively new company.
JN: Ancient Chinese Secret! HA! No seriously, we have a great networking channel. Some have come by word of mouth and others by just reaching out. And when you get a few of the players in bigger name bands to check out your stuff and like it, they tend to tell others about it. Monte Pittman has been a great addition to the El Rey family and he's helping spread the word about us throughout the Metal Blade family of artists.
Along those same lines, what does a mention in Guitar Player magazine mean for a small business such as yours?
JN: It really helps to legitimize us and shows that we put out a product just as good, if not better, than the larger companies out there. It also shows that it’s not just a bunch of cool images painted on a box, that the sounds back up the looks of our pedals. The fact that they gave us the Editor's Pick was HUGE!
Do you do all of the artwork for pedals yourself?
JN: We do most. Luckily, I have a large amount of talented friends that have helped in that department as well. Donny Conrad at HC Kustoms has done a lot of the pinstriping and hand painted work for our custom pieces. He's a real talent.
Where does the whole Lucha Libre theme stem from?
JN: I was actually born in Mexico and grew up loving it from the start. I grew up in Los Angeles and there was still a lot of Lucha Libre wrestling around there as well. In more recent times, I started wearing the mask when I wrote a zine about the local scene. To keep my anonymity, I wore the mask, although my anonymity didn't last and it became a schtick to keep wearing it. When I started the pedal company, it was a no brainer to use it as a logo.
Can you describe the overall El Rey sound that you’re going for?
JN: That is a tough one, especially for pedal builders. Tone is such a particular thing that guitarists are always searching for. We all have different styles and what sounds great to one guy is a turd to someone else. When I create a circuit, I'm going for the WOW factor. I want the user to plug the effect in and immediately go, "OH...that's it!" They get that look in their eye and just know it. That's what I'm going for in my sounds.
What’s the craziest pedal that you guys ever built?
JN: I was messing with some tone modulation stuff once and it really sounded like a flying saucer battle from some 1950's alien movie. I never released it because I just don't see what something like that would be used for musically. It was fun for goofing around, but nothing you would use on a regular basis.
I noticed that you build the Billy Jack pedal specifically for bass. Did that come about from a request, or were you thinking of your 4-string friends all along?
JN: I actually built that for my bass player when I was in the band Dr. Bombay. He wanted a bass fuzz and I was like, “Okay, let me see what I can come up with that works in the lower range.” What's funny is, I have a lot of guitarists that play in drop tuning that love that pedal. It's just real bassy.