All Effectrode pedals utilise Carling footswitches. I settled on these footswitches after evaluating every different type I could possibly lay my hands on – be assured no stone was left unturned. In my opinion they have a nice smooth, yet positive switching action and they’re also extremely reliable – to my memory we’ve only had a two or three fail since we began using them in 2005. The manufacturer datasheet specifies a mechanical life of 100,000 operations which has to equate to a lifespan of many, many decades in normal use. The data sheet also lists several tests that were carried out for shock, vibration, temperature and moisture resistance to various military standards and also explicitly states the materials utilised in the construction of the switch. This kind of stuff is mind-numbingly boring to a musician – reading the phone book sequentially would be of more interest – however to an engineer this stuff is fascinating and valuable. It reassures me that I’m buying a well-engineered quality product which I can use with confidence to build Effectrode effects pedals.
During my search for footswitches I did come a cross a few Chinese copies of the Carling footswitch on Ebay. These look superfically the same, however a closer inspection reveals the materials appear to be poorer quality. The photograph above gives a good indication of what I’m talking about. The first thing that jumps out is that the pins haven’t even been properly electroplated with nickel/tin. This isn’t true of all these clone switches, some are better than others, however it does raise doubts and questions. Do all these switches come from the same factory or different factories in China? Their exact origin is unknown and therefore it’s impossible to deduce anything about the reputation of the manufacturer. Also, there are no detailed datasheets available. What are the quality control procedures, if any? Looking at the picture, I can see the plastic body does not look precisely engineered – it lacks the clean, smooth finish of the Carling switch on the right. Then I note the switching action of the Chinese copy does not feel as smooth as the Carling switch. What’s the construction like inside the switch? Are the parts plated and machined accurately from quality materials or have corners been cut? Will the switch be durable and good for 100,000 operations or will it fail in a few days of use? More doubts and uncertainties.
This article is not a criticism of manufacturing in China, only this one specific example of Chinese ‘engineering’. However, it is a warning to would-be buyers of cheap merchandise of unknown origin (and known origin). Running a small business means I’m constantly busy and have very little free time – the last thing I need is unnecessary additional work, such as the problem of having to deal with replacing faulty switches and the downstream effect it will have on Effectrode’s reputation. So, if you’re building or repairing pedals it’s wise to stick with replacement parts from reputable manufacturers rather than trying to save a few cents here or there – it will be less expensive in the long run, for everybody.
There’s a bigger issue here too. These footswitches are just one example of many poor quality clones of parts that were originally manufactured in the West. Another example I wrote about recently was Dakaware 1510 knobs. The copies are so cheap that they’ve pervaded the market and the authentic Dakaware knob is seldom seen anymore on equipment and is not easy to find as many vendors of amp and guitar parts don’t carry it. On initial inpsection the quality of the clone knob appears okay, that is until you see it next to the authentic part – then you realise what we’re losing. The original part has a certain quality about it that makes it look and feel more classy. It could be the colour, subtleties in the styling, quality of the materials, any number of small details that have been lost in translation because manufacturing costs and profit margins have become the prime directive, completely eclipsing any considerations for quality. The original parts are more expensive, sometimes several times more expensive than the clones, but in my opinion they’re worth it.
The Effectrode ethos is to search out and utilise authentic parts whenever we can – it’s become a bit of an love obsession, this pursuit of old-school quality. Over the years I find I’m becoming more discerning and have come to realise that there really is something quite special about N.O.S. and authentic parts. I’ve also developed an astute sense for when component manufacturers are taking shortcuts for a quick buck and my ‘grumpy old men’ tendencies compel me to blog about my findings – in as balanced and fair a way as I can. It’s time consuming to research and get it all written down, certainly not the best business model for maximising profits, however that’s not where it’s all at. For me, it’s about taking pride in workmanship and building to the best of my abilities – doing the right thing. There are many days when this feels like fighting a battle against what has gradually become an accepted norm and in darker moments I question whether anyone is bothered about such things anymore. However, I’m indulging in pessimism – I am happy to say that I know there are quite a few discerning and knowledgeable musicians out there, otherwise I wouldn’t have a business and if you’re reading this article and in tune with just some of what’s being discussed then you’re one of them – the clones haven’t won… yet…