ICONS: Yoshi Ikegami Talks Tonebender Collaboration
High atop the ever-growing mountain of stompbox manufacturers stands BOSS, alone at the summit. The Japanese juggernaut inarguably lays claim to some of the most durable and best-selling guitar pedal designs of all time — but in some respects, even BOSS owes a debt of gratitude to the original forbearers of fuzz.
“The Sola Sound Tone Bender is definitely one of the most iconic pedals in music history and is well recognized as a legendary pedal among vintage fuzz freaks,” says BOSS president Yoshi Ikegami. “The history and culture of Sola Sound is totally different from BOSS, but we have the same fundamental passion to pursue tone and feel.”
This passion was key in their recent partnership — a joint venture that would become the highly-anticipated TB-2W Tone Bender Fuzz.
Ikegami first met Sola Sound director Anthony Macari in 2015.
“He introduced me to his store and also showed me a lot of vintage and rare component parts from his collection,” Ikegami says. “Of course I knew the legendary Tone Bender pedal by Sola Sound and felt the legendary vibes at that time — but the turning point was 2017 when we celebrated our 40th anniversary and held an exhibition event at the House of Vans in London. I visited Macaris and met Anthony again at that time and he offered an idea of collaboration to BOSS.”
Of course, agreeing to partner on a new project was the easy part — BOSS had just released the JB-2 Angry Driver in collaboration with Kansas City-based JHS pedals as part of its anniversary celebration — it was overcoming the challenge of marrying BOSS’ uncompromising standards with a historically temperamental fuzz design that proved more difficult.
“Sourcing germanium transistors in todayʼs market is a challenge and we had that discussion several times,” Ikegami explains. “But I was inspired by Antʼs passion and experience building Sola Sound and the Tone Bender for more than five decades, so things finally got rolling — very slowly — under the surface.”
The first step involved the BOSS team borrowing a very special Tone Bender Professional MKII from Macari’s collection. The pedal they used to model the TB-2W was labeled #500 and had the distinctive tone and feel native to the most iconic Tone Benders in existence.
“We called it a masterpiece,” Ikegami says. “Ant knows everything about the Tone Bender, so with his advice and the #500 Tone Bender Professional MKII as a benchmark, we moved to develop the TB-2W Tone Bender.”
BOSS engineers were deeply involved in the second step, which involved developing the circuit and sound design with meticulous attention to detail, and then mapping out the production process.
“One of the biggest challenges was sourcing the germanium transistors,” Ikegami continues. “Germanium transistors are at the very core of the iconic Tone Bender sound — they’re what creates the organic interaction to the circuit that you can feel when you play.”
It took more than a year to find a sufficient quality and quantity of germanium transistors for the limited production run of approximately 3,000 pedals.
“After we found the germanium transistors, we carefully selected and analyzed each one by hand and deeply considered the best combination of each individual part to provide the best experience through TB-2W,” Ikegami says. “Our engineers carefully paired transistors for each individual TB-2W unit, which was a unique challenge and a totally different approach compared with our regular R&D and production process.”
Once the transistor pairs were selected, the BOSS team got to work on production.
“You can imagine the difficulty of recreating the vintage pedal tone and feel with BOSS stability, but there were many factors to consider in realizing our goal, such as temperature, voltage and circuitry,” Ikegami explains. “We aimed to faithfully reproduce the tonal change from the input level or variance of the guitar volume, but all our craftsmanship and superior design techniques were condensed into the TB-2W — which is definitely a WAZA Craft pedal.”
The full project timeline spanned three years, but Ikegami regards it as time well spent.
“Collaboration is not just a fashion,” he says. “One of the biggest benefits is generating synergy, and true collaboration is not easy to realize without that. But collaboration projects give us many opportunities — for instance, to rediscover ourselves.”
And this rediscovery, Ikegami hopes, will provide players with a platform that inspires.
“Through these experiences — from the beginning of the collaboration process, to the research and development, and the final phase of delivery — we are always thinking of ways to provide innovative and exciting solutions. Collaboration gives an exciting story to inspire creativity.”