Interview: Jon and Anna Ashley on the Return of the Bondi Del Mar

Bondi Effects Del Mar Overdrive Reissue

The New South Wales suburb of Bondi is chiefly known to be home to one of Australia's most glorious beaches. However, astute gear collectors will also recognize Bondi as the namesake of an Australian pedal company making waves worldwide. It's an apt statement; Bondi Effects takes great pride in their name, which is an Aboriginal word meaning "water breaking over rocks."

Currently cooking in the Bondi Effects kitchen is a hotly anticipated re-release of their highly sought-after Del Mar overdrive, which was discontinued in 2017. We had the opportunity to chat with Jon and Anna Ashley, the dynamic husband-and-wife duo who might possibly be hand-building your next favourite pedal.

The the reissued Del Mar Overdrive sold out within a few hours of its release on Reverb Monday. Follow the link to add the Del Mar Reissue to your Feed and be notified as soon the next batch is available.

Tell us about Bondi Effects. Is it just the two of you behind this entire operation?

Jon: Bondi Effects is Anna and myself. I do the engineering—I'd love to make this sound cooler, but at its core, it's a lot of turning fanciful ideas into practical reality via thousands of hours in front of the computer. Anna does all of our photography, social media, and customer engagement. We split the production duties too, with all pedals assembled, tested and packed in-house.

When and why did you decide to move to Sydney?

Jon: It makes for a pretty wild story, but my parents were missionaries when I was growing up, so I spent most of my childhood in Sydney before moving back to the US when I was in high school. Shortly after moving back, my mum was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. My life there was pretty chaotic, and I had always wanted to move back "home"—which is always what Australia had felt like to me. That felt pretty out of reach for a long time, but a couple of years after starting the business, we were able to make the move in October 2015.

How did the company first start out?

Jon: Bondi Effects has kind of followed along with the trajectory of our lives. We started a month before we got married, after I lost my job, and in the midst of us both freaking out about how we were going to make a living. It was right in the middle of the global financial crisis, and though we were both in university, we were suddenly being told that our degrees were probably not going to get us jobs. All of a sudden, something clicked in my head, and I had the idea for the Sick As Overdrive. From there it took off. Anna was able to come on board as a part of the company, and a couple of years later, we were able to make the move back to Australia. Almost seven years in, I've grown a great deal in my abilities as an engineer, and I'm really grateful to be able to do this stuff—and ever more passionate about doing it well.

Anna: Our focus has remained essentially the same over the past seven years. Jon started out trying to create the pedals that he wished he owned, even though they didn't exist yet. Over time, what that looks like has evolved though. It started out as a fun hobby, and now it's pretty much both of our lives. We've both learned a lot "on the go," and thankfully the past couple of years we've been settled enough to really dive deeper into our interests and to refine our skills. A couple of years ago we wouldn't have imagined we could create an analogue delay pedal like the Art Van Delay, but I think that's opened up a new realm for us, and we're excited to keep running further in that direction.

Jon, how did you first get into building pedals?

Jon: I was fascinated by pedals from when I first started playing guitar when I was a teenager, but I never really had the budget to afford what I wanted. I have always been into electronics, and so I realised I could probably make my own. A friend put me onto DIY websites like Madbean and DIY Stompboxes, so I ordered a couple of PCBs and started trying stuff out. I had a couple of friends that were willing guinea pigs, which helped me a great deal. Eventually I developed an understanding of the basic principles and building blocks, at least enough to start designing my own stuff.

What were some of the first pedals you ever built?

Jon: I did all of the DIY classics and went through most of the Madbean projects. The Tubescreamer, Rat, and Echoplex Preamp boost were always my favourites. Everyone in this business is standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak, but my first "original" circuit was the Sick As, which is a modern interpretation of the Klon Centaur.

What were some of the challenges you faced when first starting out?

Jon: There's so much information on the internet, and it can be difficult to know what is and isn't accurate. I never really fit into the culture of any of the gear forums that were super-prevalent back then, so they weren't much help. I ended up learning mostly by trial and error. In addition, neither of us are naturally suited towards marketing, and so we have largely had to rely on the help of others in that area—like Paul Hanna from White Flag Design, who is the creative genius behind the look of our pedals.

What was the first 'springboard moment' that really took Bondi Effects' name to the global stage?

Jon: I didn't really intend to start a business, but serendipitously, Gearmanndude—the Youtube demo personality—worked at my local guitar store. I took a Sick As in to show him and get his opinion, but he came back two weeks later with a demo video and asked for my website, which I didn't have. I quickly got together what I could, and we started selling pedals almost immediately.

You once did a collaboration with Matthew Hoopes (from Relient K and 1981 Inventions fame) for the 1981 DRV, what was that experience like?

Jon: About a year or so after starting Bondi, I was introduced to Matt Hoopes of Relient K through a mutual friend. We became good friends, and at one point he asked me to help him recreate the sound of his ProCo Rat. We looked at a few different vintage Rat circuits, but our favourite was his '80s White Face. I built a couple of prototypes that were intended as ways to recreate or reinterpret the Rat circuit, but honestly, I didn't really have the skills to do that pedal justice until a couple of years ago. I decided on a whim to give it another try, this time focusing specifically on what the LM308 chip does that makes the vintage units sound so much better than the modern ones. By this point, Matt also had the idea to have a fixed boost on the front end, and so I added that on and sent him the prototype. A couple of tweaks later, we ended up with the DRV.

How did you first get onboard with Reverb?

Anna: We got on board with Reverb through meeting Nick Smethurst, who was the Australian territory manager at the time. He helped us release our Breakers Overdrive through Reverb, and we were able to reach a vast new audience through that. Around that time, Reverb wrote an article about the hype of the Del Mar, which you can check out if you're confused about this whole thing.

What were some of the things about the original Del Mar that didn't suit your tastes?

Jon: The Del Mar Overdrive was initially released in 2014, and was an attempt to take what I had done with the Sick As, and then soften and smoothen the distortion while raising the maximum gain. This added greater sustain, landing in the same kind of sonic territory as a certain green OD pedal of much notoriety.

While my design process now involves very thorough maths and careful checking of work, that original R&D era involved a lot of trial and error, swapping parts and inserting or removing entire elements of the circuit out. This resulted in a lot of happy accidents, including the incredible amount of bass content that the Del Mar puts out, but at times it also led to some unusual (and even undesirable) sounds as well.

It really came down to way too much output, which resulted in some harsh distortion artefacts that could be described as 'farty.' These seemed to also be affected by the specific amp being used and by the amount of bass that the player was pushing, which made it very difficult problem to nail down.

I wasn't really comfortable saying that that was just the sound of the pedal, so we discontinued the Del Mar in 2017.

In what ways has the Del Mar changed from its previous form?

Jon: I've tried to keep this reissue as close as possible to the original Del Mar Overdrive. To smooth out some of the rough edges I've given it an all new 27V internal power supply. You plug in 9V, same as before, but internally, that's converted to a very robust, regulated 27V which gives the Del Mar more headroom than ever before. This is particularly noticeable when playing with the extremes of the EQ controls. And with some help from John Snyder at Electronic Audio Experiments, I was able to come up with some tweaks that have addressed those aforementioned artefacts.

Anna: We dropped the first batch over Black Friday, and it sold out in 12 minutes. We were pretty blown away by that, and really grateful for the response. We've got several smaller batches that we will be announcing over the coming weeks, with the first being available on December 9.

In your Del Mar re-release announcement, it seems you've got your ear pretty close to the ground on the aftermarket. Is releasing quality pedals at affordable prices something that's part of Bondi Effects' philosophy?

Jon: I'm not really willing to compromise on quality, but I take our manufacturing cost pretty seriously. If there is a way to do something more cost effectively using better engineering, then of course I want to do that—we did that on the Art Van Delay. But if changing a component or cutting a corner is going to affect the reliability or quality of the product, then I'm not willing to do that under any circumstances. That's my primary concern when determining a price. We are concerned about aftermarket opportunists as well, and hopefully this re-release will help deflate the ridiculous prices that some Del Mars have sold for.

Anna: We definitely put a lot of consideration into our pricing, and as Jon said, it's always a balancing act of quality and cost efficiency. We want to release the best product we can, while keeping it at a fair price point that people will feel good about purchasing. Originally, the Del Mar hype was pretty uncomfortable for us, because we kind of go out of our way not to hype up our products too much. We're very into our pedals speaking for themselves, and with the Del Mar, we didn't have much control over the attention. With this re-release, we're feeling much better about the excitement around these pedals, because the improvements have made the Del Mar into a pedal we can really be proud of—which includes encouraging people to be excited about it.

What keeps you so passionate about your work through the years?

Jon: I really love electronics and get excited to learn new things and make stuff, so I suppose that is what really gets me out of bed. That's really all I've wanted to do since I was a kid, so it's really a dream gig for me.

Anna: We really try not to take for granted that this is what we do for work. It's evolved into a business that really supports both of our passions, and being able to do it together is a dream. Some days, work is just work, but on those days, I think we've learned to push ourselves a bit further, so we get excited again about where we're headed. Plus, I think we've both become pretty big fans of not having a boss!

What's on the horizon for Bondi Effects?

Jon: I'm really excited to expand on what I learned with the Art Van Delay, and to apply that to some new types of effects. I have plans for two new releases we will hopefully have out in 2020. I've been really delving into modulation, and the new releases we have out next year should cover that whole realm for us. There are some really cool things that weren't possible for us until the past few years, as well as some opportunities that I don't think have really been addressed very well in the marketplace yet, so I'm looking forward to that.

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