Pedal Profile: Henretta Engineering

St. Paul's own Kevin Henretta has been slinging pedals on Reverb since the olden days of early 2013. His lineup of distinct 'no-knobbers' are small in footprint but plenty big in sound, covering a wide range of effects from compressor to fuzz, from octave to preamp drive. We recently talked to Kevin about the Henretta Engineering pedal lineup and developing his svelte stompboxes.

Reverb: Obviously the most striking thing about your pedals is their small footprint. What was the inspiration for making such small pedals?

H: I started designing and building pedals to fill specific needs I had on my own pedal board. In 2010 I was playing in a band where I was using clean sounds much more often than I had in the past, and I felt I needed a compressor. Since I had already released the Chord Blaster at that time and was in the mode of making my own pedals, I decided to try to fit a simple compressor circuit inside the smallest box I could find, due to little space left on my pedal board. I landed on the 1590LB box, which is typically used for external tap tempo or auxiliary foot switches, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to fit the circuit inside that box. The first things that had to go were the knobs, and I found it refreshing to have a pedal that had no external controls to worry about getting knocked out of place or resetting before every practice and gig.

Henretta No-knobber Pedals

Reverb: What's the most popular of the no-knobber lineup? Why do you think players have embraced that model?

H: The Orange Whip compressor is the oldest of the lineup and has the most sales by volume. Whether or not the sales figures are because the Orange Whip is the oldest pedal or the most popular is difficult to determine, but I do know that players who use compressors very rarely find the need to change settings once they find the sweet spot. The pedal in the lineup that seems to be picking up steam is the Emerald Prince preamp, which is the most recent release. It is another pedal that lends itself well to the set-and-forget format since it's a tone enhancer that most players just leave on all of the time. Being able to have a pedal like that take up very little space on a pedal board is valuable.

Reverb: Are there any particular challenges you face when designing circuits that have to fit in the confines of such a small enclosure?

H: Yes! I can't make a delay, chorus, flanger, or reverb in this format. I want to stick to using through-hole components and hand-soldering, as I feel that differentiates these "mini" pedals from the many other small foot print pedals out on the market right now. Those particular effects, which all include some sort of time modulation, are just too complex with chips that are too big to fit inside the little 2" x 2" box. It's too bad because I think a set-and-forget chorus and reverb would be popular. In order to pull it off, I'd have to either have the boards mass produced with tiny surface-mount components or go full digital. I'm not interested in doing either of those at this time.

Reverb: I know you've done some custom builds as well. What's the wildest pedal project you've tackled?

H: I've been making custom pedals for Jesse Langen, a modern classical player in Chicago. He was looking for the ultimate drive machine, and we ended up designing a box that has a three-in-one boost circuit on the front end, my Chord Blaster circuit in the middle, and a three-band parametric EQ at the end. It's a big black box with tons of knobs, which is so different from what I usually do but really just amazing in tonal flexibility. That was a fun one.

Henretta combo pedal

Reverb: What can we expect next from Henretta Engineering?

H: I definitely want to make a no-knobber phaser pedal. Simple circuits similar to the classic Phase 45 can fit in the little enclosure, and I've been wanting a small, fast Leslie-esque effect on my own board. That should be coming by the end of the year. The longer term plan is to expand on the 6-in-one and 8-in-one boxes I've been custom building - the Six Speed and Eight Speed. I'm able to fit a row of the little no-knobber circuits in the small boxes typically used for multi-switcher circuits. I want to incorporate digital control of the little analog circuitry in the same small foot print boxes. This would allow presets for switching up the order of the effects, which effects are on, and even manipulation of the internal trimmer settings for a small highly flexible box that uses all-analog circuitry for the signal path.

Reverb: What's your favorite all time recorded guitar sound?

H: "O My Soul" by Big Star

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