Moollon is a company producing a range of effects pedals that will guarantee to catch your eye and stop you in your tracks. With a number of leading guitarists using their products, Guitar Jar catches up with Moollon manager Andreas Roselund to find out more about the company, its products and their fascinating artwork.
…the artwork etched on Moollon pedals and guitars are inspired by existing traditional Korean art pieces found in palaces, temples, and various preserved works, the rest being original designs…
Hi Andreas, before we discuss the range of Moollon products in more detail, can you give our readers a rundown of the history of the Moollon company?
Moollon was founded in 2002 by Young Joon Park and CG Ji, who were both active musicians and guitar builders that had gone to art school together back in the 1980s, studying sculpting. ‘As individuals who had quite an expansive collection of vintage guitars and amps along a penchant for traditional Korean art, they had in mind a plan to start building pedals and guitars together early on.’ After a several years of planning and testing, the first pedal (Moollon Overdrive) was released, along with a few custom guitars. Winter NAMM 2004 was pretty much the debut of the gear for international release, and things have expanded since.
Do Moollon focus on producing a particular type of effects pedal or do you like to cater for most types of effects?
Although there are now about a dozen and a half Moollon pedals in production, drive pedals of different sorts have primarily the focus of Moollon designs. Young Joon especially wanted to get some of the best vintage overdrive tones he’d enjoyed from the 1960s into a very convenient package, hence the early release of the Moollon Overdrive, along with the Distortion and various vintage-spec fuzzes, even leading up to the rather unique Class A Boost, which is a point-to-point wired 3-band silicon transistor boost.
Which effect is your best selling pedal?
Although we’ve had fairly steady sales across the line, the Overdrive has pretty much been the consistent seller worldwide, although the Compressor is remarkably popular here in Korea and is slowly gaining respect abroad.
I’ve been aware of your effects pedals for a number of years, mainly due to the stunning artwork engraved into the units. Can you tell us where the idea came from to engrave your pedals? Do you use the same artist to create all the designs for the complete range of Moollon effects?
Young Joon and CG told me years ago how they wanted to produce a line of products that had an exterior that was just as impressive as the effect itself, so decided to employ their skills as artists to create an effect that could only be done by hand, albeit a labour-intensive process. They both had learned chemical etching in college and had done it enough to apply the art in fine detail on aluminium alloy, so it seemed only logical for them to try things out on commonly-used aluminium enclosures used for effect pedals. The artwork etched on Moollon pedals and guitars are all CG’s designs as well, many derived from or inspired by existing traditional Korean art pieces found in palaces, temples, and various preserved works, the rest being original designs. CG comes up with a design concept, and has it sketched and rendered in detail on his PC before he has the design printed to a silkscreen and subsequently etched, buffed, and inked. They had considered laser engraving and other methods early on, but felt that the “hand worked” idea shouldn’t be limited to just the circuitry. As a result, due to the inconsistent effect of acid on the aluminium surface and how each enclosure takes to buffing, no two pedal enclosures are exactly alike and we admittedly have to discard quite a few along the way, but we’re satisfied with the final effect with those that make it into the hands of the customers. I guess one could say that each pedal is unique.
How have you found the recent global financial crisis and is it difficult to compete against the mass produced manufacturers like BOSS?
We’re a team of 5. Young Joon designs and wires the VintAge Series pedals, winds the Moollon pickups, and builds the Classic series of Moollon guitars, CG builds the Custom Shop guitars and does all of the etched designs, electronics engineer Hyungwoo designs digital pedals, wires the BufferAge Series pedals and forthcoming models, and full-time builder Suhyun works on BufferAge Series Pedals and does domestic sales. As the newest member of the team (I’ve been with Moollon just under 4 years now), I get to do this-and-that and handle dealer/distributor/customer service, along with artist relations.
As a low-volume pedal and guitar builder company that still hasn’t received that much exposure in the world market, the past few years have certainly been a bit trying for us, and the temptation to diverge from Moollon’s original pursuit of “everything vintage” tone-wise has no doubt been on our minds, especially when we see fantastically innovative pedals consistently coming from some of the bigger makers. However, Young Joon and the staff have never thought of companies like Boss as “the competition”, and have candidly expressed that despite the fact that their goal has been and will always be “quality vintage tones”, there can always be lessons learned from companies like Boss. Case in point, we’ve been more than satisfied to see an esteemed guitarist as Derek Trucks using the Moollon Compressor, and were very happy to hear the nice things that Blues Saraceno also had to say about it at Winter NAMM 2009. Just the same, I have a feeling we’re not the only boutique pedal maker who both appreciates and knows the value of the influence that a giant like Boss has had with the design and endearing qualities of the CS-2. There always seems to be something to learn, and there’s a certain degree of unspoken respect around the Moollon shop for those who have gone before us, be it Pete Cornish or an unknown electronics engineer in Hamamatsu.
How do you maintain your motivation and enthusiasm in driving the business forward?
I’d say the majority if it all stems from the feedback we get from artists. When a guitarist we’re fond of give us a chance and tries out our stuff, we’re already smiling, but if he or she tops that off a few weeks later with some words of approval, we’re quite chuffed. It definitely can make those slow days coming into the shop worth more than it might seem.
Moollon has an impressive amount of guitarists using your products. Do you approach them for endorsements?
Yes we do, although as of yet we’ve never had the budget for an all-out endorsement of sorts. We may make just a handful of pedals a day, but nonetheless feel grateful to pass on a couple or more to those we’re musically fond of, given the opportunity. Most of this goes on either at the Winter NAMM show or (granted that we know the right folks) when an artist on tour passes through Asia and does a show here in Korea. As primary builder and president, Young Joon makes a concerted effort to meet them in person and answer questions directly when given the chance. It’s otherwise a little bit of this and that, as we also get a fair amount of regular email from guitarists looking for endorsements.
Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker) is one of the most recent artists to have custom shop pedals created in his honour. Can you tell our readers more about these pedals?
It’s been such a pleasure to be in touch with Crispian Mills and hear him make good use of Moollon pedals on his recent recordings, and we’re most certain he is one who shares a lot of appreciation of classic rock tones that inspired Young Joon and CG’s founding of the company in the first place. This past year, Crispian made an interesting proposal about a pedal idea, and after several months we have a few special designs now headed toward regular production, including a signature Fuzz 14 and VintageWah in the works, hopefully ready for release sometime this year. While this was all going on, CG also wanted to build him a one-of-a-kind “Strangefolk” guitar, that united both an etched guitar face of Moollon patterns, paired with some personalized images and ideas from Crispian himself, and we were pleased to work closely with him on the custom design that resulted. It’s definitely one of the more impressive things CG has done, combining red and black ink on the recessed etched areas for a really unique look.
How long does it take to design and manufacture a pedal once you receive a request from a guitarist?
Since all staff members are hands-on and have little reserve time outside of what we do, custom pedals (and guitars, for that matter) can take quite a while, and it is honestly very rare that we can actually accommodate a custom request. R&D time with circuit design is half of the work, the other being the enclosure design, which can take several weeks for CG to render before being satisfied with a final design.
Can we purchase the custom shop pedals from dealers or do we have to order directly from Moollon?
The Custom Shop OD/DS and 3-Plus are regular production items and can be both ordered from our dealers or (if no dealer is in one’s country) direct from our shop. As for the Custom Shop guitar line, due to the one-off nature of each model, they are usually ordered from us direct but can also be purchased through Ludlow Guitars in New York.
Can you tell our readers more about the guitars and pickups Moollon produce? Are you seeing an increasing amount of guitarists opting for Moollon guitars?
Young Joon has a massive collection of vintage guitars and amplifiers from the 50s and 60s in his private studio, and spent many years with CG in research while trying to hear what exactly was going on with those early production instruments in the context of how they were being used, all the way from a guitar’s wood and how many layers of lacquer they were finished in, to tone that could only come from less than perfect transformers used in old amps, even the surprisingly odd output resistance pairings in pickups from late 1950s Gibson Les Pauls we’ve chanced upon (more on that later!). Young Joon calls such factors the starting point for Moollon’s raison d’etre in regard to guitar building, and has repeatedly stressed how one must never assume that “shape equals tone”, regardless of assumed materials used: there are simply too many variables involved that need to be attended to in order to have a guitar behave like a vintage piece.
The Classic Series, for example, is an effort to simply do nothing more than be faithful to some original designs that resulted in some historically authentic tones, all topped off with Young Joon’s own handwound pickups based on vintage units from his collection. As a part of this process, he also asserts the importance of nitrocellulose lacquer being applied in micro-thin layers, in order to preserve the wood’s natural resonance characteristics, and takes his time with the application of 15 coats or so over several weeks time with each guitar. The Classic Series debuted this year at the Winter NAMM show.
When CG builds a Moollon Custom Shop guitar, the variables take a slightly different turn with the addition of the aluminium face that goes on most of them, which not only provides excellent shielding from single coil pickup noise but also can slightly darken the overall tone of an excessively bright ash body, for example. There are also more options with the Custom Shop line: As we have no CNC machines in our shop, each neck is shaped by CG to a customer’s preferred grip, and is mated to a custom wound set of pickups that best suits the tonal personality of guitar at hand (not just the kind of wood) , usually testing with a few slightly different winds of the same Moollon pickup series to see how the guitar best responds, also taking into consideration what kinds of tone colours the customer tells us he/she is after during our in-shop consultations. All in all, there is a little more study that goes into each Custom Shop guitar to come up with a result that will satisfy both us and the customer who has placed the order.
As for interest and sales, the Moollon Classic series has become a very popular option here in Korea for those who can’t afford a high-end import guitar but would still rather not compromise on quality and tone with an otherwise more affordable product. We have local musicians come into the shop almost daily, spending time to test demo models with different woods and pickups, and talk about the options available with Young Joon and CG, factors no doubt which influence them to buy a Moollon guitar or not. On the other hand, things are admittedly a wee bit quiet in the international scene. The fact that we have built and exported abroad so few of them certainly adds to the lack of knowledge about them, but we get regular emails about each guitar line and have seen a definite increase in interest in Moollon guitars over the past few years.
…the next 12 months, we’re looking at the debut of a “modern line” of pedals in all-new diecast enclosures, including the Modern Distortion and Modern Overdrive (both with boost circuits), in addition to a digital chorus and simplified delay…
The pickups Young Joon winds are very era-specific and are based off of his own personal vintage collection. One unique thing about how they are paired is that he never specifies the position of each when we ship out a set in a box (listing only the specific output resistance of each), much to the surprise of numerous customers who have asked why. He’ll often reply with a curious answer, firstly how factory-specified pickup positions are a rather contemporary option that is not necessarily true to vintage, and elaborates with the following story: Many years ago, he had the chance to handle a dear friend’s original ’59 Gibson Les Paul “Burst” and check the output of the factory pickups in original positions, and contrary to his expectation was surprised to find the guitar came out of the factory with a neck pickup wound nearly 1k ohm stronger than that of the bridge. A good amount of additional investigation revealed it wasn’t an isolated case among late 50s Gibsons by any measure, and he soon felt that one’s preferred tone in modern instruments with vintage-spec pickups should not disregard something as simple as pickup height in favour of pickup output. Long story short, Moollon pickups are made to encourage a player to use them in the positions one seems fit and to play about with pickup height to achieve one’s desired tone, rather than us dictating how they should be used. That being said, Young Joon always pairs a set with specific tones in mind.
Although relatively unknown due to limited orders from our dealers, we’ve seen a rather favourable response to the pickups so far, the latest being an exciting interaction with veteran L.A. session guitarist Michael Thompson this past year, who was having a guitar built for him by luthier Greg Back. They dropped by at our booth at the Winter NAMM show and Michael asked us for a set of Moollon VS-64 pickups to specifically put in it, and we were more than happy to oblige. Suffice to say, he later told us some overwhelmingly nice things about them that really got the staff buzzing.
The Moollon factory is burning down. If there was a pedal and guitar you had to save, which models would go for?
I’d grab the first Class A Boost I could see, and if I didn’t burn up first, I’d run back to CG’s workbench to see if I could save a Narcis NC Feldge, though I’m well aware that we don’t keep a regular stock of Custom Shop line!
Lager or Cider?
Can I cheat on this one? I had a Wychwood Hobgoblin while at the pub in the UK Embassy in Seoul a little while ago and have been itching for an ale of equal calibre ever since. With just weak pilsner brews locally being the mundane standard of the masses here in Korea, sometimes a decent lager isn’t even enough!
What’s the future for Moollon? Are there any new pedals in the pipeline? What lies ahead for 2010/11?
The next 12 months are set to have has some of the biggest additions we’ve had since the addition of the Classic Guitar Series, as we’re looking at the debut of a “modern line” of pedals in all-new diecast enclosures, including the Modern Distortion and Modern Overdrive (both with boost circuits), in addition to a digital chorus and simplified delay with nearly all of the bells and whistles featured in our popular Delay (names pending). Built in-house with the same high quality parts used in our BurfferAge and VintAge line, we’re able to cut costs and work time significantly by using non-etched enclosures.
We’re also looking forward to the release of a quality power supply as well. Using a toroidal transformer with no less than twelve independent DC outputs (all switchable from 9v to 12v), three will feature higher amperage ratings for modulation/delay pedals, etc. We have gotten so many requests at the NAMM show over the years to make available the power boxes we build for use at the show (with etched enclosures of a thorny vine), that we felt it was time to finally get to work, each one being hand wired by Moollon engineer Hyungwoo and featuring an all-new etched design on the aluminium enclosure. The first batch will be for the locals over here (220V), but if requests come in from others around the globe, we’ll probably start making them in 240v and 110v as well.
Young Joon has also hinted at a new guitar line for 2011, but that’s news even I’ve yet to hear! Stay tuned, I’m sure we’ll have more info on the Moollon site as new items are released, and any of CG’s new designs and works in progress are usually posted on his blog well before he finishes them: http://blog.naver.com/cgjee.