“A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The quest for great tone is what occupies the minds and empties the wallets of many guitarists. I’ve heard the most beautiful sounds emanating from a 12-watt pawn shop special and likewise a $3000 rig sound like a bag of dying cats. The secret to great tone is investing the time to search for it. And one thing is for certain, there is no shortage of people willing to sell you a pedal that will “take your sound to the next level.” Please. Five new pedal companies enter the market every week. Those that take their craft seriously stick around. Those that treat it like a work of art rise to the top. As CEO and founder of Caroline Guitar Company, Philippe Herndon creates musical masterpieces that have quickly become some of the most sought after guitar pedals in the country.
Founded in 2009 in Columbia, SC, Caroline Guitar is still the handmade, one-at-a-time operation it was when it started. The difference is that the orders are coming in at a much faster clip and the wait list for a pedal is steadily growing. The product line began with the Wave Cannon, a distortion pedal with a havoc mode switch that sounds well…like it sounds. Herndon carried this pedal with him on a business trip to New York to try and get his first retailer. Herndon recalls, “ …they had every reason in the world to shoot me down. I had one product at the time. I had Wave Cannon, from Columbia, SC, and I had no track record. And that’s what they did, they shot me down before even looking at the product.” However Herndon didn’t pack it up and head back. He showed it to an employee who was very impressed and called the decision maker back in for a test. Afterwards, Caroline Guitar Company had a retailer.
Since then, Caroline has carefully crafted an arsenal of assault weapons for the discriminating guitarist including the Olympia (Fuzz), Icarus (Clean Boost), Kilobyte (Delay), Cannonball (Custom version of the Wave Cannon), and the most recent release Haymaker which is a mighty fine overdrive pedal that clearly stands out in a market flooded with half-ass overdrives. The Haymaker has a broad appeal with a bluesy crunch and is the Rock ‘n Roll pedal of the group.
One of the interesting things about any pedal is that it can sound very different depending upon a guitarist’s rig. It really is about finding that magic combination that delivers the ultimate tone. Having pedals in tandem that complement each other can really create some special tone. For example, Herndon recommends taking a fuzz pedal like an Olympia, and pairing it with an overdrive pedal like a Tube Screamer. “The shocking thing is the tube screamer sounds sort of boxy, and the fuzz pedal sounds sort of muddy, but when the two of them are together they are clear and nasty like a Dinosaur Jr. lead guitar tone and that combination sort of befuddles people.” It has to do with the fact that the overdrive pedal puts out a great deal of mid-range while the fuzz sort of “scoops” mids out. The overdrive restores the mids to the fuzz and you get an amazing tone. Herndon is quick to point out that there are thousands of these types of combinations and similar formulas can be done when you add guitars and amps to the mix.
Caroline Guitar Company has a well-earned reputation for solid craftsmanship and great sounding pedals. Caroline has earned numerous awards including “Top Ten Pedal of the Year” by Guitar World magazine for the Wave Cannon. While Herndon’s conservative-growth strategy has garnered him a great deal of success the past few years, he has some ambitious plans for Caroline in the near future. Look for the company to start selling directly to consumers rather than strictly retailers and even venturing outside the realm of guitar pedals further down the road. With master craftsmen such as Philippe Herndon at the helm, you can be sure that any product with Caroline Guitar Company stamped on it will be of great quality, and the choice of seasoned musicians around the world.