“The significance of producing and maintaining a lineup that is not bound by trends, not just in effects pedals, is incredibly important. Xotic Effects, which continues to make strides as a core member of the boutique movement on the US West Coast, celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of their origins, the “RC-Booster,” in 2022. The transparent sound that was born in an era when the concept of a “clean booster” was not yet commonplace has become an “indispensable” presence for musicians around the world. In response to the release of a new commemorative model that carries the name “RC” with a theme of returning to its origins, we would like to look back on the historical background of the unwavering long-seller “RC-Booster” and the evolution of its sound together with its developer, Kiyoshi Sasaki.
“It’s fun to create a sound that doesn’t sound like you’re using a pedal”
──It’s really amazing that the “RC-Booster” has been selling for 20 years! I’m glad that all types, including the current “RC-Booster V2,” have the same ease of use.
Kiyoshi Sasaki “KS”: It’s like the Apple products over the years (laughs). Even if you pick up the new “RC-Booster,” it’s reassuring to know that “the way you’ve been using it is there.” I think it’s better for people who have been using it for a long time. It also fits in well with designs that are similar to the “AC-Booster” and “BB-Preamp.” From the beginning of the brand, we have always been conscious of making all Xotic products user-friendly without having to learn everything from scratch.
──“The “AC-Booster” and “RC-Booster” were the first distortion pedals for Xotic, weren’t they?
KS: That’s right. From the time I started making effects pedals, I thought it would be interesting to create a sound that didn’t sound like you were using a pedal. Not a dramatic effect, but a pedal that makes the guitar sound really
good just by passing through it. That’s how the “AC-Booster” and “RC-Booster” were created. However, to tell you the truth, I originally wanted to make the “AC” version, and the “RC” version was a byproduct (laughs). Because of this, there were some aspects of the “RC-Booster” that I myself didn’t really see at first. So, I didn’t feel so sure about the product at first. But I heard that many musicians were using it, and my thinking gradually changed.
──Who was using it at the time?
KS: I think John Fogerty was one of the first to use it. He received it from studio personnel, and he still seems to be using one of the earliest models today. Dean Parks also said he really liked it and I went to meet him. He also uses it for acoustic guitar. Jay Graydon and Paul Jackson Jr. also gave it high praise. Also, around 2003, I think. Brad Paisley, who was still unknown at the time, said that he really liked it and wanted to use it, so we sent one to him. I was also really happy to see my favorite Doyle Bramhall II placing an “RC” at his feet during Eric Clapton’s tour in 2004.
──They are all amazing musicians.
KS:Among them, I was particularly impressed with how Allen Hinds used the “RC-Booster.” At the time when we started selling the pedal, the idea of layering pedals was just starting to gain popularity, but I still thought that boosters should be placed before distortions. However, I was bothered by how much the sound was compressed when I placed the “RC” in front of the chain through Fender Blackface amps. At that time, Allen cascaded three gain pedals in the order of “Fulltone OCD” – “AC-Booster” – “RC-Booster.” Seeing that, I realized that “RC” might be better suited as a booster for the later stage. I felt like a new door had opened, and that was when I first thought, “RC might work…!”
──I think that professional use on stage exceeded the designer’s expectations. Was it possible because the “RC-Booster” was a highly adaptable pedal that had not existed before?
KS:I think that’s partly true. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were overwhelmingly more people using Tube Screamer (TS) pedals as boosters. But TS is always TS… it’s easy to play for anyone, but it only produces that specific sound. However, at that time, there were only a few clean boosters available, such as MXR’s “Micro Amp,” Z.Vex’s “Super Hard-On,” and Keyley’s “Katana Boost” did not exist yet. Fulltone’s “Full-Drive 2” with comp-cut specifications and Klon’s “Centaur” also had simple EQs and didn’t have much flexibility. In such a situation, I think that the personality of the “RC-Booster,” which had two-band EQ and could add “correction,” gave a lot of freedom in how it was used. After all, the name “RC” comes from “Rig Conductor.”
──Huh? Wasn’t it short for “Real Clean”?
KS:Actually, it’s different (laughs). “Conductor” means “musical conductor.” But the customers started saying, “Isn’t it short for ‘Real Clean’?” Well, that was more interesting, so we just went with it (laughs).
Due to the RoHS directive, we reviewed almost all components of the “RC-Booster” model.
──When was this model released exactly?
KS: According to our records, it has been on sale since December 2002. However, it may have been circulating in the United States a little earlier.
──Considering that it has been in circulation for a long time, I would think the specifications have also evolved. Has the sound gradually changed over time?
KS: Although we intentionally changed some parts, when you continue to produce a product for a long time, there are also supply problems with the parts themselves, so they change gradually. Nevertheless, I don’t think it has changed much until about the first serial number of 5,000. There was a period when we changed the circuit board and the case one after another when we changed the pot to a sealed type around 2005 or 2006, and at that time, the LED indicator was also moved to the top. The case and paint also have unexpected effects on the sound. In 2007 we switched to our own cases and since then there may have been slight variations in the sound due to the limited version’s paint color such as copper, chrome, and blue. However, regarding the sound quality, I think the biggest impact was from the RoHS directive implemented in 2006. In order to comply with it, we had to review almost all of the components.
──Did you have to change everything? That must have been tough…
KS: We were able to cope with the op-amp without changing the type, but all of TDK’s capacitors were unusable. The solder was particularly troublesome. We could only use
lead-free solder, so we had to use boards that were compatible with it. The increased silver content in the solder should make the sound much cleaner than before. Well, it’s not just because of that, but in 2008, the regular model was unified to the Scott Henderson specification, so the sound of the “RC” definitely changed significantly around that time.
──In 2008, there was also a limited edition blue model for Japan. Was that also the Scott Henderson specification?
KS:I think the blue was the last limited version of the old specification. Strictly speaking, the regular model is the new specification (Scott Henderson specification) from serial number 12,061 onwards. The case has also changed several times since then, and we started using a thicker case with the “RC-Booster V2”, and also changed the paint. I don’t remember exactly when, but even without the RoHS directive, I think the transistor at the input emitter follower became discontinued halfway through, and the sound changed a little there. However, what I have always valued even as the parts have evolved in various ways is actually “durability”. Sound is of course important, but as long as it is an instrument, trouble must be avoided at all costs.
──Indeed, this rugged construction is also a characteristic of the Xotic pedals.
KS:Some boutique pedals are made in such a way that parts easily come out. I didn’t want to make products with that kind of specification. Having made the “RC-Booster” for 20 years, we have had repairs for the switch, LED indicator, and knobs cracking, but I am proud to say that there have been almost no reports of damage to the circuit inside.
The significant influence of Scott Henderson on the “RC-Booster”
──How was the Scott Henderson model born?
KS:It was around 2007 when Scott came to me and said, “I want you to listen to my request.” At the time, his favorite setting was to turn the volume of the 100-watt 1972 Marshall “Super Lead” all the way up and then use the “RC-Booster” with the “GAIN” full, “VOLUME” full, “TREBLE” at 12 o’clock, and “BASS” at 10 o’clock to enhance the sound. He wanted to reduce the high-pitched noise while adding weight to the sound when playing a G note on the 15th fret of the first string. I realized that Scott was a person who liked jazz, wanted to play Deep Purple, and wanted to be like Jeff Beck. So, I adjusted it according to his request, and the sound was amazing. Therefore, we released the signature model with that specification in 2008.
──I see (laughs). But why did you change all models to the Scott specification?
KS: Scott’s use of the pedal was already beyond the range of usage that I knew, but I wanted to try his sense to increase the centripetal force of the pedal. Back then “RC-Booster” was not a product that sells explosively (laughs). It has become a slightly biased character from a versatile personality of the original, but I think the value was there.
──There was also a Scott model that became the basis for the “RC-Booster V2” in 2015, right?
KS: At the time, there was a part in the album that Scott released where he had to play delicate arpeggios and drive sounds. That’s why we made it possible to operate the “GAIN” knob without having to do it live. The 2015 Scott model’s feature is “just adding gain” instead of switching between two boosters, and in the end, when trying to do something “seamlessly,” this design is good. Scott also liked it. That idea was passed on to “RC-Booster V2.”
──What kind of model is the 20th-anniversary model?
KS: This “Classic” version is a “return to self.” We returned to the original roots of “RC” from the place where we have been pulled by Scott for a long time. By taking the best parts of now and then, it is now the most user-friendly pedal for me that sounds not too tardily and not too glittery either.
──Just returning to the old sound isn’t it?
KS: These models I made in the past were, it feels like, pedals made by someone else (laughs). Anyway, I feel that nowadays there are few people who can reach the sound they want, like “A-ha, this is it!” It’s because there are various constraints, such as not being able to play at high volume. That’s a shame. Even in old music, there are sounds that make you shiver when you listen to them now. I don’t want to bury those kinds of sounds. “RC-Booster” can be said as a “difficult-to-use pedal” because it truthfully reproduces the nuances of the player’s performance. But because of the difficulty, it could also become a pedal that gives an opportunity to experiment with how to construct a better sound.. I don’t know how many people will appreciate the sounds we think are good, but I think it’s our job to create products that will lead people’s attention to them.