One of the reasons why musicians have loved our MONO products for the past decade, is that the team at MONO are musicians – and we’re always designing with gigging realities in mind. The frustrations we share serve as design inspiration.
The same holds true for Nashville guitarist Justin Butler. Between touring with country music star Randy Houser, and most recently, Gretchen Wilson, Justin founded and operates his company, Thru-Tone FX. Inspired by on-the-job frustrations, he went on to specialize in guitar effects design and vintage amp restorations. Today, his company is best known for their modification of Ernie Ball’s popular Volume Pedal.
We spoke to Justin about his early guitar heroes, his experiences with Thru-Tone, and his MONO bags.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up? How have they influenced your sound today?
This list is extensive, but at the age of four I was glued to my parent’s record collection – music of The Beatles, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers were the catalyst. Into the ’90s, I began delving into the grunge rock scene until realizing I wanted a taste of really “playing” guitar. So I began moving in reverse through the decades, and immersed myself with players like Hendrix, SRV, and B.B. King to more showy styles like Satriani and Eric Johnson. I cared less and less to play modern rock over learning and performing music of The Stones, Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the likes, and by high school into college I was trying to reach further and fell in love with the country picking styles of Brent Mason, Don Rich, and Pete Anderson.
I have had ears for new music to this day and am always trying to find something fresh (which usually means something yet discovered from the ’40s–’70s majority of the time), but I feel the diversity in music alone has been the key influence to my “sound” if I were to have one. The ultimate goal for me is playing for the song over adding anything of personal signature, but when it happens naturally I feel that is the best music.
You’ve had more than a decade of touring in Nashville. Do you have a memorable touring experience to share with us?
Just to play these venues that you dream about performing in as a kid has been pretty surreal, but if I had to mention a place or two that had some personal resonance I would say a sold out Mile High Stadium in Denver and two nights back-to-back at Red Rocks were among the most memorable.
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What got you started in the pedal modification game?
I have always worked on my own equipment and after so long of frustration with certain products/combinations I sought out to come up with the solutions that nobody could/would.
People and friends would see some of these things and demand one for their rigs and how could I say no? I needed a foundation to start a business that I could sustain full-time, while always maintaining a full-time musician status as well, so I focused on a few key products (predominantly my PM-1 Volume Pedal) vs branding an entire line and over the course of nearly a decade it has become the staple product of the brand.
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Say GOODBYE to the Ernie Ball VP string forever.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We are excited to introduce the Thru-Tone Comp Cable for our PM-1 and EX line.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Though we have offered the leading durability and tonal enhancements on EB pedals for years, and as great as our string treatment has run, we still could not guarantee a part that was not our design. Until now.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Check out our site for all the details, link in bio! Dependability you count on. Nashville made. The original. The best. Forget all the rest. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #notstringingmealong #thrutone #theoriginal #nashvillemade #bombproofvp #unbreakable #pm1vp #compcable #volumepedal #thegamechanger
With so many other small builders like yourself modifying and building their own pedals, how do you differentiate yourself from the rest?
There are so many great designers/builders out there, and yet so many copycat businesses with zero innovation or drive to do something original and fresh. All I cared about, and still do, is offering the products and services that I would want as a professional. Can I mod your Tube Screamer pedal? Of course, but why offer it? It’s already being done by the best names in the business and I appreciate those guys – I respect them enough to happily send my customers their way because that’s honestly what this niche community is about.
At the time of branding and releasing my PM-1 to market, nobody had or was offering anything like it. Of course, there are countless active VP options these days, but I am proud and confident to say nothing close to the Thru-Tone offerings.
We hear you also do vintage amp restorations. Can you tell us about the craziest or most interesting amp you have worked on?
Yeah! Thru-Tone has morphed into the secret little spot that players really love when it comes to their old and special pieces. I have a very strong passion for old gear and how it was intended to sound, so after years of working on all of my gear people started to push me into working on theirs. I wouldn’t say anything has been “crazy” for me other than the amount of just plain bad work I have had to correct from previous techs, but of all of them, restoring a rare dual rectifier ’67 Super Bass Plexi or two 1959 Tweed Bassmans at the same time had to be a few of the coolest. Man, they were just ****ed up, but when they left… well, let’s just say I wish they could have stayed with me they were that sweet sounding – very special amps.
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A very badass restore I’m finishing up as a first on the bench for 2018. This early ‘67 transition Super Bass hadn’t been a Super Bass in some time and had a bunch of wonky tweaks, parts, and inconsistencies that had to go. She is now back to the very rare form she came as originally. Voltages and NOS glass today, then hold on to your asses. #plexi #dualrectifier #marshall #superbass #thrutone
How do you manage to juggle touring and running a pedal and amp business?
I wish I knew, ha! I have really had to embrace time management and prioritize accordingly. I am a workaholic and I only accept the best, so there is never any skimping anywhere. It is also a double-edged sword as I can imagine if I delivered poor work on the tech side I may be hurt as a player, and vice versa, if I stopped “showing up” when called for shows/sessions I am sure people would lack trust in leaving their most valuable possessions with me to work on. The only option I have given myself is to always do the absolute best – do it right and do it right the first time.
Outside of music, what other hobbies do you have?
My two biggest passions or hobbies would have to be food and cars. I absolutely love cooking and take a lot of pride in learning new techniques/cuisine. Unfortunately, with cars, it is a ridiculously expensive hobby, but I have an SRT8 Jeep that I have been building on for the past three years. I don’t have time for car clubs and constant track days, but there is something therapeutic about single-handedly building your own engine and succeeding in power goals. It is very gratifying and the reward of feeling that power that you created is very satisfying.
What’s in your bag?
Everything! I live by my FlyBy – it goes about everywhere with me every day. From my laptop, IEMs, shades, passport, all essentials, plus anything I need to take with me on any given day. I really love the form factor of the wallet as well and you know what’s in there… SO much money HA. I will say though, the gig bags are simply the best, period. My M80 Dual specifically gets used just about daily as well as I always have at least two guitars around me. The first one I bought some seven years ago is still going strong too! I think I snagged it on a bus bay and tore a small part of it, but grabbed some thread/needle and stitched it right back up and haven’t had an issue since.
What MONO gear do you use and what do you like about it?
All my MONO gear gets used daily from personal use, to business, to sideman/session work and has withstood the test of time traveling across state and country lines having my back every step of the way.
I absolutely love the dependability, design (function and aesthetics), all the way to the customer support. You can really tell the crew at MONO just get it. They know what is important to professionals that desire the best and they are supportive in making sure they have everyone’s back all the while.
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Not fanboy-ing out here. There are only a handful of stellar companies out there that just do it “right”. And I mean from the quality of product all the way through customer service, not skimping a single thing. @monocreators is no exception. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Mind you, I receive nothing for free and have been purchasing, supporting, and using their products on a personal and professional level daily since 2012. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss a chance to work with some of the coolest people who make, hands down, the best gear for your gear. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #thebest #MONOcreators #gearsgear #monoknows
So, what’s next for you and for Thru-Tone?
I am continuing to push the brand, along with getting involved in even more music 2019. I am excited to say I developed and released a string substitute for my VP pedal line called the Comp Cable and it is just amazing. Finally the days of worrying about string breakage are no more, and combined with all of the other features the PM-1 has to offer, couldn’t be more proud to set the bar.