Q&A: Yoshihiro Ikegami from Boss

I was recently in Japan and figured it was a great opportunity to head over to Roland Corporations headquarters whilst there and check it out. I spoke to the folks at Roland in Australia and they helped me arrange a time to sit down and have a chat with Yoshihiro Ikegami, the president of Boss. They mentioned that Roland is located in Hamamatsu which is about 2 hours from Tokyo and figured it would be an easy detour to stop off there en route from Osaka to Tokyo. However after inspecting the map, Hamamatsu was on the coast and really indirect from my planned path. I checked google maps and it was 4 hours from Osaka and another 3 and a half hours back to Tokyo. As our stay in Japan was reasonably brief it wasn’t logistically possible to spend an entire day transit. However my poor planning didn’t allow for the fact that Japanese trains run faster than the speed of sound, so indirect routes are pretty realistic. I was quite disappointed in myself when my train from Osaka to Tokyo pulled up at Hamamatsu as one of the stops along the way but never the less Yoshihiro was already kind enough to have rescheduled with me to do it over Skype. So the following is a chat we had whilst both in Japan, via the magic of technology.

So you were in Australia about a month ago for the Melbourne Guitar show. Did you get to see anything while you were here or was it mainly just work commitments?

I stayed for just one week but at the time the weather was very bad. I was expecting to see Australia’s nice weather but it was very cold. Also when I came back to Japan, the weather was 38 degrees. So the difference was 34 degrees to what it was in Melbourne.

Yeah I think it’s about 8 degrees in Melbourne today and it’s 36 today in Tokyo and about 90% humidity so it’s quite a difference.

Ah of course! Because you are in Japan at the moment.

Yeah about a week ago I was trying to come across to Hamamatsu and I looked up how to get there and it looked really indirect but our train back to Tokyo actually stopped at Hamamatsu station.

Yes Hamamatsu is in between Osaka and Tokyo.

Unfortunately google maps told me something very different.

(Laughs) Well we also have a Roland office in Tokyo near Akihabra

So I wanted to start with asking you about your background. You’ve been with Roland now for quite a while and you’re now CEO of Boss. But what was your introduction to the company and how did it all start?

I joined Roland in 1978 just as I graduated high school and I started to work with Roland as a worker. So everyday I was assembling GR-500, which was the worlds first guitar synthesizer and also the System 700, Jupiter 4 and a lot of the older stuff. I was working for around 5 years as a worker which was assembly everyday and then I started to help out with the R&D (Research and Development) people in the night time. The R&D people are always so busy so they said to me ‘welcome, you are welcome’. So then I was working as a worker on the assembly line during the day and helping the R&D people at night time for about a year before my boss asked me ‘what do you want to do’? I told him that I wanted to work as an engineer, which then meant that I got a desk in the R&D department. This is when my engineer career started and almost everything really started when I got
the desk.

Roland GR-500So everything started to snowball from the desk?

I think it’s easier to understand everything if I explain which products I designed. The first thing that I designed was the SDE-3000 Digital Delay, which ended up being the platform for the DD-2. I was the team leader for the SDE-3000 and at that time, the CD player was not available on the market so we didn’t really know what was a PCM or digital audio. So after learning what digital audio was and designing the SDE-3000 I
then still was helping with designing DSP products; The SRV-2000 Digital Reverb. And I designed the first Roland custom LSI’s (*note: Large Scale Integration; the process of creating an IC (integrated Circuit) by embedding thousands of transistors on a microchip. Yoshi is referring to the fact that he designed the first custom built chips for Roland’s DSP, rather than using off the shelf parts) which were used for the DEP-5 Digital Reverb. Also the D-50 Synthesizers. So still today we are using the same digital reverb algorithms that I designed.

And the SDE-3000 digital delay too is still being used today. I know its one of the models in the DD-500.

Yes exactly. The first time I checked the SDE-3000 modelling tones I saw that there were not some parameters so I told my engineers, ‘if you want to model SDE-3000 we should have all the same parameters as the original’. As there will be certain people who are maniacal about detail who will not be satisfied. That was at the very final stages of the DD-500 and they were thinking that there is no way that we can
change this now.
Steve Vai & Yoshihiro Ikegami with Roland SDE-3000

Those engineers must be feeling the pressure to live up to your attention to detail.

Yes. (Laughs). My policy is that the final one month is very important for product development. So adjusting final tone and the feeling of the parameter changes, that is very important. So we need to push it in that final stage to get it to be the perfect product.

I also wanted to talk about the Waza Craft line. Boss and Roland’s philosophy has always been about moving sound forward and into the future. Yet the Waza Craft line seems to be Boss looking back at some of your classic models. Can you explain a little bit about the thought process behind this?

As you know the last two or three years the trend has been in boutique and also there are a lot of modded pedals. Also, in 2006 I left Boss until 2013. For seven years I was working in production and at this time I was watching Boss from the outside. Boss seemed like they were struggling during this time as Boss is seen as being the standard that everyone has and our customers were wanting to get something special. Sometimes they don’t like Boss because it’s too much the standard, that’s just the reality. I was checking boutique and also the mod types of products. Some were very nice but most of them are not special. Just changing a few parts and in lots of cases just changing knobs or putting it in a special enclosure and charging an extra $100. Which didn’t seem fair and also some people say that these pedals are something that Boss cannot do, but this is not true. We didn’t do these modifications or hand made reissue type of things because this was our policy. But if people are paying too much money for just some kind of imitation then we can offer a better sound at a more reasonable price. So I decided to make Waza Craft. But with, say the DM-2, it is slightly different because of a very important key device, BBD (Bucket Brigade Device). A long time ago my semiconductor manufacturer discontinued the BBD production. Right now there are some manufacturers providing BBD, we tested a lot of devices and thought that with enough screening we could guarantee Boss quality so we decided to make a Boss analog delay again. For instance, everybody always asks me why we don’t make the OD-1 and it’s because it’s difficult for us to get the same diodes and transistors with expecting stable supply today. Of course, we can make something close with other way but close is only close. It’s not perfect. . We also wanted to add something new on the Waza Craft that isn’t on the originals. For instance on the Delay there is double delay time, but with every Waza pedal we always add something new.
Boss Waza CraftYou mentioned, a lot of those boutique manufacturers will often take existing design Often Boss, Electro Harmonix, MXR and the like and not really change much, rebrand it and resell it as their own product. Do you think these newer boutique companies that do this is completely negative to the industry or do you think that there’s any positives to be taken from this?

For changing character, it’s just a character not a quality. It depends on what type of music or what type of guitar you are using. I see these all as just one selection. Anyone can make any sound character by just changing resistors and capacitors but that is just adding a variety of selection and it doesn’t add up to what is better. So making different selections for musicians is ok but not when it’s so costly. We are also not working for just one person. Our customer base is really huge so our headache is how to set the 12 o’clock (knob positions) sounds better. But also how to satisfy very keen people on each pedal with the minimum and maximum settings. Max should be over the max. Way too much. That is very important.
Boss VintageA lot of the rise of these boutique companies has to do with the fact that they have that direct to consumer appeal. Kind of like going to a farmers market as opposed to going to a corporate chain supermarket. Does this change the way that Boss approach the release of your products?

With any product development we have it always starts as a very small idea. Maybe one person. But with Boss we have to make it more popular. On one level we always need to think of Boss as some sort of commodity otherwise we cannot keep the company. So at the meetings when we decide to
develop an idea, it’s very difficult to take on all the requests because the musical industry is gathering a lot of very niche markets. Boutique has the ability to chase very niche markets and ideas and they can provide a very specific image. Our advantage is size. But also our disadvantage is size so I
always tell my engineers ‘don’t think about defense, it should always be

I’ve heard that yourself and a lot of other people at Boss and Roland keep a keen eye on social media and forums and that you were recently writing yourself in a forum about the DD-500.

Yes for a long time we never showed any personal face because that’s part of the Japanese culture. Sometimes people would complain that we cannot imagine who is making this product and they think that Boss is this enormous company. But they actually don’t know the reality, we are just a gathering of one person working on this and another person working on that. All of my engineers are just guitar freaks. They are just really excited by everything about guitar and will always be purchasing different types of boutique pedals themselves.

With Boss and Roland being one of the largest musical instrument manufacturers in the world do you think you feel any responsibility with moving the musical instrument world forward?

If we can have some kind of power as a big company then we  would like to help to make new trends. The last 10 years a lot of pedal companies  have been taking from some of our or other people’s ideas. But some of these companies are only 2 or 3 pedals so they don’t have the influence to create any kind of new trend. But we have history. For example we have the guitar synthesizer that for over 30 years we have been making and developing. Which is not really the smartest thing to do in terms of business. If it was purely business then we should stop making these. We are selling a lot of compact pedals because guitarists buy a lot of pedals. However, We’re not chasing money. The money we get is an investment towards being able
to give our customers more fun and more joy in playing guitar. I don’t know if we can change the world but I do know that we are always trying to. Not just following the trends or just chasing the best selling products. We are also hoping that if we are creating some new possibility or if we are helping people make music then that is what is we are striving for.

You’ve previously said that the Boss and Roland ethos is to be the best, not the biggest and that your goal is very similar. It’s obviously a commercial business and that sales are important but the most important thing is helping musicians.

Yes this is our big policy to be the best not the biggest. Also, I don’t think our companies size is that huge. At Boss I have only 50 engineers. It’s not that huge but everyone assumes that Boss is this huge company but thanks to that misunderstanding we can work with big name artists. (Laughs). When it comes to working with artists, if they love our products then we will support them. That’s our philosophy. We never pay big money to them and never ask them to do something only related with business.

So the point is that if you see someone playing Boss gear then it’s because they wanted to play and not because they were paid to. And still to this day Boss is the one company that everyone has had one or two of at one point in time. Most people usually have a Boss pedal on their board. 

Yes definitely.

Well I think you’ve actually answered all my questions in much fewer questions than I actually had. Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat.

Yes thank you very much for giving me such a great opportunity. Please next time come by Hamamatsu.

The opportunity was all mine. And yes, next time I will definitely come by Hamamatsu. I know how to get there now.

Check out the range of Boss Effects including all the Waza Craft Pedals here
Check out the new Katana range of Amplifiers from Boss here

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