From running Spacelab Studio to playing in various bands to conceiving CyTunes in order to help (and then, sadly, memorialize) late local music lover Cy Rawls, Durham’s Chris Rossi has been integrally involved in Triangle music for years. And now he’s making gear, as guitarist Zeke Graves mentioned in last week’s INDY.

Right now, Dusky Electronics, as he’s calling the new venture, is a small operation: one man making one amp and two pedals (which he’s selling for $1,950 and $195 apiece, respectively). We caught up with Rossi and asked about the company, the designs and how he got into gear-building.

INDY Week: There’s a difference between making gear for your friends and coming up with a brand name and actively selling it to the music-playing public. When did you decide to take that step?

There’s that old cliché where they ask you what you would do if you had a million dollars if you didn’t have to work. Whatever that is, that’s what you should be doing. I was pretty much spending most of my spare time building and tinkering in my garage, so why not try to turn that into a business and buy the time to do it even more? I’d been feeling some tug for several years, but not really paying too much attention to it—just concentrating more and tinkering and learning.

I’ve been working for many years now as a freelance software developer. It’s also good, interesting, technically challenging work but also something that I’m very used to by now. Around the end of last year, a customer that had accounted for a majority of my work had an internal shakeup and dried up as a source of work. While trying to find more software work to do, so I could pay the bills, I also had in mind that I should use the extra time to try to build something of my own, an investment that might bear fruit a little down the road. There were a couple of false starts. I sat down to work on a software idea I’d had, and it was really difficult. I realized it was because I really didn’t want to. What I wanted to do was go build a guitar amp. So, I did. And Dusky was born.

What size operation are you starting?

At the moment, I’m a one-man operation: a man and his garage. My hope is once I’m shipping product I can hire someone to help me with assembly. Down the road, if this takes off, I could see myself manning a shop with upwards of a dozen or so employees at the maximum. I don’t really see expanding any bigger than that.

But I don’t really tend to think a lot about the distant future except in the vaguest and most fantastical of terms. I’m really focused for now and putting one foot in front of the other and doing what needs to be done right now to bring gear to musicians.

You have two pedals and one amp that, from what I’ve read, are designed with versatility in mind. Are you looking to put your attention into a select few designs, or do you have a whole spread of gear coming down the pike?

I’m focusing my attention for the time being on these designs, because I think these make a good entry point. Research and development on any particular design is fairly intensive, so it makes sense to focus my attention on getting what I’ve done so far up and running to where I have product to sell. I have all kinds of ideas floating around in my head, and R&D will continue after this first crop is out there for people to by. By its nature, though, R&D involves a lot of uncertainty: Will this idea work? Will it sound good? How long will it take me to tweak? I have to really feel good about something before I’ll offer it up to the public. So, there will be more later, but what and when are TBD. I’m really happy with the designs I have right now and think they’re a great place to start.

And why did you want to start with the three pieces you’re making now?
I knew that if I was going to have a single guitar amplifier in my catalog, at least starting out, that it’d better be a design that could sound good and be useful in a broad range of circumstances. It needed to be loud enough to hang in most live rock band situations, but be switchable to a lower power setting for practicing solo. It needed to have versatile enough tone controls that it could adapt to any guitar or speaker cabinet you wanted to throw at it, as well as fit the style of the individual player. And, of course, it need to just sound really good and be really satisfying to play. With only a single amplifier in my arsenal, I didn’t want to limit myself to a single-purpose amp—either something really loud, or something low-powered for practice and recording, or something that mimicked a particular, well-worn sound.

When I set about to actually design the thing I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out, but I think I’ve managed to hit all of my design objectives and have something that is—and this may seem like a paradox—both really versatile, but also with a sound that is distinctive and unique. I play it every day. It’s my favorite amp. Of course, it would be.

The Toasted Drive was designed to complement the D2O. The D2O can be overdriven and sounds really nice when you crank it a bit, but I figure there are probably a lot of players like me who prefer to leave keep their amp set up fairly clean and use a pedal if they need some dirt. So the Toasted Overdrive was designed to be able to give you just a little more texture to play with at whichever playing volume you prefer. I tend to favor fairly light overdrives and stacking of multiple stages to bring out harmonic textures, so this fits that bill. Taken together, I think the D2O and the Toasted Drive provide a rock-solid, versatile foundation for finding your guitar tone. I wanted to lead with these designs, because I wanted, above all, to be able to provide that foundation.

The Octomotron is a little different—it’s definitely an effect, and not a subtle one either. It’s more an example of something more purpose-built that builds on your foundation tone. As far as why this product now? It was a finished design, so why not? A lot of it’s just timing and chance and where the muses led me on any particular day. I think it sounds really cool and highlights another aspect of the kind of design I can do. I wasn’t sure I was going to put it out, but then Zeke Graves ended up buying my prototype from me, so I figured I may as well put this out there too and see what happens.