TWA SH9—The Backstory
"It was David Jenkins from Truetone Music in Santa Monica who first told me that Scott Henderson was using the Maxon SD-9 Sonic Distortion while we were hanging at a NAMM show in the mid 2000’s.
I knew of Scott from his work with Tribal Tech. I also knew that Analog Mike was offering a Scott Henderson mod for the SD-9, so I was a little skeptical about Dave’s report.
However, Dave confirmed that Scott had actually bought the stock SD-9 from him directly at the store! Apparently, he felt that the stock version sounded better than Mike’s mod (sorry Mike – his words, not mine).
At some point Scott dropped by our booth and we got to be on semi-regular speaking terms. Scott would always ask to try out various Maxon overdrives, and then he’d ship them back to us if he didn’t like them – which was most of the time!
Scott did wind up using the Maxon VOP-9 for several years along with the SD-9, and he was a big advocate for that pedal as well. We even had Mr. Tamura do some prototype VOP’s for him with different voltage configurations, but he always settled on the stock model as the best-sounding one for his needs.
Eventually Scott swapped his VOP out for the RC Booster, and he eventually wound up doing a limited-edition signature version of that pedal with Xotic.
Seeing an opportunity, I asked Scott if he would be willing to do a signature SD-9 model for Maxon. He graciously declined, stating that he didn’t really like signature gear and he only did the Xotic as a special favor to them.
We finally got Scott on video using the SD-9 at the Iridium in NYC in 2012, and over the years he continued to lavish praises on the pedal, but insisted that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a signature version.
When we partnered with Mr. Tamura on the Maxon Custom Shop models in 2019, one of the first things I thought of was Scott’s love for the SD-9. I knew that Mr. T was an avid fan of Scott’s playing, and that if we could get the two of them together, something great might come from it.
I reached out to Scott and we started talking about the SD-9 – at this time, Scott appeared to be more open to the idea of a signature model, but explained that if we were to do one, he would want there to be some specific improvements to the circuit to address the shortcomings of that pedal that he had discovered over the years.
Mr. T spent a good portion of the following year working on modifications for the SD-9 in hopes of realizing Scott’s vision and getting him on board for a custom-shop signature model.
We sent a prototype to Scott in late 2019 and got to the point where his only issue was a slight loss of low-end on high notes. Mr. T was able to solve this issue as well, and 2020 NAMM was right around the corner so we planned to tease the release of a signature Scott Henderson custom-shop model at the show.
However, Scott wanted to sign off on the circuit prior to the announcement, so we wound up aborting the NAMM mission.
Shortly after that the pandemic hit, and we spent a few months just regrouping and stabilizing the business.
During this downtime, Mr. T decided to take a different approach to the SD-9 modifications and he developed a completely new prototype. Scott shot down this new version, so we had basically hit a roadblock and weren’t sure how to move forward.
In the meantime, Mr. T had been letting players in Japan hear the first SD-9 mod, and we had also let a bunch of our guitarist friends hear that pedal. Everyone thought that the mod sounded fantastic, so we decided to release is as the SSD-9 Super Sonic Distortion mod in the fall of 2020.
The SSD-9 was received very warmly, in part because many people knew that this mod was based on Scott’s requests!
We were just starting to gain some traction with the SSD-9 when Maxon ceased communications with us and stopped filling our orders in early 2021 (see video).
Once again, we spent the early part of 2021 regrouping and stabilizing the business, with plans to offer Tamura-designed TWA pedals put into the works.
Sometime in June I got a phone call from Scott Henderson – he had heard about our parting of ways with Maxon, and just wanted to check in on us to see how we were holding up.
During our chat, Scott mentioned that several people had told him about the SSD-9 mod and how great it sounded, and he asked if he could check one out. Even though we were no longer working with Maxon at that point, we still had some SD-9’s lying around so I figured it couldn’t hurt - I modded one and sent it out to Scott.
As fate would have it, Scott LOVED the SSD-9 mod and proclaimed that this was the sound that he had been after for all these years.
My first thoughts were “Of course, now that we no longer work with Maxon we have the opportunity to do a Scott Henderson signature pedal.” Figures.
And then I thought – “Waiddaminnut – NOW that we are no longer working with Maxon, we have the opportunity to do a Scott Henderson signature pedal!” Yeah!
I then asked Scott if he would consider doing the pedal under our TWA house brand of pedals – Scott had tried the Hot Sake in the past (didn’t have enough low-end for him) and had asked for a Dynamorph (I was too afraid to send it to him!), so he had some awareness of the brand.
Scott simply said “As long as it sounds exactly like this prototype, then I’ll do it.”
With this mission objective specified, I contacted Mr. T and let him work his magic.
Mr. Tamura is already incredibly meticulous when it comes to circuit design, but with the SH9 he truly went above and beyond even his own high standards.
Every aspect of the performance of the SSD-9 was painstakingly dissected and intently analyzed, from the chassis material alloy down to the color of the LED.
Mr. T incorporated identical components to those used in the SSD-9, including the same type of ALPS potentiometers, the same Marushin audio jacks, and the same WIMA metal film capacitors that I had inadvertently selected when purchasing parts for the SSD-9 production (I figured they were German so they had to be good).
Mr. T finished up the prototype of what would become the SH9 in October of 2021, and I sent it out to Scott for approval. He quickly gave it the thumbs-up, and then proceeded to Velcro it to his pedalboard, where it has performed flawlessly for his recent South American and European tours.
Scott selected the name and color of the pedal, and although he actually didn’t want to have his signature on the pedal, he did give us his blessing after Mr. Tamura specifically requested that it be screened on the pedal’s face.
Since we figured there would be players who wanted “the pedal that Scott uses in his board” as well as those who would want a pedal with his signature, we decided to offer both versions for sale to make everyone happy.
That’s the story of how the SH9 came to be – it was really incredible to be a witness to this process, and I will never forget all the crazy twists and turns that this project took or the fascinating and often fun (and sometimes frustrating) conversations that I had with both Scott and Mr. T.
I hope you all enjoy the SH9 as much as I enjoyed being a part of its creation!"