Entrepreneur’s journey to Japan leads to guitar pedal business

Oxford+entrepreneur+Lance+Giles+shows+off+one+of+his+hand-crafted+electric+guitar+pedals+that+he+sells+through+his+online+company%2C+Dogman+Devices.+

Photo by Taj Simmons

Oxford entrepreneur Lance Giles shows off one of his hand-crafted electric guitar pedals that he sells through his online company, Dogman Devices.

By Taj Simmons

Oxford resident Lance Giles admitted he was happy to see his guitar pedal business, Dogman Devices, featured on Twitter, but he also felt the platform could only partially tell his story.

Currently a creator and designer of handcrafted electric guitar pedals, Giles’ previous adventures include a 2-year trek to Japan as an English teacher, attempting to become a beer salesman under a Russian entrepreneur, and a brief gig as an underground Japanese punk-rock musician; all before finally starting his black-owned Dogman Devices company. Oh, and he managed to squeeze in writing a novel too.

Guitar pedals are used to modify the sound coming out of electric guitars. Giles explained that without these pedals, an electric guitar just doesn’t have that sound.

“When you think of a guitar pedal, think of that funky sound out of that electric guitar,” Giles said. “Think Jimi Hendrix, I can’t think of a single song Hendrix did where he’s not using that pedal, that’s where that sound comes from.”

After a couple of years experimenting with making his own pedals for his electric guitar, Giles figured he could turn his newfound passion into a business under the name Dogman Devices; a light-hearted phrase Giles’ friends called each other in college.

“The name came from what my buddies called me in college. Instead of saying ‘hey man’ or ‘what’s up dog,’ we’d called each other dogman,” Giles said. “I like to goof around a lot, and to have a serious name for the company felt hypocritical.”

But selling guitar pedals wasn’t always Giles’ first option. After graduating from Earlham College with a major in Japanese studies, he booked it to Japan for two years as an English teacher in the countryside.

“I have always been interested in living in another country,” Giles said. “I was inspired by many Hemingway books, where he’s traveling and living in Europe. The concept just seemed so cool.”

Giles said he picked Japan because he considered the language was the least difficult to learn and was the most accessible for him.

“Before I had switched my major to Japanese studies, I was studying anthropology, and to me it made sense to just pick a specific culture,” Giles said. “And of the different cultures that stood out, Japanese was the most accessible to me.”

Although he was understandably anxious in his new environment, at first, Giles slowly eased into being so far from his home at a critical point in his life.

“I was nervous a little bit at first, transitioning from college to the adult world was already pretty stressful, and now on top of that, it’s all in Japanese,” he said. “Essential adult things like setting up a bank account became that much harder.”

It was not long after that Giles said he became tired of the job, and realized his true passion might just be somewhere else.

“It was just really hard to find jobs that weren’t teaching-related, and I was tired of teaching,” Giles said. “I began to see myself as having to teach as a means of staying instead of truly enjoying it.”

Before he could enjoy Japan, he first had to find a way to pay his bills, or he would face eviction. At that point, Giles said he found what he felt was his big break.

“I found a job that was too ridiculous to say no to,” Giles said. “A salesman’s job from a Russian woman who was trying to sell German beer in Japan.”

Unfortunately for Giles, his big break turned out to be a big bust instead.

“I didn’t realize she was the only person in the company,” Giles said. “After things started to go under, I suddenly found myself situated in a spot where if I didn’t quit, I would be stranded in Japan with no money.”

While attempting to find a non-teaching career 6,515 miles from his original hometown in Oxford, Giles moved from the Japanese countryside to a more suburban area. Here, he found himself caught up in the local punk-rock scene, the first stepping stone to his next journey.

“I started going to local punk shows in the city, there was a band “Mortal Family” that I would fill in for as a guitarist,” Giles said. “I think the thing I took away from the experience though, was a lot of people had these wild instruments and devices or pedals, and it piqued my interest.”

Giles came into the punk-rock domain, with guitar pedals he had bought off the internet, an apparent no-no around his band members.

“I started talking with people in the punk scene, and they asked why I kept buying pedals when I could easily just make them off the internet,” Giles said. “And I just started learning more and more about them.”

After being unable to find a job, Giles eventually had to come back home to Oxford, but his trip wasn’t for naught. 

Using his experiences from Japan, he started crafting his own guitar pedals in his home in Oxford and sold them under his company Dogman Device.

Giles said he feels his work is “more of an art rather than a job,” and said he prides himself on being able to make hand-made guitar pedals that reflect his own personal lifestyle. Rather than being made on an assembly line or by machines, Giles hand-makes each pedal from the circuit board, to the engraving and the finishing of the case.

“I approach building pedals as an art and a craft to make the products,” Giles said. “It’s not that other companies don’t have that, it’s that mine have their own aesthetic.” 

Giles caught his first big break when popular Country musician Jason Isbell took notice of Dogman Devices a year ago, and he suggested his 350,000+ Twitter followers check out the company.

Giles said as a result of the tweet, his entire inventory sold overnight.

A year later, Guitar Center, an online guitar specialty site, featured Giles and his company on its Twitter account.

Giles never thought his career path would lead him down this route, but so far, he’s happy with the outcome.

“(The business) has been a lot better than I thought it would be,” Giles said. “I started it just as a way to do something, I just thought, ‘why not give it a go,’” Giles said. “It’s pretty cool.”