Mod your gear! Jesse Dean Designs offers aesthetic and performance customizations for turntables, CDJs, Native Instruments’ Maschine and Traktor X1 controllers, and just about any other music gear you want customized.
“I call it functioning art. I look at a piece of gear and try to figure out what I can do to make it more ergonomic and pleasing to the eye. Most designs are inspired by the artist that contracts the modification.”
Jesse Dean Designs
Jesse Dean Graves is an artist, turntable technician and industrial designer who specializes in the customization of music gear such as Technics 1200s, Pioneer CDJs, Native Instruments’ Maschine, and just about anything else you want to bring him. He’s worked with heavyweights such as DJ Q-Bert, DJ Muggs (Soul Assassins), DJ Q-Ball (Bloodhound Gang), Chris Kilmore (Incubus), and DJ Scratch (EPMD). But you wouldn’t guess any of that by meeting him; his humble demeanor and obsession with deconstructing electronics and crafting new objects overshadows the impressive portfolio of work that you can find on his website and YouTube channel.
“Since I was a kid, I always ripped things apart to see how they worked,” he explains during a visit to his Lancaster, CA studio/workshop where there was a buzz of creation happening. His assistant Brandon was working at a workbench of Maschine mods (one of his most popular products) while Jesse explained what sorts of customizations he does. “What I do mostly is Direct Image. That means, what you see…colors, textures, and feel. I do some mods to electronics too, depends on the gear,” he explains. “97% of the time I can find a way to do it. Turntables, microphones, keyboards, rack gear, guitar cabs, guitars, MPCs, Maschines, mixers, speakers, and much more.”
Some of Jesse’s recent projects include making the finish on a set of turntables look like a guitar, creating a custom skateboard for Pioneer, and installing Novation Dicer modules in a Technics turntable. Many of these projects seem to be inspired by the discovery and manipulation of new materials, as he explains: “I watch a lot of progress in different industries. Automotive performance, aerospace, and of course electronic automation. I try to use these technologies and materials in my designs. There are so many people studying and creating new materials and processes, I try to utilize this progress in the manufacturing of my designs.”
Technics 1200 Customizations
One of Jesse’s recent projects was a set of turntables created for Chris Kilmore of Incubus (see above video) that features wood paneling and the first modification to incorporate a pair of Novation Dicer units into the turntable chassis. Modifying 1200s was his first love and specialty, and he’s customized a number of them for aesthetic reasons as well as improved performance. “I love Technics turntables,” Jesse tells me when asked about how he found the path to customizing them. “I built a set of turntables for fun. They were a busted pair of 1200MK2s I had laying around. I stripped them down, powder coated the chassis, changed the LEDs, and engineered out a straight tone arm. They were pretty cool. I showed them to a friend, he asked if I could do something to his 1200s—it all started going from there.”
On the technical side, Jesse shows me a few modifications that aim to enhance the Technics 1200s’ functionality, including a straight, carbon-fiber tonearm. “Carbon fiber dose not transmit sound waves like metal alloys,” he explains. “Plus straight tonearms have a direct back pressure. Unlike the s-arm it pushes straight back. The s-arm pushes out when the record is pushed back. So I incorporated the two together to make a awesome performing scratch tone arm.”
Another mod he’s created is a new tonearm PCB board for Technics turntables. “I enhanced the original design to fit today’s wants and needs. For instance I made the zip tie mount more rugged so the board no longer breaks in this weak spot. And I built in internal grounding.” In addition to modifications, Jesse stresses the importance of maintenance. “Tuning is also very important and the right setup is critical. Tuning tables helped me come up and engineer products for better performance, such as different materials tonearms are made of and weighting for tracking on a record.”
NI Maschine Modifications
One of Jesse’s most popular products (and more affordable ones as well) are his wood panels, graphic overlays, and metal knobs for Native Instruments’ Maschine and X1 MIDI controllers. While these are somewhat simple modifications compared to some of the custom work that Jesse does, the upgraded knobs and wood panels do bring a touch of class to the devices. He also offers a wood stand that will combine the X1 and Maschine together in one stand, at the same height. The wood trim kit for Maschine costs $49.99, Maschine covers cost $15.99, and the Maschine knob kit is $34.99.