Ray Webb has been working machine shops since diapers, or dinosaurs, whichever came first. With an extensive background in electrical and mechanical engineering, he began building tattoo machine parts in the early nineties for a big tattoo supply company. In 2004 he made his first tattoo machine, of his own original design, which used an entirely new mechanism. "I had always, since I was a kid, hoped to develop and sell my own product. Over the years I have made many products and designs for other companies and now I had my own." With NeoTat in hand Ray set out to conquer the tattoo world, one show at a time.
The idea was to sell the NeoTat machine online but, without a solid customer base, it did not work out so well. In the beginning, the tattoo industry was not interested in the linear tattoo machine of a rotary design; the industry was dominated by coil machines. At times, it seemed that no one even cared to understand what a linear machine was. Tattoo artists in Europe were more accepting of the innovative machine design, they had questions and curiosities, but not enough sells to float the boat. The members of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals caught on to the benefits of this new light weight, smooth hitting machine and it was due to this that Ray was able to attend conferences for SPCP members. This became the ground work for the success that Ray and NeoTat would have selling machines in person.
"In those first few years it was difficult to get into regular tattoo shows to sell this amazing linear machine. Durb Morrison was the first to see the potential and allowed me to walk around selling NeoTats at the Hell City Tattoo Fest in Phoenix, in 2005. This loyalty continues to this day as Durb and I continue to work together for both Hell City Arizona and Hell City Ohio."
Roll on to 2009 and it was almost the end, before it became a new beginning. The NeoTat linear tattoo machine did not seem to be something that the tattoo industry was ready for, even though Ray knew that the NeoTat was a good machine. He knew that he had created a great product for the industry. "My thought was; let's make somethings that's clean and quiet, let's get rid of the damn rubber band!" The problem was that not many artists were willing to try it. Like any new group, respect had to be earned and it was about to be given. In 2009, Joshua Carlton called Ray, "A world class machine builder". Finally, NeoTat was appreciated by a respected person in the industry.
Another artist that Ray credits for NeoTat's rise is Ryan Hadley. Ryan's interest in NeoTat machines and choosing to use them opened the door into the North American tattoo world.
"About a year after Ryan saw the machines at Hell City, he contacted me about NeoTats. From there things really began to take off. Ryan and other artists were travelling to shows and working in the NeoTat booth. It was at a show in Miami that Ryan was talking up my machine to Frank LaNatra. To have both Ryan and Frank on board was more than I had dreamed at the time. It is our artists that make our machines matter. It is a great device but it is just an empty paint brush until it is in the hand of a great artist. We cannot thank our artists enough for everything they do; it is important to us that they are not overlooked or taken for granted. They are the backbone of this company; they are out there working shows and creating masterpieces. It is because of their efforts that NeoTat grew to the stage where, by 2011, NeoTat had become a sponsor of Hell City."
NeoTat has been dubbed an 'organically grown' product, from the roots up. It was never planned to spend money on advertising, gimmicks or chicks. NeoTat was basically built by touring tattoo conventions and making contacts; meeting artists in person, answering their questions and listening to their feedback. Nick Chaboya was a big help by providing introductions, which led to more growth. Unimax Supply was their first U.S. and worldwide distributor, now they have several distributors including Eikon Devices in Canada, Killer Ink in the UK, 2Evolve Tattoo in South Africa, Protat in Australia and Michael Mecho Potapov in Russia.
"We are fortunate that there is a healthy demand for our machines and we often receive requests from companies that would like to add NeoTat and Vivace to their product lines, but for the time being we feel we have as many distributors as we can serve."
"Let the artist be an artist not a mechanic." This motto drives Ray to be constantly improving his machine. When a competitor copies his design, Ray plays with theirs, curious to learn what they wanted to copy. When an artist has a concern or a new suggestion, Ray listens and makes improvements to his machines. When everyone at the shop is least expecting it, Ray gets inspired and makes sometimes subtle changes, sometimes big changes. He is always working to improve his machines and the manufacturing process, sometimes without warning.
The Vivace was conceived on a quiet weekend in the shop. Ray was struck with the vision for a new design, so he tore apart his machine shop to set up for his new creation.
"When the crew came in on the following Monday they were confused as to why all their machines and stations had been messed with. When I presented the crew with the new device, the questions started. Some thought that the machine was too small and too light, so I threw the machine to the ground, picked it up, plugged it in and it ran as smooth as before. Everyone gasped, but the strength test was not finished. I then took the new Vivace machine outside and set it in the alley. The crew watched in horror as I drove my International Scout over the new machine. When I picked up the machine and plugged it in, it ran as smooth as before. The Vivace was born!"
After Ray released the Vivace, at Hell City Phoenix in 2011, he came up with the idea for a brass Vivace. Though heavier, brass has different qualities that make these machines very popular with some artists. The brass version was released at the Alberta Bound convention in Calgary, Canada. And this year at Hell City 2013 in Phoenix, Ray will release his new drive mechanism called, The Magic.
Ray's hobby is restoring antique engines and some of the knowledge he's gained in these restorations, helped him design the drive mechanism of the NeoTat. If you were to peak into Ray's 'blue building', where he stores and plays with his engines, you would instantly see a variety of mechanical devices that I believe to be the roots of the NeoTat mechanics. If you were around to meet him at engine shows and town festivals, you would see the hands on and personable experiences that led to success working tattoo conventions. If you were to peak into the NeoTat workshop, you would be greeted by family, hard work and good ol' American hospitality. You would see the moral structure that supports these machines. You would see machine builders and operators, hand fitting and hand assembling parts. Everything is made in-house (with the exception of the motor, springs and set screws). Parts are CNC machined and the bodies are CNC billeted from aluminum or brass. Each machine is run on a test stand for 2 hours, then cleaned, reassembled, re-run for a final test and then packaged for delivery.
"We want every machine to be at peak performance and ready to work before it leaves the shop. It is our pride, our name going out in those boxes."