Back in the summer of 2000, I was living near Little Rock, Arkansas. I used to love going to this little guitar store downtown called Stars Guitars. They had everything under the sun, most of it out my meager price range, unfortunately. It didn’t really matter, because the place was eye candy for any guitarist, professional or dreaming of becoming so.
Locked away in the pedal display case at the front counter were what seemed to be an endless supply of pedals, but the most memorable were by this company called Way Huge. Their funny names and compact designs certainly distinguished them from most of the other pedals in the display. In retrospect, I kick myself every day for not buying every single one of them on the spot when I had the chance. Even after playing The Swollen Pickle and having the money on me, I foolishly opted out of it, my prepubescent musical ignorance unable to comprehend buying anything that didn’t bear a name that I knew, no matter how good it sounded (and trust me, it sounded awesome).
Seemingly from out of nowhere, the legendary pedal company has returned in full force with three incredible pedals bearing the famous namesake. We recently sat down with Jeorge Tripps, founder and designer of Way Huge Electronics, to poke his brain about his company’s humble beginnings, future, and how he comes up with those cool names.
What was your inspiration for starting Way Huge? What were the factors that made you want to design equipment?
There was no inspiration, it was sort of a gradual happening, if you will. Like several pedal builders, I read Craig Anderton’s Electronic Projects for Musicians
when I was younger. It was cool because there wasn’t a whole lot of literature available at the time for that sort of thing and my reaction was, “Oh cool! A book on effects!” In 1987, I built the talkbox project from the book -- a little box that was basically a passive tone control. Nothing spectacular, but I was 16 at the time. My dad was an electrical engineer, so I learned to solder from him when I was a kid.
I moved to Los Angeles and started hanging out at a place called Amp Crazy, before the whole pedal-boom thing happened. They had a lot of cool effects coming in, and something made me pull that book out and start building those projects again. There were a couple of techs at Amp Crazy who helped me, and explained to me what each component did and how it worked. After a while, I called Dunlop with a broken MXR Micro Flanger, and they hooked me up with info on how to repair and modify it. They were very helpful along the way, and would answer my questions on how to tweak certain pedals to do the things that I wanted them to do. I just did it for fun, and learned a lot from those guys along the way.
Eventually I started working for Rack Systems, doing things like building power supplies for pedal boards. I brought in a few of my creations and I got a lot of positive reactions from the people there. I thought, “If there are enough people wanting these pedals, maybe I should start building them.” So basically, there was never really a time where I personally decided that “Oh, I want to build pedals!” It was more that I just wanted to play guitar and I liked effects. Way Huge is what came out of that.
How do you feel about seeing your original creations see so much demand in the past several years, after the company originally folded?
I remember seeing the demand a few years ago when I was working for Line 6, wondering “where were you guys before?” [laughs] I understand it, because I’m a gear head and a guitarist too. I’ve spent a ton of money on pedals that I just knew that I had to have. My favorite thing is the obsession that everybody wants an earlier model, and my first thought is “I want a later one, after they fixed all the issues.” Another fascinating thing is that there weren’t a whole lot of pedals produced by Way Huge to begin with. We’ve shipped out more Way Huge pedals from Dunlop in the first month than I ever made originally, and we didn’t ship out that many in the first run! I think that my original grand total was less than 3000 pedals, including any custom ones that I did.
What prompted you to bring back the Way Huge line?
Well, pretty much right after I closed it down, there was some interest. No one was ever serious, however. It had crossed my mind more than once, and I was actually hoping that Dunlop would be into the idea. Every few months I’d get an email or a call or something, but it was usually somebody who didn’t know the industry very well and was a player themselves. When I started at Line 6, I was talking with a rep from Dunlop off and on, and eventually after throwing the idea around, it became serious enough to do it. The Way Huge line now is pretty done exactly like it was done before. I design everything, because I feel like it’s still “me”. The only exceptions are that I don’t build them and I don’t have to market them! [laughs] Everything else—how they look, feel and sound—that’s all me. Dunlop told me, “You design it, you’re the guy.” I’ve tried to get the highest quality components that perform the best, while still being affordable to the player. The chassis are exactly the same, except for the added battery door on the front. I had knobs made because set screws are a headache when pedals are made in large batches.
What pedal designs never saw the light of day? Any one-offs or custom designs?
Oh, there were a bunch of one-offs that didn’t make it out. The Fat Sandwich was originally one.
The Fat Sandwich reissue
The one produced now is not the one that I originally designed back then, because it was never fully completed. The current Fat Sandwich is a distortion tone that I like to hear. To me, the new Fat Sandwich doesn’t sound like a conventional tube amp, it sounds like what I’m used to playing. That’s kind of what I was after, a little rough, like what it’s really like, because that’s what I like.
There were a number of other things that didn’t make it out, such as the Screaming Beaver... I don’t know what the hell I was doing with that! There was a hand-painted Fat Sandwich that was nothing like what it is now. In retrospect, there were a bunch of ideas jotted down on paper that never made it out. Like “Hey, I should try a ring modulator. Write that down!” [laughs] There was the big delay pedal that never made it out, but a lot of those ideas ended up in the MXR Carbon Copy delay. Bob Cedro at Dunlop engineered the pedal, and it was my product design. I said what features that I wanted it to have, and he did a fabulous job designing it in a way to make those features come to fruition.
What can we expect to see coming out in the Way Huge line in the future? Any more reissues, or new designs?
There are very few things that I would like to see reissued from the original line. The Swollen Pickle was reissued because there was a big demand for it. A lot of people wanted it, so I thought “Ok, that was a cool one." A lot of people ask about the Aqua Puss, and my first question is “Why would you want a 300ms analog delay?” They’re cool, but the Carbon Copy’s cooler. So I don’t see that happening. My thing is that if there’s a big enough demand for it, we’ll reissue it, but I don’t want to reissue anything just for the sake of bringing it back. I think the Green Rhino’s great, but there’s a lot of people out there doing that sort of thing right now. The field is very different when I started; there weren’t very many players in the game, so there was more room do things like that.
I will say that I am working on some new things right now. The MXR Script line is also a project of mine to bring those back as authentic, the first of which was the Hendrix line that I did. Then came the Phase 90 reissue, then the Carbon Copy and the Classic 108 Fuzz. The Dynacomp Reissue that we’re doing is about as authentic as it gets. We found all the original components, but very few of the original Harris 8-pin transconducting opamps, which we have to send off to be de-leaded due to federal law. So because those are so difficult to produce, very few of them will be made. If we find more of the original components, we’ll make them. They’re very cool!
Have your designs been affected by any changing styles or technology in the past ten years?
I guess the difference is that before, 80 percent of my designs were made strictly for me. I didn’t really think about it in terms of how many I could sell because I wasn’t entirely sure what the answer was. I don’t use compressors, but when I designed the Saffron Squeeze it wasn’t for me; it was for a distributor that wanted one. Now, I do it more based on a combination of making a cool product that I would like and one that people might want. Originally, the process was “I want one of these,” and that was it. Now I don’t do as much of that because there’s a little more at stake than me in my garage making five of them. I can just do that on my own now! (laughs) Now it’s based on market base and musical styles. There’s also group of friends that I have who are professional players that I get input from. The Pork Loin is a good example of that. Before I designed that I thought to myself, “Well, what can I bring to the overdrive table that’s not necessarily different, but not the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol?” You can only do overdrive so many ways, and that was my take on it.
What pedal are you most proud of?
Oh man, it depends. The Aqua Puss was a shining moment because I was surprised that I actually got it to work! I was rather naïve in electronics then, so when that one came together I was very, very proud. The Fat Sandwich I’m very proud of as well because it took me ten years to get it to sound the way that I wanted it to. [laughs] It was something that I always wanted create, to make a pedal that wasn’t necessarily a distortion, not necessarily a fuzz, but was in the distortion realm that wasn’t a clone of something.
How did you come up with the names?
[Laughs] There really isn’t a method at all. I wanted to get the point across that the Swollen Pickle was in the Big Muff realm, but not a Big Muff, so that name kind of reflects that. Plus, “Big Muff” is such a cool name... I wondered “how can I come up with something as cool as that?” The Fat Sandwich just sounded like a cool name, and sounded like a great name for a distortion. The Saffron Squeeze was from some really disgusting story that somebody told me that they read in some paper in San Francisco. [laughs] The Red Llama came from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones shared a directing credit with 6 Venezuelan Red Llamas, and I thought it was funny. Then I just started using animal names after a while, and when something sounded cool that seemed to fit with the pedal in question, I used it.
Did you design those comics that came on the boxes?
The comics came from when I started out in my garage, and my neighbor was a cartoonist. We were sitting around talking and came up with the idea for a couple of ads that were cartoons. I’d tell him what the pedal name was and the kind of tone that it had, and the rest of it was all just him. We came up with the Mr. Huge thing together, because we both wanted to do a mad scientist thing, kind of like the big brained aliens on the Star Trek pilot. They didn’t go over too well, so I decided that I’d better start advertising the pedals with what they did. Then years later, the folks at Line 6 were like “Oh man, those comics were so cool!” [laughs]