Boutique manufacturer Paul Trombetta
came to the effects business via a pretty
traditional path. His pedals, though, are
anything but typical. At 16, he started wiring
his own guitars and rehousing effects. By
2003, he was modifying Electro-Harmonix
Big Muffs and Pro Co Rats for friends, and
in 2005 birthed Paul Trombetta Design to
market pedal creations of his own.
Trombetta says his primary design motivation
is to provide cutting-edge tones in
pedals that are also capable of generating
more recognizable and universally useful
sounds. His Mini-Bone, for example, offers
fat, dynamic Fuzz Face-style drive, yet also
yields trumpet and trombone sounds, low
octaves, and can harmonize a fifth down.
All Trombetta’s pedals are true bypass,
handwired, point-to-point, with carefully
selected and matched components. And as
many as half the pedals he sells are ordered
with custom paint or engraving. They’re real
works of art, from both an aesthetic and
musical perspective. So it’s little surprise
that Trombetta’s work drew the attention
of experimental guitarist and soundtrack
composer David Torn—or that he and
Trombetta would conspire on a pedal to suit
Torn’s needs. The result is the Tornita!
Torn and Paid
Torn and Trombetta’s relationship dates to
2009 when Torn (David Bowie, k.d. lang,
John Legend, Tori Amos, Bill Bruford, Mick
Karn, David Sylvian, Meshell Ndegeocello,
Don Cherry) ordered a Mini-Bone from
Trombetta. Pleased with his purchase, Torn
had Trombetta send him one of the now-discontinued
Donita pedals—a six-knob, highgain
distortion that could produce self-oscillating
feedback. Discussions ensued between
Torn and Trombetta concerning modifications
to the Donita design—things like latching
and momentary feedback buttons, and foot
adjustable feedback pitch control. The inclusion
of these options and the layout of the
resulting stompbox created something that
was as much an instrument as a guitar pedal.
Though Trombetta produces over 200
pedals a year, the appearance of our test
Tornita! retains a DIY aesthetic: The word
“in”—like all the pedal’s details—is handcarved
into the brushed metal casing to
indicate the whereabouts of the input, a
circle with a line across it (presumably representing
negative tip) marks the adapter
input, and the big Blend knob looks like it
was pulled off a piece of gear from the ’50s.
The controls include Volume and Bias,
as well as the oversized and unlabeled Blend
knob. The Bias control creates cool bitreduction
effects and affects the way the
feedback reacts to both your playing and the
fuzz sustain. There is a 3-way, mini-toggle
Presence switch on the back, which has a
very subtle mid-boost effect. A mini-toggle
Feedback phase switch offers Up and Down
modes. Up emphasizes the upper frequencies
in feedback mode, while down favors—you
guessed it—the lower ones. Either mode
has the potential to unleash auto arpeggiating
patterns, low octaves, and droning. The
Momentary feedback footswitch enables you
to engage the feedback effect for as long as
you hold it down. The Latch mode holds and
sustains feedback so you can use your foot to
adjust the Blend knob for pitch changes and
other surprises. The Tornita! operates on a 9V
battery and standard 9V adapter.
I tested the Tornita! with a Fernandes Stratstyle
and a Fender Stratocaster run through
an Egnater Rebel 30 and an Orange Tiny
Terror. I also recorded some samples by
running the Tornita! directly into Ableton
Live using Live’s Amp and Speaker plug ins
to warm up the recorded tone.
With the Bias all the way up, the straight
fuzz sound of the Tornita! was fat, warm,
and reed-like, with plenty of sustain.
Backing off the Volume thinned and cleaned
up the sound significantly, creating a sharp
cutting tone that sliced through a mix.
Turning the Bias down transports you to
more experimental realms. A slight nudge
counterclockwise added a cool crackle to the
fuzz and shortened the sustain considerably.
Turning it almost totally down transformed
my guitar’s tone into an electronic blip.
Moving beyond the straight fuzz setting,
I entered a world of character-rich tones
that are definitely designed with the more
adventurous guitarist in mind. Stepping on
either the Latch or Momentary Feedback
switches gave me pitch shifts, random
arpeggios, and synth-style oscillator sweeps
that I could control—and I use the term
loosely—with my pickup selector switch,
guitar volume and tone knobs, and/or the
pedal’s Blend control. As I began to change
the relationship between the knobs and
switches, the tones started mutating thick
and fast, and I found dozens of really musical,
if unorthodox sounds.
The one hitch may be in trying to recreate
them. Getting the same tone twice
isn’t always just a question of recalling
the position of each knob and switch.
And what felt
like the same notes or licks
on the guitar would often yield different
effects each time—even with identical settings—
as the Tornita! picked up nuances
in attack and intensity.
It didn’t take long to embrace the chaos,
and I had hours of fun exploring the different
squeals and squawks emanating from
my axe. I found that with the guitar volume
full up it was possible to play lines over
the feedback, and that reducing the Bias
brought out more arpeggios.
The Tornita! is a blast for creating
unusual-sounding passages for recording
projects. And editing some parts yielded
inspirations for whole songs. For live applications,
it’s worth taking the time to learn
which settings yield predictable, repeatable
results (changing the position of the 5-way
on the Strat, with the guitar volume all the
way up, was one of my favorites), but a big
part of the fun of the Tornita! is the surprise
factor for both you and your audience—if
you’re willing to take a few chances.
Tornita! is not for everyone. If your music is
more experimental in nature, this pedal is a
must-have, but if you just want the straight
fuzz sound, you might opt for Trombetta’s
Fudge fuzz or any number of more traditional
fuzzes instead. Should you want to
combine the far-out with the traditional,
Trombetta’s FeederBoneMachine offers a
version of Tornita! combined with a Mini-
Bone in one pedal.
The effects world is rife with distortion
and fuzz pedals, making it hard to come
up with something new. Paul Trombetta
has not only come up with fresh noises, he
manages to make them sound great. The
Tornita! pushes the envelope of what a
distortion/fuzz can do and fuzz freaks and
outer-limits players alike should rejoice.
you want thick, musical fuzz and want to create strange effects with guitar knobs or pickup switches.
you just want fuzz.