The warm, dark, and resonant Maestro FSH sampler sounded futuristic 40 years ago and still sounds that way today. And yet, oddly natural at the same time.
Jamie Stillman, EarthQuaker Devices—Maestro FSH-1 Filter Sample/Hold
I once heard an excellent description of travel as an act that takes a person out of context, be it your job, home, habits, or friends. When I searched for the originator of this view, it turned out the idea came from Rush drummer Neil Peart’s 2004 book, The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa. This mindset reminds me of Jamie Stillman and the team at EarthQuaker Devices in Akron, Ohio. While they make an endless array of useful boosts, drives, fuzzes, and delay pedals, what sets their work apart is how much it can take you outside of yourself. Your usual context—your habits, tones, sonic identity, and self perception as a player—kind of disappears when you plug into a Bit Commander or a Rainbow Machine (“the original unusable guitar effect pedal,” as Jamie calls it) and hear how they transform your sound and approach.
Jamie’s effect collection is pretty legendary—even among most of us hoarders who end up starting pedal companies—so I really wanted to know what the standout was for him. When I asked him, he didn’t hesitate for a second: “The Maestro Filter Sample/Hold—it’s the sound of warm computers speaking to each other.”
He elaborated when I asked about making his own filter-based device. “I’ve made dozens of filter-based things we didn’t release—there are seemingly billions of them out there, and almost none of them do it right. The Maestro is warm and dark, but still super resonant. You can easily make a filter get dark, but then you’re dulling it and it’s just unresponsive. For it to be ring-y and yet still full and warm, I know this can sound dumb, but it’s not natural—and yet totally natural.” The sample-and-hold function also holds a lot of charm for Jamie. “I know it’s something that synth guys take for granted, look back on, and think, ‘That’s nothing—I’ve got a billion CV controls interconnected to all these parameters.’ But to listeners, the sound of the sample and hold is always futuristic. It was futuristic sounding 40 years ago, and it’s still futuristic sounding today. It sounds like what we think of sci-fi and computers.”
When I asked Jamie whether the Maestro influenced the Interstellar Orbiter, EarthQuaker’s first filter-based pedal, he replied, “We went in a really different direction with that. Everything we make has to be something I really, really like. When there’s something like the FSH-1, which I think is really special—everything from that funky, red-white-and-blue folded steel enclosure to that sound and the possibility that components have aged, leaked, or were simply outside of spec—I think there’s something about it that goes beyond a schematic. And if I can’t make something I’d rather use for what that device does, then I should leave it be and make something else.”
Demos of original FSH-1s being played with a guitar are just about as rare as the Tremulus Lune, but companies like Makes Sounds Loudly Pedals offer DIY kits to capture the glorious sounds of yore.