Based in Holland, Michigan, John Cusack and his team build pedals and guitar amps under the Cusack brand
and for other brands.
Cusack MusicSolid engineering, not tinkering and experimentation, is the foundation of Michigan-based Cusack Music. “When I first started, I used the phrase ‘reality in tone,’” says Jon Cusack, the company’s founder. “At the time—this was 2002—everybody was talking about carbon film resistors and that you had to have it handwired or it wasn’t going to sound right. As an experienced engineer, I was like, ‘95 percent of this is bull crap; it’s all marketing.’ My philosophy is that when I design something, I design it from an engineering standpoint. ‘Theoretically, what kind of resistor is going to work best in this circuit? What kind of capacitor is going to work best in this circuit? How am I going to get what I want for a sound out of this?’ When I’m doing the design process, I go through the theoretical first, then I lay out a circuit board.”
Cusack doesn’t make clones, except for his first pedal, which was based on a Tube Screamer. “I did a clone as the very first one because I wanted to get a handle on everything else,” he says. “What enclosure am I going to use? What kind of power jacks? What kind of pots? What’s the drill pattern going to be? I was like, ‘The first go around, let’s worry about the mechanics of how this thing is going to be assembled.’ So I took one piece out of the equation, which was coming up with the circuit, because everything else was from the ground up. From that point on, everything else has pretty much been a from-scratch circuit.”
The Cusack crew at work.
Some circuits venture into the absurd. “The Tap-A-Scream was an April Fools’ joke,” says Cusack. “Somebody on a forum somewhere said, ‘When are you going to come out with a tap overdrive?’ So I built a prototype and announced it on April Fools’ Day thinking, ‘Okay, this will be funny because I actually built a prototype.’ But then I had a dealer order 10 of them. People who use it get what it does and they find some pretty cool applications for it.”
“My philosophy is that when I design something, I design it from an engineering standpoint,” says Cusack. “I go through the theoretical first, then I lay out a circuit board.”
Another innovation is the Never Off Series—pedals without on/off switches that are designed to work with loop systems. “I work with quite a few touring guys and they are always asking for smaller and lighter,” Cusack says. “Mark Lee from Third Day said, ‘I need a board that’s really small, one I can fly with as carry-on, and it’s got to fit on a Pedaltrain Mini.’ I thought we could start with our Pedal Board Tamer programmable pedal looper, and then take our individual pedals and put them in a tiny box without a bypass in them—because you already have the bypass in your loop system—and now we’ve saved all that space. With the Pedal Board Tamer and Never Off pedals, he now has a complete analog pedalboard, but with the digital aspect of having presets, too.”
One of Cusack’s innovations is the Never Off Series—tiny pedals without on/off switches that are designed to work with loop-switching systems. “You already have the bypass in your loop system and now we’ve saved all that space,” he says.
Cusack also has an outstanding track record partnering with other manufacturers, although lately he’s been pulling back. “What we realized is that we really love interacting with the other builders—they are all friends and we hang out at the shows—but it took the focus off our goal, which was the Cusack Music products. In the last three months, I had to learn to say no. I’m still helping people as I can, but I am not doing full-blown designs anymore for anybody. It had been three years since I released anything with my own name on it.” But that said, Cusack Music has a slew of new offerings on the horizon. “We released the Pedal Cracker a few weeks ago. It is going to be shipping in two weeks. We bought Mojo Hand FX and are planning to release new pedals under that brand. We paired up with AJ Peat Guitars and we’re releasing a whole pedal line for him. We’re still working on multiple brands, but they are brands that either we own or that are close friends who we have tight ties with.”