“I think of everything in the world of distortion and fuzz as being a spectrum,” says Union Tube & Transistor’s Chris Young. Photo by Mitka Alperovitz

Union Tube & Transistor

Hailing from Vancouver, BC, Union Tube & Transistor specializes in dirt. “I think of everything in the world of distortion and fuzz as being a spectrum,” says co-owner Chris Young. “You start off with a clean boost. From that you go to a micro amp and then to a Tube Screamer, overdrive, or a Klon or something. At the end of that spectrum is the beginning of the RAT spectrum. The end of the RAT spectrum is the beginning of the fuzz spectrum. I want to have stages, so I can go from mild amp-like characteristics into a better version of a Boss DS-1, a RAT, or a stack.”

“I think of everything in the world of distortion and fuzz as being a spectrum.” —Chris Young, Union Tube & Transistor

With business partner Kirk Elliott, Young builds a line of unique and virtually indestructible boxes. “That came out of my years of doing repairs,” Young says. “How can we make these as bulletproof as possible? We always color code our wires and we don’t mount switches or anything that has the possibility of breaking the circuit board onto the circuit board itself. That badge you see on the face of the pedal? The four screws that hold that badge in place secure the circuit board as well. The way our stuff is designed, you can step on the jack and break it, but you’re never going to hurt the circuit board.”


A pair of no-knob Bumble Buzz pedals—a collaboration with Jack White—share the bench with Swindle stomps, which occupy a sonic space between overdrive and fuzz. Photo by Mitka Alperovitz

Union Tube & Transistor is best known for their no-knob collaboration with Jack White’s Third Man Records. “We sent Jack a More pedal a number of years ago,” says Young. White used the pedal on “Sixteen Saltines” and for the vocals in “I’m Shakin’” on his 2012 Grammy-nominated release Blunderbuss. “Most people, when we send them stuff, we never hear anything. But Jack’s people started communicating with us right away. ‘Jack really likes this. Would you think about installing one of these in one of his guitars?’” After some discussion back and forth, Third Man Records flew Young to Nashville to discuss collaborating on a new pedal. “I brought a handful of things that we made and a handful of things that were ideas for new devices. He picked the sound of something he liked and the look of something else—it was a no-knob unit without any controls on it; only an on/off switch.” The result is the Bumble Buzz, an unorthodox, muscular octave fuzz that PG’s Charles Saufley called “the Howlin’ Wolf of fuzzes.”


This tidy workspace belies Young’s passion for aural dirt in its many variations. Photo by Mitka Alperovitz

Union Tube & Transistor have a few interesting ideas on the horizon, but for now their primary focus is distortion. “Everything has been gain stages and fuzzes,” Young says. “I’m not against doing other stuff, but the problem often becomes, ‘If it exists already, it is hard to do the me-too thing.’”

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