The effects pedal industry is booming—or was, before the coronavirus. Still, we carry on and continue to create new music and new sounds. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different stompboxes available. Musicians and producers are clamoring to have an arsenal of sounds at their feet. What was once only possible in a recording studio can now be fully realized in almost any environment, thanks to pedals.
So, people are experimenting with sounds more than ever, and weird sounds abound, but it seems that most stompboxes are relatively plain-looking: mostly rectangular metal enclosures, usually painted or printed with some very cool designs, but still…. What does one do when one wants a pedal that looks as unique as it sounds?
They go a-hunting for strange stomps! There are pedal makers popping up who are building wild, non-traditional pedals. Some are fairly large companies that you might already know, while others are smaller operations that deserve to be better known. This article aims to share some of these wild units and their makers with our readers. We think you’ll be amazed by these creations!
Canadian company ScrewedCircuitz is Dan Roleau and Kassia Lebeau, and synthesis is their game—aimed at recording, live sampling, and the spontaneous creation of freaky, haunted-house type atmospherics. Dan builds the circuits and Kassia does the design of the enclosures. They have many strange creations, but the Ring Mod Skull pedal is one of the visually strangest. It offers a passive ring modulator with eight oscillators, lo-fi pre-amplification, and feedback loop options—all built inside a replica of a human skull!
There are controls for each of the eight different oscillators in the Ring Mod Skull. Each knob controls oscillator pitch independently. Each oscillator has its own switch that gives the user the option to flip between resistors and diodes, in order to create two different sounds within the matrix mixer. Courtesy of Dan Roleau and Kassia Labeau or ScrewedCircuitz
“We love matching the enclosure to our sound,” says Roleau. Hence, also, the Harsh Noise Coffin Synth, which is a tiny device shaped like a wooden coffin that sounds like a box full of snakes … until it starts to whoosh and whoop.
“We were inspired to create something dark, atmospheric, and harsh all-in-one,” Roleau says about the Ring Mod Skull. “The pedal is based on our very first Zombie-Head Synth, which was noisy as hell and freaked everyone out because of the realism of the enclosure. The Skull circuit is handmade from scratch using whatever components were laying around at the time. We added cool LEDs because … well, because why not? Who doesn’t like ’em? We aim to please ourselves before anyone else, so when someone appreciates our work it’s a bonus.”
Almost all ScrewedCircuitz effects and sound circuits are built inside of unique, one-of-a-kind enclosures. Plastic toy organs and locomotives, repurposed keyboards, and Walkman cassette players are all fair game, although builds like their Lo-Fi Sampler, Lo-Fi Looper, and some of their other sound twisters come in conventional enclosures.
“Make fuzz not war” is the slogan of Effesk, another one-man company in Arnhem, Netherlands. It’s run by William van Giessen, who makes guitar pedals in the unlikeliest of objects. A quick look at their website reveals a wealth of off-the-wall tone treats: a pinball-machine-shaped fuzz and sound randomizer, an octave fuzz in the form of an old tabletop radio, an OD built into a plastic cat-and-cheese bank, a tremolo in a model VW microbus, and a fuzz built into an old Agfa Clack camera. But my favorite is the DejaVu Minette: an analog-modeled delay with a prominent vintage feel in its looks and sound. Each Minette is boxed up inside of a beautiful old Super 8 mm miniature film projector, which is still functional as a movie viewer! Van Giessen includes found-footage Super 8 film rolls with his orders, so you can watch an old movie and make a soundtrack to it simultaneously.
The DejaVu Minette has a front-panel switch that activates either of its two separate delays, and a half dozen pots—including four on the right side—to control various parameters including pitch bend and the transition speed between delays. Inputs are at left. And yes, the Minette can play movies on its monitor screen. Photo courtesy of William van Giessen/Effesk
The DejaVu has the usual volume, blend, regenerate, and tone controls. As a distinct feature, it has two separate switchable delays, each with its own speed control. It also has a unique modulation effect. The delay controls are selectable via a switch, and, when switching from one time setting to the other, the change happens slowly, just as if you were manually turning the delay time pot on a standard delay pedal. This causes a gradual pitch bend that slowly resolves to unison if a note or chord is struck and held when toggling between the delay pots. To control the speed of the pitch bend/resolve, there is a pot labelled “slow.” Making the transition speed slower also makes the overall delay time longer. It’s a very interactive system—warm, clean, useable, and awesome!
“During my lifetime, I’ve hoarded a large collection of vintage objects,” says van Giessen. “They were laying around, doing nothing. I figured that these could function as awesome enclosures for the effects I’ve fallen in love with. Why use standard aluminum enclosures when you can put the circuit into something that fits the theme? These enclosures deserve a second life in the spotlight.”
Strange effects pedals are what I’m all about. My little two–woman company, Loe Sounds, makes out-of-the-ordinary stompboxes and sound machines. My partner Fiona Loe and I salvage old electronics and have amassed some pretty amazing things over the years.
This Loe Sounds Atari Fuzz, fashioned from an Atari 2600 controller, has volume and gain controls on the top left and right, and a lower-right on/off switch. The Realistic intercoms have been converted into FM Thingees, a heavily modulated reverb with controls for reverb, width, drone, chaos, modulation speed, modulation depth, and blend. Reverb width is a sort of time control. Drone sets how long the reverb lingers. Chaos adds nasty feedback and dirt. Mods, like expression pedal control, are optional. Courtesy of Aisha Loe/Loe Sounds
Many of the items we find are broken beyond repair, but I save the components inside, as well as the enclosures. Rather than put them into the landfill, I repurpose them by building new effects circuits that are made of a mixture of salvaged and new parts inside—essentially transforming trash into handmade, one-of-a-kind stomps. I usually try to put period-specific effects, knobs, and flair into these boxes.
For example, we make Atari Fuzz pedals out of broken Atari 2600 joysticks and paddles. We gut the insides and build fuzz circuits into them. Each time we make a new run of 10 pedals, a different fuzz circuit goes inside, so there are multiple flavors of Atari Fuzz out there. Another thing we love to make is our Realistic FM Series. We take old Radio Shack intercom units and transform them into modulation effects pedals we call the FM Thingee.The enclosures are beige, and awesome-looking. There’s lots of room inside, so I can fit a lot of sound into one box and keep the outside design aesthetics looking sharp. The best part is that it can all be customized, and for us that is the most fun: the collaboration between the person who builds the unit, and the person who will be using the pedal to create sound and music, while being visually inspired by it.