1. EarthQuaker Devices Founder Jamie Stillman works on a pedal bread board. Stillman does all of the pedal designing and screenprinting for his stompboxes. (Photo by Stephanie Falk) 2. Ben Veehorn works on early stages of pedal building in the circuitboard workstation. (Photo by Jeff France) 3. Senior Circuit Builder Justin Seeker working on Earthquaker Devices circuitboards. (Photo by Jeff France) 4. Brad Thorla works with circuitboards and pedal assembly. (Photo by Jeff France)
When you started the company,
what did you feel you
could offer players that was
missing in pedals already on
When I started building, I had no idea there was a world of people online talking about boutique pedals. I had always used pedals but was never happy with them. I heard sounds made by other bands and didn’t know how to get them: I didn’t know that there was a difference between the sound of a Marshall JCM900 and a Marshall Super Lead, or a Boss Overdrive versus a Big Muff. I was unhappy that I wasn’t getting the sound on Led Zeppelin records, without realizing I wasn’t using anything close to the same gear. Once I started building pedals, I realized these are those sounds!
As I started experimenting with effects, I began adding things that I wanted, like more low end or more clarity, while still having the pedal sound like an amp on the verge of blowing up. Modern effects were clean, pristine, noise-free—sterile. My goal was to make things that sounded old and kind of [expletive] up. Noise was part of those old pedals, like Echoplexes and old fuzz pedals—they didn’t work right, and that’s what sounds so good. Over time, I realized I was trying to mix old and new to come up with the sound that I had in my head. It turned out other people were into that sound, too. I read the Analog Man book interview with Mike Matthews of Electro- Harmonix, and a lot of his philosophies fall right in line with mine. If it does its job but there is some noise—[expletive] it.
You used to work as a graphic
designer—did you design the
The octopus skull? No, I wish I did. I redrew it a bit. The octopus skull was a piece of clip art that I cut out of this ’90s punk-rock magazine called Crap Hound, thinking I would use it some day. When I started making EarthQuaker Devices, I put it on there and it became recognizable. Still, I wish I had come up with something of my own. I ran across a guy who had a tattoo of it—but not because of us. He came across it on his own.
What’s your shop like?
I used to work alone out of my basement, but by March of this year we had seven people working in 300 square feet. I am an organization freak, so we had things going up the walls and stored on the ceiling. We had used every square inch of my basement, and it was time to move. Now we have a shop downtown with 2,000 square feet that’s five minutes from my house. We are in a couple of rooms in a warehouse—with windows [laughs]. It is a bombproof fortress, most of it owned by an Akron company that builds bionic limbs. We have run out of room there already.
Compared to other handwired
boutique pedals, your prices
are pretty affordable—almost
in line with mass-produced
effects. How do you do it?
Volume—we sell a lot of pedals, mostly through stores and distributors. At any given point, we sell from one to five percent direct. The pricing has always worked out—from the time I was doing it myself up until now, with nine people and a ton of expenses. The volume kept increasing, and we’ve done everything at the right time to maintain that pricing. That is not to say we don’t lose money on some pedals. Some are not making a profit, but I love them so much I won’t get rid of them.
LEFT: Steve Clements tends to the fi ner details, in the saudering of PCB population into pedals. Photo by Jeff France. CENTER: Pedals in the wiring stage at EarthQuaker headquarters. Photo by Jeff France. RIGHT: Mike Stangelo drills stomp switch holes into EarthQuaker Device pedals. Photo by Jeff France.
When we started, the low prices turned some of the boutique buyers off because they assumed low price meant crap workmanship. But it is important to me to keep the effects affordable and keep making them by hand. Otherwise, what is unique about them? I think some boutique pedal buyers search out the most expensive pedals they can find, whereas we have crossed over to the general purchaser who walks into your average music store in the middle of Minnesota and says, “I want an overdrive pedal that does such and such.” The salesman shows them one of ours, and they go, “Oh, cool.” They might have come in looking for a Boss overdrive and they end up with one of our pedals. Then again, some of those people think our prices are a little high.