State of the Stomp

In the pedal-building community—as in Alcatraz—sharing is caring.

When I have a conversation about business with someone outside of the music industry, I often find it leads to a discussion of competitors or competition. These terms tend to place a comedic smile upon my face. Both of those words are almost always used by the person not in the music industry. As natural as the concept of competition is, the response I give is often received as unnatural. This could solely be because folks are not used to hearing how our industry actually operates internally.

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Note the two trimmer screwdriver slots, surrounded by blue, in the middle of this phase shifter.

Aisha Loe explains how to cure mushy modulation with a screwdriver—but you need to know what you’re doing.

Potentiometers are used for most of the controls on pedals and a lot of other electronic equipment as well. A potentiometer (also known as a pot) is defined as a 3-terminal variable resistor in which the resistance is manually varied to control the flow of electrical current. A potentiometer acts as an adjustable voltage divider. Any control on a guitar pedal that has a knob will typically be controlling a potentiometer, or sometimes a rotary switch.

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Fig. 1

Yes, there's a lot of value variance, but there's an upside, too.

In your guitar pedal dealings, you may have heard the phrase “component tolerances.” Nearly every component in a pedal is marked with a value, and ideally every component in your pedal would be that exact value, not one bit more and not one bit less. So, every 1k-ohm resistor would be exactly 1.0000000000000k ohm and every 10 µF capacitor would be exactly 10.0000000000000 µF. In this supernatural circuit situation, every pedal would sound identical. There would be no deviations from each component’s intended value, and there would be no deviations from the effect’s intended sound (all other things being equal). Unfortunately, we cannot hope to achieve this sort of metric perfection in the real world. While perfection may not ever be attained, it is also not often required, and all the circuits we interact with day in and day out can tolerate some sort of variation in their components’ value.

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CopperSound Pedals founder Alex Guaraldi's debut "State of the Stomp" outing looks at how compounding Covid woes are making life trickier for stompbox manufacturers.

In the winter and spring of 2021, I found myself staring at a computer screen overloaded by tabs in my internet browser. Each of these tabs displayed the same processor (colloquially referred to as a “chip”) and the current stock quantities for each of a dozen suppliers. The lingering scarcity of this particular processor had been foreshadowed in other industries, and when I found myself noticing the depleting stock—with my curated lists of suppliers at the ready—I began ordering whatever I could get my hands on. Diligent or obsessive? You decide. Perhaps a bit of both, but the preparation certainly paid off when packages of the scarce processors started arriving at the workshop.

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