Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interview: Tom Dalton, FuzzHugger

P90Noir Interview with Tom Dalton, FuzzHugger(fx)

P90Noir: How long have you been building pedals and how did you get started?

Tom: First, I've got to say, hi and thanks! And that P90s happen to be my favorite pickups. Most of my pedals were designed and tested on P90s.

I've been building pedals for...12 years? I started small and slow, with bypass / signal-routing boxes, really just out of personal need, or bandmates' needs—it was a long time before FuzzHugger came into being. But even though things have really grown,  at the end of the day, it's still me painting and wiring pedals. (Though I've got to thank Laura Bennett and Pat Corrigan for painting some FuzzHugger pedals, Inga for shipping and moral support, and Pete for working on some new circuits.)

P90Noir: Fuzz seems to be your forte, what is it about fuzz pedals that you like so much?

Tom: My search for the perfect fuzz was what got me into pedals in the first place. And even though fuzz is just a niche in the overall pedal world, fuzz fans flock together...I think partly because there's a lot to talk about! I'm not sure you could have a whole message board dedicated to delay love (and if there were/is, I imagine there would be 2-3 factions all debating the merits of 3-5 hot delays). There seems to be more set rules about what people want in a delay (it needs to have at least X amount of delay time, or needs to be darkish and analog, or needs to be pristine and perfect)...where there's a whole range of fuzz sounds, and people don't just want one or two (like delay, sticking with the example), but might want a gated fuzz, crunchy fuzz, and overdriven and sustaining fuzz, a crackly and noisy fuzz, an oscillating fuzz (and there's even a huge variety in the oscillation you can produce with different fuzzes). Fuzz covers tones from crapping-out to unbelievably harmonically rich. So there are less set rules with fuzz, what constitutes good, bad, and good-bad.

P90Noir: Which of your designs are you most proud of? Why?

Tom: The first pedal that pops into my head is the Pocket Arcade. It has five modes of all-analog octave up, octave up fuzz, octave down glitch, and controllable oscillation...and it's in a 2.37” x 4.37” enclosure (even just from a layout and switching standpoint, I'm proud of my work there). But I also have to mention the Algal Bloom and AB-Synth, as the two pedals that really kick-started FuzzHugger(fx) and are still drawing interest a few years later. I think that's because they're something different, in a Big Muff and Fuzz Face dominated market.

P90Noir: Looking at some of your pedals, it’s clear that you have an appreciation for square wave, Velcro, and more “extreme” fuzz sounds. What’s your favorite circuit (from another builder), the one that the builder got just right on the first go?

Tom: I definitely appreciate extreme sounds, but they have to be usable...not only fun, but something that can fit into people's music (there is the Magic Meter overdrive, which goes from subtle to extreme...and the Algal Bloom, that's not only a musical fuzz, but can be backed off into pretty overdrives...even the AB-Synth is more controllable—and tamable—than ever in its new v2 configuration). Part of my goal is wide-range controls: if I can make a circuit get a little extreme, I will...but if I can also add a knob to bring it totally down to earth, I'll add that too. It's almost painful for me to know that there's a great knob I could've added but didn't.
Now to your question! (Haha...people who email me can expect long answers.) This is tough, cause I've played so many pedals and have a lot of builder friends, but I'll name the first few that pop out. One is the sadly/apparently defunct Mellowtone's Wolf Computer. After a few minutes of what?!, you learn your way around the controls, and it's a really brilliant and versatile pedal. Another is the *Dr. Scientist Frazz's versatile and has a really unique made me smile right away.

P90Noir: I notice that you link to the Beavis Audio statement against batteries. I for one swear that I can feel/hear a difference when using some vintage-style pedals with a battery. I’d love to kick batteries entirely but I love them for these uses. Do you feel like your pedals sound and feel the same with an adapter as they do with batteries?

Tom: First, I recommend everyone reads Beavis' page on batteries. But I think, in general, 9 volts of power equals 9 volts of power (though adapters can bring in extra noise, you can root out the problem or upgrade your adapter)'s when the battery starts draining that the difference (to me) comes into play, because then we actually have a difference in voltage. A few of my pedals—the ones I think benefit from it—have a voltage knob. Then you can adjust from 9 volts and down. (Or if you have a 12v adapter, from 12v down!) Then, you can dial in the exact response you want in seconds, without waiting for a battery to drain.

P90Noir: What kind of music do you listen to mostly? Does what you listen to impact the circuits you design and build?

Tom: This is a tough one. I'm kind of quiet about my musical tastes, because they're so varied...and I don't want to color anyone's feelings about the genre my pedals are intended for. What I'm listening to doesn't change the pedals I build. When I'm working on a new pedal, I'm thinking cross-genre, more about the tones and usability than the style of music. But on a personal level, here's a quick taste of what I listened to most in the past year: Paul Simon, They Might Be Giants, El-P, early Weezer, the Mountain Goats.

P90Noir: Do you know of any examples where your pedals where used on a specific track by an artist? Who out there is touring with one or more of your pedals on their board? 

Tom: There are so many local, regional, and semi-obscure national bands with my pedals...and I've gotta thank them first (The Boys Themselves, Starling Electric, Oh So, We Were Wolves, Dangerous Ponies, and a bunch more). There are bands out there making amazing music, and the only difference is, they're not famous (yet?). When it comes to the really famous bands, I don't want to exploit them, and I don't know what endorsement deals they might have. But several internationally famous, multi-million-record-selling bands have FuzzHugger pedals on their boards. Apart from those bands, I will mention The Long Winters and The Special Goodness, who you may not have heard of, but have been personal favorites of mine for 10 years...having them play FuzzHugger pedals was incredibly exciting for me.

P90Noir: What’s on the horizon for FuzzHugger? Any new pedals we should keep an eye out for?

Tom: The Phantom Octave is coming back, with a new graphic, and there are always new graphics and one-off finishes popping up. I don't want to say too much, but in 2013, there will be two new non-fuzz FuzzHugger pedals! And non-fuzz doesn't mean boost or overdrive, but somewhere FuzzHugger has never gone before.

P90Noir: That’s it for me. Do you want to add anything in closing?
Tom: Thanks! I'd just like to say that people are welcome to email me with any questions, and also invite people to come post on!

*Author's note: I should be receiving in a Dr. Scientist Frazzdazzler in the next few weeks and will be posting a review. Keep an eye out!

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