Tone makers: Death By Audio's Oliver Ackermann

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Death By Audio founder and A Place To Bury Strangers guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackermann takes on our in-depth pedal questions...

1. What was the first pedal you built and how did the design come about?

“The first pedal I designed, which went into production, was the Total Sonic Annihilation. It’s a forced feedback loop that forces your pedals back into themselves to make these crazy, spacey, alien sounds. I’d been getting into building effects pedals and it seemed like such a crazy idea that people hadn’t really delved into. I knew I could make them and so I just decided to go for it.”

2. What’s your bestselling pedal and why do you think that is?

The Fuzz War was the result of a long quest - trying to come up with finding the ultimate sustain distortion

“The most popular Death By Audio pedal is the Fuzz War. It’s affordable, which I think people really like. It was the result of a long quest - trying to come up with finding the ultimate sustain distortion, which is really useful for a lot of people. I wanted something that could go from a sweet overdrive to just completely over-the-top wall-of-fuzz! It extremely versatile and sounds killer on bass and synths as well.”

3. What would you say makes Death By Audio unique?

“We’re always trying to come up with unique things, like the Echo Master vocal delay - that’s pretty popular because you can be your own sound guy. We’re really good at building pedals that can withstand a lot - I always tell kids who are interested in the stuff ‘Take the pedal, throw it in the tub, or smash it with a sledgehammer and we’ll fix it for free, no matter what!’”

4. Which notable players/bands use Death By Audio pedals?

“The Edge from U2 uses a Supersonic Fuzz Gun pedal - people went crazy for that pedal for a little while. Lady Gaga, Lauryn Hill, the late Lou Reed, Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine, Foo Fighters… In other words, people who are in their own world exploring crazy noises that others might shy away from.”

5. What’s new on the horizon with Death By Audio?

“I’ve recently been getting into doing a lot of computer programming, so pretty soon we’ll have our first foray into digital processors. There’s some stuff you can’t do with analogue and I’m thinking a combination of the two could be good. We’ve got some crazy Eurorack stuff and some recording equipment we’re gonna dive into. That should all be coming about in the next year or so.”

6. What’s your favourite vintage effects pedal?

“I always really liked the Electro Harmonix Micro Synthesizer. I like the way they’re a little glitchy and don’t always work that well. It’s so cool how the faders graphically represent where your sound is gonna go - y’know, the filter start and stop and whatnot. I don’t necessarily use it that much, but I just love that beautiful interaction between the controls and the effects - they’re so well matched together.”

7. What new pedal triggers your GAS most now?

I think guitarists often make the mistake of using too many effects pedals... a lot of the best playing comes from using your ears

“I like a lot of the Red Panda stuff. I don’t know if it’s come out yet, but they’ve got this pedal that simulates tape-head scrubbing. As you play, you can instantly flip what you’ve been playing backwards, slow it down and speed it up. It sounds insane and it’s so beautiful and real and hands on. It doesn’t sound like some of the whack digital stuff you can get.”

8. Could you share your best tone tip with us?

“Just follow your ears and your heart and search for the tone that you want to search for. Y’know, you’re trying to get a certain sound and there’s a record producer that’s pushing you in some way towards something that you’re not necessarily in love with, but you should really search within yourself.”

9. Name some common mistakes that guitarists make with effects...

“I think guitarists often make the mistake of using too many effects pedals. Too many people think they need a particular sound for something, but a lot of the best playing comes from using your ears and listening to what’s going on and adapting to that situation. When my band [A Place To Bury Strangers] goes on tour I’ll use almost any amp and effects pedal if need be.”

10. What pedal problems do you think effects designers have yet to crack?

“There’s zillions of problems and you could just go on forever! There needs to be more people designing pedals and coming out with interesting, crazy, creative stuff. A lot of the time when people hone in on the more traditional effects they’re missing out on so much uncharted territory.”

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