Tone makers - EarthQuaker Devices' Jamie Stillman: “The way I voice the pedals is just how I like a guitar to sound”

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Producing shockwaves from their epicentre in Akron, Ohio, we talk good vibrations with the founder of EarthQuaker Devices.

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

“The first pedal that EarthQuaker shipped was the Hoof Fuzz. At the time I was working as tour manager for the The Black Keys. Dan [Auerbach] has a green Russian [Electro-Harmonix] Big Muff that sounds particularly good - it’s big and fuzzy, but has a very clear sound - and I tried to make something similar to that. It’s the middle clipping stages that make all the difference in that pedal.”

I view the pedals like children - I like them all equally, but there are some that are particularly unique!

2. What do you think makes EarthQuaker Devices unique?

“The way I voice the pedals is just how I like a guitar to sound. That’s partly what makes pedal companies sound different to one another - everyone is imparting their own vision of what a guitar should sound like. I view the pedals like children - I like them all equally, but there are some that are particularly unique! The Afterneath was a bit of a trendsetter in terms of ambient reverb, and there wasn’t anything like the Rainbow [pitch-shifting modulator] before that came out.”  

3. What’s your best-selling pedal and why do you think that is?

“The pedal we’ve sold the most of is the Dispatch Master [delay/reverb]. It’s impossible to mess up the controls on it - every setting sounds good. When it came out there were very few pedals that combined both delay and reverb. The Avalanche Run, the big brother to the Dispatch Master, is by far the fastest-selling pedal - we sold more than 7,000 of them in a year.”

4. Which notable musicians use EarthQuaker Devices pedals?

“Theresa Wayman from Warpaint uses a Dispatch Master; Paul Wiley from Marilyn Manson uses an Avalanche Run, Interstellar Orbiter, Organizer and Transmisser; Matt McJunkins and Dave Catching of Eagles Of Death Metal both use EarthQuaker pedals; Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo uses a Speaker Cranker; Jeff Tweedy from Wilco uses a Ghost Echo; Duncan Lloyd from Maximo Park uses an Arpanoid, Bit Commander and Sea Machine… All kinds of bands. There’s a long list!”

5. What’s your best tone tip?

Don’t worry about the technical specifics… To me, the important question is: does it sound good?

“Don’t worry about the technical specifics. I think a lot people get hung up asking questions such as: is this inverse phase? What’s the input impedance? Is it true bypass? Are my cables plugged in in the right direction? To me, the important question is: does it sound good?”

6. Tell us a secret about effects you’ve discovered…

“A lot people buy stuff and use it in the way they were shown, but I think experimentation is the key. I really love how the drums sound on Weezer’s album Pinkerton and I was talking to [producer] Joe Barresi, who told me they ran all of the drum mics through Electro-Harmonix Linear Power Boosters. That totally blew my mind!”  

7. What are your favourite effects-pedal sounds on record and why?

“The first thing I remember that got me interested in sound was Steve Stevens’ solo on [Billy Idol's] Rebel Yell, where the guitar sounds like a laser gun. I remember thinking ‘What was that?!’ I had the perfect opportunity to find out when I was in an elevator with Steve Stevens, but before I could ask him, the doors opened up and he walked away… But he did tell me he uses an Arpanoid!”

8. What’s your favourite vintage pedal and why?

“I have this old Kimberly fuzz that sounds amazing. I traced out the circuit and tried to recreate it but I couldn’t even get it close to the original sound. A friend of mine bought the same pedal and asked me to try and mod it to sound like my one. I said, ‘I wish I could!’”

9. What new pedal triggers your GAS most now?

“Death By Audio’s Evil Filter is really cool. I’m a big fan of theirs. I love the way their stuff looks, too. Oliver [Ackermann] and I recently became friends - I really like his band a lot [A Place To Bury Strangers] and we have the same taste in aesthetics. Hologram Electronics’ Dream Sequence and Infinite Jets are really cool, and I really like a lot of the Chase Bliss [Audio] stuff.”

10. What pedals are on your own effects board?

“They’re almost all EarthQuaker pedals. I use the Speaker Cranker (that’s almost always on), the Eruptor, Avalanche Run, Levitation, Grand Orbiter, Hummingbird, Transmisser and Afterneath. The only pedals that aren’t EarthQuaker are a DigiTech Drop and TC Electronic Ditto.”

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