EarthQuaker Devices – 30 Pedals in 30 Days 2012

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The Best of Both Worlds: EarthQuaker Devices’ Hoof Reaper Octave Fuzz Pedal

Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com

EarthQuaker pedals are quickly becoming a favorite amongst the most discerning tone junkies. The Hoof and the Tone Reaper are already widely known for being great sounding and versatile pedals, and now their powers are being combined to create a fuzz to end all fuzzes. For 30 Pedals in 30 Days, TheToneKing.com will be checking out the Hoof Reaper Octave Fuzz pedal as well as talk with company founder Jamie Stillman about EarthQuaker Devices.

According to Jamie, EarthQuaker was the result of an obsession “spurred by the repair of an old DOD 250 overdrive.” Like most obsessions, Jamie’s grew out of need. “I got my interest in designing pedals after years of being dissatisfied with my gear.” The root of his dissatisfaction? “The sheen of modern digital effects.”

A point of tension between tone junkies: Neutral effects vs. pedals with personality. The answer always depends on who you ask, but the overall trend has been to say ‘to hell with personality,’ producing effects so sanitized that you can use them to perform surgery.

Tired of the trend, Jamie wanted to create pedals that had character and would set his pedals apart from the rest.

Even noise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “If a bit of noise is the byproduct of getting the over all sound I’m going for, I leave it in. No use in filtering it out if the filtering is going to ruin the initial sound I was after.”

Makes perfect sense. If you keep trying to polish out all of the noise, you’re bound to reach a point where everything starts sounding sterile. I dare you to name an iconic pedal that doesn’t have any noise!

Another blood-drawing argument between aficionados is the never-ending battle between Germanium and Silicon transistors. EarthQuaker uses both. At first I thought it was to help bring peace between warring factions in the pedal universe, but as it turns out, there are other technical reasons to mix the two.  “I generally like to drive germanium transistors with silicon. The silicon transistors are more stable and have much higher gains. I like the harsh, yet warm sound of the germaniums being hit too hard.”  

When I asked if he heard any advantages of Germanium over Silicon or vice versa, Jamie responded:

“It really depends on the circuit, you can’t always expect the same results with either transistor. I always go with what sounds the most unique. Germanium transistors tend to be more pleasing to my ears but that’s not a blanket statement. Some sound horrible. I certainly have a couple types of ge’s that I always resort to. You can’t just assume you throw germanium transistors (or diodes for that matter) into a circuit and get instant tone. No matter what the Internet tells you, that almost never works out. A lot of people get fooled by babble on forums and company catch phrases, it all comes down to what you think sounds best, not the components that make it up.”

While you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet – Except here on TheToneKing.com, of course – If you check out the forums lately, you’ll notice that there has been a lot of positive buzz about EarthQuaker.

The Hoof Fuzz seems to be a particular favorite among the forums. While it’s based off of the old Green Russian Muff, the Hoof Fuzz is more versatile with tones ranging from silky smooth to roaring and gigantic. Realizing that muddy Fuzz can be an enemy in a band setting, EarthQuaker tightened it up a bit to make it easier to cut through the mix. But, it still retains quite a bit of warmth even when it’s cranked.

The Roadie Rag - An EZer way to clean your instruments!

Another pedal making EarthQuaker a household name is the Tone Reaper Fuzz. Based off of the “3 knob” bender, the Tone Reaper has just as much versatility as the Hoof Fuzz, but the comparison ends there. While the Hoof is throaty, the Tone Reaper wails. The Tone Reaper has teeth and works well for that situation where you absolutely have to shred the faces off of everyone in the room.

Both the Hoof and the Reaper exist at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum.  Although they’re both Fuzz pedals, comparing them is almost like comparing apples and machine guns.

Enter the Hoof Reaper.

With the Hoof Reaper, players have more versatility. They can either play their favorite pedals separately or combine them into one massive sound, getting the best of both worlds. As an added bonus, EarthQuaker decided throw in an octave because of Jamie’s affection for octave fuzz pedals and because it was simply a good idea.

The Hoof Reaper Octave Fuzz Pedal seems to walk a fine line between vintage and modern. While the pedal is inspired by vintage tones, it doesn’t try and recreate those tones. Instead, it takes those classic sounds and moves forward. “Most of the musicians I know are also enamored by the sound of vintage guitars/pedals/amps too. We also walk a fine line of using new and old circuitry. We use a lot more DSP these days but, in a way, we use it wrong to get an older feel with more modern controls.”

Originally, the Hoof Reaper was going to be a limited run, but everybody and their mother kept emailing for more. So, as of Black Friday 2012, the Hoof Reaper will become a mainstay at EarthQuaker.

At a street price of $295.00, you won’t need to give up on luxuries like food or rent to make up for the cost. Boutique pedals without the Boutique price tag. When I asked Jamie if he has been neglecting to pay his builders to keep his prices down, he responded, “It’s all in sales volume and keeping operating costs low. As for our wonderful employees, we pay them all pretty well and even give them full coverage health/dental/life insurance so the don’t rise up and revolt. If they did, we could just remove their batteries so I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

All joking aside, Jamie seems to have built a little family at EarthQuaker Devices. Originally starting off in his basement, Jamie’s company is quickly outgrowing the 2,000 square feet facility that they just moved in to. Much of that can be attributed to the talents of his employees, consistently making a quality product. But, they’re more than employees; to Jamie, they’re his friends.

At EarthQuaker, Jamie and his friends have built a company that has appealed to some of the most distinguishing palates of connoisseurs of sound. “I can’t even imagine how we have done so well over the years with so many options out there. I’m just happy that my personal tastes have appealed to so many others and we are able to succeed with our business and provide a cool job for all our friends. I would have never imagined this is what I would be doing for a living but I’m happy it ended up this way!”

Everybody at TheToneKing.com knows that debating boutique pedals is like debating politics. Chances are, at the end of the conversation, someone’s going to have a few less teeth. There are too many names and too few of them live up to expectations. So, when someone brings up a name like EarthQuaker Devices, that consistently makes great sounding pedals at a reasonable price, you should definitely listen.

If you live in the middle of nowhere and can’t get to one of EarthQuaker’s many authorized dealers, you can order directly from their website at www.earthquakerdevices.com.

Here’s a sneak peak @ the HoofReaper

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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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