New Frontiers in Fuzz:
The Devi Ever Interview

Some boutique stompbox builders pursue endless refinements of classic pedal designs, developing ever-more-suave iterations of the Tube Screamer and Ross Compressor.

And some just want to blow shit up.

Guess which category Portland, Oregon’s Devi Ever falls into? Hint: Her extensive line of guitar and bass pedals includes such anarchy boxes as the Little Shit, the Ruiner, the Heroin Lifestyle, and the Truly Beautiful Disaster.

Here’s what I’m talking about: Check out Devi’s video demo for her Shoe Gazer fuzz…

…or this one of Wilco’s mighty Nels Cline giving Devi’s Soda Meiser a workout:

Devi’s focus is fuzz, but she also ran a successful Kickstarter project for her proposed Console concept, which relies on a clever and cost-effective system of interchangeable effect cartridges that plug into a base unit, using an open-source format she hopes will become standard. And speaking of open-source: Rather than covering her “secret” circuits with epoxy blobs like some builders, Devi publishes her schematics on her website. Brava!

As a player of the blow-shit-up persuasion, I was stoked when Devi agreed to answer a few questions in a recent phone interview. [DISCLOSURE: Devi Ever didn't solicit or pay for this coverage. I just like her circuits and her attitude and thought she'd be an interesting interview. And I was right.]

How did you get into making pedals?

I’ve been into them ever since I stared to understand what they do. My earliest awareness of that was Smashing Pumpkins. There was a Guitar World interview where he talked about phase and octave effects, and the first two pedals I got were an MXR Phase 90 and Blue Box. From there I just became fascinated with what made guitars sound the way they did. Meanwhile, I was trying to develop a business so I wouldn’t have to work at Subway or deliver pizzas. I started a website called the Guitar Pedal Archive, whose goal was to cover every pedal ever made: who used it, the schematics, and every other possible detail. But one day I realized how easy it was to build effects. I bought some parts from Small Bear Electronics and made my first fuzz. I sold about ten of them through the forums at Harmony Central and figured, heck, I’ll make a go of it!

When builders say their pedals are “inspired” by previous designs, that usually means they’re building clones. But when you say, for example, that a pedal was inspired by the Big Muff, it inevitably sounds very different.

Honestly, it took me a while to realize how most fuzzes are really just variations on a few gain stages. And of course, my lack of understanding wound up leading me to some weird fuzz sounds. But I never really wanted to run with the classic designs as they were, because that felt like cheating. I’d just work at the breadboard until I heard sounds I liked. I wanted fuzzes to be louder and have more character. I started getting into Tim Escobedo’s circuits, but even then, I wasn’t trying to replicate what Tim had done. I was going for something different.

For example?

Well, boutique builders usually say they want to make vintage effects sound better and be more stable. That’s great from a hardware perspective — better switches, jacks, wiring, and assembly are all good things. But I had no desire to refine the noisier aspects of the circuits. That noisiness was something I wanted to embrace and explore.

You have a fairly large product line.

Which is funny, because I’m very upfront about the fact that a lot of my pedals are just small tweaks on the same designs. Most are really just varying combinations of four or five different gain stages. For fuck’s sake, I use only five different PCBs for all my pedals. In fact, Ken Schurer, an engineer I work with who also has an effects company called Infanem, designed a single SMD board that could accommodate all my designs. He’s helped me with a lot of my PCB design.

Well, a small change in a circuit can equal a big change in sound.

Yeah, it’s amazing how much flavor a little tweak can add. For example, sticking any pedal into a feedback loop is pure joy to me. I use that in the Eye of God. It has a little photo eye that changes the intensity of the feedback as the light changes, like when you pass you hand over it or put it outside on a cloudy day. Another is the Truly Beautiful Disaster, which was my first big, crazy pedal. Not only does it have a feedback loop in the fuzz path itself, but there’s another on the side, so you can put another pedal in it. That was my flagship pedal for the longest time. Then I licensed it to another company called Ooh La La, which failed after two years, and that killed a lot of its momentum.

Do you populate your own SMD boards?

Yeah. We actually do it by hand, because we don’t have a pick-and-place machine. It’s an interesting process: We have these little toothpicks we dab the solder paste on, and then we toss the boards into a normal old toaster oven.

Are you the graphic designer as well?

Yeah. I’ve been doing graphic design longer than I’ve been doing music. I’ve had computers since I was eight years old, and I’m 32 now. As long as I’ve had a paint program I could mess around with, I’ve been doodling. Actually, my first job was doing graphic design for a yearbook company.

It sounds like you have an amazing stompbox community in Portland, with all those cool gonzo builders.

Well, the attitude of the builders is pretty gonzo, but al lot of what they’re making is fairly straight-laced. I’ve always been a fan of Catalinbread. They have a great aesthetic, and they do really interesting things with preamp simulators. My favorite company is probably Subdecay, which is funny, because I’ve hardly ever talked to the guy [founder Brian Marshall]. But he’s a brilliant engineer who’s always trying to stretch ideas, and his Flying Tomato [discontinued] is still one of my favorite boutique fuzzes. And of course Malekko is run by my friend Josh Holley, who I knew when I lived in Austin, Texas. I met him when he pierced my ears, before he was in the pedal business. I brought him a Truly Beautiful Disaster. Two years later, he’s starting his own pedal business, and I’m doing some graphic design for his stuff. Malekko is trying to become an MXR sort of company, doing pretty much straight compressors, delays, filters, and stuff, but with interesting variations and smaller formats. They’re the first of the companies to buy their own pick-and-place machines. Portland also has a lot of freelance guys you may never hear about unless you buy their things from one of our local shops. I met one guy who’s creating little synthesizers inside cigar boxes.

Any thoughts about where the boutique and DIY pedal scenes may be heading?

One thing that worries me about the DIY pedal scene is the fact that Chinese manufacturers are getting pedal prices down ridiculously low, to the point where you can get really nice pedals for $50 or less. On one hand, I’m glad there’s access to this stuff for people who can’t afford to spend more, but I miss the resurgence of DIY that happened when higher pedal prices were pushing people into DIY. Now I worry more that DIY is going to become a sort of niche — and not necessarily a good niche.

How does the Console figure into that?

Well, the idea is to help the boutique community by offering a way to make their stuff more reasonably priced without having to resort to overseas manufacturing, and help musicians by giving them access to less expensive effects. The most expensive parts of any pedal are the switches, jacks, knobs, and enclosure. That’s often two-thirds of the cost. The least expensive part is the PCB and its components, but that’s where the magic happens. So the Console keeps all the hardware in a single package, but puts the PCB on the cartridge. You only have to buy the hardware once. I did it as a Kickstarter project and raised $40,000 dollars, which is plenty to get it going. The most expensive part is the injection molds for the plastic cartridges. They have to be inexpensive to make, but they can’t fail after a few years like old Nintendo cartridges. We’re shooting to get all the Kickstarter units out by spring, but they probably won’t be available to the general public till around Christmas 2013.

On some of the stompbox forums, especially freestompboxes.org. there’s something of a divide between engineers and musicians. You’ve probably seen some of the negative comments about your designs from engineering types who look at your schematics and say, “She has no idea what she’s doing!”

Yeah, and they say that about Death By Audio too. It’s funny, because ever since I’ve been hanging out with Ken Schurer, I’ve been learning a lot, because he’s an engineer who can explain things in a way I can understand. And he said he thought that Death by Audio used the same evolutionary approach I did, which is basically to sit at a breadboard and combine things until they sound good. Anyway, I completely understand those criticisms, but they don’t make the sound of the pedals any less valid. Sure, I take a different approach, but it’s not like my pedals are setting people’s amps on fire or endangering anyone, and they create unique sounds that some people find usable. I think some of the people who sound off that way are just insecure, and they need to find validity by hanging out on a forum with other insecure people. It can turn into a big circle jerk. Truly knowledgable engineers are few and far between in the boutique pedal business, but there are plenty of armchair quarterbacks.

Some boutique builders pour epoxy on the PCBs to conceal their “secrets,” but you publish all your schematics right on your site. Why?

Well, I was joking with Josh from Malekko that the only way to truly “protect” a circuit would be to have the parts actually touching each other, all sealed with epoxy, so that if you tried to remove the epoxy, the whole thing would fall apart — a self-destruct device! But seriously, I decided to come clean with everything after hanging out at freestompboxes.org and seeing how many people were interested in how my stuff worked. It wasn’t from a desire to copy me without buying anything. They just loved DIY and wanted to learn. And I realized that’s exactly what I wanted when I was first starting out. So why should I make it harder for people to get access to that information? Especially if they’re eventually going to anyway. So it’s better to be a hero than a villain in that regard. I also sell DIY kits and PCBs for some of my pedals, and I’ve been expanding the part of my website about where to get parts and equipment. There’s also a web forum called ilovefuzz.com, where lots of small and not-so-small builders have sub-forums. It actually started out as the Devi Ever message board, but when it got too big for me, I gave it to my friend Tom Dalton, who runs FuzzHugger.

Why is fuzz the overwhelming emphasis of your designs?

Because it’s what I can do! [Laughs.] It doesn’t take much know-how to create a fuzz circuit. It’s even easier to create than a boost pedal, because a boost requires you to actually balance the bias of a transistor.

Plus, it’s the one of the few effects that’s really hard to mimic digitally.

It’s funny, because I had an opportunity at one point to get my Soda Meiser, my best-selling pedal at the time, replicated by a really good VST company. They even went as far as making a great 3D interface that looked just like the pedal. But they got back to me after a few months and said, “We just can’t emulate this.” I don’t know why. I don’t know anything about software modeling. It must be because it’s a multi-gain-stage design, and there’s so much interactivity between the components.

So what will we be talking about in five years?

The future is definitely software. Cheaper and higher quality software-based interfaces, so people can download guitar pedals and other emulated effects. Line 6 made a niche for high-quality modeled effects, but what they had in hardware, they lacked in interfaces. But as full-color touch screens get cheaper and better, the future will probably be an iPad-like device, but with a solid guitar pedal interface. The boutique pedal business will always be here, in the same way the vinyl industry is still here, because people like the feeling of something of quality they can hold. But as technology gets cheaper and better, the future is really all about software and better digital interfaces.

Much more info at deviever.com.

21 comments to New Frontiers in Fuzz:
The Devi Ever Interview

  • Oinkus

    That is just such a great attitude about life the universe and everything.Really makes things easier when you enjoy what you do !

  • Digital Larry

    More power to her on all fronts EXCEPT baking PCBs in a toaster oven! Sorry, this is not a good way to ensure manufacturing consistency and quality, especially considering you can get a small programmable reflow oven for about a grand.

  • mwseniff

    I have been a big fan of Devi Ever for a number of years. She had a great forum that unfortunately was invaded by a bunch of a$$holes that were so abusive she shut it down twice (excuse my french but there is no otherword for them). I have 10 Devi Ever pedals in my arsenal currently. The pedals are for the most part very mean and nasty Fuzzes but no one does mean and nasty Fuzzes like Devi. My faves are the Year of the Rat (a fuzzy overdrive), Dark Boost (big bad bass boost), Dark Ruby (a treble booster that in the case of the Dark model has an accidental extra cap that gives a bass boost as well as the treble boost very unique tone I love) and the Hyperion 2 (an 80s sort of fuzz the 2 model adds a control to give positive feedback resulting in everything from a shrieking fuzz to out of control oscillation). I have a number of others all of which will rip your face and laugh at you while you play. As I have said before I like out of control tones that I need to wrestle into submission. I like Devi’s home grown ethic and her use of the web as promotion is groundbreaking. In the past she has sold a lot of her goods on Etsy.com including PC boards and kits to build all her pedals. She also is minimalist about the cases to make less of an environmental impact. Devi is a true individualist and a model for small business people. In terms of boutique pedals hers are the biggest bang for your buck IMHO. Her console is a great contribution to the pedal business and is a great method to get a lot in a small space for less bucks (tho’ I will probably not buy one as it doesn’t fit with my pedal board needs). She also was an early purveyor of dual pedals with 2 FX in a single case a great idea since while 1 Devi FX is great 2 are better than their sum might seem at first glance. Everyone should own a couple (or a dozen) Devi Ever pedals in their arsenal.

  • thomas4th

    Excellent choice for an interview. :) When I was still starting to learn about music and electric guitar, discovering Devi’s work really warped my perception of what was sonically possible with an electric guitar . . . in a really good way. I remember being fascinated with the Synth/Bit/Dream Mangler pedals in particular – I had never seen guitar pedals with joysticks before, and the idea of using them as performance instruments in their own right still fascinates me (and probably paved the way for my current infatuation with modular synthesizers).

  • Devi is kind of like this weirdly inevitable character, a chemical result of all the greatest things about PUNK since Iggy was throwing peanut butter at the audience. She embodies the nu-age DIY ethos in a way that is more complete than any one of her contemporaries that I’m aware of (but I’m perhaps out of touch). Am I wrong (or biased) to suggest that the kind of scene she inspired/collaborated could only coalesce in the Pac/Northwest? The local community she is tied into has been percolating for a few generations now; she’s kind of the K Records of the fuzz world.
    It gives one hope somehow…

  • Willverine

    What a great story of a DIY-er making money from what they love to do and helping out those into the DIY scene. My own fuzz box experiment was with what different diodes sound like at different points in a circuit. The quarter inch stereo jack allows me to use the box of diodes with different circuits.

  • i’ve known devi since the HCEF days, and i gotta say, i am jazzed not only that she’s still doing, but is as cool as she ever was.
    she took a lot of heat from the usual trolls back in the day, and always came up on top. sometimes without taking a single swing back.
    good people, and some unique sounding toys..
    we could use more peeps like her in the world..
    dev, if ya ever see this, greets from pink jimi from the old boards,
    and keep it rockin’!!!

    but…one question… any way you can cheeze the robot files on the old archive site? would be awesome to be able to surf it again, not to rip off, but always to learn..

    anyways…onwards and upwards, happy new years sister, and thanks joe for one more killer article.

    namaste

  • Erik

    Why on earth would people need or like a distorted, fuzzy and buzzy sound with inter modulations, when all sort of non musical harmonics appear? Similar to a sounds of an electric shaver. This fuzz is used for only one thing – to increase sustain and make playing technique not rely on right hand string picking. This allows for fast runs and speedy arpeggios made so popular by Steve Vai. That’s the only reason why clean musical sound may be trashed in favor of overdrive or buzz. Two-tree notes and it become really ugly losing musicality fast due to inter modulation. Simple alternative – get Sonuus G2M and cheap portable midi module and enjoy monophonic sound of any timbre with infinite sustain and spectral clarity. :smirk:

    • joe

      Hi Erik!

      I must respectfully disagree on several counts.

      1. I think cacophonous intermodulation is AWESOME.
      2. What’s wrong with playing an electric shaver? I’ve done it many times, though I tend to prefer to tone of cordless screwdrivers, as heard here: http://youtu.be/GtbfOKgWRFI
      3. Why is a clean sound something to be treasured over an overdriven or fuzzy sound?
      4. LOL — I think two or three notes is when fuzz gets INTERESTING!
      5. I don’t think Steve uses much fuzz, though he does play heavily distorted. (Maybe that’s hair-splitting semantics.) But most of the fuzz freaks I know tend to be anarchic noisemakers, not virtuosi hoping to shred a bit faster.
      6. Spectral clarity is almost as overrated as infinite sustain!

      I’m partially kidding here. But only partially. ;)

    • mwseniff

      Fuzz is the king of all FX IMHO. It allows a sort of contemplation of one’s musical bellybutton so to speak. For me it allows me to more fully immerse my self in the music I play to find the music of my inner self (a scary place I grant you). Beyond all that there is nothing like using an old germanium Fuzz Face at it’s lowest fuzz setting to enhance tone of an almost clean sound. For me music is about inspiration not about being a hit, a competition or becoming a fast shredder points on which many disagree with me. Rather I see music as a sort of almost religious experience that feeds my soul and keeps me sane. Fuzz is the path I chose to my mental salvation. This may sound flowery but it is generally what has driven me to play guitar and other instruments for many years. I highly prize all the time, effort and $$ I’ve invested in music over the years and it has paid me back a thousand fold. I suppose you could say fuzz helped me make it thru the failed back that changed my life some years ago taking away many activities I used to fill my time with but not the guitar or music.

      I prefer the sound of small electronic toys thru my guitar when needed but an electric shaver works too!!

  • Wow… somehow I never heard of her until this interview! She makes some cool shit, and has the best laugh ever. It’s cool that she shows her schematics on her website. Maybe I’ll try building one. Oh and I bought her album. Yeah, I’m a fan. :satansmoking:

  • Huge fan and longtime lover of the buzz . . . Devi’s been so good to us for so many years. Thanks Devi and hope you keep dazzling us as long as possible.

  • AudioPete

    I just found and ordered a Year of the Rat from the UK (I’m in Canada) after hearing the demos and I can’t wait to throw it in front of my Silvertone 1484. Hyperion is next on the list. I came across Devi and checked out the vids and was very impressed. Love her attitude and philosophy and I wanted to support her. Great on posting the schematics. Even though I could build any one of those pedals I don’t have the time and I wouldn’t be getting Devi’s cool graphics and supporting her, so I buy them. Love the Etsy store too! Direct to builder. All the best Devi! Great pedals.

  • AudioPete

    P.S. Joe I agree with everything you said! I am a big fan of making music, regardless of the methods and madness….

  • I have been browsing on-line more than three hours lately, yet I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is beautiful worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content as you did, the web shall be much more helpful than ever before.

  • Bebah Palulah

    So, did anyone wind up making cards for Devi’s Console? I sure can’t find any in a casual search.

  • Bebah Palulah

    Well, after browsing this morning over at diystompboxes.com, I now know the answer, sadly.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deviever/console-ii-cartridge-based-multi-fx-guitar-pedal/posts/683655

    Earlier this year I was toying with a hybrid (analog/digital) design and contacted Devi about possibly licensing some of her designs. Her response was prompt and cordial and the terms were incredibly reasonable. That said, I did not move forward with it as my impulses were pulling me in another direction.

  • mwseniff

    Devi has quit the pedal business to do computer game design. The Devifx pedals will continue to be made by another pedal company under license Dwarfcraft that has been building version of Devi’s pedals for years.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

:1up: :alert: :ban: :beer: :borg: :coffee: :cuckoo: :cuss: :finger: :goombah: :stupid: :megaman: :mad: :pity: :noshake: :oogle: :pacman: :pill: :poison: :poop: :rant: :satansmoking: :shake: :shiftyeyes: :shroom: :sick: :smirk: :spammer: :stfu: :thumbdown: :thumbup: :turtle: :what: :whatever:

Click to upload a JPG