The Uglyface: World’s Nastiest Stompbox?

Makes you sound pretty as a picture!

When it comes to seriously messed-up guitar effects, few can rival the Uglyface. And, as they say on infomercials, “It’s not available in any stores!” In fact, as of this writing, the only way to unleash this particular brand of brutality is to build the box for yourself.

It’s based on one of dozens of great circuits created by Tim Escobedo, a stompbox genius who has shared his innovations with the world for free. His library of schematics has been dormant for years, but it’s archived here. Almost all these great-sounding designs display true originality, a rare commodity in pedaldom.

The Uglyface is an extreme distortion/filtering effect that alternately sounds like a goose, a garbage disposal, and severe gastric distress. Yes, it really is that awesome.

And how’s the dynamic response? Nonexistent! The pedal basically turns your entire sound into a square wave, so it literally has only two volume levels: “Off” and “Ouch!”

Dead serious warning: Don’t play this clip if you’re offended by disgusting guitar tones. I mean it. If you press play, don’t blame me.

Uglyface Demo

I built straight-up rendition of the Escobedo design. I worked from the schematic plus the clever layout posted here. I also made a few using a Option Knob on the cutoff-frequency control. (The Option Knob is a propeller-shaped plastic prosthesis that lets you pivot a control with your foot.) I contributed nothing new to the circuit, however — this is strictly Tim E.’s baby.

This Uglyface is dressed for winter on the Sunset Strip.

My pal Mitchell Hudson, who runs the great DIY stompbox site Super Freq, has been playing with this design for ages, and has come up with a notebook full of variations, written in a beautiful, artistic hand, no less. He used to sell his commercially — I heard that guitarist Nels Cline from Wilco bought his entire stock and gave them out as gifts. I bought one of the batch covered in pink fun fur. If the Uglyface sounds like your particular cup of barf, well, I encourage you to pester ol’ Mitchell to start building them again. If he doesn’t, someone will. I just hope they give proper credit to creator Escobedo.

Obviously, this one’s not for everyone, though oddly enough, I wound up using it on a ton of jingles last year — whenever someone needed an edgy, angry-boy sound. But the best of I’ve heard it sound was under the heel of a decidedly not angry boy — the preteen son of the guy who runs the cool local guitar shop where I first encountered Mitchell’s Uglyfaces. Maybe you have to be 12 or so to truly get the most out of this, um, remarkable circuit.

Okay, who here has heard worse? Share the pain—submit audio/video clips!

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