[interview] 73 Effects: Bryan Bell

Here's FXDB's interview with Bryan Bell of 73 Effects:

73 Effects Antimatter Octave FuzzHow did 73 Effects start?

I started tinkering with guitar gear as far back as I can remember - sometime around 1986. I had been a player in various bands since then but put everything away for about 10 years while I started a career and a family. Once I pulled the guitars back out to play for my kids, the bug caught me again. Since playing out was no longer practical, I started building effects kits and doing guitar refinish or build projects. I really enjoyed the pedals more, and I still had a lot of friends playing music so I started building pedals for friends. Then I decided to brand it, and here we are answering questions about my pedal company.

Mike Lorenz, a Brooklyn musician, initially inspired me by his use of multiple effects in his one-man live performance. Lots of conversations ended with "yeah I can build something that will do that". So he helped with my creative side. I also have a secret source at a major pedal building company who helps me with the technical side of guitar electronics. He started doing my board layouts and now I run a lot of things by him. He gives me feedback on designs, build quality, lots of things. He's invaluable to 73 Effects.

73 EffectsWhere do the name and logo come from?

The short answer is that '73 is the year I was born, and there aren't many pedal manufacturers or builders that use a number as a name. So I went with that to stand out a bit. I really wanted to avoid using the word 'tone" or "sound" in the name. Generally that makes your name forgettable because everyone else does it.

73 does have a logo, and it was designed by my oldest son. He came up with the idea to link the 7 and 3 together. It also looks a bit like a stylized "B" which is my first and last initial.

What sets 73 Effects apart from other builders?

I think the look is distinct, as is the personal touch that I give the whole experience. I enjoy talking with customers to understand what their wants/needs are and if the pedal is right for them and recommend mods or tweaks or whatever. Lots of guys complain about Klon's approach of having to call him before they could buy a pedal. Well, sometimes you need to understand what the customer is going to do with it and set their expectations otherwise you could have a very unsatisfied customer. Nobody wants that. I keep my customers informed throughout the build process and am happy to do mods and tweaks or little variations if it's not too complicated. I've been a player for 20+ years and I know that tone and gear is very personal, so I try to extend that to the 73 experience.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Generally, it's because I find something I like that sounds good and run with it. If I think people will like it and I can repeat the process rather easily, I'll do it. The Antimatter was the first product and I built #001 for a friend because I just thought he needed it. He loved it and now it's a regular production model. The Super-Fuzz was born when I borrowed an original, it made my brain shake and I decided I had to clone it. The Wicked Witch was a custom build turned production pedal. The upcoming delay is me finding a circuit I liked and putting my own spin on it.

How do you name your pedals?

Not really. The Wicked Witch was supposed to be named the Atomic Cock or the Cream Machine, but my wife said "That color looks like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz". The Wee Heavy Overdrive comes from a type of Scotch ale (I'm a beer geek too) and thought the "a little bit heavy" connotation was appropriate for an overdrive.

73 Effects Super-FuzzCan you tell us something about the production process?

I do everything but etch the boards, and for most pedals I get the enclosures powdercoated by the supplier. All assembly/build work is done by me.

The PCBs are sourced from various places depending on the pedal. Some are hand-fabricated, some are purchased as pro manufactured boards. My enclosures are also varied depending on the product. I use the Prism 1 from Pedal Enclosures for my Super-Fuzz, and standard Hammond-style for others. I've stopped buying bare enclosures and now get them powdercoated from my suppliers. However, I still use decals over the powder basecoat. I clearcoat and buff them by hand. It's time consuming and there are many opportunities to screw things up but when they're done well, it's a stunning finish.

These pedals are all built on my kitchen table, tested on both solid-state and tube amps with Fender and Gibson guitars. Occasionally my 3-year-old daughter will quality check the pedal by making sure the knobs all turn.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Very important. My pedals are distinct - nothing else looks like them as far as I can tell. My graphics style and use of big enclosures are kind of my signature, too. You cannot mistake my pedals for anything else but they're not completely outrageous. I still maintain a practical control layout and don't get abstract or weird just for the sake of being abstract or weird. I want them to be taken seriously, not looked at as a novelty. The pedal still has a job to do so it can't be too gimmicky. Also, the look is important because it's the first impression people get. You rarely plug in a pedal and test it out blindfolded the first time, so you have to grab the attention a bit. I want my pedals to look professional even though I build them in my kitchen.

Is parts selection important?

Yes. For the Super-Fuzz, I use NOS transistors and germanium diodes. I always use low-noise parts whenever possible for all of my pedals.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I'm proud of all of my pedals and that's important. I won't chuck pedals out there that I wouldn't be proud to claim as mine just to make a quick buck or be able to back up with a warranty and not lose my shirt. If I had to narrow down one pedal that I'm most proud of, it would be the Super-Fuzz. When I started developing it, there were very few people building to original specs. I went to great lengths to make sure it had the same character as the original. It's my most popular pedal, the first I ever built for store stock, and the first one used on a world tour by a customer.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Well, an aborted clone project of the old Maestro Phase Shifter. There was just too much going on with that old box. positive and negative power, 6 JFETs that needed to be matched, and all sorts of switching. It would have been way too expensive to build, I don't think I ever would have sold one.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Super-Fuzz is my "flagship" product - it sounds killer (so I'm told) and looks very distinct, people love it.

73 Effects Wicked WitchWho uses your pedals and for which genres?

My regular production pedals in the lineup as of this writing are nasty fuzzes, a cocked wah solo boost thing, and an overdrive/boost, so they obviously lean toward rockers. I don't think a guy in a church band would necessarily want to have a hellacious fuzz on their board or something that says Wicked Witch in huge letters. Some of the future plans include a delay, so that has a broader appeal. I only make pedals that sound good to me, even if I'd never actually use it. I don't particularly need or will ever use an octave fuzz that makes bizarre sounds but I build one and it sounds killer to me. The Super-Fuzz fills a niche because there just aren't that many guys making a straight-up vintage-spec clone of a Univox Super-Fuzz.

I have built two pedals for Johnny Wator, guitarist for the Chicago band The Last Vegas. They've toured with AC/DC, Motley Crue and others.

What does the future of 73 Effects look like?

I've had continual orders since the middle of 2011, so the business is brisk. I'm working at max capacity for a one-man operation. Faced with this, I had to decide how the direction of the brand was going. After some conversations with friends and customers, I decided would not start cutting corners or cheap out in certain areas to get more pedals out the door. I will not lower my quality because I can get away with it. I'm going to keep doing what I do, and if the build time and product volume stays low, so be it.

The current product focus is to get the Wee Heavy Overdrive ready for production, change the boost circuit in the Wicked Witch, and see what's up with this octave circuit I like so much.

Are you working on any new products?

Yes - a delay. I'm building a PT2399-baded delay with modulation and some other options, should be available before mid-2012. Also considering an octave pedal based on the Pearl Octaver.

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