[interview] ColdCraft Effects: Austin Ziltz

Here's FXDB's interview with Austin Ziltz of ColdCraft Effects:

How did ColdCraft Effects start?

I built my first effect in 2005, just after starting my first electronics course in undergrad. I think it was a Jack Orman Mini-Booster. I spent the next few years learning analog electronics and studying the classic circuits. I got back into building in 2008 with a few DIY kits for myself and friends. I essentially started Coldcraft as a custom shop, building effects to order locally, after I moved to Williamsburg and started graduate school. I quickly grew tired and frustrated with what had been done before and I decided to shake things up a bit with my own designs.

I've picked up a lot of good design practices from my online peers. Good resources include Mad Bean Pedals and Circuit Workshop. Madbean is a PCB ace, and I've learned a lot from observing his work. I do a lot more designing than just what gets built under the Coldcraft name. I have some peers that I am working on collaborations with, including Caroline Guitar Company and Tonefreak Effects. I can't give out any details at this time, but they are all good people. As far as inspiration, I would say that Coldcraft really looks up to Subdecay, Catalinbread and Blackout Effectors.

Where do the name and logo come from?

Long story. I am currently studying "Ultracold Atomic Physics" at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. "Ultracold" describes atomic gases which are laser cooled under vacuum. At nano and micro Kelvin temperatures, these atoms stop behaving like billiard balls and start acting like waves. They interact with one another and can be used to model solid state systems and for precision measurement of forces and interactions. I brainstormed a bunch of different names that incorporated some aspect of what I do in the lab and "Coldcraft" just felt like the natural fit.

No logo yet. Our "signature" is two overlapping, stamped "C"s on the top of our effects.

What sets ColdCraft Effects apart from other builders?

Our boards are all designed to easily accommodate additional modifications (custom shop editions) and multiple circuits. Saves time and money while allowing me to expand the designs easily.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Usually, it starts with a desire to create a type of effect (say, a treble boost) using some unusual means (Mosfets for example). The goal is to create something that is new in sound, but familiar in function so it still meets musician's expectations in operation and ease of use.

I spend about 6-12 months working on new designs before I start offering them commercially.

How do you name your pedals?

Fruits (Sweet Kiwi Fuzz), Ford Cars (Fiesta, Fusion), Donuts (Boston Cream) and Kung Fu Heroes (Black Dynamite).

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All effects are built in-house by myself, at a comfortable rate where I can keep up with direct sales, custom shop projects and my dealers with the current demand.

All Circuits use professionally fabricated PCBs with through-hole components.

The Enclosures are professionally powder coated by the good folks at Pedal Parts Plus. All labeling is done by hand using a solvent ink and stamp technique.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Construction and Sound take precedent, but I hope to keep the finish and labeling unique and handmade.

Is parts selection important?

High Tolerance, low noise components throughout the circuit. I also strive to keep the variations in individual components out of the design equation (transistor gains, biasing, etc).

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

(As of yet unreleased), The 'FET Head' Mosfet OD/Fuzz. It's a completely new design using only Mosfet stages in various configurations for a really interesting character. It's got a little bit of treble booster, some bootstrapping and a differential stage for a really unique character.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Earlier in 2010, I made some one-off builds containing 2 circuits in an A or B configuration using 3PDTs for true bypass and multiple LEDs. The wiring was overly complicated and mostly just created a headache.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The Cascade. It's an overdrive pedal with two distinct preamps stacked in series. The drives sound great on their own, but combine for some of the most interesting and complex harmonics I've ever heard. It's not symmetrical or asymmetrical drive, it's both. It doesn't sound like any overdrive or amp out there, and I'm really proud of that.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Our effects aren't really intended for a specific audience of players. Designs usually start off as a desire to fill some gap in what's available, though not necessarily to capitalize on market holes. We are small enough that we can support a wide variety of designs and build to suit the demand.

Go watch 'Black Dynamite' on Netflix. Kung Fu meets Shaft.

What does the future of ColdCraft Effects look like?

New Wordpress website, new effects (!) and new dealers.

I also have a DIY project ramping up called the "Stompbox Depot". Fabricated Circuit Boards for the DIY guitarist. I've had pretty good success with my Stereo Micro Buffer board and I'm slowly adding a few more projects each month. 2 and 4 Band EQ, Relay Bypass, and a stereo Trails Bypass project for reverb and delays.

Are you working on any new products?

Working on about 15 new pedals to come out over the next 6 months, starting in January.

  • FET Head Fuzz - Mosfet Overdrive & Fuzz
  • Fusion Fuzz - a mashup of our MkII with a Fuzzrite-style Texture Control
  • Boston Cream - Mosfet Treble Booster 
  • Sweet Cream - a Smooth Overdrive with a unique character

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