[interview] El Musico Loco FX: Chris Bradford

Here's FXDB's interview with Chris Bradford of El Musico Loco FX:

How did El Musico Loco FX start?

I have an EE degree in electronics and once I started playing in bands in the 80's I got interested in building gear. I have built lots of things for myself and friends over the years and several years ago had an idea for a portable amp(that I will resurrect in time) and it kindle my interest in pedals. I moved from Las Vegas to Spain a little over four years ago and once here became the local fixit geezer. A friend of mine, Prisco Priscus plays for M-Clan and asked for a few things so it has been a year now actually trying to work it larger than just locally. I just got my first distributor recently too.

I received lots of help from the DIY Stompboxes forum, Free Stompboxes forum, D*A*M forum, Fausto from Faustone, Rick Holt of Frequency Central, Fernando Ruiz (Slade) from Ruz Guitar Gear, Brian from Madbean, Mike from Pedal Enclosures, Steve from Small Bear Electronics, Joe Gagan, Nick De Smith, Gregg Redmond I can think of off hand.

An old guy named Harry Lythall has spent lots of time with me on tube theory over the net.

Bart from EffectsDataBase has been a great help and friend providing encouragement and lots of info for several projects.

Blake from What's That Dude Play? also has plugged my pedals from the start. There are lot more I cannot think of right now but without all of these people I wouldn't be here. Thanks to you all!

Where do the name and logo come from?

Where does the name come from?

Where does the logo come from?

I moved to Spain about 4 years ago and started working in the local music shop. The El Músico Loco kind of fell out of the air and stuck mostly because the locals thought I was crazy to move away from America.

My logo was made by my wife, who is an ace design specialist. She studied at St. Martin's and has carved an impressive catalog of work so when it comes to branding and graphic design she is my go to girl. It was her idea to give the logo an industrial and basic feel with a hint of humor by having the period at the end. I was actually presented with an array of different logos by another designer friend recently but none of his said what I wanted so simply.

What sets El Musico Loco FX apart from other builders?

I think it takes time for a brand to reveal itself and in that it will continue to change over time. I am not sure what sets me apart. I think the evolution to the polished/etched cases has given a theme to my pedals and I have been fortunate that some of my player friends have been kind and given my name out along the way. I am no genius so my designs will be pieces mostly cobbled together with hopefully some happy mistakes along the way so I think simple function will continue to be another thread throughout my pedals. We will see. I have been very surprised at the advancements and attention the brand has got in such a short time with no advertising budget.

How do you start on a new pedal?

They kind of fall out of the sky. Sometimes I have a name and need a pedal to fit it. That was how the Blisterlily Overdrive came about. The name had been in my possible band name file for years and when Prisco wanted a TS type overdrive that would clean up the name fit immediately.

I started messing around with Maestro fuzz circuit and interpreted the schematic wrong and what I came up with is the new El Boludo Fuzz that I will have out at the end of summer. Boludo means 'clown' or 'idiot' I think. My Argentine friends have an affinity for this word so naturally it fits into my arsenal. 

In the case of the Old Glass Fuzz Mini-Valve Preamp I had a graphic designed by Edu Castells, a London underground artist, for a fuzz pedal that never came together. When I saw a design by Rick Holt using old 'glassFET' minitubes it just fit with the design. Rick is a genius and was kind enough to let me license his design. 

The Wee Beaver Fuzz started as a design mash up by Fernando & Rick and I took that idea and used a different fuzz/tone design. The redesign has been accept heartily according to recent feedback.

How do you name your pedals?

One if the first pedals I offered was a simple booster called the Honky Dong, a playoff of Donkey Kong and also the name from my friend Sluggo's band years ago. We used the Donkey Kong font. It is actually a play off of the SHO too. I still make some of the bigger Honky Dongs as they can take a battery (Bart has one!) but mostly now people want the little Dinky Dong, same circuit, no battery in a polished 1590A.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

My wife, Edu Castells and Antuan el Ocho are my outside help with graphics. After that it is just me and the cat that lays on my keyboard sometimes.

I hand make all the PCBs using a toner transfer system and use all standard thru-hole components though I have experimented with smd op amps on swappable mini boards. I try to use the best parts I can afford and tend towards metal film resistors and avoid ceramic caps unless requested by a customer.
I source some boxes from China but I also buy from Mouser and pedalenclosures. I started out painting them and using the DecalPro labeling system which is impressive but very fiddly and time consuming. I was inspired by Fernando Ruiz to begin etching the boxes. So my style has now morphed into highly polished aluminum cases and etched graphics. I can polish & etch one in about the same time it takes to paint/label one but polished/etched is cheaper, doesn't chip and has a timeless look. I do all the polishing/etching/drilling one at a time.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Important to me I guess. I think all visual aspects of the pedals should have some thought put into them. Inside and out. Lots of the circuits are similar in lots of boxes so branding, brand recognition and visual appeal all play into someone choosing one box over another.

How important is parts selection?

I always try to buy the best parts that I can and now my budget is growing I am able to be choosy about what parts I use. I try to avoid carbon film resistors and ceramic caps in my pedals (though you will find a stray or two at times). I actually have spent quite a few hours inside of the Mouser catalog recently and found a few interesting new parts to use. I am constantly searching new models and companies. I found some crazy new pots that are built inside the knob. They are a bit spendy at the moment but I want to get a set to play with. I am experimenting with click-less switch systems now to get away from the possible failure of the blues.

Which of your pedals made you most proud or was your toughest build?

Definitely the La Rosa. The La Rosa started out as a low voltage 12AU7 valve booster and grew into a +300VDC 12AX7 preamp powered from a standard -9vdc walwart. The power supply has been the stalwart in this design but I finally have a working model that I am happy with. I just got the first boxes, polished YY's from pedalenclosures and need to adapt the artwork for the etching process. I named it La Rosa after my amazing wife Rose.

Trying to get the power supply to work right has been a challenge and also I have the tube mounted in such a way that it is a visual aspect of the build and is easy to change. I also had some custom u-bolts made to serve as tube protectors. Getting all the mechanical aspects sorted out to mount everything securely without having lots of screws and nuts poking out above the box has taken awhile. It is Definitely La Rosa.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

So far the most popular has been the Wee Beaver Fuzz. First off it is a fuzz which are generally popular pedals and it sounds great. Rose named it the Wee Beaver and did the graphics and it looks slick in the little polished box.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Prisco Priscus from M-Clan has a Dinky Dong, a Snapperhead (modded Red Snapper) and a Blisterlily on his touring pedal board appearing all over Spain right now. Just saw them open for the Black Crowes last weekend.

Gary Schmalzl from Jingo De Lunch/Los Helmstedt/Speedmoik/Cora Frost/Bela B./Los Hommes Sauvages has a Wee Beaver and is very happy with it on his touring board.

Jonny Kaplan of The Lazy Stars just finished a successful Eurotour with his Honky Dong in tow everynight

One of the Honky Dongs went into the netherworld of Placebo last year thru our friend Bill, the touring bass player of the band. Still no word :)

I leave an arsenal of pedals at Casa Pepe Studios which have been used on several records over the last year.

What does the future of El Musico Loco FX look like?

Lots to do. Finishing the web site is proving long but it will be done hopefully by the end of July. I have two designs needing graphics and I recently had my computer die so I am awaiting arrival of a used iMac right now too. I lost a few designs and have to re-do them. I just let everything morph into what ever it is it is going to become. I don't plan too much and I hope it all just grows slowly because in all truth too fast is not what I am interested in. My focus is on quality and sticking to a one pedal/one effect simplicity.

Are you working on any new products?

The La Rosa Preamp and El Boludo Fuzz will be along in the next few months and probably a few others I haven't thought of yet too.

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