[interview] Free State FX: Jason Fry

Here's FXDB's interview with Jason Fry of Free State FX.

Free State FX is run by Jason Fry: owner, audio engineer and master electronics builder. The company is located in Lawrence, Kansas, United States.

How did Free State FX start?

I started building pedals because I saw the industry moving in to the digital age, and I was seeing young musicians buying in to the hype of digital technology, without even experimenting with analog technology.

When I was in College studying music composition, I was using a Pro Tools set up with Reason and I couldn't figure out why my favorite records sounded different than what I was creating. Not in anything specific, like I was trying to copy the Prodigy's bass synth from "Smack My Bitch Up", but a more general overall vibe to the music. While I most certainly didn't want to sound exactly like my predecessors, it was apparent that they were doing something different than I was, and their music sounded bigger, fuller, and had a sheen to it that my tracks lacked. My 'Eureka' moment was when I plugged in a homemade synth that I slapped together in a couple of rainy weekends -- THAT was the sound I've been trying to make for years with no success in the digital domain. It was on at that point. Every waking hour since then that wasn't spent with my family or at my day job was dedicated to teaching myself the Art of Electronics and becoming an Expert Electronics Assemblyman.

DIYers were a great source for forward-thinking circuit design, builders showed me how a completed project was supposed to look, and the local shop would lend me a helping hand on high voltage circuits that I didn't feel comfortable with at first.

Free State FXWhere do the name and logo come from?

The term "Free State" dates back prior to the United States Civil War. When Kansas was ratified as a state, it was a "Free State" meaning that slavery was not allowed within its borders.

Free State FX is more than just expertly assembled Audio Products, it is about equipping creative individuals with the tools they need to make any sound they choose.

There's not too much of a story behind the logo. A good friend of mine, Long Chou, is a tattoo artist in Kansas City and he was kind enough to collaborate with me on the logo. We wanted it to have a retro vibe, because FSFX focuses on analog circuit design that was pioneered back in the fifties and sixties.

What sets Free State FX apart from other builders?

We are the best: best circuit design, cleanest assembly, and the friendliest customer service.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Here's a quick generalization...

  1. Design the circuit
  2. Order parts to make the circuit
  3. Breadboard the circuit
  4. Play the circuit
  5. Change the circuit
  6. Play the circuit
  7. Change the circuit
  8. Play if for my friends
  9. Love the circuit
  10. Design the circuit board
  11. Choose/design the enclosure
  12. Create the graphics
  13. Drill the enclosure
  14. Paint the enclosure
  15. Apply the graphics to the enclosure
  16. Order the nicest sounding parts on the market
  17. Place pots, knobs, LEDs, switches, switch covers, VU meters, transformers, tube sockets, and lamps to the enclosure
  18. Solder the parts to the board
  19. Wire the device
  20. Test the device
  21. Calibrate the device
  22. Burn in the device; we call it "soft" burn in and leave product on for 24 hours
  23. Test again
  24. Box it up (large cardboard box, bubble wrap, peanuts, clean and professional just like everything else!)
  25. MarketFree State FX Hott Fuzz
  26. Get paid
  27. Send box
  28. Back to #1

How do you name your pedals?

The 'Hott Fuzz' is named after one of my wife's favorite movies 'Hot Fuzz'. Great flick.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

We don't manufacture PCBs or paint in our building for environmental reasons. We design most of the graphics, but have them silk screened, engraved, or laser etched by other companies. Stickers are printed and cut by a local sign shop. Some companies use their brother-in-law or neighborhood teenager, but we only use professionals at every stage of pedal production. Everything else is done by me.

Everything that comes out the door is hand-assembled and it will always be that way. Since many of our products are custom one-offs there is no general rule about enclosure finish. We screen print, laser etch, engrave, and use full color stickers for graphics.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The inside of the pedal is the most important thing and FSFX always looks top notch in that department. We always show pictures of the guts of our pedals, and encourage you to ask to have a look at the guts before ordering anything from a builder you aren't familiar with.

Is parts selection important?

Every part is chosen for its particular sound. We over-engineer at every stage. Usually NOS are chosen over new parts if it is at a critical location in the audio path. Only new off-the-shelf parts for the power supply but, as a rare exception, we'll use NOS AC Rectifier Tubes. During the prototype phase we will try all types of different caps, transistors, and tubes to make sure we are offering the best sounding product possible. Usually the most expensive parts sounds the best, but not always.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Every pedal that leaves the shop. Seriously, each pedal is the most important pedal.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Cloning the Boss Slow Gear pedal. The stock circuit offers too short of an attack time. We modified the circuit to where it has a longer attack time, but that also has an effect on how quickly the envelope generator will reset. I love our modified clone of the Slow Gear now and use it all the time in my guitar tracks.

Free State FX Brain BlasterWhich of your pedals is the most popular?

Sound is NOT a popularity contest. Choose what sounds the best to you and forget what anyone else says.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We make pedals for those that love big hearty analog sounds. If you like digital go talk to Apple or Avid. If analog is your flavor you're in the right place.

Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn love our stuff. I sent them both a few prototypes last month but I haven't heard back yet.

As I said before, sound isn't a popularity contest. If you use a product because someone else does I hope you enjoy your short jingle-making music career.

What does the future of Free State FX look like?

We're growing every month and each day there's an inbox full of requests. I just love it. I am truly one of the lucky ones who wakes up every day and does exactly what they want.

FSFX plans to expand its product line, while still offering custom assembly of all types of analog audio products. If it has transistors, tubes, and/or transformers, we make it, and we make it perfectly!

Are you working on any new products?

Sorry, but we play it close to the vest. Join our mailing list at our website and find out there.

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