[interview] Fuzzrocious Pedals: Ryan Ratajski

Here's FXDB's interview with Ryan Ratajski of Fuzzrocious Pedals:

How did Fuzzrocious Pedals start?

My buddy and old band mate, Lukas Judge McCutcheon got me into building guitar pedal kits from General Guitar Gadgets. He had these plain boxes on his pedalboard that did all kinds of wicked stuff. People always told me that I would LOVE
a big muff, so I asked me dad to teach me to solder! We sat down and after a few beers and hours, I had my own GGG-tuned BMP clone!

From here, what Brian at smallsound/bigsound calls “the black hole” began... I contacted every friend in music I knew and started building them pedals! A year and half later, I started working on stripboard and taking existing designs and adapting/modding them further to do what I wanted them to do to become the beasts that we make today!

Shannon’s grandmother painted as a hobby and taught her how to paint as a child. This grew into a passion for her through high school and led her to The University of the Arts to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Painting). She meticulously paints each pedal by hand.

About two-ish years ago, we started bigger production on our own and opened up sales to any and all customers worldwide!

Inspiration is all around us! I hear cool effects in songs and want to do "something" with it to make it better or cooler, especially for bass. I love combining aspects of two separate pedals to create a new beast, too. 

I talk frequently with James McConnell at Baddy One Shoe, Brian at smallsound/bigsound, and Matt at Wren & Cuff and am always looking to reach out and connect with more builders. The people that I have connected with are open, sharing, cooperative people. We all know that building pedals is both difficult, yet rewarding. Plus, we all share the fact that we'll die young from solder-related illnesses!

Where do the name and logo come from?

We're dog lovers, even though we are dogless at the moment. Our dogs were pit mixes, which are considered "ferocious" animals. I love fuzz pedals, do I combined the two in a name that would be remembered and have some staying power. I think it works???

Shannon created a general logo design by hand with the demon from our pedal the Oh See Demon on it. It's one of her favorite creations and it fits nicely over the name font that she created as well!

What sets Fuzzrocious Pedals apart from other builders?

There aren't many companies out there who are handpainting like Shannon does and execute it the way we do. Because we're so DIY about everything, it shows and I think that people like that about us.

We even incorporate customers' ideas into pedals by request, which again, is pretty rare!

How do you start on a new pedal?

It starts in my brain or in something that I hear on a band's record... Then I look at designs I have drawn up or online for building blocks that will move me towards the sound I hear.

Also, we look for quick openings in the market. For example, we noticed that a company stopped making a bass preamp, so I started thinking about how to make a bass preamp with two knobs and a mid bump, because I LIKE MIDS. The design is still on paper, but when orders slow down, I'll start building it on stripboard.

Another example is the new boost/drive that we're putting out. I wanted to make a VERY flexible pedal with a user's choice of tone stacks... So I looked in my stash of designs and started working! I tend to go straight to the stripboard. No breadboards...

An idea can move from paper to product in anywhere from three weeks to three months. It also depends on the demand. I'm not going to put something out that people aren't asking for or interested in.

How do you name your pedals?

  • The Grey Stache is a nod to the Blue Beard Fuzz in that they are both muff-based designs. Beards are cool and sometimes mustaches are too, so why not?! Sonny at Sanford and Sonny made a great pedal, but we wanted to take the muff in a new direction.
  • The Oh See Demon was named by Josh Newton (The Damned Things, Every Time I Die, With Knives) and has his image on it.
  • The Tremorslo is a nod to the movie Tremors and is fitting in that it's a tremolo.
  • The Rat Tail is a nod to the RAT.
  • The Terrordactyl is named for what it sounds like, a terrifying pterodactyl.
  • The Momster (retired) was named by our son when he saw my wife's design for it.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

It's juuuuuuuuust me! I build everything.

I wake up earlier than my kids to build, then get my kids up, eat, bathe, work all day, come home, do family time, put the kids to bed, and build some more...It's literally brutal, but this pays the bills for their childcare!

If a pedal doesn't have a PCB, I cut stripboard to size, sand the edges, drill the holes, and populate the board by hand.
I drill every pedal that comes in on a Ryobi drill press and create guide divots from templates we create.

Shannon uses a predrawn template (using transfer paper) to place her design down, then uses acrylic paints to bring her work to life. Once it's dry, I spray with with a few clear coats and cook the enclosure in the oven.

After that, I populate the enclosure, cut the wires, solder in the wires, connect the board, and test! 

Occasionally, I will pre-build effects in prototype boxes so I can build a few pedals ahead and just drop them into painted boxes when they're painted.

How important is the look of your pedals?

It's EVERYTHING. Without Shannon's paint/designs, we're just a crappy company. The handpainting sets us apart.

Is parts selection important?

Not particularly, to be honest. Sometimes there are specific parts that come up and we scoop those up in bulk, but today's market allows us to pick and choose vendors and supplies easily!

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I LOVE the Terrordactyl (fuzz-filter). It's the coolest pedal we've ever made and although there are only five in the market currently, I'm confident that once people see it, they'll want it. A pedal that reacts to input volume, internal circuit volume, AND has a expression out to control the envelope's range it unique and wicked!!! Brian Cook (Russian Circles) has one and if it makes it onto his live board, I know that people will jump on it. People LISTEN to Brian and we do too!

The Grey Stache (muff-based fuzz w/ options) is our ever-evolving pride and joy. It was our first real pedal and in every iteration we do of it, it becomes more of a monster!

Personally, I use the Rat Tail (RAT-based tweakable distortion/od) as my "always on" tone and LOVE it.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Terrordactyl is our biggest board, so it's definitely the hardest to work with (and to debug). After that, comes the Rat Tail and Grey Stache for debugs.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Our Grey Stache and Rat Tail are the two top sellers. They are also based on old, tried and true designs, so go figure! People like these designs because we've improved immensely on a tired design and it works equally for both bass and guitar, not one or the other.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I build for myself first (I know, selfish, right?). If I wouldn't use it, it's not worth it! I build with dudes like me in mind. I think about what would attract me to a pedal or what would make an existing design better and then I do it!
I play in a loud band and the pedals support being loud. We reach out to dudes in loud bands who are into pedals to get the word out, too. Our customer base and potential customer base is made up of very different musicians who aren't in loud bands, but they always find a use for our pedals, so they're not just for loud music!

There's a gap in the market in communication. Send us an email and you'll have an answer back within 24 hours (usually within two hours though). I hear about companies who don't answer email or listen to customers...We strive to be the opposite!

Working with artists is one of our strong points!
Josh Newton, Brian Cook, Caleb Scofield, Dave Edwardson, Nick Thieneman, Joe Trohman, John LaMacchia, Dustin Perry, Jaye Schwarzer, Cory Murchy, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Bryon Rossi, Jeff Tuttle, and Christopher Frey have all backed us and many use our pedals on a daily basis in the studio and on the road.

We treat our clientele as best we can for the small company that we are!

What does the future of Fuzzrocious Pedals look like?

We want to grow, but not too big! It would be great to increase production, bring in other painters to help with the influx of painting.

We don't want to get too big for our britches, so we'll keep pluggin' away and do things the way we're currently doing them.
We LISTEN to our customers and potential customers, so we'll be updating, adapting, adding to designs and the lineup.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We can handle to current amount of orders and would definitely LOVE to have more orders roll in. If this happens, we'd like to start bringing in more painters!

Are you working on any new products?

We have a new boost/drive thing coming out with a tone stack you can choose (mid scoop, mid bump, or flat eq). It's a really sweet pedal that sounds good through solid state and drive tubes nicely. You can have it as an eq pedal... use it as a light boost... or a use it as a heavy drive... When this one comes out, it's going to RIP!

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