[interview] Little Fuji Moderne Audio: Jay Schwab

Here's FXDB's interview with Jay Schwab of Little Fuji Moderne Audio.

Little Fuji Moderne Audio is run by Jay Schwab. It's a one guy company based in McMinnville, Oregon, a little town halfway between Portland and the Pacific Ocean.

How did Little Fuji Moderne Audio start?

I have an old pedal that is my staple dirt pedal, and after getting literally laughed out of a few shops when I was looking to have it rehoused, I decided to do it myself. I had very little soldering experience and literally no electronics experience, so like everyone I hopped on Google and got to reading. That pedal never did get rehoused! I ended up working for a few local boutique companies as well, which was definitely a sink-or-swim way to learn the ropes of this business.

I would not be doing what I do now without the help of the people I have worked for, including Nic Harris @ Catalinbread, Devi Ever @ Devi Ever FX, and Josh Holley @ Malekko Heavy Industry. These people were all integral in my growth in the pedal biz. Obviously the internet is an amazing resource, so my head is always being dizzied by the various DIY forums.

Little Fuji Moderne AudioWhere do the name and logo come from?

Little Fuji was originally a band name for a band that never happened. My wife has mentioned our local mountain, Mount Hood, was referred to as "little Fuji" by Japanese politicians, and I thought it had a nice, local ring to it. As far as the extra "e" is concerned, the definition for "moderne" reads "Striving to be modern in appearance or style but lacking taste or refinement; pretentious." Yep, that pretty much sums up my aesthetic and sonic design style...

I have gone through a few logos, but my current diamond shaped one is bold enough that it looks sharp when etched into the enclosures. Etching dictates my graphics and enclosure design, due to the process.

What sets Little Fuji Moderne Audio apart from other builders?

What a pointed question! This business is full of good people doing honest work, I'm just another guy in a basement making toys for people that like making a racket. I hope the look of my pedals is distinct, and I do everything I can to make things that people will actually use, not just collect and talk about owning. My visual aesthetic really encourages you to throw my pedals in your backpack and stomp the sh*t out of them at your gigs.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Well, slowly. Very slowly. It starts on a breadboard, and for most ideas, stays there for years. I am really picky about the way things interact with guitars, other pedals and amps, so it takes a while to find the right combination of factors to make me happy. Given that everything is hand built on stripboard, the build process is about as un-streamlined as it can get. Someday as more designs get finalized, I'll do PCBs for speeding up build times.

Little Fuji Moderne Audio Econo-BoostHow do you name your pedals?

I got a lot of flack for the original name, Econo-Boost, because people thought it made it sound cheap or poorly built. In fact, I chose that name because I was in between jobs, and needed some economic boosting myself! After hearing the gripes enough, I decided to change it to the Dirt Snob. This was inspired by the never-ending discussions of musicians and their little noisy boxes. We all have pretty definitive opinions on what makes a great sounding dirt pedal, and my DS is never turned off in my signal chain. I thought the bold name was both funny and sort of a challenge.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I'm it. Building, painting, etching, drilling, you name it.

All Little Fuji effects and instruments are hand painted and acid etched by me. Each one has its own look, and each is hand wired with selected components.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Extremely. I enjoy the finishing of the enclosures and the whole process of etching just as much, if not more, than the circuitry end of the game. I never take on custom circuit projects, but usually will do custom runs of etched enclosures for collaborative projects. Let's be real for a second, looks are important! Sometimes that's the reason we love or hate gear, regardless of sound quality.

Is parts selection important?

I don't choose my parts based on internet buzz or price, I go through a rigorous process of finding the best component for the specific job at hand. This sometimes means using parts in circuits that would be deemed "uncool" by some in the audio electronics community. Thankfully, I'm not in this business to please them, I do it to make interesting sounding tools for you (and me)!

Little Fuji Moderne Audio Dirt SnobWhich of your pedals makes you most proud?

As of now, the Dirt Snob is the only production pedal in the line. Although I have only built around 50 units so far, I have gotten really encouraging feedback and praise from the users. Getting those emails and calls always encourage more design work for future products.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Truthfully, I make pedals I want to use. I designed the Dirt Snob to work with my rigs and what was missing in the signal path. When I breadboard, I tend to work on features that I find compelling... luckily people who have bought pedals I build agree with me. I definitely don't limit myself to thinking in terms of genre. I think anyone with an open mind can find a use for almost any sonic tool, regardless of their playing style or rig.

There are some Dirt Snobs that get used by some nationally touring artists, but I don't consider them any more notable than anyone else using it. I have gotten really positive feedback from everyone who has one, so that's good enough for me.

I will say that Stu from The Love Language has the prototype for the Dirt Snob in a hacked up enclosure, and he has never given it back! That says something about it, I suppose, haha.

What does the future of Little Fuji Moderne Audio look like?

Little Fuji remains a pet project for me. I work full time at Malekko Heavy Industry Corp. building modular synth modules and our hand-built guitar effects, so LF fits into the little bit of free time I get after that and being a full time stay-at-home dad. The Dirt Snob has been very popular, and I have plans to make a larger, more feature packed version, which will include an active EQ and selectable gain stage for taking it up into full high gain territory. There's probably a half dozen projects that will hopefully see the light of day, including a PT2399 based delay/pitch shifter with a unique feature set that I think people into making more experimental sounds will really enjoy. I also plan on making some arduino-based tabletop synth/noisemakers that will have analog filters and will be semi-modular within themselves. Sadly, I have way more ideas and designs than I have time to implement them!

Are you working on any new products?

I'm always chipping away at designs. Given that LF is a side project for me, releases are probably pretty far off on the horizon, but I hope to grow the brand as years go by. I get bored easily, so expect to see LF grow beyond just a guitar effects idea, probably encompassing noisemakers of all sorts for a variety of musicians and sound designers.

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