[interview] Phosphene Audio: David Kuzy

Here's FXDB's interview with David Kuzy of Phosphene Audio:

How did Phosphene Audio start?

I have played music for years and was always interested in the gear and how it worked.

Sometime in the late 90's I built a PAiA Ring Mod kit. After that, I started building other pedals from what diy designs i could find. I also spent a lot of time building and tweaking tube amps( I may eventually branch the business out into amps, but not right now). I built a bunch of Metasonix inspired tube synth stuff to use at home.

In the early and middle 00's, I actually slowly started selling things. I made some ridiculously large (compared to what was in them) transformer/diode ring mods for some friends. I sold a few other odds and ends to friends as well.

I also built a sub-miniature tube preamp that was installed in a friends archtop guitar. I started to build my own pedals and then also built some things for friends.

Once I came up with a couple of designs i really liked, I decided to go ahead and create a formal entity, or at least the appearance of one. Sometime around late 2009, the first actual Phosphene branded pedals started to appear. A couple were copies of things, a Rangemaster and a Ge Fuzz Face, but I really wasn't interested in making copies of existing pedals (though I can think of one or two cases where I might make an exception).

I sold some one-off pedals to folks in the local music scene. I may revisit some of these. One was a 7 knob Fuzz Face+Boost called the Solar Disc. There were tow pedals using the same circuit as my 976-KVLT pedal in large boxes with extra features like an additional boost section or a boost with EQ added. They were called the Nagelbett and the Elitist.

It can be hard, when just starting out, to get people to really pay enough for the large box, dual effects to make it worth ones while, so I turned my attention to two simpler pedals, the 976-KVLT and the 976-PUNK. These were originally the same design with different paint jobs, but at some point, I changed the 976-PUNK to its own unique circuit.

The first serial numbered PUNK and KVLT pedals appeared sometime in 2010.

At this point, it is just me, though I pay someone to do the artwork. Early on, I got some help and advice form a couple of people I had worked with at one of my jobs. One was an electrical engineer who did some audio design work and the other was a repairman who learned electronics in the Navy.

Early inspiration also came from Z.Vex and Metasonix. They were two of the earliest companies that I remember making interesting stuff whose aesthetics (sonic and visual) I loved.

Where do the name and logo come from?

It is a reference to seeing light patterns without light entering the eye. I first came across the term in the Phillip K Dick book, Radio Free Albemuth. The protagonist frequently sees dazzling light patterns when he is receiving information from the VALIS satellite.

The logo was just my attempt to write the word Phosphene on the bottom face of the pedal and have it fit and fill the whole space.

What sets Phosphene Audio apart from other builders?

I don't have much to say about this, other than I make what I find useful and amusing.

How do you start on a new pedal?

I usually think of something I would like to try and put it on a breadboard and start tweaking from there. Many things never get past the breadboard. Some ideas don't work at all. Then I either build one on perfboard, or if I am feeling really confident, move right to ordering a prototype pcb. I build a generic pedal in a plain enclosure with minimal labeling and I use the pedal myself or give it to a friend to try. If all goes well, then I can start making it properly, with artwork and a name.

Different pedals take different amounts of time. The 976-KVLT went from conception to being a real pedal very fast, probably a matter of weeks. If I hadn't come up with that one, I might never have bothered to even come up with a company name.

How do you name your pedals?

My friend Adam is always making up fake band names. One of the fake bands he created was 976-PUNK. When I came up with one of my designs and decided to make a metal type pedal, I took his fake band name and altered it to fit my pedal. Later, I used his original name for a different pedal.

My octave up fuzz, which will be called Stella Octangula, takes its name from a mathematic term for an 8 pointed polyhedron.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

I do everything but the artwork in-house.

Most circuits are built on PCB's that I design. I have occasionally built turret board pedals or pedals using a GGG PCB.

I buy painted and sometimes drilled enclosures, usually from Mammoth.

The lettering and other decoration is done by John Roman, who I am also in a band with (Microwaves).

How important is the look of your pedals?

I think it's pretty important and can be the biggest stumbling block in getting a new design ready for market.

Is parts selection important?

All of the components are important, but I don't really use any "special" parts except for one NOS germanium transistor in some pedals.

Flimsy 1/4" jacks are the worst, so that is one place not to skip.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

The things I am proudest of are actually probably amps that I use myself. They are far more involved than most pedals.

However, I am very satisfied with the 976-KVLT. I use one myself and love it. Just about everyone who has bought one and has given me any feedback is very happy with it. I also like the fact that it is not a clone of anything out there on the market.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

I built two Elitist pedals that were a lot of work. They are basically the 976-KVLT circuit with a separately footswitchable TMB tonestack and boost. There was a lot of wiring, some of it off board. It took forever to put one together.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

The pedal I sell the most of is the 976-KVLT. I suspect that a lot of the people who buy it are using it to play some form of extreme metal. The pedal can be, of course, used for other things, but the visual aesthetic and the clips in my original demo for it have probably skewed it to a metal demographic. This doesn't bother me, as I have no problem selling every one that I make.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I make pedals that I find useful. I tend to prefer pedals that are not subtle, so I suppose I am making pedals for people with similar tastes.

At least one well known guitarist has and has used one of my pedals at least once.

What does the future of Phosphene Audio look like?

My short term plans are to redesign the PUNK and KVLT pcb's to simplify assembly and to finish a couple of new designs I am working on.

Long term, I would like to add amps and tube preamps, though that creates a whole new set of manufacturing complications.

Are you working on any new products?

Right now, I am working on an octave up fuzz called the Stella Octangula. I currently have a prototype built that i am using. I may redesign the PCB yet, so it's a little way off.

I also have some ideas for a couple of tube based effects, one of them may be an EQ.

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