Some pedal builders stay within the confines of the atmosphere. Captain Jamie Stillman is not afraid to take EarthQuaker Devices into new territories.
Jamie Stillman founded EarthQuaker Devices in 2004. He began his journey humbly, as all incredible boutique pedal manufacturers do. His obsession with circuitry started after a successful venture down a rabbit hole, repairing an overdrive pedal. For the next couple of years would sell various one-off designs online in-between working odd jobs.
What started as one became two, turned into many, and even more. 17 years on, the company’s philosophy is simple: all EarthQuaker Devices pedals are built the old-fashioned way, by hand. Thus are also tested by hand, each and every one of them.
There’s also a core belief that each design should be simple and user-friendly. Also, they should create practical, usable, and musical sounds, without failure. Let’s look at how this has shaped pedalboards and wormed into studios around the world.
Building pedals for friends
The breakthrough pedal story starts with Stillman tour managing for The Black Keys. Stillman tinkered with pedals for Dan Auerbach on the side and found he had a green Russian Big-Muff that sounded cleaner than usual. Stillman began figuring out why and in the process created multiple versions of the classic muff design.
He landed a circuit that they liked, and called it The Hoof Fuzz which Auerbach then took on tour. It wasn’t long before someone posted a video on the Harmony Central forums and the questions rolled through. “What is that sound?” and “Where/when can I buy this?”
The EarthQuaker Devices line started expanding, and in 2006, it grew to the point where full-scale production was within sight. With a handful of employees, production between 2006-2010 kept growing. The Hoof Fuzz, however, is where Stillman says he learned how to do things. From making them look and sound the same, to circuitry and even spray painting the graphics.
Opening up to the world
The Hoof Fuzz earned EarthQuaker Devices recognition on a global scale. With its hybrid germanium/silicone fuzz circuit, there is little you can’t achieve with it — as long as you like it dirty. Featuring the classic Vol/Tone/Fuzz we know and love, a Shift control was added. This knob is in charge of the mids, clockwise for scooped mids and anticlockwise for boosted.
The first full production run, complete with pretty powder-coated detailing was in 2007. It was at this point that Stillman turned pedal-building into a full-time gig.
New horizons in tone
Branching out from fuzzy roots, EarthQuaker Devices began building pedals that pushed against convention. The creation of the Rainbow Machine bent minds; what was tossed around the basement as a wacky idea would pass through the hands of countless guitarists like Troy Van Leeuwen and Taylor York.
The Rainbow Machine is essentially a pitch modulation pedal, but with a control literally known as Magic. This parameter creates a feedback loop between the primary and secondary pitch controls, which comes out as an assortment of ‘tails’ depending on where the pitch control is.
People have used it to create magic wand-type ‘wooshing’ sounds to lush chorus and has been described as ‘acid in a guitar pedal’. It’s a pedal that no two people can describe the same way — some said it couldn’t be used for anything, others told them how they were wrong.
Enter, the Bit Commander, a synth pedal that was originally intended to be a clone of an old ’80s Japanese Octaver, but ended up as something more. What would hit the shelf as a ‘synth’ pedal sounds more akin to a fuzz pedal zapped out of a wall socket.
Bringing Sub/Up/Down controls to a mono synthesizer guitar pedal, key features include a Base knob that governs how much of the input signal gets ‘squared’. The Filter offers more highs when turned clockwise and more warmth in the other direction.
In 2015 they moved into their current premises, with 50+ employees and over 40 pedals that they build and perfect. Stillman and his crew continue to manufacture pedals the way he started: by hand.
More than pedals that just scream, boost, or cleverly route, EarthQuaker Devices continues to follow its heart into uncharted territory. Models like the octave reverb Astral Destiny reshapes the player’s understanding of pitch and how it interacts with ambience, while the signal shredding Plumes offers up an all-analog approach to symmetrical and non-symmetrical clipping. EarthQuaker Devices has proven it can create some of the most versatile, inspiring stompboxes to date, encouraging guitarists to create completely fresh tonal combinations in the process.
The lineup of artists that use EarthQuaker Devices pedals now includes (and in no way limited to) Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes, Joff Oddie of Wolf Alice, Lee Kiernan of Idles, and Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail. Their sound and reliability have proven their worth and will continue to land on pedalboards both on the stage and in the studio.
For more info head to EarthQuaker Devices.