Interview with Ryan Ratajski of Fuzzrocious Pedals
Fuzzrocious Pedals is self-described as “a pedal building and hand-painting company owned and operated by husband and wife dynamic duo and made slower by their two little monsters.”
Fuzzrocious Pedals has made quite a name for itself in the boutique effect market. This is especially true for bassists and those in heavier bands. In addition to building effects, Ryan Ratajski is a gigging bassist for the band Cavale (bandcamp,facebook). As a bassist myself, I know how difficult it can be to find effects which work well on bass. Besides the physics involved with a vibrating bass string being different and more difficult to deal with, there is also the issue of what sounds good for bass. A lot of effects don’t have adequate low-end response and they don’t preserve enough of the fundamental for basses. Of course tone and timbre are subjective, but it definitely feels like we have a guy on the inside at Fuzzrocious.
JD: What was it that got you started building effects?
Ryan Ratajski: 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 Pi, so I asked my dad to teach me to solder! We sat down and after a few beers and hours, I had my own GGG-tuned BMP clone!
JD: How did you go about learning electronics and circuit design?
RR: I started by practicing on kits from GGG, then started modding the pedals to do new things. The internet is a great place to learn about circuits and sites like Beavis Audio Research have really helped get me up and running. I like trying new things and circuit bending while building. Sometimes mistakes made while building yield pleasant surprises like in our Oh See Demon. A big screw up in building allowed me to find the gate/boost circuit!
JD: What were your first couple of designs or mods?
RR: I’ve built most of GGG’s line on my own for friends and created mods by accident (see Oh See Demon) or from shared information on the ‘net. The big muff circuit is arguably the most modded/mod-able circuit out there and since the GGG-tuned muff was my first build, I have modded that lil’ guy out the most.
JD: Do you have an overall design philosophy/goal?
RR: Our philosophy is simple: make cool shit. Our goal is to make cool shit for cool people and make some good friends along the way. We’re not in this to be rich or be famous…we like creating things for people. Also, this gig helps pay the daycare bill for our two monsters, so as long as that is paid, we’re all good!
JD: How much of your work is built to order?
RR: 90% of our work right now is built to order. Customers contact us via email through our website (or Twitter @fuzzrocious, facebook, or at a show) and we move forwards (after payment) from there. The process is on a first come, first served basis and we are currently projecting a four month lead time for pedals hand-painted by Shannon. Customers can opt for a paint job by our 4 year old son, a stamped design, or a no paint route to move the wait down to about a month or less (usually 2ish weeks).
1% of our orders are totally custom and we usually save those for dudes in touring/bigger bands/projects.
The remaining 9% goes to storefronts (both terrestrial and internet-based).
We have started doing very small runs with Danny Walters, master etcher extraordinaire, to have some pedals etched.
JD: Which pedal are you most proud of, and why?
RR: The Rat King because of how much versatility we put into one box. It’s truly an amazing box! [JD- look for an in-depth review of my very own kid-painted, Rat King in the near future]
JD: Fuzzrocious is a family affair. What’s it like having everyone involved?
RR: I’m awestruck when I see my son paint a pedal or get excited about painting someone’s pedal. There are even times that he’ll sit next to me and talk about pedals while I’m building. Having him be a part of this is really special. He’ll grow up seeing his parents run a business from home while maintaining regular 9-5 jobs. Let’s face it…it’s not cheap to own a house and cars these days and the economy/work field is not getting any better. Our children need to see that having two jobs and a family can “work” and be normal. Doing this isn’t a choice anymore! It literally helps pay the bills.
Being able to work with my wife is a little stressful because she puts so much effort into teaching by day that there’s little energy left at night or on the weekends to paint, but I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else. She makes this easy…probably because she’s an easy person to be around and work with. It helps that she’s schooled in The Arts and has better line drawing skills with a paintbrush than some tattoo artists have.
Being able to have a business that is run by a family is the only way this can be done “right” without being a miserable working stiff.
JD: What excites you the most about Fuzzrocious Pedals?
RR: I love being able to make people happy with stupid guitar pedals! We get to make loud, obnoxious devices that people purchase by choice. People choose US because we talk to people like real human beings (we even reply to emails within hours – or minutes). We’re at a crossroad that is leading us to a point of big distribution, which is very scary, but necessary for us to help the company grow. It’s definitely exciting!
JD: Do you have any tips for others looking to build or mod effects?
RR: Don’t get a cheap soldering iron. Don’t start unless you don’t want to stop because it’s addictive. Don’t start buying in bulk until you are sure you want to build pedals. Learn as much as you can about not only soldering and pedals, but good business sense because if you’re a greedy or a total dick, you won’t get anywhere. Learn how to answer emails well because in this technological world, there’s no excuse to not be available if this is your job. Start with kits from GGG or BYOC, then learn with building blocks from the zillion sites that share circuitry info. Eat more cheese steaks from Sorrento’s in Collingswood, NJ and drink sour ales.
Images Courtesy: Fuzzrocious Pedals