American Wizard Toneworks
How long have you been a musician? How did you get into it in the first place?
I think I was 12 or 13 when I got my first guitar, but I always wanted to play. Growing up my parents always had a great record collection (Black Sabbath, CCR, Led Zeppelin, Queen, etc.) so Rock n Roll was in my blood from the beginning. My mom in particular was very musical, she played piano and organ growing up, so that influenced me in a big way. But to be honest Nirvana was the reason I finally started to play guitar, I was sort of a quiet kid that just wanted to be loud.
Who have been some of your major musical influences, past or present?
What led to the start of American Wizard Toneworks? How long have you been in business? How big is your operation/how many employees do you have?
American Wizard Toneworks is still very small, it’s mostly just a one man show, other than woodworking (which is is done largely in part by my friend Lyle Clevenger) and some artwork for things like T-shirts and stickers (which is sometimes handled by local artists that I know). I’ve been building pedals for probably 4 years now, but it’s only been my main focus within the last year. I started a blog while I was living in Youngstown, Ohio, dedicated to effects pedals, motorcycles, and general hacking called Working Class American Wizard. After finishing school, I got a job in Pittsburgh, so I moved to Pittsburgh and stored my motorcycle at my parents’ house, and just focused on work and building pedals in my spare time. The blog became more and more about pedals, so eventually that just sort of transformed into American Wizard Toneworks.
Did you have formal schooling, or are you self-taught? Take us through that story:
I started modding/fixing pedals long before I ever had any schooling… When I was younger and playing in shitty bands, I had shitty gear, so I always modified everything, from pedals to pickups to improve my sound a little. I’ve always been hungry for useless information, so it’s nothing for me to spend hours, or days even, reading about something that perplexes me… Some of my earliest memories are of taking things apart that I had no chance in getting back together. I built my first fuzz while living in Tucson, Arizona, where I would spend most of my free time working on music on my laptop and reading about classic fuzz circuits and amps. After moving back to the rustbelt and becoming slightly less of a rabid animal I eventually earned an Associates Degree in Electrical Technology… That degree has honestly proven to be pretty useless as I’ve picked up most everything to do with pedals on my own. But, I think it was necessary for me to move out to Pittsburgh after school and build some of the relationships that I have. Pittsburgh has welcomed me like no other city I’ve ever lived in.
What drives you as far as new pedal creation is concerned? How long does it typically take for an idea to come full circle and become a demo pedal? What’s the process behind new gear, and the eventual release of it to the public?
It takes too damn long… I always have ideas on the back burner, but when everything is handled by one guy it proves to be pretty difficult getting anything done. I currently have probably 10 designs that are somewhere in the prototyping phase, but my mind wanders a lot so who knows what’ll get done when. I’d have to say that designing something new and playing it for the first time is what drives me to keep making new stuff. There’s times that I get super frustrated with a new design and almost consider giving up altogether, then I figure out a solution and its like that first fuzz pedal all over again.
What are some of the biggest concerns facing your profession today?
My only concern is getting bored. My favorite thing about building pedals is that its just fun to do, and the process of figuring out how to make things work is always sort of a journey in itself. I just want to make cool shit. It doesn’t even have to be pedals, I’ll build motorcycles or rat rods or something if this gets old.
Where do you see pedal building going in the future?
As an industry, it will probably just be more of the same; things will improve, but I don’t see anything changing drastically. Algorithms for digital stuff will improve and get more nuanced and authentic sounding, but that’s about it…
Personally, I would like to get into modulation more, so I can build even weirder fuzzes, maybe some DSP, more octave stuff… It would honestly be fun to get into different things altogether, more speaker cabinets, guitars, eurorack and 500 series stuff, synths… I don’t know, I’m just spit ballin’.
Who are some of your favorite builders in the industry right now?
Bookworm Effects, TRVR Handwired and Graduate Audio are all doing some pretty awesome stuff, I’ve met all three of them through the Pittsburgh Pedal Swap and aside from making really gnarly effects and amps, they’re actually some of the nicest, most knowledgeable guys I’ve ever met. Dunwich Amps and Abominable Electronics also keep coming out with really impressive stuff, I don’t know them personally, though.
Name the last 5 records you listened to:
1. Sleep – Dopesmoker
2. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
3. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
4. Kendrick Lamar – Damn.
5. Nirvana – In Utero
The Klon hype: Love it or Hate it?
Honestly I have no basis for an opinion, I’m too poor to afford a real one. I’m not really into “transparent” overdrives though, I like overdrives to make things nastier.
Any last comments, or anything you’d like to talk about?
Drink more water.
Thanks to everyone out there that supports what I do, I just want to make something to inspire people to make the best music they can make. Thanks to Pedal of the Day for the killer demos and content that you keep putting out! This interview was fun.
Thanks so much to Clayton for taking the time to answer some questions! Make sure to go check out americanwizardtoneworks.com to peruse all of their gear – Cheers!