Gadsden company releases guitar effects pedal
By BENJAMIN NUNNALLY
Feb. 25, 2018
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Distorted guitar and youthful rebellion go hand in hand.
Distorted guitar also goes hand in hand with electrical know-how, circuit boards, complicated schematics and hours of research, but "School's Out" is less fun if Alice Cooper sings about getting back to class in August.
Local musician Clint McDuffie, guitarist of Gadsden band GallantHorn, knows all about the technical side of rocking out. He spent the last few years learning how to build circuits and control electronic sound in his spare time — he went to UAB for business management, not electronics — building pedals to use himself. In December he decided to try and market one of his creations, a distortion pedal called "Red Ghost," and left his job behind to work on building pedals full time for his new company, Deep Space Devices.
"I was always in retail management," he said. "I realized I had to just go all-in or be miserable. It's the same, sappy story you hear with anybody, but it's a dream career."
Each pedal is handmade. McDuffie starts with a "breadboard," a sort of circuit-building sandbox where connections can be tested without soldering, allowing the board to be reused for tweaking. It's otherwise functionally the same as a circuit board, though larger. McDuffie's board has a dozen wires plugged in, the multi-colored veins of a pedal in progress.
Taylor Adams, Deep Space Devices' graphic artist, said that McDuffie's notebook of schematics went missing once. That would normally be a disaster — Adams pulled a paper off of a nearby work desk, covered in mystifying numbers and electrical information, as an example — but McDuffie had them memorized, it turned out.
"Imagine having 20 or 30 of these in your head," Adams said.
Once prototyping is done, McDuffie orders printed circuit boards — the smaller, green boards that go in most any electronic device — and affixes electronic components, like toggle switches and wiring. Then he sets the finished board inside of a pedal enclosure, into which he's bored holes for the toggles, knob and switch on the pedal.
Then it's just a matter of plugging in and letting it rip. Most distortion pedals have a control for tone and gain; the Red Ghost instead has toggles for "Shake" and "Mass," with a knob that turns up the volume of the "Horde." The resulting distortion can alternate between crunchy distortion with a thick low-end and high-treble, for squeedly meedly guitar solos and speed metal antics.
The pedal could work for any kind of musician, McDuffie said, though the Red Ghost's ominous artwork — a ghoulish, crimson illustration of a skeleton horde marching beneath a lantern-carrying ghost — lends itself toward a metal-minded musician.
Adams, whose artwork many may have seen on posters for the EYO's fall concert, said that he was asked to draw how he thought the pedal sounded.
"I thought it sounded like 'Army of Darkness,'" he said.
The pair partnered with Lucky Sound Studio in Fort Payne to film demo videos for the pedal, featuring guitarists like Ryan Mabry of North Alabama band Men and Mountains, with plans to release more. Later in the year, McDuffie wants to sell more pedals, starting with one or two more types of distortion pedal, then veering off into more experimental offerings, tooling with reverb and other, subtler effects.
The upcoming pedals will follow McDuffie's same ethos for building the Red Ghost, he said.
"I just want to build things that I would love using, easy, straightforward and simple," he said.