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Earthquaker Devices: Ben Vehorn at Moogfest

Earthquaker Devices: Ben Vehorn at Moogfest

Earthquaker Devices make pedals one-at-a-time, by hand, in the "idyllic post-apocalyptic wasteland metropolis of Akron, Ohio." Their philosophy is that pedals should be "simple and user-friendly, with lots of practical, useable, and musical sounds, but should also be a launchpad for sonic exploration and aural innovation."

Moogfest's Modular Marketplace was home to a full range of Earthquaker pedals, all available to be demoed/played with via synth and guitar. One of the EQD employees running the booth was Ben Vehorn. Ben is a pedal builder, product specialist, and recorder of audio demos for Earthquaker Devices. 

Pedal Fuzz: How did you get into pedal building?

Ben Vehorn: I had done some DIY stuff before. My friend Jamie runs the company, and when he was starting to not have the bandwidth to build them all himself,  he started hiring his friends. So I started building pedals for him.

PF: What are some of the recent pedals you’ve been involved with?

BV: The newest one is the Erupter, which is what we call “the perfect fuzz.” It's a single knob fuzz - the knob controls the biasing. In the middle it’s what we consider to be the perfect position. As you turn it up it over-biases the circuit for more sustain and a smoother fuzz. As you turn it down below the middle position, it gets a little ruder, and gate-ier, and spittier. Before that we put out the Space Spiral, which is a vintage voice delay with a modulation section. And the modulation section has a continuously variable. Waveform that goes from a triangle wave to square wave or anything in between. It’s a very tapey-voiced delay. There's a really large sweet spot in the repeats where you can get it on the verge of self-isolation without going out of control. So it's kind of nice that you can dial that in without it being too fiddly. Although it will go into self oscillation if you turn it up all the way.

PF: There is a pedal here on display called Spatial Delivery. When I played through it, I liked what it did to my sound, but I’m not quite sure how to classify it. You have a few pedals like that!

BV: Right. Well it's a filter pedal. It's an envelope filter pedal. So it gives you a swept bandpass filter that is controlled by the dynamics of your playing. As you play harder the filter opens wider, or it closes down more depending on the mode setting. There's an up-sweep where as you hit it harder it sweeps the filter open. There's a down setting when you hit it harder it sweeps the filter down. But then in the middle there's a sample and hold setting which is a random step modulation. So it's good for making those robot speaking noises.

PF: Are EarthQuaker pedals undergoing some sort of redesign right now?

BV: Yes. So we used to use the manual clicky footswitches and about a year or two ago we started redesigning our pedals so that all the new ones have soft touch, relay-based foot switching. And we’re going through and redesigning all the old pedals to have the new relay-based footswitches. So far we've done probably about half of the old lineup. Every four to six months we do another four or five. So within the next couple of years we should have them all ported over to the new footswitches. They're less prone to failure. Since we do have a lifetime warranty on all our products that's really important to us to have less stuff coming back. We stand behind our product but we can't guarantee that a mechanical footswitch will last forever, because they just don't. But a relay based footswitch will.

PF: How has your Moogfest experience been so far?

BV: Moogfest is great, there’s a great bunch of people here. We love the Moog company, we're all synth heads - I’ve owned Moog synthesisers for 20 years. All the people that work for them are really great and they're very helpful. The show's been amazing. We've been very busy. A lot of people coming by, a lot of people that are interested in the pedals. We usually do guitar shows, but we really like being able to do the shows too where we show them off with synthesizers and drum machines because a lot of us do experimental music or recording or cross-platform type stuff. So it's a nice element to be in.

PF: Any musical acts you’re looking forward to seeing during the festival?

BV: I'm personally really looking forward to seeing Suzanne Ciani. She's one of my musical heroes and I'm excited to see her. I'm excited to see Container, he’s from Providence Rhode Island. He does really good dirty techno on the Spectrum Schools record label. I'm hoping tonight to be able to go see Simian Mobile Disco. I've never seen them before and I think they will be pretty good. There's so much good stuff going on it's just kind of a question of how much bandwidth I have left at the end of the day. But I'm excited about all of it, and I'm going to make it out to see as much as I can.