As part of Overdrive week we interviewed a couple of pedal makers who are making strides in new designs and new ways of thinking about tone. Today we talk with VFE’s Peter Rutter, whose Ice Scream OD was featured in our Ultimate Overdrive Shootout, and whose Focus pedal we did an in-depth review of.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company.
VFE Pedals builds boutique & custom effects pedals that are deliberately tweakable to empower the player to fine tune their tone for their rig – no matter what they play.
I got into pedals in 2007, and quickly got infected with G.A.S. I eventually stumbled upon BYOC‘s kits, and started building & modding my own pedals. From there, my math background helped me use the formulas that rule analog circuit design to expand on my own ideas. (Editor’s note – more on the VFE story on the website)
Why do pedal makers still make tube screamer clones and variations? Will we ever have a “better mousetrap” overdrive?
The simple reality is that sometimes it only takes is one component change to have a drastic effect on the tone. I try to build into our designs all those options, so the player can decide what they want to do. But anyone who thinks that a tubescreamer-derived circuit can only make one type of sound either hasn’t tried The Scream or doesn’t have experience with analog circuit design.
Most OD designs are based on existing chips such as the JRC4558D or the MC33178. Are there any new chips being manufactured that could change the OD game? Or is there a kind of chip you wish someone would make that’s different than what’s out there?
The chip doesn’t matter as much as people think – there are probably a dozen or more chips that would be nearly indistinguishable in a blind test if put inside the TS808 (and certainly indistinguishable within a band mix). The compression, distortion, and EQ shaping is all created with other components – resistors, capacitors, and diodes – the op amp’s job is simply to add gain. The only thing I’d like to see is a move towards more than 9V as a standard. There is a reason studio gear typically operates at 24V-30V.
What is your favorite kind of clipping?
That’s like asking a cat lady what her favorite type of kitten is. I love them all!
See cat lady reference.
Whose is the worst, and what would you do to fix it?
See cat lady reference.
Where’s a good place to start for someone who wants to start building pedals?
What is your design philosophy?
I always strive to add more functionality. If I can put a choice about tone into the hand of the player, I do it. I don’t worry about what instrument they are playing either – I think about guitar, bass, synth, etc. when designing. If I can open up a pedal to make it work in more setups and genres, I just do it and don’t worry if it makes the pedal more complex.
How are your pedals different from the other manufacturers out there?
I could totally get into all the intricacies of what’s different about VFE – but the biggest 3 are tweakability, customization, and transparency in our build/design process.
What other manufacturer’s designs do you like?
There are a couple basic effect types, of which most effects are just variations of, ie: flange, delay, overdrive/distortion, boost, reverb, phaser, wah, etc. Do you think there’s an undiscovered effect type just waiting to be found?
Time to get a bit nerdy…periodic waveforms can be altered in 4 fundamental ways – amplitude (think gain/volume), wavelength (think pitch/frequency), phase shift (think phaser, and to a greater extent delay/reverb), and vertical shift (not applicable because physical speakers have a ground-center position). From a theoretical perspective, all the fundamental effects have been covered – where we are now is creating new ways to interact and combine these fundamentals.
Will you be making another megapedal?
Hopefully. My goal is to develop an open-source modular system where you can insert, remove, and rearrange effects modules as you like – with built in programming. This would mean that you’d have one pedal to not only replace all your pedals, but also your patch cables, power supply, pedalboard, and programmable switching looper.
What’s next for VFE?
I am spending much more time developing new pedal ideas through my new platform called VonRutter Family Effects. With this, I am free to tinker & experiment, even if it means that I only build a one-off an then move to the next idea. In this way, VonRutter Family Effects will never have a pedal lineup – just a bunch of ideas that I am working on or have worked on.