The port city of St. Louis, Missouri is home to the Rams, the Cardinals and perhaps most famously, the Gateway Arch – a 630-foot stainless steel structure that keeps watch over St. Louis’ waterfront. It’s a city that has a
rich history in music both live and recorded. So perhaps it’s not much of a stretch to find out that the city also has some great pedal builders – like Physics Punk Pedals – creating powerful, exciting new tones.
Physics Punk Pedals was started in 2012 by Gerald Good. Compelled by the idea that high-quality, custom effects could also be affordable, Gerald started out as a custom shop, constructing pedals from original designs as well as creating vintage-designed clones. Since 2012, each pedal has been a hand-crafted, electronic journey resulting in a personal effects pedal for some lucky guitarist. A little over two years later, Physics Punk Pedals is ready to expand on that attention to detail and commitment to quality and has begun to embark on limited runs of production pedals like the Tritone Drive.
Pedal Finder caught up with Gerald and asked him about his pedals, the local St. Louis music scene and some of the challenges of getting designs from paper to stage.
1. How did you start designing/building pedals and when did you decide to start selling them to other people?
A few years ago I was trying to come up with some ideas for products that would re-purpose old technology. One of the weird ideas was using old computer parts, like graphics cards, to make guitar effects. I never pursued that idea any further, but I started looking into making effect pedals. I found that there were many kits available to build your own effects, so in 2012 I decided to buy a few kits and build them for myself and some of my musician friends. The first two pedals I built were a Distortion+ and a Ross Compressor clone from Build Your Own Clone. After that, I was hooked on it, and started reading everything I could about building pedals and building lots of different simple projects.
After I had built a few pedals, friends and Facebook acquaintances started asking if I could build different pedals for them, so that part came somewhat naturally. For the first few I basically only charged for materials. As I got better at it I started charging a few bucks for the time as well. Eventually I built up a pretty good backlog of orders and decided to quit my job and build pedals full-time.
2. How did you come up with the name Physics Punk Pedals?
A friend of mine told me I should come up with a name for my “business” back when I was still just building a few pedals by request. He thought I should call it “Rocket Science Pedals” or something like that, since I worked at Boeing at the time. I decided on Physics Punk pedals because I have a Ph.D. in Physics, and I’ve always been a fan of various flavors of punk rock and still have that sort of resistance-to-authority mentality.
3. What does a visitor see when they come to your shop? Do you work with others or is every pedal a solo mission?
I still work out of my basement, so when someone comes to visit, they see tables with tools and parts all over them, piles of cardboard boxes that need to be recycled, guitars, amps and pedals lying around. Pretty much a big mess. I would love to have a storefront workshop with a demo area, but I don’t have the budget yet. Right now I still work by myself, although I am training up an intern of sorts, in hopes that I’ll have enough demand that I’ll need to hire her to help me with building pedals. I would really like to be able to create some local jobs, but I think it will be a while until I have that ability.
4. You’re based out of St. Louis. Any local bands in that area our readers should know about?
I’ve started to become a little out of touch with local bands since I have two little kids at home now, and I don’t get out as much. However, I’m still attempting to play bass in a local band called Kadu Flyer that plays psych/space rock, and is working on recording a first album at the moment. I also used to play in a band called Aquitaine that was sort of Britpop/shoegaze inspired, I’m still good friends with those guys and they have a great sound.Tone Rodent is another psych band that’s sort of a St. Louis institution, I really dig them.Times Beachis a band of younger guys that has a sort of lo-fi, reverbed-out guitar sound that I like a lot. Middle Class FashionandSleepy Kitty are two local bands that have great indie-pop sounds, they’ve garnered a lot of local media exposure and I think they’re headed for success at a bigger level. With the exception of Kadu Flyer, all of these bands have stuff on Bandcamp to listen to. I could go on and on, we have a pretty great local music scene in St. Louis.
5. With the experience you have crafting pedals, what is the hardest thing about getting a new concept from paper to stage?
So far, getting the mechanical details right has been challenging. Switching from a hobbyist or custom-shop mentality to a production mentality is a little daunting. A lot of guys (myself included) started out building custom projects on perfboard or stripboard. That’s fine, but it’s time consuming and the probability of making mistakes is high. Learning how to design a printed circuit board and get it fabricated has been a great help for reducing build time and avoiding mistakes. Getting all the holes drilled in the right places, figuring out how to get everything solidly anchored in the box so that it can handle little bumps without causing an issue, things like that. Making a repeatable process so that every pedal sounds the same is important.
6. When your not building pedals, what other hobbies or activities are you engaged in?
Right now most of my non-work time is occupied by my kids. I have a 3-week-old baby at home and a 2-year-old toddler, so playing with them and taking care of them is priority #1. Like I mentioned before, I’m playing bass in Kadu Flyer, but I’m basically support staff, so I don’t spend a lot of time except practicing and playing gigs. Maybe someday I’ll get back into playing guitar and writing music on a regular basis. (smiley face) I like computer games and if I get a few minutes here and there I’ll usually play some Skyrim, or watch Dr. Who with the family.
7. I see you’re taking orders on the Tritone Drive – can you tell us a little about that pedal and how we can get our hands on one?
Definitely! My friend David Anderson at Tritone Guitars in St. Louis put me up to designing it. I wasn’t planning to make an overdrive; it’s an effect that has been done so many times by many great builders. However, Dave had a special request – he has several overdrives that he likes, but for various reasons he didn’t want to take them out for gigs, so he wanted a flexible overdrive that he could use to replace them. I looked at the schematics for some of the pedals, as well as a few of my favorite distortions, and then sat down to design the pedal. Then I spent several long sessions swapping out components until I liked the sound of the circuit. It’s not a copy of anything specifically, but it does use some ideas from various pedals (it’s impossible not to, at this point in time). The 2-band EQ (bass and treble) allows a lot of tonal flexibility that you don’t get from something like a Tube Screamer, for instance, but keeps the number of knobs to a respectable four.
Currently you can get a Tritone Drive by placing an order through my Square store. You can get to it by pointing your browser atwww.physicspunkpedals.com . I’m going to start having them available soon at a few music stores in St. Louis and hopefully expanding the number of dealers after that.
8. Do you take custom orders?
I do, but with some limitations. For many pedals that are clones of old designs, like a silicon Fuzz Face or an older version Big Muff, it’s fairly easy to do and I’ll happily build those on a custom basis. Certain other pedals are harder because the original parts are rare and expensive, like old analog chorus and delay pedals. Sometimes I can build those, but it varies from case to case. I hope to at some point have a menu of sorts that people can order from, to make custom orders easier for both me and the customers.
9. What’s coming up in the future for Physics Punk Pedals?
My personal goal is to keep getting better at engineering and building the pedals, and improving the marketing and distribution methods so that I can increase sales. So far my reach has been mostly limited to the St. Louis area, so figuring out how to get more regional and national customers is something I need to do.
I haven’t settled on the next product type yet, although I have a few ideas. There’s going to be a lot of sessions spent modeling circuits and trying them out on the breadboard in the next few months. I did an informal online poll a few months ago and FX loops, fuzzes, delays and modulators all seem to be popular ideas. There’s a lot of ideas to choose from within those categories as well.
Whether it’s a loop, fuzz, delay or modulator, we know it’ll be a well crafted pedal if it springs forth from the same source as the Tritone Drive and the other many custom pedals that Gerald has created over the last few years. Make sure to keep an eye out for future offerings from this St. Louis builder (we’ll help you by posting updates right here) and don’t forget to check out the Tritone Drive at Pedal Finder!