I'm sure most of you have heard of Black Arts Toneworks due to the massively successful Pharaoh fuzz and the newly released LSTR. Read on to find out how all of this got started and get to know Mark, the man behind wall of fuzz.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am your basic average jackoff. White, nearing middle age, lifelong musician who never would do anything to make a buck. I never wanted to sell out or please anyone but myself, which led to a frustrating and uphill battle to make music. I dig solo sports, particularly those involving 2 wheels. My latest addiction is getting out on the track on my superbike , it’s worse than crack…So addictive… I have a wife and 3 great kids. They totally support this new venture of pedal building. I consider myself the luckiest boy in the world.
How did you get your start in building pedals?
Part of my story is probably very similar to many other builders and part is pretty unbelievable. I found a book at the library probably 20 years ago called Electronics Projects for Musicians, by Craig Anderton. A lot of basic projects and learned my basics there. So over the years, I fixed and modded broken pedals, tweeked things to fit my own taste and built a few effects for my own usage. If I came across a buddy with a broken pedal, I’d take it a mess with it… But I will say that I was never a “pedals” guy. Didn’t have a whole lot of interest in them and certainly didn’t spend much getting them. My last band, which broke up in ’09, I started using more modulation and delays but didn’t use any dirt until I built a TS808 clone for a lead boost. That sort of got me interested in pedals again. At that time I was using an ElectricAmp MVU 120, so I didn’t need any more dirt, it sounded pretty rad on its own. Being a typical gear head, nothing is sacred and I got rid of the amp. I had an Orange to replace it and built a Marshall superbass clone for my new amp. It didn’t have a ton of gain until it was deafeningly loud, so I set out to build a pedal to get dirty at lower volumes, and add a little push to go over the edge. I started playing with BMP circuits, bought a few broken Russian and USA muffs, tweeked those to see what I liked and didn’t like. At that point I decided to make my own from scratch using all of the things I learned about the circuit in my experiments. That produced what was the prototype of the Pharaoh pedal. I recorded a few clips and posted them in a thread in which I was frequenting on Harmony Central, called The Doom Room. A few of the regulars loved the sound and asked if I would build them one. I did, and it has all grown out of that. I am nearing 500 Pharaohs out there and about 75 LSTRS so far.. Unbelievable to me, I never set out to be a pedal builder, never tried to sell one. People started coming to me asking for them. A few big dealers asked to start carrying them. It really was that organic.
What inspired the Pharaoh and LSTR (circuits, finishes, naming, etc.)?
Both pedals are inspired by loud amps. I built the Pharaoh to be used with a loud amp, which is why it’s not a really high gain pedal. I spent most of my time with that one developing the lower gain voices and abilities. I wanted it to go from a cleanish boost to a good articulate OD, but also bring some fuzz to a clean amp. So, when I was in the process of building the first batch of them, I needed a name. After a few days of thinking about it, I was listening to The Stern show; he had on a cat that I really dig, Rev. Al Sharpton. I just dig his rabblerousing attitude and always willing to support an underdog, right or wrong. He has a book out at the time called Go and Tell Pharaoh. As soon as he said the title, I knew I had a name. So, I have a bro who is a really good graphic artist, he was doing flyers for a lot of good bands and t shirts, cd covers..That kind of shit. I told him the name and asked if he would do a graphic for it. He responded with the graphic still being used. The original finish was Black with copper or gold lettering, kind of going for an Afro Centric look.
The LSTR is a lot less interesting and is more or less a result of a few requests to have a Pharaoh with scoopable mids. I like mids and I didn’t want to do that to the Pharaoh so the LSTR was developed. I was going for a higher gain and smoother pedal, not worried about low gain usage. I just took the muff circuit and juiced it a bit and added my style of a tonestack to it. I knew I wanted to use the red on red color scheme for it, and my graphic guy , Jason came up with the name, it just seemed fit. Check out his work at http://www.facebook.com/gr8scottgraphics . The reception has been great and the reviews and comments have been very positive. I couldn’t be happier with the LSTR.
The purple and black Pharaoh I reviewed looked bad ass, what is your favorite finish for either of your pedals?
I have a few looks that I like a lot. The new LSTR is a great looking pedal ,my personal Pharaoh is transparent copper with a black graphic, I like that a lot…but I’d have to say that my favorite is the V2 standard Pharaoh scheme of black enclosure with copper graphic and cream knobs. Just a very warm and classic look.
The Pharaoh and LSTR are absolute doom machines, is that what you use them for? What kind of music do you like to play?
I do play that style, but an old school blues based version of doom. I have a Les Paul tuned B standard into a 68 Bassman into 2 Emperor OS 2-12’s. The rig really fits my style. I grew up on classic metal like Maiden ( the first 3 records with Paul Di’Anno fuckin rule), Obviously all of the Sabbath stuff, early Motorhead, Celtic Frost, Venom. These guys probably had the most effect on my style and musical vocabulary. The first 3 Kiss records also had a big effect on me, unlike the latter records; they were dark, mysterious and just fuckin rocked. I later got into Floyd and the Dead as I discovered psychedelics in my early 20’s. SO, I would basically consider my playing a mixture of all of the guys I aped…Hendrix, BB King, Frehley, Iommi, Gilmour, Wino, Mike Schiedt…I have aped a lot of good players..
Have any other pedals in your arsenal? If so what ones?
I have a few, but not many. I’ve been experimenting with wah circuits so I have a few of those; I use my pedals for any dirt or boosting needs. . I really like a Phase 45 clone that I built, sounds really nice. I use a Boss dd6 and a hardwire reverb. That’s it. Various pedals pass through that I may get in trade deals, but nothing ever really sticks as essential enough to add to my board. I keep everything in a switchable loop because a lot of the time, I just like running straight on to my amp to take advantage of the great dynamics of the Bassman.
What does the future hold for Black Arts Toneworks? More fuzz or something completely different? What do you envision for you company a few years down the road?
Ya know, I’m not really sure. I am doing this fulltime right now because enough players are asking for pedals. As I said, I’m not really a pedal geek and never set out to be a pedal builder. It’s all as a result of people asking for the Pharaoh, and now I am getting requests from various people to do other circuits, so who knows where it will lead. I have a few more designs that I have breadboarded and am happy with where they are sonically. All based off of other circuits, just tweeked and tuned to my liking. I have one more muff circuit that I want to put out to complete the muff triumvirate, I have a really cool FuzzFace based circuit that I am pretty excited about getting out….I am interested in wah pedals, but the cost is so high that I am on the fence about that, I have a design that I am building for a well-known musician, he’s going to be testing it on the road and we will tweek it together to arrive at final version. Really excited about that…I have a lot of ideas but little time to pursue them, and even less money for development. I really like the process of taking a circuit and tweeking it and modifying it to get it to sound how I want it to. I think as long as I make good sounding pedals, that look good, good parts and build quality, at a good price; I suppose I’ll have business. I really don’t think of the future much, just concentrate on having the best single day possible, and see what tomorrow brings. The only thing I really look for down the road is to have a healthy family and I’d really like to have my racing license and get into racing superbikes at some regional tracks. Motorcycles are my real passion, and it would be amazing to me if I could support my family and my racing ambitions from building pedals.
What's the coolest band you've seen or heard use one of your products?
Well, I am not really about name dropping, although I will say that there are some great players using my stuff. It’s really amazing to me that some of my favorite bands and musicians are using my stuff. I know there are a lot of smaller lesser known regional bands using my stuff, and for that I am really grateful. I know what it’s like to play original music for the fun and love of it. For a guy who works his 40, has a family and a band, to use my stuff is really the greatest compliment. There has to be a balance of quality, cost and performance to make it usable for the weekend warrior. So for these guys to choose my stuff really means a lot to me. And when the better known bands and national and international musicians are using them, it’s honestly kind of surreal.
Will LeBron ever be better than MJ?
|Stanley Cup Finals Pharaohs|
|Mavericks Championship Pharaoh|
Finally, any tips for those looking to start building and selling their own pedals?
Honestly, no. I’ve only been doing this for about a year, so I am still a newbie. And I really got into the business through the back door. I never set out to be a pedal guy, nor have I tried to break into pedal guy’s world. I just build stuff that I like. I like good natural tones, no noisy effects, or gimmick type features, good price and something that looks good. I did these things and people have wanted to buy them off of me. And in closing, I’d like to say thanks to you, Mike for doing this cool blog and having interest in my fuckin shit. So, Thanks for digging my fuckin shit.
No, thank you Mark for your awesome contributions to the guitar world, and keep spreading the fuzz love.