Monday, April 11, 2011

Builder Interview: Brian of smallsound/bigsound

Smallsound/bigsound has been making waves in the effects community with it's interesting lineup of fuzz, overdrive and just plain undefinable effects. I got a chance to ask Brian a few questions about his business, his inspirations and what the future holds.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Brian.  I'm 28 years old, have been playing keyboards/piano for 10 years and building circuits for around 5 years.  I play in a band named Cymbals Eat Guitars, live in Philadelphia with my lovely girlfriend and 2 cats, love cooking, beer, ambient music and sound in general.  

Why did you decide to start smallsound/bigsound?

I guess it sort of happened by accident... I moved from Boston to Detroit a year or two after I finished college and wasn't working; I was just building circuits, reading and learning as much as i could about effects and trying to figure things out.  I decided to try my hand at building a few pedals for profit, mostly so i could fund my growing obsession.  The first pedal i sold was an awfully drilled, unlabeled feedback looper - just embarrassing at this point... I think the next was an early version of the year4545 named the danger danger - also poorly drilled (ha!).  I learned a lot about what NOT to do during that time... I moved to Brooklyn a few months later and came up with the first incarnation of the team awesome! fuzzmachine.  A really great local store, Main Drag Music, started selling them and really helped me feel more confident about the direction I was going in.  After awhile, I started touring more and more with my band and couldn't really keep a "regular" day job, so I took the plunge and here I am now.
Team Awesome! Fuzzmachine

Where did the name smallsound/bigsound come from?

I have no idea.  I've never really placed too much meaning on naming things, so I think it mostly came down to liking the way it sounded and the way it looked on paper.

How did you get started building pedals?

I was a big Boards of Canada fan, had just started getting into My Bloody Valentine and was really interested in making my electro-mechanical keyboards (Rhodes, etc.) have that lo-fi warble.  I tried some pedals on the market and did a lot of research before realizing that I wasn't really going to be able to find what i wanted.  I figured I'd start learning and see if I could come up with something myself - I ended up going in some other directions and still haven't found my perfect warble, but it's on the horizon...

Your circuits certainly aren't clones or copies of existing builds, where do you draw your inspiration from when you're building a new circuit?

I'm inspired by other pedals, specific sounds I'm interested in and ideas from other musicians.  While my circuits may not be clones, they at least in part have their roots in other pedal designs - I'm a big fan of frankenstein-ing ideas together to come up with something new.  It's analogous to contemporary music or art;  people creating new work based on their experience with other works that have come before it.

The Blarg o-tron o-tron
The Blarg o-tron o-tron short-run was a very unique pedal from it's artwork to it's sound, what inspired the artwork and what inspired you to build it?

The blargg-o-tron-o-tron was the first in a series of short run pedals and is based on the PWM circuit by Tim Escobedo, an amazing DIY experimenter and designer.  I'm extremely interested in the randomness of sound, so i decided to add some pseudo-random modulation to the fuzz; something you don't see or hear very often.  The PWM is a synth-y sounding fuzz already, so the idea to add another synth-like element made sense to me.  The artwork was done by an excellent designer, Jeremy Withers, who also came up with the year4545 design.  I don't really know where his initial idea came from, but the imagery seems to fit the sound really well.

The Vagina Year4545
What's your favorite graphic you've ever put on a pedal?

That's tough to say.  I recently did a hand-drawn image of a vagina on a pedal which was pretty awesome, but in general when it comes to graphics I'm more of a minimalist.  The first ever batch of team awesome! fuzzmachines had a nice image that I silkscreened myself!

Which pedal is your favorite that you have made so far?
The Fuck Overdrive!

I really like the fuck overdrive a lot...  It's quickly becoming my most used pedal.

What else is on your pedal-board?

A Boss DD-5 and RV-5 and Dr. Scientist Mini RRR.  The rest is built by me - a team awesome! fuzzmachine, fuck overdrive, year4545, digital delay and rangemaster.  The rangemaster has a few modifications to make it play well with my keyboards.

Any ideas what will be the next short-run pedal that you do?

I'm thinking about a pretty extreme noise-maker - dual year4545 with joystick controls and some odd signal routing.  It'll be pretty gnarly...
The Year 4545!

What else does the future hold for smallsound/bigsound?

Probably lots of hunching over circuit boards, breathing in toxic fumes and burning my fingers with soldering irons.  Yeah.

Brian Eno, an innovator of the
ambient music genre
Who is your hero?

Brian Eno.

What advice can you give to those who want to build pedals for a business like you do?

Be sure to make at least 5 different tubescreamer clones to really get a solid hold on the market.

Is 2012 really the end?

For some.

Did you ever tell your mother that you sell a pedal called the Fuck Overdrive? I'm not so sure my mom would approve...

Actually, my mom has seen the pedal in person and really liked the graphics!  She's pretty relaxed about language at this point; after all, I am almost 30...

And there you have it, the man behind these wonderful noise machines!
Check out smallsound/bigsound's website to find out more about each of the different models and see what's new with ss/bs.

Also smallsound/bigsound pedals are available now at Fuzzhugger's online store


  1. That's funny about the '5 tubescreamer clones'!... Or did you mean it?
    Joystick on a fuzz would be great - and the random elements on the Blarg. Do you have soundclips?

  2. great interview! I really need to get my hands on a fuck

  3. the tubescreamer clones comment was half-serious, half-joking, though i'm not sure which i feel more strongly about...

    blargg soundclips are on my channel (

    thanks again for the interview, michael!

  4. This Brian guy seems like a neat guy to get drunk and compare genitals with.

  5. Yeah, one of my favorite builder speaks out! Thanks!

  6. I am but a meager bass player, but it would be awesome if someone of your caliber could make a simple, yet extremely effective clean boost/low gain overdrive suitable for bassists with the goal of bringing a nice amount of low end heaviness and crisp high sparkle with the option to dial in not only gain, but also more or less compression/clipping, depending on the application.
    That, Mr. Brian, would really be cool!

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  8. Well check out the upcoming Mountain Range then!

  9. 'The first pedal i sold was an awfully drilled, unlabeled feedback looper - just embarrassing at this point...'

    If that was called the F!-Loop I am the proud owner of said pedal; bought it at Main Drag when the store was still on Bedford.

    Don't be embarrassed, B. It's a cool little one-off that I got for super cheap and have hung onto for many years 'cause I've never seen anything like it.

    I just dug it a few weeks ago —hence my google search— to work it into my synth and sampler fx-chain. Back when I bought it I got a half-rack digital delay at the same time and the two were perfect together. I want to find a new delay that works well with it.

  10. @digital lofi
    nope, not mine! i sold it on craigslist when i was living in detroit.