The scope of a pedal builder as we’ve seen in our past interviews truly does vary from person to person. More often than not though, the common thread you will find with makers is that the pedals being made or modded are making sounds that are inspired and clearly attached to the persons love for a particular scene or genre. For Adam from (the awesomely named) El Shonko FX. He has translated a love of things nasty and noisy to the benefit of every absurdist, explorer and noisemaker out there.
So can you tell our readers about what you do as el shonko fx?
As El Shonko FX I build close replicas of existing guitar and bass guitar FX pedal designs, and I also modify existing pedals. I also do repairs if it is within my skill to diagnose and fix the problem. All for a low, low price.
How long have you been doing mods and repairs? How did you start doing it?
I started off about 2 years ago, where I attended a synth building workshop run by Elijah, who has a few musical projects (Leitmotif Limbo, New Right and probably more), runs a label (Servataguse Muusika) and also does electronics repairs, particularly analog synths. I went into that 4 day workshop completely clueless and came out of it with a MFOS Echo Rockit that functions (albeit weirdly, must fix it sometime!) and just enough knowledge of which component is which and enough soldering iron experience to begin building my own stuff. Since then I’ve been building constantly and autodidacting as much knowledge on building guitar FX as my brain can handle.
Does your work involve having a strong electrics/electronics background and if so how did you learn about that?
Not at all, as mentioned in the above answer I only started doing this 2 years ago with no prior experience whatsoever. All of my learning has taken place more or less on the job, by trial and error with each build that I have done and with a hell of a lot of relevant reading in between. I’ve learned a hell of a lot over that time but what I know is still the mere tip of the iceberg as far as this stuff goes, so at this point I’m seriously considering formally studying electronics.
Through your work, how important was it to establish yourself as a part of the explorative/experimental modular scene in your town?
Weirdly I haven’t built anything for anyone involved in the so called “experimental scene” in Adelaide, aside from Toten Tier (my bandmate in my longest running musical project GZUTT). This is due to a combo of factors, some of them are skilled enough to build their own gear, some have no use for the gear I build, some have seen one of my projects live and thus think I’m a total fruitcake and some of them are trust fund babies who can afford gear that I’ll never afford haha. Most of the pedals I’ve built have gone to people in more rock orientated scenes, though keep in mind that Adelaide has a strain of remarkably ramshackle, out there, drug addled nasty rock that my more vicious sounding pedals slot right in to.
Of course you also perform under several names in the Adelaide scene and do radio work, does your mod/repair work tend to tie in to your performance work in a sense of existing in a community?
My radio work has resulted in me meeting a lot of new people and I have ended up building pedals for a few people after interviewing them or mixing their band and dropping the hint that I build pedals. Sadly I’m yet to have anyone come up to me after a gig with one of my projects and go “wtf is that mysterious grey metal box and where can I get one?” Maybe I should throw them at the audience to get their attention? They are built fairly solid.
And what are some of the more interesting mods you’ve done recently?
Recently someone sent me a Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal a while back, which is widely regarded as one of the worst distortion pedals ever made due to it being used mostly by 15 year old metal guitarists who scoop all of the midrange out, resulting in a sound akin to somebody using a cheese grater on an aluminium bottle full of blowflies with no note definition whatsoever. It also has way more gain than you’ll ever need (and gets abused in this regard by said young metal guitarists), is noisy as hell and feeds back at the drop of a hat. The only pro is that it has a remarkably versatile 4 band eq, with 2 of the bands being parametric. Tl;dr it’s a noisy piece of shit. So naturally I turned it into a really, really noisy piece of shit!
First, I installed 4 feedback loops of varying pitches onto a couple of SPDT switches. You can select 2 at a time, and selecting more than 1 results in very weird glitchy sounds. The EQ varies the pitch of the feedback too, turning it into an oscillator of sorts. I also installed a photoresistor into it, which can be used to vary the gain instead of the gain knob. The gain knob affects the pitch of the feedback too, meaning that you can almost play the pedal like a theremin! The LED was also broken, so I fixed that. The resulting mods have turned a mundane shitty metal pedal into a totally unique noise maker. Oddly the MT-2 was an ideal candidate for this sort of treatment, its overly complex circuit (typical of Boss) makes for really unstable and unpredictable feedback loops, it never does the same thing twice. And the EQ really comes into its own in this environment.
Another pedal I’m particularly proud of is The Cornhole, which I made for Duncan, the guitarist/vocalist of thrash metal band Fragmenta. For this build I took Duncan’s favourite overdrive and set about customising it a bit. I assembled the effect and put sockets where the IC and transistor were meant to go so I could swap them with ease and attached the point where the diodes go to my breadboard for likewise easy swapping. Then I went to his house and we tried out every IC and transistor I had and every diode I had in every feasible clipping arrangement, through his (very nice) amps. None of the components that Duncan decided on (blindly, I didn’t tell him what was what and he just used his ears) were in the stock pedal. I also gave him the choice of 3 different configurations of clipping diodes accessible via a DPDT switch and the option of switching between his favourite overdrive and another very similar one via another switch. I then ran the whole thing through an EHX LPB-1 clean booster circuit wired in series with the ability to use one effect or the other maintained. The result is one of the most hard edged overdrives I’ve ever heard and that LPB-1 at the end of it pushes it all over the edge into tube melting territory.
Has social media and the internet had much of an impact on your work?
Definitely, there is absolutely no way that I would have been able to start building pedals if it wasn’t for all the knowledge on the topic that exists online. It’s rare that I come across a problem or a gap in my knowledge and I can’t find an answer online within 5 minutes.
The internet also has a massive influence on my musical work. Almost all of the “artwork” is pictures cribbed from the darker corners of the Internet and so is a lot of the subject matter. And I release all of my stuff via Bandcamp like most people these days.
Social media has led to me building pedals for a few people that I would unlikely have met in real life otherwise, so I guess I should thank it for that!
Do you have many plans for the future of el shonko?
I would love to design more of my own original pedals, and I’d love to get into building more synths and possibly amplifiers. The latter 2 are probably a ways off though, and amplifiers can kill you if you do the wrong things with them so I definitely need to study up on that lest I end up frying myself!
Do you have any examples of your work we could check out?
This is the first live performance of my latest project Andrea Dworkin’s Cunt. I’m using a contact mic on the bass guitar, which is picking up the sound of the vibrators against the body. The contact mic is then running through a modified MXR Blue Box build (modified to put out 1 octave down as well as the standard 2 octaves down and with a clean booster at the end of the circuit, as the output signal of a stock MXR Blue Box is weaker than your clean signal will be) and a clone of the legendary long obsolete Shin-Ei FY-2 Companion Fuzz (also with a clean booster tacked on at the end of the original circuit for the same reasons, and with some transistor substitutions due to the original transistors being long obsolete.) This result in a sound akin to that of a jackhammer with epilepsy. I also built the drum synth that I use at the half way mark or so. Advance warning for sensitive viewers, this video contains more screen time of my penis than you probably ever wanted to see.
Hydrocephallus is my “fun” project of sorts, heavily based around the distinctive sounds of the Korg Monotribe and usually featuring me preaching the word of a deity named Scrod, who is half lizard and half cod and is the patron deity of the Lard Oral Men, an extremely hairy race of obese gay men from a planet called Bulbadong, in the far off galaxy known as Wang Fat 69. The Lard Oral Men sent me to Earth after my birth from the asshole of a poor country Lard Oral Man, they implanted a chip in my brain which is activated by a radio transmitter and enables them to channel their speeches to me and sent me to Earth to preach the word of Scrod to Earth’s inhabitants. Or so the story goes. Sometimes their transmitter fails though during live performance and I have to sing about something else for a while, so naturally I ended up with a 20 minute blues guitar song about making love to a 500 pound corpse. The brittle, nasty guitar sound on this recording was created by plugging my aforementioned Shin-Ei FY-2 Companion Fuzz clone straight into the mixing board. I might have used a touch of onboard delay too, I can’t quite remember. Pretty sure there’s some wah in there too but it’s hard to notice as the Companion Fuzz doesn’t play nice with wah pedals.
For a bit of a laugh, what are some favourite albums you’ve heard this year?
Hard to beat the new Gerogerigegege album as far as experimental stuff goes. For heavy metal (my other big musical love) I’ve particularly liked Abigail, Nuke and Bat’s latest albums. Still plenty of albums I haven’t checked out yet though, too much good music and too little time!
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