The Tym Sqirrelsound preamp pedal

I'm always excited when I make a new pedal, or even old ones. The process of creating by hand is one I hold dear, but this one means more to me than some.

I'll start with a little background.
Late last year (2015) I got an email on my birthday from Steve Albini saying Shellac would like to do an instore in my shop while they were in town, which was 2 days away. It was a lot of work but of course I said yes ...


They were starting their tour in Brisbane and were arriving that day, at 2pm. Steve and Bob said they could play at 3, and then had to race off to soundcheck by 4 to play a show that night. 
I was honored that they would want to spend what little time they had playing a free, all ages show in my shop. As most of you know, they're a very DIY band and, I'm sure they'll be OK with me saying this, aren't exactly young any more so I felt privileged, and a little guilty about them giving up their very limited time and making a mammoth effort to play this instore.

Needless to say, it was a VERY special event indeed. The shop was absolutely packed. They were the most gracious and generous people. They lugged their own gear (I offered), set themselves up and asked for nothing. They played and answered questions for over an hour and indulged everyone in the shop. Then they packed up themselves and walked out the way they came in, carrying all their gear down the street. 
It was one of the most unselfish and giving acts I've seen from any band. There was never a hint of rock star or impatience about them. It was a true lesson in ethically driven DIY punk and will inspire me for years to come. 
I wanted to send them a care package of some sort after the show and I emailed them and thanked them for playing and being so generous and supportive, and asked for an address. 
Every package I put together of Tym records and merch just seemed ... wrong. It didn't convey how thankful and humbled I was that they would do such a thing in my shop. I kept holding off sending them something until I could find something more fitting.

Fast forward a month or so and I'm watching an interview with Steve and he mentions an album he had worked on with a man, John Grabski, dying from cancer and spending the last few days of his life recording an album, and how it had affected his outlook on life. 
It was a powerful subject and was obviously close to Steve's heart so I searched for more info. 
It led me to a guy called Jacob Kindberg who was trying to raise money to release a documentary about this union. After reading his release and watching the trailer I thought of a way I might be able to say thanks to Shellac.
Since Jacob was trying to raise money to make a film to help other people with cancer I thought "I can help here" and as fate would have it, Tone, who does all my artwork had just bought (well, swapped for a custom Tym pedal) an Intersound IVP rack unit as used, and made famous by .... Steve Albini. 
Tone had asked me to service it and check it over before he plugged it in and it hit me. I emailed Tone and said "can you do some artwork based on the Intersound rack for a pedal ?" and I told him what I wanted to do.


Tone sent back ... The Squirrelsound, named of course after a Shellac song with his usual flair for turning homage into art.

I then sat down and started to work out a circuit for a pre-amp that would do justice to this idea. 
After messing around for a while I settled on a simple op amp driven pre-amp using a TL071, which I haven't used in any of my pedals before. I wasn't trying to exactly replicate the sound of the IVP (that has been done) but make something that suited the artwork and the idea. 
I sat there with schematics and tried different ideas but wasn't coming up with what I thought would do this project justice. 
So I went in a different direction, kind of. I had a bunch of NOS 1N695 diodes as used in the other famous piece of Albini gear, the Interfax Harmonic Percolator. Now, the diodes alone aren't the only secret to that puzzle but they are different to other diodes I've tried and on my tester do measure differently to all the other diodes I use. I've been saving them for a special occasion, and this was it.


I added the diodes to the circuit as a type of clipping and it was really nice. Really nice. 
I still wanted more so I tried other diodes to see what effect they had on the tone. There were some nice settings but those 1N695 types had a real ... fuzz to them that was so nice.
I then came up with an idea that I haven't done on any of my other effects. I thought I'd modify the circuit to blend between different types of diodes. I've done switching between diodes before many times, but never a blend, where one end is all one type and the other end is all another type, but in between is a mixture of the two.
After (almost) endlessly messing around with diode types I settled on a nice silicon pair on one end, and two 695's with the addition of a NOS Russian type germanium one side on the other. This gave the 695's a more balanced volume with the silicons and an asymmetrical clipping, kind of like the Peculator. This became the TUBE knob as it gave the pre-amp a very tube like (we call them valves) distortion, especially in the germanium setting with a slight amount of silicon dialled in.
I then added a TONE switch which is thinner and raspier (Shellac ?) on the HIGH setting and more bottom end and "full" on the LOW setting. This effect is more prominent as you wind up the HURT knob up.   
Tone adjusted the artwork to suit and it was sent off to get plates done.

So, if you've lasted this long, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with Shellac, instores and John Grabski ? 

Well, I am only making FOUR of these pedals that are being donated to Jacob for him to auction, sell, give away, whatever he wants to do with them to help support his film and the cancer charities he's working with. At this stage I have no plans to make more. 


Of course none of this is endorsed or used by Shellac and I'm not trying to pass any of it off as such. Like some of my other "homage" effects like the St Paul Distortion and Creation Fuzz, it's purely using a theme to say thanks to someone or something.
I'm not sure if any of this will filter back to Steve, Bob and Todd and I hope they're OK with me doing this to say thank you for what they did for me. 

Since making signature pedals for people like J Mascis, Bob Mould, Brett Netson, Isaiah Mitchell, Norman Blake etc I'm fortunate enough to have been pushed into a space where people want stuff I can make, and hopefully this will benefit Jacob and his film and show people how much having a band like Shellac give up their valuable time to support my place and the scene I inhabit means to me. 
Hopefully these pedals will do something good, for someone trying to do something good that inspired someone to change by experiencing a tragedy as terrible as death. 




Thank you Bob, Steve, Todd and Jacob. You inspired me to do something by simply being people that were generous and selfless. 

More info and release dates soon. Join Jacob for more info and details when they come to hand soon. 
 
Check out the film and information HERE
 
The album is amazing. Seriously. Stream it and/or buy it HERE
More info.

May 27 2016 Written By: Tim Brennan