Well folks. This crazy idea of making pedals has led me down some strange and wonderful paths. Making signature pedals for people like J Mascis, Bob Mould, Brett Netson, Isaiah Mitchell, Jason Simon and many more and making custom builds for people Like John Baizley, Dylan Carlson and Steve Von Till still blows my mind. These are all people I hold in highest regard as songwriters, players and people.
So when this one came along, it kinda put some icing on a very sweet cake.
I'm a HUGE fan of Teenage Fanclub. Those who know me even mildly well know how much I love this band. I think they are possibly the most underrated band in history. Their ability to write perfect pop stuns me to this day. Every time a new album comes out I'm in awe of how these guys just keep writing such beautiful harmonies and melodies.
Back in 1990 I remember reading in the new (3 month old, they came by boat) NME about a "new" British band and the description/review seemed to be written for me. I ordered the 12" from Rocking Horse Records and waited 6 weeks for it to turn up. The bus ride home was excruciating. I put the needle on that beautiful vinyl and "God Knows it's True" started and I was instantly a life long TF tragic.
A few years ago while TF were on tour here I met up with the band at the Zoo to see if I could repair Normans boost pedal that had failed during soundcheck. It was his trusty MXR Microamp and I took it back to my workshop but didn't have a PCB mounted footswitch that fitted so I went back with his broken pedal and a prototype of a boost I had been working on.
Norman used it for the show and afterwards I asked if everyone could sign it for me, which they happily obliged.
I'd known Norman liked his boost pedals and had always checked out his gear in film clips and when I saw them live. The main guitars I remember him using was a Jaguar early on, a black Les Paul Custom (which I think he had at that Zoo show) and of course his wonderful old Epiphone Casino. I'd assumed he always used Vox AC30's but on tour you sometimes use what you can get. Whatever Norman used, his guitar tone was always beautiful.
When I started talking to Norman about a year ago I said I'd love to make him a pedal and what would he like. "I’ve actually been on the lookout for a decent treble booster for a while. Do you do anything like that?"
And so it began.
I make a few boosts based on different ideas as I love them. I think a good boost into a good amp can sometimes be the most sublime tone you will ever get, especially with P-90's ...
One of the boosts I make is the signature pedal for Brett Netson from Built to Spill/Caustic Resin called the Tatanka. Bretts and amazing guitarist and lovely man and it's always fun, but a little intimidating starting this process from scratch with anyone I respect so much.
I thought about this one for a while and started thinking about that whole "hire amp" thing and how you can turn up somewhere and get a nice amp, and the next night it might be pretty average ? That got me thinking about the treble boost thing and how some amps sound great with a straight treble boost, and some don't, so I emailed Norman with this.
"I've been thinking about the boost pedal. I thought I might put a variable freq control so you can pick what you want boosted. So it can be a treble boost or slightly more (or less) bottom end depending on where you set it. It makes it more versatile for different amps. Does that sound like something you'd be into ?"
to which he answered "The variable freq control sounds like an amazing idea!!!!!"
So I fine tuned the Tatanka circuit and then worked on a FREQ knob that I ended up using a 6 way switch with frequency selectors, not unlike the FAC on an Orange/Matamp design on the input and output of the circuit. This basically goes from a full linear boost to a treble boost with other options in between.
This FREQ switch, along with the active tone control gives a lot of different options depending on what amp you're using.
You can set the FREQ control to suit the bottom end of your amp, and then fine tune it with the tone control. The boost is of course, the amount of volume/boost you send to the amp going from zero to a considerable amount of boost that stays fairly clean depending on the headroom of your amp.
The original prototype I sent to Norman had the FREQ selector in the middle but this fouled with the 9V input jack if I used the big (good quality) Alpha switches I wanted to use so the original one I sent Norman had the jack protruding out the top slightly.
Tony re-did the artwork (amazing as always) to move the FREQ to one side and changed the idea slightly as he was "mildly unsatisfied" with the original artwork.
With the new artwork in place I decided I didn't want to use my standard black knobs (I'd tried different ones on the prototype but wasn't really happy either) and sorted some white pointer knobs which I think look great with this artwork.
So, like everything I do it's taken a while to come to fruition. Going backwards and forwards with Norman and keeping this place going along with all the other stuff I do all takes time, but I'm not in a hurry. In a massed produced, instant satisfaction world I still proudly work the old way. I make everything myself, by hand, here in my workshop in Brisbane. It's not only the only way I know to do things, it's the only way I want to.
Norman was kind enough to write a short schpeal about the new pedal and these will be available, like all my signature pedals in limited runs with a T shirt only available with the pedal.
“ I spoke with Tim about the possibility of him designing a pedal for me just over a year ago. I mentioned that I had been on the lookout for a boost pedal that would compliment the AC30 that I’ve been playing through forever. In the past I’ve used an MXR micro amp and more recently a Keeley Catana Clean Boost, which are both great one knob (the Keeley also has a switch) pedals. Both Tim and I wondered what could be done to give the Teenage Fanboost it’s own personality and character. Tim suggested that we add a knob for the selection of six stepped, fixed frequencies, specifically chosen to help cut through the mix when the boost alone wasn’t doing it. With the further addition of a gentle tone control for tweakage, the pedal design was complete. Tim made a prototype. I’ve been using it for months now and it is everything I could have hoped for. Extremely versatile. A very sweet and musical boost and I can always dial in the right frequency for whatever song I’m playing.” Norman Blake