For those blues lovers who also play guitar, buying a pedal is very serious business. It is also an extremely personal choice, almost akin to dating. You’ve already chosen your guitar, your amplifier, and everything is 99% perfect. There’s just a little something that isn’t quite there yet. Ah, yes; the perfect pedal, to seal the deal.
The interesting thing about pedals is that there are a vast array to choose. There’s analog vs. digital, lightweight composite construction vs. built-like-a-tank metal, and “mainstream” vs. boutique. The bottom line with pedals is sound. When you plug in and fire up that pedal, it should be the cherry-on-top; perfect tone, and exactly that 1% that was missing before. Most touring artists want pedals that sound great, are reasonably priced, and are built to withstand the rigors of real life on the road touring.
Enter the Big Joe Stomp Box Company. Born and built from original designs in the United States, these boxes ooze quality from every pore. Big Joe pedals are analog circuitry all the way, and they are built like a brick outhouse. They are also very transparent in the signal chain, letting the character of your instrument shine, but also allowing tone to be shaped the way you want it. Lots of honest, sexy tone.
American Blues Scene recently enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Paul Christian, founding partner (along with brother David, and their longtime friend, photographer Peter Amft) for a discussion about the company, why their products are so good, and why it is so important to keep blues traditions alive.
Why was the company named after powerful Delta Blues legend Big Joe Williams?
“It’s really two-fold. I grew up on blues music. I saw Muddy Waters play several times, and some of the other guys. I grew up on Hound Dog Taylor. That’s where I’ve always been musically. So, for us, I think it’s really important that people, guitar players and musicians today understand that those guys are the guys that kind of set us all up in this industry to make money; whether it’s making guitar pedals, or making music.” Paul pauses for a moment in thought, and continues. “I think it’s important that people remember that these guys were around. Everyone knows the guys that made it; everyone knows Muddy. There are others like Big Joe Williams, and others that were out there, they toiled around, ended up broke and never made a dollar. They died poor. It’s because of them that we today, all have the luxury of making money in this industry.
“The other thing is that when we put this company together, we’ve been in business together making music products for 25, 30 years. We’ve always been kind of behind-the-scenes guys. We’ve worked with other companies to help them get things done, figure things out. So putting this company together, I didn’t name it Paul Christian etc., like I’m the best pedal/amp guy in the world, because really, I’m a behind-the-scenes guy by nature. So, a good friend of mine for years, Peter Amft from Chicago and a pretty famous photographer, knew Big Joe pretty well. When he lived in Chicago, he took a bunch of photos of Joe, including the one I use on the product.
“So we’re throwing it around about starting our own product line with pedals, and he said, ‘Shoot. Why don’t we just use one of my photos. Pick a guy that no one knows and doesn’t really have anything going on, and let’s use him as the face of the company instead of you, or me.’ I didn’t want to be the face of the company. I don’t want to brag or say that I’m the guy. So in doing so (using Big Joe as the face of the product line), hopefully, we get people to say ‘Who is this guy?’ and Google it, and find out more.”
The music world, just like everything else today, exists as a predominantly digital domain. Analog is very much a dying art form. In fact, Christian has said that analog designers are a “dying breed,” and that “it isn’t even being taught in college anymore.” The Big Joe Stomp Box product line is all analog, we asked Christian about this. “Originally everyone was into tube amp tone. That’s where it all started. Tube amp tone, breakup, giving you that sweet overdriven sound that people have come to expect. Then analog products came along, and you could get that same kind of sound at lower volumes. Everything has gone digital now. You have all these different companies out there making digital effects and what not. The fact is that it isn’t quite there yet. There’s a certain sort of warmth and magic that this analog technology has. There’s a certain amount of magic in this analog world. There’s a certain amount of witchcraft that goes into it.
“So, nowhere in college do they teach analog engineering anymore. Now anyone who wants to learn electrical engineering, they’ll learn digital. That’s the world they’re in. The thing we have here … My brother Dave, he’s the electrical engineer, and he’s been doing this for 30 years. The beauty of him is every circuit we make, every pedal circuit we come up with, for any of our pedals and anything we have done for anybody else, is all original design. He has the ability to do that because of his depth of understanding of engineering. Everything we do is original here. Every circuit we put together is a new sound, not based on someone else’s architecture. We go after a sound, and we craft it here.”
Big Joe Stomp Box pedals offer everything from classic tweed, buttery British, and creamy vintage blues, to pedals with more dirty grit, all delivered with singing sustain and great tone. Christian again mentioned the fact that these pedals are transparent and do not obscure the character of your rig. “What we have done with these pedals is that we’ve made the pedals to work really well with your rig, and not really dominate your rig, or your sound. You can get just that slight bit of breakup that you can get in the really good tube amps. The pedal will not totally color the sound of your rig. It’s what we call transparent. It’ll add a little more muscle for ya; it’ll add a little more sparkle into the mix, give you a little more sustain. It will give you a little more muscle when you engage it, but it won’t destroy the integrity of what you had going in or coming out.”
Another aspect of Big Joe Stomp Box pedals is their solid construction. These things are built like tanks! “Pretty much everything we do is custom. Our knobs are custom; our cases are custom. We have custom foot switches. Anywhere we can make something ourself, get something made to our specs (we do). We made our case the way we wanted to make it. We didn’t buy an off-the-shelf case and color it differently. We made a different case. It’s thicker, it’s heavier. It’s designed the way we wanted to make it, as bullet-proof as possible. We don’t have to rely on other peoples parts. If we don’t like something, we can make our own, or get our own made. These pedals have to be road worthy. Again, we try to make it as good as possible, and we stand by it. The warranty is basically, if it breaks, we’ll fix it. As long as it hasn’t been abused, we’ll stand by it as long as you have the product.”
Stop by Big Joe Stomp Box pedals soon, and see what all the excitement is about. You’ll be glad you did.