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Our "That Pedal Show" Blog

Josh from JHS Pedals, Plus VCR Ryan Adams, Milkman, and Kilt

By Andy Perrin | May 08, 2017

That Pedal Show 5/5/17

This year JHS Pedals celebrates the landmark double-digit birthday of being in the pedal biz for ten years. It seems like just yesterday little JHS stickers started cropping up on some already well-established effects pedals to indicate they had been modded, tweaked, or evolved by the budding pedal maker Josh Scott. A decade later, JHS Pedals has retained the heartbeat of DIY innovation yet developed this into a library of curated sounds in pedal designs ranging from innovative originals to colorful takes on classics. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick sat down with none other than the man at the helm of JHS Pedals himself, Josh Scott, and dialogued over his experience in the gear industry and explored a cross-section of more recent additions to the JHS catalogue.

JHS and the New Signature Gear: Artist Pedal Partnerships

It used to be that the pinnacle of a guitarist’s career was signaled by the design and launch of a signature guitar. The pedal industry’s explosive growth over the last decade or so, however, has created a new space for artist inspired or signature models in the form of stompboxes. Unlike the often elusive and expensive market of signature guitars, signature pedals are a much more accessible and direct tool for capturing and recreating the sounds of a favorite artist.

The JHS collection now includes five effects pedals that are the result of guitarist partnerships including the Calhoun V2 Overdrive/Fuzz (Mike Campbell), AT Signature Channel Drive (Andy Timmons), Ruby Red Overdrive/Fuzz/Boost (Butch Walker), Kilt Overdrive/Boost (Stuart Garrard), and VCR Volume/Chorus/Reverb (Ryan Adams). In conversation with Josh, Dan & Mick had a strum-through with the Kilt and VCR, both of which demand their own honks on the TPS name-drop horn.

The Kilt and VCR embody the idea that the best pedals are more than the sum of their parts. Inspired by the Expandora, the JHS Kilt is a two-in-one a gain pedal with added boost that delivers an overdrive payload that responds to any breed of pickups. As Josh commented, “The range is crazy. You can be a Strat guy that’s just wanting some vibe and bluesy Strat stuff, all the way to gated chaos fuzz.” As the Kilt segment draws to a close Dan coyly asked, “And you have a new Kilt coming out, though?” To which Josh dodged, “Possibly…I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it’s possible!”

As its name suggests, the VCR is a trifecta of effects: a gain stage to boost volume (V), and 80s-esque, bucket brigade-style chorus (C), and hall reverb (R). Fans of Adams will know this recipe well. As Josh recounted, “There is a primary Ryan Adams sound that is great and it is a sound that is very much, in his words, The Smiths or The Cure.” Yet as fans of such guitar sounds also know the tap-dancing typically involved in switching such a combination of pedals on and off can be cumbersome and distracting. The VCR alleviates this problem and enables the player to enter into Ryan’s world. As Josh summarized, “So, the idea was, put all three [volume, chorus, and reverb] in an enclosure, and instead of footswitches to turn them on have toggles and then a master on and off. So you could almost picture this pedal as a bypass looper.”

Josh Scott on Championing Collaboration over Competition

Reflecting on his experience from dabbling in pedal fixes and mods—first out of necessity and then out of curiosity—Josh underscored the importance of community, conversation, and collaboration with other builders. “The pedal community is a really tight-knit, friendly community, for the most part, and a lot of help has just come from these older guys that just love it. Robert [Keeley] gets a kick out of hearing that this punk kid opened his [Keeley Mod Boss] Blues Driver and now is a competitor of sorts. We’ve done the Steak & Eggs together, he helped with the VCR, he’s helping me with another project. So there’s like a cool comradery in all of that.”

The most recent JHS pedal to emerge out of dialogue with a peer in the gear industry is the Milkman, built for Tim Marcus of Milkman amplifiers. As a pedal steel and Tele guy, Tim needed a pedal that was designed with that sort of player in mind. The Milkman delivers. With a locked-in slap echo and light gain stage, the Milkman is, in the words of its maker, “a leave-it-on-all-the-time, enhancing beef-a-roni type thing.” Beyond its appeal to lovers of pedal steel and Tele twang, however, the Milkman holds a lot of potential for us rockers, as the bit of space provided by the delay firms up the guitar’s sound with more depth and body. The pedal also excels as a negative boost. When activated it provides a nice cut to scale back the volume and drive of a cranked amp so that the sound is bridled back down to clean.

Thinking Beyond the Traditional Stompbox in the “Golden Age” of Effects

Looking back on his own experience in the pedal industry and in view of the rapid ascendency of hand-built pedal companies moving from the fringes onto center stage, Josh commented on the internal desire to press into uncharted territory and to create pedals that are unique. As he described it, we’re living in the “golden age” of effects. Yet in moments of pause Josh (and most of us, if we’re honest!) have reflected on the necessity of all the options on offer. In his words, “The further you get in doing a pedal company in this day and age, it’s like…do we really need another overdrive?” Yet, rather than this feeling halting the entire JHS enterprise, Josh redirected it to fuel forward motion in some truly impacting and innovative effects, not least the JHS Colour Box.

The Colour Box takes its cue from guitar tones on songs such as the Beatles’ “Revolution” or Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers” that was achieved by plugging the guitar directly into the now classic Neve recording console. The challenge, however, was distilling that sound into a stompbox and translating it from the studio environment to live stage. As Josh commented, “I’ve never really heard a guitar amp that sounded like there was no speaker…can you make amp sound like it’s actually not an amp?”

Tucked away in the Colour Box is a series of preamp gain stages based on Neve 1073 circuits. Not unlike stacked overdrives, these play off of one another, or in this case, strategically play against each other. As you turn the Colorbox’s “step” knob you’re raising the preamps together in parallel. When the “pre-volume” knob is turned, the second stage is destroyed into the first, resulting in a crumbly, collapsed gain sound akin to the familiar decay of a guitar tone heard through an AM radio-like frequency. Josh reflected, “There’s something very rock and roll about it…It’s a very controllable uncontrollable pedal.”

When asked what the future of JHS looks like, Josh highlighted the importance of continuing to excel at what the company was been built on: maintaining high quality hand-built pedals at volume, ensuring customers are incredibly happy, exploring new collaborations with artists and peers in the pedal industry, and, of course, “do[ing] innovative, crazy stuff, but also classic, cool stuff.”

The full catalogue of JHS Pedals is ready and waiting to ship from Riff City, so stop in to see us online or in store to add a little bit of Josh Scott to your board. And, of course, subscribe to TPS and support Dan & Mick over at their merch table (www.thatpedalshowstore.com) and Patreon page (www.patreon.com/thatpedalshow).

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000); 1958 Gibson Custom Les Paul Standard (ca. 2002). Mick: Gretsch Electromatic G5422TG; 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000).

Amps: Marshall Plexi 1987 XL (50 watt), 4x12 Marshall cabinet; MK1 Mesa/Boogie reissue.

Featured JHS Effects: Milkman, Colour Box, AT Signature, Kilt, and VCR.