In the U.S., we pride ourselves on the term “American ingenuity” which points to the adventurous spirit of the people in our country. Of course, that’s an over-generalized statement… Internationally, I’ve witnessed first-hand the conceit that that statement brings with it. But we won’t go there. But in any country, there are those who dare to risk and those who dare not. Being somewhat of a risk-taker myself, I have a sublime appreciation for those who dare, and the brand-new-not-yet-even-officially-released outfit of Circus Freak Music has definitely piqued my interest.
I was first introduced to the company with a product demo announcement email of their “Lion Tamer Compressor,” no pics, no write-up, just a link to sound clip. I was impressed; especially with the clean demo. I dug the subtlety of the effect, which to me is what a compressor should be. It’s one of those pedals that you don’t really know that it was there until you switch it off, and this compressor did exactly what I was expecting. Very cool. I replied to the email and asked for a bit more information, and even checked out their web site (which is only a single splash page right now). No reply, but I did get a new correspondence which was another product demo of their Tatooed Lady Overdrive.
I listened to that, and liked what I heard, but I was more interested in a comment made during the clip that the overdrive wasn’t a “typical” TubeScreamer type of overdrive in that it was more rounded and could do things you can’t do with a TubeScreamer. Look, I’ve heard lots of snake oil since starting this blog, but there was something about the sincerity of the statement and the clips that made me think. Besides, if you read this blog with any regularity, you know how much I love overdrive pedals, and despite there being lots of snake oil, when I see a new overdrive on the market, I look. 🙂 So I replied to that email with a bunch of questions on the overdrive, and this time I got a reply and an invitation to have a conference call with the company’s founders.
Now THAT really piqued my interest because I realized that Circus Freak wasn’t just one guy in a garage making these effects. It pointed to a real company; something you don’t see every day. Of course I accepted the invitation and we met yesterday on Black Friday – I don’t think any of wanted to brave the nutsy shopping crowds. 🙂
Prior to the meeting, they asked that I send along some questions that I would ask so they could be prepared. The meeting wasn’t so much an interview as it was an open discussion of what Circus Freak Music was all about and of course, philosophies on gear and playing guitar. So I won’t post the interview here, but I will give you a gist of our conversation.
One of my biggest curiosities – perhaps my biggest curiosity – was why the heck would someone start a pedal company and release fairly common pedals at that during an economy like this? Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing to do, but I was a little skeptical. For all I knew – and as I mentioned previously – this could just be a garage operation. And releasing new stuff is not an inexpensive affair. But we riffed on this for several minutes, and I can safely say that these guys are the real deal.
Circus Freak isn’t just a few hobbyists getting together to create some pedals. Shannon “Shan” (CEO) is a successful businessman whose background is in electronics and production, and AJ Dunning (President) is a pro guitarist with bands like “The Verve Pipe.” Jeff (marketing) is a successful media man. They’re all guitarists. But it’s not just credentials. They have the know-how and even more importantly, the production facilities to produce their pedals in volume; speaking of which, these aren’t just kit pedals with circuitry thrown into a standard Hammond box. The enclosures are custom-fabricated. The pedals are a mix of NOS and modern components, and according to them, have been bench and gig tested over that last few years. Their intent with the company is to build a full line of pedals that are “boutique” in quality and craftsmanship, but at a price-point that’s more mainstream. While I didn’t get any exact pricing, the overdrive will probably come in at a range of $160-$180. That’s right smack-dab in TubeScreamer pricing.
It’s the business side of things that has gotten me VERY interested in Circus Freak products. They’re taking a big risk starting a new company, but I think they’re doing it the right way, and trying to get beyond the grass roots from the get-go, which unfortunately, many small operations never get out of. I’m looking to some big things from these guys.
In any case, I’m rambling on as usual… 🙂 But let me take some time to give you some highlights of our conversation:
- One thing we talked a lot about is approach. They’re not just building on classic designs, they’re both inventing and innovating with their designs.
- Some of the pedals we talked about (which I can’t talk about specifically – yet) are REALLY different approaches to some classic utility pedals. For instance, the features of their upcoming analog delay will make me give that pedal a SERIOUS look. In fact, I practically started salivating when I heard what they were doing.
- They have plans for ultimately a 20-pedal product line.
- All pedals carry a lifetime warranty. If something goes wrong, they will fix YOUR pedal. That’s pretty cool to me.
- Most pedals will be tweakable; not only that, Circus Freak will provide instructions on how to “hot rod” their pedals, if you want to take it beyond the stock configuration.
- On top of tweaking, they will be creating a community where you can share your tweaks with other “Circus Freaks.” VERY COOL. For myself, I’d probably never do it because I’m deathly afraid of messing with electronics, but I know of LOTS of tweakers that would love this!
- One thing they’re building into their “front-of-amp” pedals such as compressor, OD, fuzz, etc. is lots of output volume. I especially like that feature with the compressor and OD because it allows me to slam my pre-amp, which is especially how I like to use overdrive.
- Almost all pedals use NOS components at their core. For example, their next pedal, which is called “The Bearded Lady Fuzz” uses NOS germanium chips.
- All pedals have all jacks positioned on the back of the pedal, which is a HUGE thing for board real estate. You don’t realize just how much horizontal space you lose when jacks are side-mounted.
All in all, lots of thought has gone into the creation of Circus Freak Music. While only time will tell of their success, they’re off to a great start. Look for an early-December launch time! In the meantime, here are some useful links to keep up with what they’re doing:
Web Site: http://www.circusfreakmusic.com/