Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tim Escobedo's Uglyface - a modern classic!

So mainly I like old stuff, but one reason I got into DIY was to discover new sounds. The Uglyface is one of THE classic DIY pedals, designed by an unassuming and generous experimenter, Tim Escobedo. I've built four of his pedal designs, and an ambitious double synthstick built into a guitar (more on this later). I think he came up with it in 2003. A lot of people on DIY Stompboxes were raving about it, so I built mine in 2006. By this time my Dymo tape aesthetic had reached the mature stage, although I probably should have the knobs away from the footswitch. In the DIY effects pedal world, there are clones or rare pedals, and there are home projects that become retail Product, and there are pedals that exist only in the pure DIY realm, because they are too weird or horrible-in-a-good way to have mainstream commercial potential, like the Uglyface. Guitarists are conservative as a group (= market). Tradition weighs heavy on their shoulders, and their music is boring. Most of them don't want a pedal that makes their guitar sound like a raygun. I didn't record this clip (Tim did), but it gives you a good idea of what this thing does. Here's another , from homewrecker/runoffgroove - if this doesn't get your attention, then we can't be friends. I built it from scratch on plain board with holes, called perfboard, or just perf. This is one of several building methods, and it's probably my least favourite. I don't use it much, but there was (and is) a perf layout of the Uglyface at It was one of my first builds beyond the basic fuzz circuits and I didn't really know what I was doing exactly at the time, but I put it together paint-by-numbers style. it took a while to get it right, but I got there in the end. The trickiest part for me was the Vactrol, which adds the envelope follower wah-type sound. I colour coded the wires carefully and made notes, so I wouldn't get too mixed up, and left myself plenty of space. So what is it? The clips should tell you all you need to know, but if I had to describe it, I'd say it's kind of like a fuzz, but instead of just taking the wave form from your guitar and amplifying/clipping it to make a square wave (like most fuzz/distortion boxes), the Uglyface takes your signal in on one side, but what comes out of the other side is a whole new signal that tracks the changes in a fuzzed out version of the input signal, but can't follow it exactly, or reproduce its complexity, so what you hear is a big wall of glitchy, synthy guitar noise. I love it. The basic envelope follower makes it even less guitar-like. Certain settings will get you the Star Wars thing going. There are a couple of ther DIY circuits that apparently have some similarity to this floating around - John Hollis' Crash Sync /Auto Crash and the 4ms Noise Swash, but this is the simplest to build, and best documented. There have been stripboard layouts and a modification or two in the last couple of years. Tim Escobedo rules. I can't help forming mental images of people I've never seen; I imagine Tim has short-ish dark hair and a full but closely cropped beard, a bit like David Fair from Half Japanese perhaps.

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