The French Connection: Say Bonjour to Anasounds
Alexandre Ernandez is French. Listening to him speak—in Frenglish, as he calls it—you might, for a moment, consider calling him enlightened.
He says things like, “When I design a pedal, I make choices by my own ears, but certainly, my tastes are not yours.”
Such tonal tolerance brings to mind the musings of fellow Frenchman (and father of modern philosophy) René Descartes.
In his 1637 treatise Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote: “…the diversity of our opinions, consequently, does not arise from some being endowed with a larger share of reason than others, but solely from this, that we conduct our thoughts along different ways, and do not fix our attention on the same objects.”
Perhaps philosophical ponderings are too profound a parallel here, but Alexandre has a particular penchant—or at the very least, a pervasive proclivity—for progressive postulations.
“In this capitalist society where everybody buys and throws away shit they buy for pennies on the Internet, we want to build something you can trust and keep for a long time,” he says. “That’s why everything is handmade with premium components.”
Alexandre is le directeur of Anasounds, a team of five 20–30-year old French musicians in search of stunningly vintage analog tone.
“Today, everybody talks about digital. At Anasounds we are just bored of this run—this quest for advanced technologies. We just want to find, again, what people did the best.”
Anasounds started four years ago with Alexandre and his fiancé, Magali. Based in the Nice region of France, the former was in engineering school at the time and, not having the resources to buy the pedals he wanted, began cloning his favorite designs.
“Like every guitarist, playing in a band, I needed pedals. Since I was 13 I’ve been tweaking the electronics of my guitar. So, I just felt that I could do the pedals myself.”
Once Alexandre’s first creations were complete, each circuit refined and redesigned, adapted to his exacting tastes, Magali stepped in.
“Magali was already working with a laser engraver to make some jewelry with an old friend. When she saw how ugly my first pedal was, she asked me to give he a few weeks to come up with something awesome. It actually took months, but it’s the greatest idea since guitars are made from wood.”
Not a musician, Magali found inspiration in interior design trends and combined wood tones, acrylics and aluminum to create one of the most unique looks in the industry today.
And yet, just as the brand aesthetics were finally coming together, Alexandre decided to change everything on the design end, too.
“Two years ago, I totally changed the way I develop pedals. I’d graduated from engineering school and was working in a division of Philips as electronic designer—so I’d learned how to do the systems myself. For example, when I designed the Utopia Tape Echo, I first built the electronic architecture of the pedal, then made the PCB and shaped all the settings by my own ears.”
But, true to form, Alexandre knew it wasn’t all about his tastes. Which is where the trimpots came in.
Every pedal in the Anasounds arsenal features a set of internal controls that allow the user to fine-tune each effect to their tastes.
For instance, on the Utopia—one of Anasouds’s most popular pedals—external knobs include the standard blend of mix, feedback and delay time controls (with a handy switch to engage the lush modulation). Internally though, you’ll find trimmers to tweak the tone of the repeats, as well as the rate and depth of the modulation. And there’s even a switch to extend the max delay time from 400 to 600 milliseconds, should you need a little bit more room to work.
And inside the Savage—which finds its roots in the circuitry of the hallowed Klon Centaur—you’ll find a trimmer for voicing that ranges from soft overdrive to sharper, more saturated tones, and several switches that adjust the low end, clipping diodes and treble available from the topside tone knob.
All these controls combine for delay and overdrive experiences rivaled by few other compact pedals.
“But the main thing to know,” Alexandre reminds, “is that the pedal is already configured and you don’t need to tweak inside to make it sound good. This is only if you are a tone nerd and if you want to go more in detail with your sound.”
Today, Anasounds pedals are sold around the world, with a distribution network that includes France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the UK, Spain, Japan and the United States. And though the company sold a couple thousand pedals last year, Alexandre and company want to reach the point where they’re selling that many pedals each month.
“We feel that this a huge development for a small startup like us,” Alexandre says. “But we aim to do even more and we want to thank our great musicians for their trust.”
Let’s go deeper and found out more about Anasounds.
TRW: Which Anasounds pedal was the biggest surprise?
AE: The Bitoun Fuzz really surprised me. Julien (Bitoun) showed me a big sound he played in his album and told me all the mastering he had to make to get this result. I took on the challenge and integrated two fuzzes with a noise gate and a ring modulator in a tiny pedal. The result is just mega powerful—a kind of fuzz and distortion without any noise. Really big and impressive.
TRW: Speaking of surprises, your Feed Me Fuzz has no external controls. Bold move. Why make the decision to go that direction?
AE: This is a bet we’ve made with early adopters. The first 50 Feed Me users had three knobs, Feed, Fuzz and Volume. When I asked them how they configure the knobs, they all put them at maximum and then they play with their guitar volume.
As this is the best way to use the pedal, we felt that it was time to give to people plug-and-play pedals. Less potentiometers means more creativity!
TRW: What’s the creative dynamic like around the shop?
AE: This is easy—we ask to specific musicians what they want in terms of sound. Then we design prototypes according to their feelings. That’s the way we did for the Bitoun Fuzz with Julien Bitoun and the Lazy Comp with many chicken pickin’ and funky players.
TRW: Have there been any notable failures or missteps along the way?
AE: Yes, we learn from our failures and the only one we had was the Freq Up.
People love the pedal when they try it, but at the same time they did not get interested in it because of a communication failure. We learned that launching the Freq Up at the same time than the Utopia was not successful—and now we know how to launch a product!
TRW: Are there any products currently in development that you can tell us about?
We are currently launching our first compression pedal—the Lazy Comp. Lazy because you just have one knob, a dry/wet control to set your compression-dynamic ratio.
And now that we’ve finished our R&D on that, we are starting to work on a new version of the Cerberus—the Angry Cerberus. It will be the Swiss army knife of the distortion.
Learn more at anasounds.com.