Interviews

Stay Gold: A chat with Greg Djerrahian of SolidGoldFX

After a decade of owning and operating a successful pedal company, Greg Djerrahian has learned to appreciate the invariable nature of change in an ever-evolving industry.

“Some of the biggest changes have come in the form of perspective,” he says. “I appreciate everything on a different level these days.”

Understanding the ebb and flow of life as a small business owner has moved him—and his Montreal-based SolidGoldFX—to develop new approaches to design, while staying true to some of the guiding principles he holds dear.

“SGFX is driven by my desire to produce innovative and intuitive effects that enhance tone and inspire creativity. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to work with amazing people and do something I love.”

Prior to 2006, Greg was focused on another of his passions: cars.

“I was studying finance in university while working at an auto body shop as an apprentice, fixing and welding cars.”

But, always wanting to have a business of his own, he started out repairing and modifying pedals—something SGFX still does—and eventually began designing his own circuits out of a profound love for vintage gear.

“Our earliest pedals were single-transistor boosters and a drive based on the DOD 250, which is still one of my favorite drive circuits.”

Ten years in though, the team is bigger—but it’s lean and highly efficient, too, with a great deal of shared responsibility.

Greg’s primary role is developing new pedals, but he also handles purchasing, shipping and sales, as well as building, testing, tech support and all the other administrative tasks that “keep the wheels on the bus.”  Alex, the marketing director, develops and schedules various marketing initiatives, is the primary contact for artist relations, helps develop new designs, holds down the fort sometimes and manages the SolidGold social media presence—something SGFX sees not only as a creative outlet of expression, but also as a tool that allows them to directly interact with users in real time to gather feedback and forge lasting connections. Caroline is the lead builder and assembler—as well as the bookkeeper—and recent-addition Tyler helps build, too. Finally, local engineer Christian helps with code and certain design aspects.

And while juggling hats and deadlines and responsibilities, SGFX tries to keep everything in balance.

“We look to design pedals that are inspired by sounds we love, with musically useful features that make you want to pick up an instrument and play it. Overall we try and keep things fresh, yet familiar—appealing to a broad audience without being vanilla. We have really tried to focus on developing a comprehensive array of effects with interesting features that are distinct without being derivative. “ 

Each pedal is designed with a unique sense of character and personality.

For example, consider the brash texture and bite of the Sasori, the SGFX take on the classic Shin-Ei Companion FY-2 fuzz. Greg says its assertive attitude is designed to inspire players to play differently and reach for notes and combinations they might otherwise avoid.

Conversely, a pedal like the Apollo II—with its array of distinct waveforms—provides players the opportunity to rethink the sonic role of a phaser and transform a simple riff into an all-out rhythmic swirl.

“Ultimately, it is the character and personality of our pedals that we hope serves to both inspire and enhance the playing experience.”

New pedals are born from personal interest and a desire to create something different, rather than being being purely market driven, Greg says. And inspiration can come from a wide variety of sources, ranging from vintage gear and interesting schematics to random thoughts that come to him in the shower—something, he jokes, that happens more often than not.  

Certain pedals come together quickly, while others can put up a fight and eat up precious months of prototyping time trying to perfect.

“When the electronics are finalized and we have the feel and features we want to achieve, we have to address case color and artwork. Which, once again, can come together easily or take weeks of going back and forth before arriving at a decision.

“Once all aspects are in place, we move to the first production run and officially schedule the formal release.”

Currently, the SolidGold lineup features 15 pedals—and several other now-retired designs—some of which have gotten the attention of professional players all over the world.

“The Devil Drive is a signature pedal based on the Boss OD-1 that we made for Jeff Waters of Annihilator. Other names include Dave Catching from Rancho de la Luna and Eagles of Death Metal, Dweezil Zappa, Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Devin Townsend. We’ve also sent stuff over to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Red Fang, and Dan Johnson—tech for Black Keys—to name a few. We also recently discovered that John Fogerty has been using our Surf Rider reverb in his live rig.”

And while Greg is thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with many musicians he likes and admires, SolidGold is always looking to the future.

“We plan to continue to follow our creative passion, working to both expand and refine our existing lineup. And we always have something on the horizon. We are preparing a few new releases for later this year.”

Let’s dive in deeper with some Q&A:

Tone Report Weekly: What kind of music inspires you, tonally speaking?

Greg Djerrahian: I have a wide range of musical interests and draw inspiration from many sources. The band that really got me into rock ‘n’ roll when I was a kid was Guns & Roses. There was something captivating about their bravado—and the tones on Appetite still make me smile. In my early teens I discovered Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, Cream, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Doors, as well as more obscure international bands like Hurdy Gurdy from Europe and Far Out from Japan. The sounds of these albums were highly influential and marked my first sonic exposure to notable effects like treble boost, fuzz, wah, vibe and tremolo. As for some current bands, I like the uniquely-composed heaviness of Queens of the Stone Age, the minimal raw aggression of the Kills and the thick culty lo-fi drive of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats to name a few. I’ve also found myself diving into a lot of Jazz as of late with Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Miles Davis currently filling the playlist. Diversity always keeps things interesting. 

TRW: What are some of your favorite vintage effects?

GD: I personally really love the quirky character of the MXR Blue Box and appreciate how it overtakes your sound. I also have a major thing for vintage wahs and filters. I have about a dozen vintage wahs and love the different vocal qualities and attitude of each model, my favorite being the red Fasel Jen. The Jen Jumbo Fuzz is also a favorite of mine. It’s an Italian-made fuzz from the ‘70s that features a Big Muff-style circuit with a mild gate in a huge enclosure with 3 sliders—great sounding pedal. Other favorites include the Royal TF-1, Roland AP-7 Jet Phase and the mighty grey DOD 250.

TRW: Let’s talk tech. What are some of your favorite components to use?

GD: I love JFETs. The majority of our pedals have a FET buffer or preamp and I love the way they sound and react. They contribute a great deal to the playing experience. We also use the BC183 transistor quite a bit as well—namely in our Imperial and If 6 Was 9. It has great gain characteristics with a mild low-mid emphasis that works really well with our fuzz circuits. In addition to the BC183 transistor, I also like utilizing select NOS germanium transistors from time to time. I would have to say one of my favorites of that variety is the CV7003. I have a stash from 1968 and find they have a warm, yet musically focused character—perfectly suited for use in fuzz and/or OD circuits.

TRW: Tell us about the Custom Shop.

GD: The Custom Shop is a way for us to go back to our roots, focusing on small batch builds that feature custom colors, special tunings and sometimes both. It keeps things “boutique” and provides us with an additional creative outlet.

TRW: You’ve got some sweet custom Gravity picks available on your site. Is there a collaboration story there?

GD: Alex is a fan of Gravity picks and turned me on to them, so we ended up ordering a few with our logo engraved in the shape and sizes that we use most. We both like heavier picks, so between the standard extra heavy celluloid tortoise SGFX picks and the Gravity picks, we’re covered.

TRW: SGFX is a Canadian company—what’s the gear scene like up there in the north?

GD: The gear scene in Canada is great! We have a number of truly talented guitar, amplifier, and pedal builders, such as Empress, Diamond, Dr Scientist, Fairfield, Montreal Assembly, PWE and Ted Stevenson, to name a few, each doing their thing and doing it well. We are proud to be in such good company.

TRW: I’m always looking for interesting little pieces of information to share about the people behind the interview. Anything come to mind that our readers might find fascinating?

GD: We all have personal interests outside of what we do here at SolidGoldFX. 
My interests include restoring old amps, working on cars, collecting vinyl, video games and spending time wakeboarding during the summer months. Alex is very much interested in film and literature, as well as architecture and industrial design. Caroline enjoys drawing and textile arts, while Tyler spends his free time practicing yoga and meditation.

For more on SolidGoldFX, go to solidgoldfx.com.

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1 Comments

  1. William Meade

    Beta on hold for BluesWalker, pending installment. Much obliged to your essay typer blog and informative articles. Also, indeed, that pedal is ideal for a blues strolling bass line.