Marc Ahlfs is obsessed with fuzz. Ask why and he’ll tell you that a good fuzz pedal is like a magical sonic crayon that lets you draw your own psychedelic landscape.“Fuzz represents a wellspring of all things rock and roll. It lets you invoke your own personal guitar hero like a time machine, bringing those iconic moments into the present and letting you flow with them in first person rather than just as an observer.”
Fact: of the 7,000+ Skreddy pedals in existence today, more than 80% are fuzz-based. Listen to the man who made all those pedals by hand talk for a few minutes and it’s easy to undestand why.
“It's still a dream—however unrealistic—that I think every guitar player has: to be a rock star. Fuzz is like tapping directly into the vein of energy and inspiration those dreams come from.”
Like I said—obsessed.
As a kid, Ahlfs considered himself an asipiring artist and had a thirst for knowledge that, after many years of seeking out the iconic tones of his favorite bands, led him to “get serious about figuring out what makes good guitar tone” and do whatever it took to create that combination of elements.
“I had already been tweaking and modifying everything I owned for years. My first homemade pedal, circa 1998, was a Fuzz Face design. I drew the layout directly onto copper clad with a sharpie (just looking at the schematic and laying it out ad-hoc) and etched on the stove.”
Fast forward six years and that’s where the Skreddy story begins:
Tone Report: Skreddy Pedals was founded in 2004—tell me a little about your history and how the company came together.
Marc Ahlfs: The company started with my first actual product—the Mayonaise. That was a copy of a circa 1971 Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi I had repaired for a bandmate of a friend. It blew me away with its creamy, harmonic, syrupy, amp-like tone that was saturated and fuzzy, but at the same time still transparent and articulate. It was the first Big Muff Pi I ever tried that could cover the whole range—from Smashing Pumpkins to Pink Floyd—and with a low noise floor. The reason I cloned it was because the owner wouldn't sell it to me and I could not find anything like it that I could afford.
TR: Tell me about Skreddy today.
MA: I went from building clones to creating my own designs in a short time and am a lot busier now! Running a business is a lot different from making pedals as a hobby. I wisely got my wife, Cynthia, involved early on and now she's my VP, CFO and Production Manager.
TR: What’s your approach in designing pedals?
MA: It has become a lot open-ended than before, because I have more confidence now. It's no longer a question of "how do I solve X?" but more like, "what do I want to do?"
More specifically though, I'm not into feature bloat and like to make things as simple as they can be. Occasionally customer demand does pull me into adding more knobs, more features, or creating new things that I might not have considered on my own—but I definitely am not one to make things just because I can. There has to be some creative draw, some artistic angle or some degree of rarity for me to approach the creation of a new product. Usually my products are simply the reflection of my desire to see something refined or tuned or perfected in a way that I cannot find on the market. Other times I like to make things that are no longer made with the same types of parts that gave them that special personality the rare, antique specimens possess.
TR: So where do you find the inspiration for your fuzz designs?
MA: Generally from a favorite song or album. I'll usually start from the classic, common schematic and source the same types of parts as the historical specimen. Then I'll make whatever changes are needed to correct any problems, tune the voice, improve the performance and noise levels, etc. Some fuzzes already have rich DIY traditions with lots of tweaks and add-ons and you can't source the same parts, so the challenge is to make that sound using some other method. I have developed a few tricks and tweaks over the years to compensate.
TR: So what kind of music are you into?
MA: My guitar-tone paradigms were definitely set by my favorite bands: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Robin Trower, Aerosmith, U2 and Smashing Pumpkins. Chasing those tones over the years is kind of what led me into pedal building.
TR: Okay, let’s get away from fuzz for a minute. You ventured into some new territory a few years ago with the Skreddy Echo. How did that pedal come about?
MA: The Skreddy Echo was actually a fairly early design. It was the first thing I ever made using op-amps and is still the most complex circuit in my line. That design took literally a full year of development before anybody in the world ever heard it or played with one.
I was obsessed with the Echo and would get out of bed at night to draw notes on how to do certain things in that circuit. I had played with probably a dozen or so various delays in my life including pedals, rack units and tape delays like the Space Echo, tube Echoplex, solid-state Echoplex, etc. The old tube Echoplex EP2 was the one that had the sweetest basic tone for me—but keeping it working was a full time job. I wanted something that could cop that tube/tape tone and still have the chorusy functionality of a Deluxe Memory Man, only with improved flexibility and headroom. (I didn’t want it to get deafeningly loud when it went into self oscillation.) It had to be able to do U2 and Pink Floyd sounds—my favorite delay examples—and had to sound like a "real" echo that bounces off a solid surface and travels back through the air to your ear.
TR: More recently, you’ve released a couple of modulation designs. Tell me about those and how they’ve been received.