Oldham based Stone Deaf FX produce hand-built guitar effects and amplification. With an impressive list of guitarists using their PDF-1 pedal (the Parametric Distortion Filter used by Josh Homme and Simon Neil to name but two), it seems Stone Deaf FX have really produced a pedal that could potentially become the “must have” effect.
Guitar Jar catches up with director Luke Hilton, to quiz him on the success of the PDF-1 and future plans for the company.
…not so long after, Pink Duck Studio’s e-mailed me asking for me to send one over for Josh Homme to try. Turns out he loved it….
- Hi Luke, before we get into the details of Stone Deaf FX, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
Hi Sam, yes I play guitar, not particularly fantastic but I can knock out a tune here or there and I’m more of a rhythm player than a lead player.I was inspired by my local guitar shop and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and when I was 13, my dad used to take me into “Twangs The Thang” in Rochdale which was run by Dixie Kidd who still sells guitars at all the shows till this day.
I was taught for a couple of years by Peter Bocking who in the 60’s was the best guitar player in Manchester and who supported the Hollies and the Beatles back in the day. Amazing guitarist, but I was into Grunge so was never interested in anything intricate he had to show me unfortunately for me now.
- When did you start Stone Deaf FX and is this your full time job?
I started Stone Deaf Fx and Amplification in June 2010. I had been collecting pedals seriously from 2007 and trading on Ebay with them and sourcing stuff for friends but the obsession eventually became this Idea that I could re-make my favourite vintage pedal of all time and possibly make it better. After a year of doing two jobs it has now become my full time job.
- Let’s get straight to the point. Your PDF-1 (Parametric Distortion Filter) is causing a stir. Can you tell our readers exactly what the pedal is and explain its origins?
The PDF-1 is an improved version of the now defunct and rare Maestro Parametric Filter which was produced by Gibson Norlin in the 1970’s. It’s users where Josh Homme of QOTSA and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Ebay prices where dictating around £300-£400 on average because of the connections to those artists.The PDF-1 is not your average guitar pedal… for starters it does a lot of stuff in one unit that most pedals don’t do. For instance it does the following:
- Clean and Dirty Boost/Cut by 20 dB to your guitar signal
- Possesses a Powerful Parametric EQ with a 5 Point Bandwidth Q and with a frequency response of your whole guitar speaker 65hz-3khz which basically means in layman terms its like a tone stack on steroids and it can carve up your tone to pin point accuracy to get thin and fat boosts of the signal range it possesses.
- Can be used as a standalone soft clipping overdrive distortion pedal
- Has an internal A/B switcher via the AUX to send an effected (PDF-1 signal) to AMP 1 and a Bypassed (Clean signal) to AMP 2.
The pedal is 100% analogue and is hand built in the UK with excellent components and has a 5 year warranty with it. It’s reliable and is a work horse on tour.
- In what setting would you say the PDF-1 is best suited? Dirtying a clean amp, boosting an already dirty amp, or another scenario?
This is going to sound like a b******t answer but the fact is in every setting.If you used the PDF-1 on a clean amp, in clean mode selected on the pedal it would give you a volume boost of the frequency you’ve selected and depending on the frequency bandwidth would drag more or less frequencies up with the selected frequency you’ve boosted. Add in the dirty setting and it will add some square wave to the signal path, which will give you your overdriven soft clipping distortion on your clean amp. On a cranked dirty amp it will also cut through for lead breaks rhythm playing and Its does the very noticeable tonal changes to the very discreet tonal changes depending on preference.
You can get tubby bottom end which will make your speakers flap and your trousers move on a 4 x 12 cranked amp or you can get a vocal/cocked wah sound around 2 o-clock on any amp, or piercing high frequency push that will cut through any mix on any amp. It’s like a Swiss army knife type pedal. Brightens up for sparkly jazz cleans or acts as a standalone overdriven square wave device.
If you used it on a VOX AC4TV cranked at 4 watts it makes that little AC4TV sound like a fuzz pedal. If you used it after a BIG MUFF Pi in clean or dirty mode you can bottle neck or shape the BIG MUFF pi fuzz and make it sound like its on steroids and more pronounced. I’ve had Stoner Rock players, Hard Rock, Jazz Players and Sessions musicians buy it and basically say it isn’t going anywhere off their pedal board as they love it so much. It’s a very versatile pedal. However if you think its going to do balls out distortion it isn’t… but its brothers and sisters will and they will be born shortly.
- How did the likes of Josh Home (QOTSA), Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro) and Chris Shiflet (Foo Fighters) stumble across the PDF-1?
Being a massive QOTSA fan I decided to drop QOTSA’s management an e-mail explaining I’d made this pedal and that I thought it was a better modern replacement for Josh’s old Maestro MPF-1 not thinking anything would happen.Not so long after the e-mail about 2 weeks his studio (Pink Duck Studio’s) e-mailed me asking for me to send one over for Josh to try. Turns out he loved it. I got invited to Leeds Festival 2010 by one of his techs and to bring a back up pedal for Josh’s guitar tech.
I met Ally Christie his guitar tech who is one of the best techs on the planet I was to later find out and we got on like a house on fire. Turns out I’d done him a favour as the maestro was unreliable and caused him problems on tour. I kept in touch with Ally and he moved onto guitar tech for Them Crooked Vultures and then he went onto his current role as Foo Fighters Guitar Tech.
He invited me at the Milton Keynes Bowl Gig this year (2011) and said to bring some gear down. He took some of my pedals and told Biffy, Jimmy Eat World and Foo’s to try my stuff out… as they say the rest is history.
- Have you had many orders for the PDF-1 thus far?
Yes, we have been busy despite only having one pedal and hardly anyone knowing about us. We had a 3-4 week waiting list at one point but we have just about caught up.We have had to get more efficient on manufacturing the pedals and still maintain the high build quality we have but this has allowed us to bring the price right down from bespoke one offs at £235 a pop when we first started off to now around £125 which we can sell via our dealers now.
…the PDF-1 is not your average guitar pedal… for starters it does a lot of stuff in one unit that most pedals don’t do…
- Creating boutique pedals is one thing, but branching into amplification as well is a bold move. How are the plans unfolding for the launch of your guitar amp(s)?
Tell me about it, especially when you’re not trying to directly copy an old design which most of the new “boutique” or should I say kit building manufactures seem to just do nowadays.The Amp R+D is going really well. We are nearly there and we anticipate the amp to be out for public release in November. It’s a 100W all valve 2 channel head that goes from 100W Clean RMS to 180watt RMS distorted. Imagine a Matchless, a Boogie, an Orange and a Hiwatt throwing their keys into the bowl at a swingers party and some crazy love child that’s borderline genius but built like a brick **** house and can sing like Pavarotti being born in 9 months. Its very exciting times and we cannot wait to get that part of the Stone Deaf brand underway.
No point in going to the US for meat loaf when you can have steak and Chips back home is there?
- Coming out of the global financial meltdown, things must be looking up for countless of boutique pedal manufacturers. How do you stay motivated?
Well things are still tough in this cut throat world of pedals, (that’s not a joke by the way) we recognised early on we wouldn’t have survived if we where sat in a shed building 1 pedal per week so we had to get serious about manufacture and design and move it to the house instead. Me and my father make them, market them and post them out to dealers and customers from the website and no doubt will start employing other family members and friends when we have the other pedals and amp ready soon.The way we see it is if people recognise us as a great British pedal manufacturer that’s supporting the economy by keeping all manufacturing in this country and not going to Korea or China or using rubbish components then we will do our best to make the best pedals on the planet for a reasonable price for those that buy into what we do.
People want high quality great sounding pedals at a reasonable price so we are trying to appeal to both the boutique guy who will instantly recognise the Kudos from its origins, its quality in performance and also your average Joe who just wants a great pedal that’s different, at that great price. I don’t think there are many British Manufacturers out there who are coming at it from a different angle…they are mostly American or Japanese.
- What’s your favourite effects pedal from other manufacturers?
I have to say all the Lovetone stuff. I’ve spoke to Dan Coggins on the phone and he is just a very straight up great guy and who built some of the best effects pedals there has ever been.Inspired by old designs but who thought of them from a totally different angle and way ahead of his time. The refreshing change is that he was never one for forums either… no b*******t just got on with it.
- In your opinion, what guitar effect is over-rated?
See by saying what I am about to say I’m going to p*** some people off who love boutique pedals: Its almost as bad as saying to some people that God doesn’t exist and Creationism is a load of rubbish, but I have to say… Klon Centaur. I’ve owned a real one, I’ve owned a clone there really isn’t much difference if any I’m afraid.All stock parts and all that the customer really is paying for is: Artist Kudos because a lot of famous artists use it, a Cast Metal fancy pants enclosure, I’ve been there done that got the t-shirt, its too expensive to make a pedal that most people can buy out of a custom casting unless your making 1000’s otherwise you pay Klon prices. The Mystery behind the circuit that’s been fuelled by the DIY community and general users of the pedal.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not slagging the builder off at all, he’s made a magnificent pedal that looks a work of art and sounds good, but the fact still remains it’s a PCB board with components on it inside a cast enclosure that shouldn’t In my opinion cost as much as it does. After all he has been in business for a long time and I think he could have made it more affordable for people with a different manufacturing approach.
I personally would have made it more affordable but he’s obviously done well to stay in business this long and to build up his client list so hats off to the guy. I’m coming from a more bare bones opinion on it I suppose. In fact even the clones are too expensive for what’s in the Klon pedal that make it sound the way it does.
- A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
I would go to the future and see what new patents Mesa Boogie are going to put on their amplifiers. See if they do anything for a toaster attachment built into the speaker cabinet or for a motion sensor foot pedal or something crazy and borderline ridiculous like that.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
I would save my dads 1971 Gibson Flying V (fretless wonder) that has one of the most amazing necks I have every played.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Obvious… John Bonham and anyone who says otherwise is a fool. Partly because he’s the best power house drummer that has every lived in my opinion of course.
- Lager or Cider?
- What’s the plan for Stone Deaf FX for the next 12 months?
The plan is to do more interviews like this with nice people like you Sam and to up our profile so people actually say; “Oh yeh… Stone Deaf effects and amps, I’ve heard of them, they are suppose to be good. I think I’ll pop down my local guitar shop and try one out to see if they are all they are cracked up to be”.That’s the aim, to please guitarists around the world and to carry on building great pedals and to continue that into our amps. Its got to be fun, its got to be down to earth and its got to be at a good price…no b******t or daft slogans even though we do have one quite fitting “An echo of the past has created the future’’ see where I’m going with that… just GOOD TONE!
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