David Majury, guitarist for the Belfast-based band, Slomatics, was kind enough to tell us a bit about his setup and what he looks for in gear. The Troglodyte, one of our best-selling, top-notch fuzz pedals was designed after talking with David about what he needed in a fuzz pedal. Having had a blast of a time during the building process of the Troglodyte, we decided to ask David a few questions, an interview of sorts if you will, about the band, tones both live and in the studio and of course, gear!
Q: It’s 2019 next year and that’d mean Slomatics have been around for 15 long years! Looking back, how have things changed in the gear world, particularly with the rise of boutique pedals?
I suppose the main change has been just that, the rise of boutique pedals and gear in general, small companies being able to compete with the big brands. When we started there was stuff like Lovetone and ZVex, but it was enormously expensive and quite hard to find. That’s changed a lot too, and for the better really. I think social media has been great for increasing accessibility and building a sense of community, as well as connecting builders with each other and musicians. It’s sort of come full circle in a way with smaller companies no longer being so expensive, just churning out really good gear at musician friendly prices. I suppose this is driven by it being easier to find out how to build pedals along with more folk who play music starting to build their own equipment, for the love of it rather than any big business plan. Obviously, there’s still expensive stuff out there, but £100 (~$130) will now buy an amazing hand-built fuzz. It’s been interesting to see the ‘big’ companies embrace that too, with the likes of Boss doing their Waza craft range.
Q: Having changed gear a lot over the span of a decade and a half, what would you say are the quintessential pieces of gear/pedals that have been a key part of the Slomatics sound for the past decade and a half?
We’ve not changed gear as much as you might think to be honest. I still play the same guitar I did from day one, and I’ve always had a DAM Meathead fuzz on the floor. I switched to a Matamp around 12 years ago as Chris’s Matamp was drowning out my Marshall. That’s pretty much been it ever since, even down to the delays I’ve used for ten years. That being said, we’ve added fuzzes and synths in and out over time, particularly using EHX synths over the last couple of years. There’s no one defining piece of gear in my set-up, but every wee detail has been paid attention to, although to the casual listener that might not be at all apparent! The Matamps certainly have a distinctive tone and help us cover the sonic territory traditionally filled by having a bass player. My sound has always been a balance of amp gain, volume and fuzz, really trying to get as close to the edge of being a total mess without descending into mud. There’s nothing special about my guitars, I own two SG Specials – the bargain basement of Gibsons. They’re modded though with custom pickups and wiring, and we play custom gauge flatwound strings which help too. I could get by with just the guitar, Matamp and quality fuzzbox.
Q: So what’s on your board as of now?
I’ve been trying out a wah which has moved things around for the first time in a long while. So right now, it’s DAM Meathead- Dunlop mini-wah – EHX Mel9 – MXR Script phase90 and Carbon Copy, then a looper into a Boss RE-20 Space Echo. Pretty simple stuff really, and nothing boutique beyond the fuzz. I run an extra fuzz off the front of the board, recently a custom Fuzzlord box that I really love.
Q: Having gone through multitudes of fuzzes over the years, what would you say you look for in a fuzz pedal?
First and foremost is how well it handles our tuning. We use a sort of octave tuning with the lowest strings tuned F#, so any fuzz has to be able to work with that without just being mush. I can honestly say I’ve found something to really like in most of the fuzzes I’ve owned but only a few ever really work for the band. Like my favourite fuzztones on record tend to be Big Muffs, folk like J Mascis, Bardo Pond, Mudhoney etc., but those pedals just don’t work too well with my gear. I need a fuzz that has big low end as we don’t have a bass player, but not at the expense of the mids, and one that can get loud and dirty but also retain enough clarity to cut through. I mean, it’s a fuzz box so of course it should mangle the guitar tone, but I need to be able to hear individual strings. I like the more primitive circuits, my favourite being the FuzzFace, and stuff like Tonebenders and Fuzzrites. A lot of more modern fuzzes are just too gainy or have a thousand knobs. I like simplicity.
Q: Are there any key aspects or traits that you find a common denominator in all the pedals you’ve liked, fuzz, modulation, anything really?
In a word, compatibility. As I said, I like simple gear, that sounds great without endless tweaking, and the most important thing is that it’s got to work in amongst all the rest of the set up. Like I tried an endless list of phasers and they were all either too harsh or bright, too quiet or loud, or too mellow, until eventually I settled on the Script Phase 90, as it worked best with everything else. With modulation I like it to be a bit more subtle, like a colour being added rather than a really dramatic change, so it’s got to be something that fits in without taking over. I hate it when I find a great new pedal only to find it does something weird to the rest of the board, introducing nasty top end or whatever. I’m such a luddite, I could watch youtube demos of insane modulators all day, but just can’t get to grips with anything too high tech. Oh, and of course reliability is everything!!
Q: Having used fuzzes from several renown builders on both sides of the Atlantic, what made you seek out something as unique as the Troglodyte?
I’m always interested in new fuzzes, and his pedals had a really original look being all hand painted and using old HiFi knobs. Jason and I had chatted a bit online, and I really liked his approach to how he builds. He was interested in getting the base tone absolutely right, rather than adding unnecessary bells and whistles. When we talked about him building a fuzz for me I was so impressed with how well he understood our set up and sound, despite having never been in the same room. He got the interaction between fuzz and amp, and was all about how his circuit could fit in. I think we share a lot of ideas about what sounds good. The pedal he built was really the prototype of the Troglodyte, so it was so cool that he decided to build more. I’m stoked to have had a tiny part in the creation of this pedal, as I think it’s an amazing piece of kit.
Q: How would you use it in your set-up?
I could easily use it as my main fuzz. Its core tone is fantastic, perfectly balanced and fits really well within the band context. Having a few more tonal controls than usual would make it a really useful studio tool too.
Q: Many people search for a heavy tone and often get it, but at the expense of being muddy and lost in the mix. Do you have any tone tips for getting a heavy sound while not being muddy?
It’s all subjective, one man’s tone is another man’s mud. I suppose it’s good to try and achieve a form of balance and to do that you need to understand what space you fill within the band. We have two guitarists and a drummer, so it’s not difficult – one guitar will be set for more low end and less treble, the other has more mids to balance it out. So with us it’s small details, like Chris uses a bass cab for lows, and I use Celestion V30 guitar speakers as they have a mid-spike that makes them jump out a bit more. We use different fuzz pedals to spread the sound a bit, and I only use the bridge pickup, Chris only uses the neck. Just enough to separate the guitars. Neither sounds quite right on their own, but when both are playing together it makes sense. As hard as it might be for most guitarists, listen to the other guy as much as you do yourself!
Q: Do you find that this applies to both recording in the studio and live, or is there a difference?
Yes, although we’ll push it further in the studio by using bass gear as well as adding tracks of really trebly guitars too. That’s very much about adding component parts to the overall sound, whereas live it’s more about the overall effect. It’d be too complicated to try and replicate that live, but we keep that in mind when we record and try not to do anything that we can’t get close to live. A lot of the shows we play are festivals these days with backline supplied, so we ask for both guitar and bass rigs which helps. But yeah, I’ve used a Mesa Boogie with all the bass dialled out in the studio, definitely not something I’d do live!
Q: What’s one thing about the current pedal market that you find builders could improve/work on?
I’m not sure I have any pearls of wisdom there, I don’t build myself. In terms of fuzz, I think it’s possible that there are enough Big Muffs out there so maybe some of the lesser known circuits could appear a bit more, stuff like the BeeBaa, Superfuzz, the Fender Blender etc. But to be honest I think the builders, particularly the smaller companies, deserve praise for bringing us so many options – like 15 years ago it was all Boss stuff on boards, now the options are almost limitless. I’ve rarely talked to a builder who wasn’t really passionate about what they do too, which can only be a good thing.
Interview by Seth, our copywriter who does the articles on site.