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Fuzzrocious Is Literally a Mom and Pop Pedal Company

Bass pedals custom hand-painted by kids.

Ah, pedals. You love them and your girlfriend politely zones out while you and your buddies Google pictures of Kevin Shields' rig. Whether you're a full-on shoegazing tap dancer or a metalhead or a blues guy or just someone who believes alt-rock was better in the 90's, a good overdrive/distortion/fuzz pedal is essential to your sound.

Dirtying up a bass can be a tricky proposition, as many common overdrives tend to sound thin. Enter Ryan Ratajski of Fuzzrocious Pedals. He and his wife Shannon don't believe that guitarists should have all the fun. Ryan took some time to tell us what it's like being a literal mom-and-pop operation in today's musical climate and explains how not being shitty goes a long way.


Noisey: How did you first get started making pedals?
My buddy and old bandmate Lukas Judge McCutcheon got me into building guitar pedal kits from General Guitar Gadgets. He had these plain boxes on his pedalboard that did all kinds of wicked stuff and my interest was piqued. Bandmates always told me that I would LOVE a Big Muff Pi, so I asked my dad to teach me to solder. We sat down and after a few beers and hours, I had my own GGG-tuned BMP clone. I started by practicing on kits from GGG, then started modding the pedals to do new things. The internet is a great place to learn about circuits and sites like Beavis Audio Research really helped get me up and running. After I made a couple of kits, I hit up local friends in bands as well as friends I made when I toured with my old band which was called Two Days. You know, back when touring in a band was pretty easy—gas was just over $1.00 per gallon, every city and town had a house to crash in, kids came to shows, and VFW hall shows attracted as many kids as a real venue. Wait…I'm livin' in the '02 again. Where was I? Anyway, after messing with kits, I started understanding circuits and began building my own designs. Shannon, my wife and partner in Fuzzrocious, has a degree in Fine Arts, but wasn't using her skills as a painter in her career, so painting guitar pedals was the perfect way to share her skills with the world.

Were you motivated primarily to make something tailored to your specific needs or was it more about learning a skill that could make you money? Perhaps a bit of both?
Brian Hamilton, owner and mastermind of smallsound/bigsound, told me that building guitar pedals is a black hole. Once you are in, you can't get out. I began building pedals just to give my friends something cool and make something that I would personally use in my musical ventures. I have always said that I would not put a pedal out that I wouldn't find a solid use for in making music. As word of mouth started to spread and requests came in, we realized that this was actually becoming a business, not just something we did for friends/ourselves. Shannon and I decided that we actually enjoyed Fuzzrocious and wanted to help it grow, so we began investing more and more time and money when we were not at our day jobs to making pedals. It was and wasn't about the money by year two of Fuzzrocious. Extra income helps resolve some of the stress we all know and love—mortgage, utilities, car payments, etc.


By the time year three rolled around, our second child was on her way and we made the decision to spend even more time on the business and use the income that was coming in to pay for the growing cost of school/child care. Here we are at a little over 5 years of Fuzzrocious and it's a legitimate business, but it's still something that we love and couldn't imagine not doing anymore. It helps us provide our children with a more comfortable life of not worrying about whether to get them new shoes to replace ones with holes in them or if we can pay the mortgage. If we only had our day jobs, we would be worried about money on an hourly basis, but with us both working full time during the day, then doing Fuzzrocious full time every night and all weekend helps us actually save for a future as a family.

At what point did you decide to start selling pedals? Did you approach artists to see if they would be interested in your products or did you just throw up a website and hope people found out about you?
We decided to make Fuzzrocious legit after we made our first million. After you make a million dollars, you'll know what it's like. Am I right, fellow one percenters? Wait…that's not accurate at all…

I would say that by about two years in, we were making solid sales on circuits that we designed. This is when Fuzzrocious really became "Fuzzrocious." A couple of working musicians/bands approached us via word of mouth, which was flattering. It also helped us confirm that we were making something special that could potentially stick around. We have fished for a couple of the artists on our clientele, but well over half of them approached us or told a mutual friend that they wanted us to get in touch. We are still a word of mouth company. We can't afford advertising and frankly since Fuzzrocious isn't our only gig, we can't handle the potential orders that would come in from advertising. As a side note - almost every artist on our clientele list has bought one or more pedal from us. The fact that working musicians are willing to pay for one of our pedals is exceptional—they understand that we are small, will work them in a hands-on capacity, not pressure them, and that this is a family venture.


Fuzzrocious is a family affair. Tell us a bit about how the operation works.
Family affair sounds incesty, you weirdo.

We have three lines of pedals we make from an art standpoint: hand-painted—Shannon's designs; kid-painted—made by our children, or screenprinted—printed by local screenprinters, Juxtaprints. The screened pedals are shipped exclusively to stores; hand/kidpainted are for direct sales. We chose to send screened pedals to stores for two reasons: faster production and diversifying. If a customer can't wait for something hand=painted, they can grab the same circuit from one of our dealers. This way, everyone is happy. For direct sales, we spend more time on each pedal since we are working as a family. The kid-painted pedals allow customers to get something 100% unique that ships a little faster, since it usually takes all of three minutes for them to slather with paint, and from a family standpoint, it allows our children to do something artisitic, spend time together as a family, and learn a little something about work ethics/business. Our son actually tells people he works at Fuzzrocious Pedals.

For hand-painted pedals, Shannon has a nice little mountain of pedals in her art studio. She works on them in small batches on the weekends during the school year—full-time on summer, spring, and winter break. A basic line image is traced on by hand with transfer paper, then she meticulously paints each one using enamel paints for our normal designs and acrylics for more detailed custom images. Each pedal takes about 30-90 minutes to paint, hence our wait list. If you purchase a pedal direct from us, you're getting something that was made by hand from start to finish.


Kid-painted Fuzzrocious pedal.

You have great customer service and relationships with your endorsed artists. Do you feel like you're making the effort to go the extra mile for your customers or do you simply feel like you treat your customers like you'd want to be treated?
A company that doesn't treat its customers well is a pretty shitty company run by pretty shitty people. We do our best to not be shitty.

If you visit music/pedal forums, it's pretty easy to find posts about shitty customer service. Every band has at least one story about being treated poorly by a music store, instrument company, or pedal business. We make a very conscious effort to put the vibe out that we treat our customers and potential customers with respect, understanding, and support. If I bought a pedal or guitar or bass from a company, I would want them to reply to emails quickly, provide updates when needed, and help out when help was needed. We answer every email within 24 hours—usually within two hours if it's during the day/early evening, daddy needs his sleep. We make every effort to hang with bands when they tour through the Philly area and even put a few of them up for a night when we are able to!. Half of Fuzzrocious is about "being there" for customers and our clientele. Think about the amount of work that goes into pushing pedals out and match that by customer service. That's a lot of customer service, eh?


How much would you say word of mouth has had to do with your sales as opposed to things like web forums (Talkbass, fuzz discussion groups, etc)? If you had to guess, what percentage of your business would you say comes from endorsers talking you up to fans as opposed to the previously mentioned forums?
This is tough to gauge. The internet is almost "everything" nowadays, so a lot of word of mouth is really word of fingers. We definitely see an influx of orders when the bands we work with are out on the road. Tourmates talk about gear and tone, so when one of "our bands" is out, a tourmate or two will send us a message. We also hear from a lot of pedalboard stalkers when "our bands" are on tour too. We don't get a ton of orders from word of mouth from touring bands, but it's enough to make it worth it to give a band dude a heavy discount or float them a freebie. Working with bands directly is the bigger reward than the influx of orders; it's not about orders/money, to be honest. It's more rewarding the spend an evening with a band/dude in a band and shoot the shit than worry about if he's pushing our pedals. That's the punk rock/DIY side of us. Yeah, Fuzzrocious is a business, but it's more of a relationship/ethic. Forum and "regular" customer word of mouth is still the main cache of orders.

You have a lot of gear nerd bass players as clientele. There is kind of a cult or club or whatever you want to call it of people who use your pedals. What can you tell us about the Fuzzroshitheads? I imagine you've met some interesting folks and made some friends along the way.
Oh, our beloved Fuzzroshitheads! Man, does it feel good to have minions to do our evil bidding.


An online presence on forums like Talkbass and our social media—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—has so much to do with visual exposure. Like I said before, the internet is almost everything. If you put out a good vibe, people pick up on it. We keep things pretty loose, fun, goofy, dry/offbeat, but still informative and we make sure we are present—posting daily and answering threads/emails.

Being present physically goes along with customer service online. We try to hook up with every band with whom we work when they come through and it's rad when our endorsers/customers make it out to one of my band's shows (Plutonian).

There are a lot of cool smaller companies making pedals these days. Devi Ever, Earthquaker Devices, Dwarfcraft just to name a few. I assume that you and all of those companies share certain ideals. You want to make kickass products that you would actually use yourselves. You want to get those products into the hands of artists you appreciate and you want to be in contact with those artists and not be some faceless, giant corporation. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) What's the climate like for a DIY builder these days? Is it fiercely competitive or is it more of a chance to meet like-minded builders and learn from each other and make friends, etc?
Competition hasn't really become fierce for us yet. Competition is growing for sure, but I don't see much hand-painted stuff out there these days. I don't even see many companies offering mods on their own pedals like we do either. Eventually someone is going to come along and make us shake in our boots a bit and we welcome it. Challenge helps you grow and gives you a reason to keep things fresh.


In the DIY community, we're all generally helpful and supportive to one another. Hints, tricks, and praise gets thrown around. We joke, talk business, etc. Social media/email makes support way easier. In the Philly area, there are great boutique companies like smallsound/bigsound, TSVG, and Adventure Audio, to name a few. We're also in a gang, so any other companies that want to be shitty are cruisin' for a bruisin'.

We don't talk sales and numbers with any of the companies, so we don't really have a gauge on who's killing it sales-wise. The internet can make any company look like they are making waves.

Fuzzrocious is not your day job. Would you like it to be? What aspirations do you have for the company?
People are astounded when they find out that Fuzzrocious is just a family and we don't work on this all day and this isn't our sole income. I mean, we wish we did…someday! It would be amazing if we could make this company our only job.

We would love to work on my our own time with our own schedule, take a nap after lunch, and enjoy our home instead of work hard all day, then come home and work at being a family and business owners at the same time. We're making a difference in our day jobs, which is really positive and gratifying, but it's very rewarding to be able to create something "different" for people and be a part of what shaping what "tone" is. We're just going to keep on working 40 hours in our day jobs and another 40 or more on pedals to help build this business to whatever it will become.

Check out the full product line at Buy something and then let Ryan amaze you with his vast knowledge of cheesesteaks.

Matt Armstrong plays bass in Murder By Death and his hand-painted pedals look like crap. Follow him on Twitter - @battlebot