At the end of last year we did something unexpected – we gave away a ton of gear without asking people to cough up their email address, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Instagram. We did it, because we just wanted to. To have a vehicle to pick winners we just asked a few basic questions about what gear people were using. One of my big takeaways was the number of worship musician who not only owned Fender cables, but had the same kind of affection for them that they do the instruments they connect them to. I didn’t see it coming.
When Fender launched their pedal line the following month, I was excited to see them offer another piece of the signal chain to the worship musicians who have already embraced ‘evergreen’ Fender gear including Teles, Hot Rod Deluxes’, and cables. Ironically, Fender’s pedal line was born out of much the same spirit that we did the our ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ giveaway – they just wanted to!
Over the past year, I’ve had a chance to connect with Stan Cotey, the man behind these pedals as well as the fabulous redesign of the Hot Rod Deluxe IV. Like so many of the people we’ve gotten to know at Fender, Stan is passionate about the gear, and would be tinkering away whether he was getting paid to or not. And that is precisely the endeavoring spirit out of which these pedals were born.
Although Fender is a ‘for profit’ company, it is always exciting to see a company of their size and stature designing from the place of inspiration that they are approaching the current offerings. This is one of the reasons we are so excited to let you hear from some of the key people there. These people are the movers and shakers at the largest guitar manufacturer in the world, who like us at the magazine, are passionate about gear and the musicians who use it.
Rather than just talk about Fender’s latest trio of pedals: the Pelt Fuzz, Full Moon Distortion, and Engager Boost, we wanted to give you a chance to meet and hear from the man who designed them. So, it is with a great pleasure that I introduce you to Stan Cotey!
[Stan Cotey] I work on new product development. I also manage technology, which means poking our noses into new areas of technology. And, I get the distinct honor and pleasure of working with artists one on one developing things like the recent Joe Bonamassa Twin, the Eric Clapton amp, and the Michael Landau amp. I also work with our research and development group on their various projects.
[WM] Were there any group of players in mind when you started developing pedals, especially worship musicians?
[Stan] I wasn’t thinking about any particular core or any particular audience, but having said that I am well aware of worship players and I have a couple of really close friends in that music scene. I lived in Nashville for a good period of time and of course there is a lot of that there. It’s music that I’m familiar with, and people that I like. I know a lot about the pedal and effects driven textural and ambient sounds that are going on. I also understand the rigors of playing on amp-less stages where you really have to control volume more than any other musical situation I can think of. I think worship players end up having a lot of challenges that other players don’t. So, I would say I’m very aware of the scene, but not necessarily focusing on it.
[WM] Fender was kind enough to fly me out to New York for the pedal launch event. At that event, you mentioned that you created the pedals in some down time at work. What was the initial spark behind jumping in?
[Stan] So, like you, I’ve been a player for decades, for a really long time. I build amps for myself, I’ve modified many guitars, and I’ve built a lot of pedals and things over the years. So I’ve kind of had a collection of things in my back pocket that I’ve done just for me along the way. Earlier in my career at Fender I was running an R&D group, and then running the whole entire R&D operation. Those are always more managerial and steering kinds of roles rather than creative design roles.
To me, designing circuits is a lot like creating music, there’s not really a lot of control over what happens. It’s like a flow, you can’t really stop it, it just kind of happens anyway. I think if you have music in you it just finds a way to come out. When you’re in a moment where you think you’re not being very musical it accumulates, and it just waits, and it finds it’s opportunity and it just comes out. The circuit design stuff is exactly the same thing.
So, along the road to being a manager and a director and working on the R&D group, I would just continually design things and build things. Then of course I would run into problems that I would want to solve, particular to whatever my rig was at the time. If I was using multiple amps and I wanted to figure out some way to switch around multiple amps or whatever. I kind of had accumulated a few things, and Fender wanted to get more into the pedal space.
Our CEO Andy Mooney had this idea and drive to try and have our footprint over the entire signal path of a guitar player. Initially that was a grander vision of starting at the guitar and ending up all the way into the recorded part of it. I think eventually we’ll probably migrate there, but for sure what happens between a guitar and an amplifier he wants to approach with authority. We had some efforts in the past where we had branded pedals, brought in some pedals from other manufacturers and changed the industrial design or the look of them and made sure we liked them from a sound standpoint, then put our name on it.
But those things always end up being kind of generic, you always end up leveraging other circuits and it’s not really necessarily something that’s heartfelt. So, when we started this project we just wanted to start from scratch. We had some attempts to get things started, but hadn’t really progressed as much as we’d wanted to. I was in a particular fit of boredom at the moment, so I just raised my hand and said, “I’ve got a bunch of ideas, here’s a road map of something we could do!” I had a couple of plans in place, so the company graciously allowed me to go and pursue that. That led us to the first six pedals in January. That was a short ten-month journey.
[WM] One of the things I most appreciated about ‘your’ pedals is that they weren’t rehashed versions of existing circuits. In some ways it would have been easier to go that route, why didn’t you?
[Stan] Yeah, there’s no shame at all, I think that’s a perfectly valid thing. I know there are a lot of pedals that are exact direct clones of things. Some are like, if you blur your eyes you see the same schematic but maybe some component values are different so it sounds a little different. Sometimes it’s that pedal but now it has a boost added or that kind of thing.
For me, I didn’t want to do that. I really had a desire to try and come up with some things that are unique. And because we are Fender, I really felt Fender deserves to have something that is truly Fender done, and not leveraging other peoples’ hard work. I wanted something that was unique, could be uniquely ours, and that we could stand behind and not worry about somebody on a web board somewhere taking it apart and going, “Oh, it’s a Timmy clone!” or something. It was important to just start with a blank slate. I have a lot of respect for people that do tweak known circuits and get a little bit more out of them. That’s very much like a getting blood from a turnip kind of thing. It’s impressive if you can take a long-standing existing circuit and tweak it and make it a little bit better. It just wasn’t what we wanted to do.
[WM] Tell me about the amazing battery door, which allows you to replace the battery on your pedal even if you have it Velcro’d to your board.
[Stan] I can claim absolutely no credit for this at all. We have a really awesome industrial design group. They are the people that figure out mechanically how something should work, how it should be manufactured, what’s going to be reliable and durable. They’re also the people that give it the design language, so they might come up with a color scheme, or a particular font against a particular background. Or you’ll notice things like the curve in the font matches a curve in a knob or something like that, all of those little subtle details.
So, we have this awesome industrial design group headed by James Gifford, and they came up with this idea. They did a bunch of observations where they get together with lots and lots of musicians and they have everyone bring in their favorite pedals and their pedal boards. Then they look at all of the different situations they have going on and then they have a round table discussion. A lot of these happened. And it was about what do you like and what do you struggle with.
There are these stories like if you go back to Henry Ford’s time, and were to say, “Henry Ford, did you ask your customers what they wanted?” and he says, “No I didn’t because they would have told me they wanted a faster horse that ate less!” not that they wanted a car. In the time when oil lamps progressed to electric lamps, people would have told you they wanted a smokeless oil lamp or something. So sometimes those leaps don’t necessarily happen when you ask people what they want. They might identify a problem and you might find a cool way to solve it, but a lot of times the vision part of that comes out of observing something going on and going, “Wait, there’s another way to do that”.
So the ID group gathered a lot of feedback from people about what was going on and one of the common themes was people that use batteries. Eric Johnson springs to mind as a person who has pedals on his board that are still powered by batteries even in the age of the power supply. One of the things was making it easier to do that, so they just came up with that idea completely out of the blue. I really like it. It’s cool and fun, but I had nothing to do with it! I like also that there is a low battery indicator in the door, so it tells you when it’s time.
[WM] Before we talk about the new pedals, I have to say that the Level Set Buffer is the smartest design I’ve seen in the past twelve months. Can you tell us about the impetus behind this pedal?
[Stan] That’s amazing and thank you so much, that means an awful lot. That was a personal project and a thing from the heart. I lived in Nashville for a long time and I got to play with a bunch of singer/songwriters. One of the things about that particular town, it’s like, “I need a twelve-string on this song, a Tele on that song, something with humbuckers…” or whatever, so I had a lot of guitar changes. I like having a fairly broad palette available. With guitar changes, I didn’t always want something with tube pickups, to be really quiet relative to everything else, so I made a buffer and I put a Level control on it and a Tone control. Then eventually I thought since I’ve got some active stuff there, I could now put a tuner split and just have a tuner running the whole time that doesn’t affect the signal at all. And then I put a mute switch on it. It was just one of those things that evolved. I had that for five or six years before I ever showed it to anybody at Fender. I showed it to one guy at Fender and he went, “Oh wow! This is super cool, I need this – make me one!” So I made him one, then he told a couple friends, so it kind of grew on its own.
When we did the pedal offering, one of the things I wanted to avoid doing was copying other manufacturers ‘six best’ SKUs or products. The other thing I wanted to avoid was generic offerings like, “Here’s our chorus, here’s our phaser, and here’s our overdrive…” and just go down the line of sort of generic things. That thing was tweaky enough and different enough that I hoped it might telegraph to people that we were pretty serious about sound quality, and flexibility, and the rigors of having a pedal-based rig and going through guitar changes.
It’s a hard one to describe, and I think this is a little bit of the ‘black sheep’ of the pedals. People still look at it and go, “Wait, what?” But if you are that person that does go through a lot of guitar changes, or maybe you just want a little more inspiration, or just want to kick the gain up a little more, I like it a lot. I like the fact that it’s kind of tweaky and weird and it’ll hopefully tell people that we’re serious and have a bunch more stuff we want to do.
[WM] I’ll go a step further and say that with the singular exception of a drive pedal and delay, if you switch guitars a lot, this is the first pedal I’d suggest buying.
[Stan] Awesome! I like it, I’ve had it for a long time and I’ve always used it. I can have no other pedals and just that pedal if I’m still doing a bunch of guitar swaps and it still makes
[WM] I recently ran into you at the Fender Bungalow in L.A., and you were kind enough to talk me through the ins and outs of your latest pedal offerings, the Pelt fuzz, Full Moon Distortion, and Engager Boost.
[Stan] Yeah, that’s our product development area, and it’s in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Humorously it’s an old CBS building. That’s a chortle and laugh.
[WM] How would you run them in your signal chain if you were using just these three pedals?
[Stan] So the Engager Boost. If I was trying to use it for more inspiration and to help me when I just needed a push over the cliff, I would definitely use it in the front of the chain. It has a cool feature where the bypass can be either true bypass or buffered bypass, so it can be a front of chain buffer if you want. But it’s got a very clean signal path and the tone controls are flat when they’re in the center so it actually makes a really good end of chain boost as well. So if you want more drive or more gain, start of the chain is the right place to have it. If you want just more of the exact same tone but louder, back of the board is the place to have it. So what I tell people is, buy two of them.
I would probably put the Pelt fuzz next because I’m a fuzz earlier in the chain kind of guy. The Pelt is kind of fun in that it’s based around a discreet Class A FET buffer. A lot of fuzz’s are really particular about needing a super close relationship with your guitar and wanting to be as close as they can to your guitars volume control. The impedance of the output of your guitar changes as you vary the volume control and that impacts the fuzz itself, and it’s this whole relationship that happens. So traditional fuzz’s like ‘60s type germanium fuzzes are very particular about that. If you put it downstream after something it can sound bright and really harsh. So with the Pelt, I based the design around a Class A FET buffer to start with because I wanted it to not care where it goes in the signal chain. Having said that, I like having fuzzes earlier, and if I’m going to have a phaser or a vibe kind of effect or something I’ll usually put that in front of the fuzz because I like the textural chewy weirdness it gets when you do that. So I would go: Engager Boost, the Pelt fuzz, and then Full Moon Distortion. The Full Moon is really a high-gain, reasonably
[Stan] Yeah, we’re just feeling like were just getting started. If you look at the quality of the materials we use and the circuit board and closures, I think we’ve managed to hit pretty comfortably a reasonably mid-tier price. I like to think that the circuit designs themselves are high quality and perform well. We’re not trying to knock any boutique people out of the world at all, but I think we have some products that in some ways kind of hang in that space but they’re not necessarily priced like that. So given we’ve learned how to do that, we very much want to continue down that road.
We don’t want to be delivering super inexpensive commodity type pedals where it really wouldn’t matter what the brand was. We want to have something unique to say. We have a pretty long road map ahead of us, and we’ve got some ideas. I’m blessed that I have a lab space at home that’s pretty ridiculous. I get to work from home with my beautiful family and come up with stuff. So that’s kind of a constant fertile ground, so I’ll bring rough-hewn prototypes of stuff into work and float them around. From a business standpoint, the business has been super supportive of this, and the early response has been good. We think we’re doing a good thing, getting that level of quality out at what we think is an affordable price. So, we want to continue.
[WM] You mentioned that part of the mission of the pedals was to provide Fender offerings for all places in the guitar signal chain. That said, as a pedal designer, how do you balance that with not knowing what instruments players will us into the front end, nor any idea of what people are going to run the pedals into?
[Stan] That is such an awesome question, because that’s one of the things that came up when we were in the development cycle. We got some people together just to throw ideas in, because you never want to throw ideas away. You can have the brightest blazing star and you still want to ask everybody around what their thoughts are, because somewhere there’s some quiet person with an awesome idea. So amongst the sea of ideas that came in, one of them was that we should make pedals for Fender that are Fender – a distortion pedal with the sound of a Fender amp, a distortion pedal that’s specifically for a Stratocaster. Things were skewed that way, and my sense was that it’s a big old industry. The sounds that we all grew up on are varied and they come from lots of different places. If you look at the musical cultural influence of what was happening in England, and America, the cool little offshoot twisty things that happened in Canada or wherever, all of this stuff kind of got mixed together to give us our language. I didn’t want it to just become a closed box where it’s just going to be the sound of a Stratocaster through a Vibroverb and that’s just what you get.
We’re very aware that people use other brands of guitars and amps. We love where we are in the world, but it’s a big world. I kind of resisted the idea of doing things that were particularly meant to be Fender. That said, there are a bunch of really choice Fender things, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t appear. Vibrotones have been a big part of our history. Reverb and tremolo have been a big part of our history. I’m sure that we will hit those kinds of things in time, and probably not much time. I have a Vibrotone personally, but it’s not necessarily something that I want to gig with, so if I can get it in a pedal form and it sounds close to the original then that makes me happy.
The headroom in the pedals is high enough to deal with loud humbuckers and we’re not necessarily known as the loud humbucker guitar company unless you go over to the Charvel Jackson and EVH side of things. But just trying to play in the neighborhood, you’ve got to realize that the neighborhood has a lot of diversity to it. Were in it in a large way, but we’re not all of it by a long shot.
[WM] You opened the door with a comment about some of the FMIC (Fender Musical Instruments Corporation) specialty brands. Are you going to design some pedals for the other brands inside the FMIC family?
[Stan] Super good question, and I don’t actually know the answer. Right now, those brands are very focused and they’ve got their own mission statements and are doing great. That’s not a world I’m necessarily in, I’m very deep on the Fender side of the business. What I’d say for now is that there’s not even a conversation there, were very focused on being the best Fender we can be.
I love high gain sounds, and I’ve done some high gain amp designs over the years and played a lot of that stuff in my own playing so that’s stuff that resonates with me. I always love an opportunity to go push the envelope there a bit because high gain stuff is fairly hard to design. It’s easy to fall over and have bad things occur because of how much gain is there. So the quality has to be really impeccable there in order to get something that sounds great with large ridiculous amounts of gain. It’s not easy as a designer, which is great, that’s a lot of fun. But there’s no wind blowing in that general direction at this point.
[WM] You opened yet another door when you mentioned the relevance of design. When we interviewed Max Gutnik, one of the things he mentioned was that there are people that don’t necessarily associate Eric Clapton with Cream and that as a brand Fender needs to be responsive to that. What are your thoughts in that regard?
[Stan] Relative to your question earlier about designing things that are particularly Fender, the past stuff already happened. So in a sense I don’t want to look back there. If there’s some particular jewel that you want to excavate because it had great value on its own, that’s a really cool thing, but as an overall direction it holds no interest for me at all. I want to do stuff which points forward. I want to do stuff that opens up some new doors. And that’s tricky.
We have a saying, we call it “The Golden Handcuffs”. People are so used to buying the stuff from us that they’re been buying for decades that if we drift very far from that people get kind of suspicious. They’ll raise an eyebrow and go, “Hmm.” And we’ll go, “No! This is better, this is better!” Sometimes it’s like a, “If it was good enough for Leo in the ‘50s, it’s good enough for me!” kind of thing. So a lot of times we’re bound by that, even when we want to try and push the envelope and move forward we sometimes get a little resistance. As a product developer, it’s interesting to try to get something that’s forward looking enough but still comfortable enough.
[WM] Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[Stan] Something I think about a lot are all these sounds we listen to. When you go back to classic records and you go back to classic designs of products, it’s always a little bit of a chicken and the egg thing. Sometimes I wonder, did the early designers of this stuff really have a good solid sense of what they were doing? Did they know the tools they were making and what the players were going to create with them? Or were they just doing the best with what they had, put it out in the world, and then some guitar player came along and said, “Wow, this sounds great when I turn it up to ten!”
All these sounds that happened, all of the ridiculously complex things that occur when you start stacking a Stratocaster, Fuzzface, Univibe, Octavia and a Marshall and all of the complex relationships that happen. Sometimes you wonder if the early designers were really savvy to stuff, or was it more that people were doing unusual things.
I think a lot about where sounds came from, and the history. How important is it to make a tool that’s functional, well behaved, and has creativity in it, versus to make a tool that is wildly creative and that maybe you can get into trouble with. Where maybe some settings are really ugly. And maybe that’s ok because music is going to migrate that way twenty years from now or something. Or you can make things that are polite and you bound them.
This big broad topic of where sounds come from and what resonates with us – is it in our DNA? Is a big distorted rock sound something that an eight-year-old would hear and go, “Yeah!” – you know? What is that thing an eight-year-old hasn’t heard before, and how do you make that? Big long ramble, but that’s one of the thoughts that kind of drives all of this stuff!
Engager Boost ($89.99) provides players with more volume (20 decibels of boost) for fatter tone, making it the ideal clean boost pedal. The adjustable, onboard 3-band EQ shapes tone to cut through a mix, while the Frequency switch lets players select the middle frequency range, ideal for shaping tone precisely. The Engager Boost features a FET input buffer and is also perfect for boosting a signal into a tube amplifier’s preamp. True and buffered bypass modes ensure this pedal plays nicely in
The Pelt Fuzz ($129.99) All the familiar controls are there: Level, Fuzz and Tone, along with a Bloom control to shape the contours of a player’s sound. The Mid switch lets players boost or cut the midrange for even more voicing options, while the Thick switch adds some girth. With the ability to be placed anywhere on the signal chain, this silicon-based stompbox provides added tonal flexibility.
Full Moon Distortion ($149.99) Packed with brutal, high-gain tone, three-band EQ, a high-treble filter and sound-shaping options galore, the Full Moon Distortion pedal has everything you need to unleash sonic mayhem. Both symmetrical and asymmetrical clipping modes are lurking under the Texture switch, while the Bite switch shifts the upper mid-range and harmonics to bring out pick attack, letting players cut and chug through the mix with ease. Also included is a separate footswitch boost.