Yukon Weekly

Music

Yukon musicians developing their own guitar fuzz pedal

In a basement office in downtown Whitehorse, in a space they share with a dressmaker and a filmmaker, two young musicians are trying to make magic from a pile of old electronic parts.

Patrick Hamilton and Dawson Beaulieu are building a fuzz pedal. 

“I was getting very much enthralled with the idea of guitar pedals,” said Hamilton. “I started to notice on eBay people seemed to be making and reselling clones or copies of classic guitar effects. For those original 60s effects, there’s enough fandom around them that the prices have really skyrocketed, especially over past five or 10 years. So I started to see people making these works of art and selling them, so I thought maybe I could do that as well.”

They’re not alone.

Guitar pedals, or stomp boxes, are small devices that alter the sound of electric guitars. There are pedals that can recreate almost any sound, from making a guitar mimic a church organ or sound as though it’s being played underwater.

But Hamilton and Beaulieu are chasing a perfect fuzz tone.

“Fuzz kind of started as a mistake,” said Beaulieu. “It kind of just takes your signal and explodes it with dynamite.”

The first example of a fuzz tone on record came on a Marty Robbins song, and it was a complete accident. Something went wrong with the recording console and the bass was heavily distorted. Even though it was unintentional, the sound stayed on the final mix.

After the Marty Robbins song became a hit, manufacturers started building pedals to recreate the sound intentionally. When the Rolling Stones had a huge hit with their fuzz-laden song Satisfaction, it became a sound everyone wanted.

From the Tone Bender to the Fuzz Tone to the Big Muff, a fuzz pedal became part of the signature sounds of guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Mass production made pedals accessible for more guitar players, but there’s something special about those original effects, even though they’re very basic electronic devices.

Those original pedals now cost thousands of dollars, if you can even find them on sites like Reverb and eBay. There are plenty of companies that make modern versions, but you can also find the original plans for those pedals and, if you’re like Beaulieu and Hamilton, track down some of those old components and build them yourself.

Dawson Beaulieu and Patrick Hamilton test pedals at their company, Big Boat. (Photo by Dave White)

“If you’re making a fuzz pedal, you’re working off the lineage of something from the 1960s,” said Hamilton.

“Early on we started by just cloning things,” said Beaulieu. “Then you get into modifying things and changing the values of different components. So if you build a pedal and it’s not quite sounding right, you might be able to change the transistor or the value of the capacitor and get the pedal more to what you want to hear.”

The pair have been making pedals off and on for a while, and using them in their own work and sharing them with friends. But the ultimate goal for the two is to build and market their own fuzz pedal, something they’re calling the Boaty, after the name of their company, Big Boat. 

The pedal will contain elements of some of their favourite classic fuzz tones, with their own spin on things, and will hopefully be available in a couple of months.

Guitar pedals come in all shapes and sizes. (Photo by Dave White)

It’s another example of the do-it-yourself nature of the music scene in Yukon. There are people who build amps and guitars in the territory, and promoters and musicians have found creative ways to stage events like the recent Wondercrawl, a mobile art event that replaced a festival that was cancelled due to the pandemic.

“It makes me especially happy when bands play and I have made them a pedal,” said Hamilton. “If the bass player and the guitar pedals are using a pedal we’ve made, it make us feel part of the scene.”

Comedy, classical music Christmas super weekend coming to NACC

The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre will host a double-act, super weekend of comedy and classical music on Dec. 12-13. 

Although the Ever Late Show: Christmas Edition! comedy event and the Gryphon Trio Celebrate Beethoven@250 Watch Party events are catered to different audiences, NACC executive director Marie Coderre said she’s trying to cater to as wide an audience as possible leading up to the holiday season.Advertisement

Martin Rehak, right, throws flowers to the crowd with Skye Plowman at a summer performance at the Willideh traditional site. Baby Brian Weadick performs in the background. Rehak and Plowman will be back on Dec. 12 for a Christmas comedy show. 

“We’re trying to target two different crowds and we tried to find programs that could really satisfy local audiences with laughter while also celebrating a big composer,” Coderre said.

Tickets are now on sale for the Ever Late Show: Christmas Edition, to be held on Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. The event will feature Martin Rehak and JD and a lineup of comedians. 

Rehak, 36, has been part of NACC’s mentorship program for more than a year and has been among the Yellowknife-based arts performers building a community of comedians in town, said Coderre. 

“I think that during the pandemic, we really need to laugh right now and we really need funny content,” she said. “We are used to having music shows for Christmas and stuff like that, but I think  a parody comedy show around Christmas will be quite different and quite relevant in these unprecedented times.”

Marie Coderre, executive and artistic director of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), has organized a weekend of comedy and classical music on Dec. 12-13 to reach a broad audience ahead of the holiday season.
NNSL file photo.

The lineup will also feature comedians Skye Plowman and Emily Blake, a brief appearance by Tom Parker and other surprise acts.

The musical guest is Ryan McCord and there will also be a special appearance by David Thomas Micheal. 

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, there are only 50 spots available for the live act in the cultural centre. However, the event will be broadcast via Facebook and Northwestel later that day at 7:30 p.m. 

All sales will be online as the box office is closed and people who attend are asked to take public health precautions. 

Coderre said the show will be a Christmas-based parody and viewers are advised there could be adult content involved. 

NACC hosted a Martin Rehak event in August at the Willideh stage and he said that audiences can expect a similar performance.

“It will be like a late-night talk show format with multimedia and local acts with some silly bits in-between and sketches,” he explained. “The one at Willideh was the first of its kind that we had done and this is the next installment as a Christmas edition.”

Gryphon Trio

The same weekend will also feature a virtual concert by the Gryphon Trio on Dec. 13 at 3 p.m.  to mark the 250th birthday of musical composer Beethoven.

One of Canada’s most celebrated classical music trios, the Gryphon Trio comprises pianist Jamie Parker, cellist Roman Borys and violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon. 

Tickets are also on sale for that event. The show will include a pre-recorded performance of Beethoven’s G Major Piano Trio Op. 1, No. 2 and the Piano Trio in Bb Major, Op. 97, nicknamed the “Archduke.” 

The Gryphon Trio will be holding a virtual concert on Dec. 13. Ticket-holders will be able to participate in a question-and-answer session with the classical Canadian musicians.
photo courtesy of the Gryphon Trio official website

The event will only be seen via screen, exclusively for ticket-holders.

“All the classical music lovers will love that show and we’ll have a chance to talk to the members afterwards,” Coderre said. “I will be on stage with them on the screen and we will have a discussion and the audience will be able to ask questions. “

She said that show will be a reunion of sorts as the Gryphon Trio have toured in the NWT in the past, the last time being December 2016 as part of the Broken Hearts and Madmen Project.

“So yes, it’s good just going to be a reunion with the Gryphon Trio who have been an important asset for the community here and who have done so much for the Northwest Territories,” she said. “I’m sure they will be thrilled to to see a few patrons even though it will be just 50 people.”