Adrian Thorpe of ThorpyFX: From Explosive Specialist to Pedal Designer

ThorpyFX have recently been the Cinderella of the British pedal scene. In only two years, Thorpy’s distinctive exclosures have cropped up on the boards of Graham Coxon and Bootsie Collins, as well as garnering acclaim from Mick and Dan of That Pedal Show.

It those two short years, the brand has grown so fast that its Fallout Cloud hit the No. 4 spot on our recent round–up of "The 20 Most Popular Boutique Fuzz Pedals on Reverb."

There’s an interesting backstory with ThorpyFX, including founder and designer Adrian Thorpe’s past military career. We got together with Adrian to talk about the subtle design details inspired by his military background, Britain's love affair with fuzz, and what’s next up for the increasingly popular brand.

Adrian Thorpe

How did you get started building pedals?

Curiosity. A desire to get those classic rock sounds [of players like] Clapton, Iommi, and Brian May drove me to investigate how they were achieving those sounds.

I’ve always had a science and engineering background, so digging into the weeds to find out the minute details appealed to my inner geek. Well, that and a desire to see if I could do it better and save some money with my obsessive attention to detail.

Your pedal designs subtly nod to your history as a major in the British army — names, visual designs, etc. In what other ways has your army background affected the way you design and build pedals and run your business?

I think my army background has given me a fantastic focus and discipline that has influenced my pedal designs. I treat every pedal as a small project. The goals are laid out from the beginning, and I work toward achieving those goals with an obsessive level of drive.

Having been an explosives specialist, I’ve seen and tested numerous products that were designed to survive extreme temperatures, vibrations, and even explosive shock. This has given me a great understanding of how to design products for maximum consistency, durability, and longevity.

Basically, if there is an opportunity to do something better, I attempt to do so.

What’s your philosophy and approach to designing and building a new pedal?

I decided from the beginning that I didn't want to be a “me, too” brand. I wanted to inject some of my own personality into the designs of the pedals. It is important for me to be passionate about a pedal. If an idea doesn't inspire me, then it won't develop into a successful product.

So the pedals all start with a goal in mind. I then build the circuit up in blocks and see if they work well together. If they do, I build it up and test and adjust until I'm very happy. The end result should be a product that makes me grin. However, for this to work, I think it's vital to be honest with yourself. If something's not right, you should either modify it until it is right or scrap the idea entirely.

Where do you strike a balance between iterating vintage sounds and pushing new innovative ideas?

ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud Fuzz

Classic sounds are etched into people's psyches. I think it's great to nod to the past and causes people to reminisce about those sounds. But even with modern technology, techniques, and components, it's possible to improve on all of the shortfalls of a vintage design.

You have to be careful, though, because sometimes you can go too far and cause the pedal to lose its classic character. At that point, it's best to take a step back.

Basically, the aim should be to remove any of the negatives a vintage design has, improve on its core sound, and then ensure that modern features are added where they can benefit the pedal — the icing on the cake, some might say.

One of the most immediately striking features of Thorpy FX pedals is the unique enclosure. How did that come about?

Having used loads of military equipment, the theme that runs through them is ruggedness. Even a military laptop looks like it could be used as a weapon in a pinch! As I weigh 16 stone and have in the past kicked knobs off of pedals, I wanted to stop this from happening.

So I angled the footswitch to better present it to your foot, then I recessed the knobs to prevent them from being kicked or adjusted mid set. These features, along with top mounted jacks, really protect the pedals vital components and make it able to withstand some serious abuse.

The holes in the side of the pedal are a design nod to those found in armour that helps protect vehicles from an RPG attack.

How do you feel about the current state of the pedal building industry in the UK? Is there something that sets apart UK–built boutique pedals from their more numerous American cousins?

I think pedal building in the UK is really starting to get back into its stride. We have a really strong heritage. In fact, most of the really valuable vintage pedals are British–designed and British–built.

For some reason, we lost our way in the ‘80s and ‘90s and gave this advantage over to the Far East. In the ‘00s, the USA really kicked the boutique scene back into gear and turbocharged it.

I think the thing that sets the UK pedal brand apart from the US is the need for us to stand out from the crowd to compete. It’s a hard market to compete in, so you've got to offer something a little different, unique, and interesting.

This is a mindset that the UK has always had to adopt in any industry we compete in. As a nation, we like being the perpetual underdog it seems. However, we have some massively successful pedal brands that are making waves worldwide, including Pete Cornish, Roger Mayer, Stone Deaf, Magnetic Effects, D*A*M, PIGDOG, Orange. I’m pleased to say our pedals are resonating with customers worldwide, too.

British pedal builders seem to have a love affair with fuzz, in contrast to American builders’ penchant for transparent overdrives. What is it about fuzz that captivates us Brits so much?

Fuzz is the sound of the ’60s. It's what our heroes, like Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, and The Rolling Stones, used. It’s intrinsically linked to our musical history and culture.

ThorpyFX Gunshot Overdrive

Where a transparent drive gives you more of your amp’s natural sound, it is hard, if not impossible, to get fuzz out of an amp unless it's cranked to the limit.

Fuzz gives you searing violin–like sustain and feedback. It's addictive, grin–inducing, and absolutely essential for some of those rock 'n' roll classics. We love it because it's essential to sound authentically vintage. Sell either that, or that we just love the chaos it can produce.

Who would you most like to see using ThorpyFX pedals?

I’d love to see any of the legends of guitar music using our pedals. I am truly honoured every time an artist contacts us and trusts us with their sound, be it in the studio or live. I get a massive kick out of it.

From a personal perspective, I would love to see David Gilmour using our pedals to help craft his massive sounds. That would make my year!

What’s on the horizon for Thorpy FX?

Well, we are working on a massive array of circuits, and as they approach being finished, I get that nervous energy that pushes them to completion. We are also working on a couple of amp designs. I think I need to find more hours in the day…

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