Pedal Profile: Josh from JHS and the State of the Pedal World

JHS Pedals have come a long way in five years. What started as a series of modding exercises by founder Josh Scott has transformed into a premier boutique builder, with an ever expanding lineup of diverse pedals.

Josh is also an active Reverber. He maintains the JHS b-stock and limited edition shop here on the site, and recently auctioned off a massive cache of '80s Ibanez pedals. We talked to Josh about how JHS got started, its current line-up, and his take on trends in the pedal world.

Tell me about how you got started in the pedal game.

"I started getting some modified pedals, and wanted to figure out what was going on. I was always curious how they works, what they were doing. I had this modified Blues Driver, so I went and got a stock one and I compared them. I would also draw out the schematic. I would basically sit there with no knowledge of what capacitor does, but I would remove it and hear it. For about a year and half, I would be hearing what these electronic pieces were doing: what a resistor does here in this circuit and why is it doing that.

That escalated into wanting to build something from the ground up. So I goofed around with classic stuff like everybody starts with a Tube Screamer or a Fuzz Face -- so just playing with those. I would take those circuits and while I don’t know what this does specifically, I would hear it and if it was good, I'd make a note of it. From there I started learning the actual science of things and began to develop and build an education from what I was discovering. That’s how a lot of it began."

So you went from the modding things into your own designs, was there a pedal that was sort of the breakthrough in that process?

"Early on, the Morning Glory was a big piece. I was real proud of that. I actually achieved something there. The Pulp n Peel Compressor was huge for me. Understanding this old Armstrong-type circuit, adding to it and tweaking it and then putting a blend control, and learning and understanding how that’s actually functioning.

Then getting into other drives like the Charlie Brown was one of the early ones, the All-American which we’ve discontinued. It’s escalated all the way to where we’re a five-year old company, so if you have a four-year-old pedal of ours its vintage which is funny, you see people labeling them like that sometimes.

Two years ago we did the Panther delay which is all bucket brigade with digital harness, literally software coding control, it’s insane. That was a team effort with John who does a bunch in the shop and another guy, we all worked together. It’s this progression from hobby, educating myself, then teaming up with guys. And now the Cub which came out on Black friday, that shrinks it all down."

Tell us a bit more about the Cub, we’ve seen a few shops selling those on Reverb already. How does it differ from the original Panther?

"It has everything the original has and 1 second delay, so longer delay time. Instead of 3205, it has 3208 bucket brigades. That means a lot to some people, they sound a little different. It has soft touch tap tempo, so when you’re tapping it's no longer clicks. It’s half the size and a lot cheaper at $349 compared $499 for the Panther. Overall its a pretty huge achievement, we’re really proud of it. It’s everything that Panther was and a lot more. It’s the perfection of what we accomplished two years ago."

Going back to the drives for a minute, you have a ton of drive and dirt pedals. Which do you recommend for different style and players?

"The heaviest thing in the line is the Angry Charlie and thats going to lend towards distortion. I’d say it’s the only pedal in the line that you could say is real distortion. It does overdrive but its like the JCM 800 thing where you can do the Van Halen, Rage Against the Machine -type heavy, heavy thing.

Then you have on the opposite spectrum, the Morning Glory which is everything your guitar and amp sound like only a little dirty. No frequency or coloration weirdness going on.

In between, we’ve got a lot of amp-in-a-box things like the Charlie Brown is a JTM45, like a Plexi. The Super Bolt which is like the Valco Supro stuff they made here in Chicago, small amps exploding. We have the Moonshine which is kind of a classic American tone, you can do Dumble-esque stuff."

It seems like more and more, a lot of builders are moving into transparent drives with less coloration, do you see that as a big trend?

"I love this subject, it feels like everyone’s doing something transparent. And feels real good to have done the Morning Glory over four years ago. That’s our most successful pedal and I feel like there are aspects of that that maybe helped steer what people heard and want more of.

As far as where things are headed, take the Moonshine we just put out. It’s the best selling pedal to date in terms of pre-orders. We sold around 600 before release. And I advertised in all the headings and videos that it was a ‘Non-Transparent’ overdrive."

So tell us about the 10 series Ibanez pedals—we saw you sell a bunch on Reverb recently.

"I’ve always wanted to collect them and finally I was like, I’m going to. I have every one except a couple. You can hear a lot of music with some of the New Wave things in the back, it’s not all upfront. The modulation—I’ve never been a chorus guy, but I find myself really enjoying like an old Boss VB-2 Vibrato or CE-2 Analog Chorus.

I think reverb and delay in guitar is getting old. The Edge kind of did 25 years ago and dotted 8th is just beating the same ground. And then the washed out huge sound especially in church environments, that huge washed out thing. I think that’s going away. Mainstream music, everything is getting cleaner and more upfront.

I think some of the ‘80s stuff, I think people are going to start looking back to stuff that was made fun of five years ago, and start using it. Like flangers. I really do see it happening."

We put a question on Facebook recently about what the most out-of-date effect is, and it was pretty much Flanger across the board.

"Yup. I bet we start hearing it. It’s something about when you listen to a Katy Perry record, she’s selling a billion copies. There are '80s effects all over it, but people won’t realize it for a few years. And these producers are ahead of what we think we like. They’re almost subliminally delivering sounds we don't even think about. Unless you’re in a cover band and really trying to figure it out."

And the Katy Perry guy, Dr. Luke, is now one of the most successful music producers since the Beatles.

"Yeah and even beyond that. I was listening to a Ryan Adams track the other day and there was Chorus on the solo. And Grizzly Bear, I’ve heard some things that are technically not cool, but they’re cool when they do them. So it’s really about application. It’s about getting out of your head that Flanger sucks, and trying to use it cause you’re tired of everything else. I think that will start happening."

We have a lot of people on Reverb who are where you were maybe five years ago — people launching their own pedals, winding pickups and tons more. Was there anything that was particularly helpful for you early on?

"We’ve never from day one done anything but grow, we’ve never had a bad year. The economy crashed and things got worse, and I think for pedal makers five years ago, it was a lot easier for people to drop $200 on a pedal than buy an expensive amp.

I'm good friends with several builders and I think overall we are all doing well because of this. I think at the end of the day, people think, let’s try out some pedals and we can always flip them and lose $20, versus buying an amp thats as much as a used car. I think that’s a huge piece of why we’re successful.

Secondly, it’s just so flooded right now, I don’t think it’ll ever be the way it was when I came in. Being five years old right now is huge. I think it would be much harder to start a company right now. They’re everywhere. There are pedals left and right. So its a combo of right place at right time, cheaper than amps in that economy, and there weren’t a million pedal companies. I also think our stuff is the best but Im partial! And the DIY community has also gotten bigger since then."

What’s your favorite recorded guitar tone?

"I’ll name a few things. We have a product coming out in January and we went to Abbey Road Studio 2 a couple weeks ago, and I spent the whole day in there. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon all that, 90% of the Beatles records, Radiohead’s OK Computer. Just some of my favorite stuff. I think some of the Beatles: the White Album, Happiness is a Warm Gun has some of my favorite guitar stuff I’ve ever heard. That song. Blackbird, it’s just an acoustic and just Paul, but one of my favorite tones ever.

Then bands like Spoon. I absolutely love almost any Spoon guitar tone, I think they’re very different. It sounds like a 3D experience with nothing going on somehow. I’m also a sucker for Brit Rock stuff."

Last time we talked you mentioned something about a Reverb-exclusive project coming up. What can you tell me about that?

"Last February, I got a phone call from a friend down in North carolina. Basically there was a guy hoarding electronics for 40+ years and he passed away. We went out and picked all American Pickers-style and loaded an entire 24-foot moving truck full of out of production components. That includes transistors, op amps, caps, crazy vintage stuff that people die for.

When we get through the craziness of the holidays here I’m going to work up some limited 50 reverb-exclusive things that you could not build if you wanted to just with the parts I have from that."

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