For Jamie Stillman, it all started with a broken pedal. “I had a DOD Overdrive 250, an older one, and it broke,” he says. “I bought a new one and hated it, so I thought, Well, I’m going to get this old one fixed. But who fixes effect pedals? No one. So I looked it up on this website called General Guitar Gadgets [generalguitargadgets.com] and managed to track down the problem and fix it. I found that fun, and that started my obsession.”
That obsession led to EarthQuaker Devices, where Jamie is the president and primary product designer. Soon after he fixed that broken pedal, he started to build his own devices for friends. “That was in 2005. Within a year, it started to get more serious, but for the first five years it was just me working in my basement. Then, on New Year’s Day in 2010, I hired our first employee, Jeff France, who’s still here as our production manager.”
Today, EarthQuaker has a dedicated crew of more than 50 employees building “extra special effects pedals” in a converted warehouse in Akron, Ohio. Under Jamie’s leadership, the company has grown steadily yet has remained faithful to its roots, hand-building its products and maintaining close, personal relationships with both dealers and customers. Jamie’s wife, Julie Robbins, supervises the business side, and the couple—literally—runs EarthQuaker as a mom-and-pop operation. “We like to have total control,” says Jamie. “That way, we’re never sitting on too much stock, and we’re never out of stock. Every week, we know what we need to build, and we build it and we get it out.”
The EarthQuaker line has more than 40 pedals, most of them designed and named by Jamie. “I had no formal [electronics] training, and it didn’t even dawn on me until about nine years into doing EarthQuaker that maybe I should have had some kind of formal training,” he says with a chuckle. “Maybe trial and error isn’t always the best route, but I think I’ve found a lot of interesting things that I would not have tried if I knew the ‘right’ way to do things.”
EarthQuaker doesn’t offer separate lines for bass and guitar, and its website makes a point of stating that “all pedals work on bass.” As a guitarist, Jamie says, he’s always favored a tone with “tons of low end,” which is one reason why his pedal designs work so well for bass. Juan Alderete confirms this: An EarthQuaker enthusiast, he says he uses “more than half the line” and sings the praises of such radical sound-shifters as the Afterneath (“otherworldly reverberator”), Data Corrupter (“modulating monophonic PLL”), and Organizer (“polyphonic organ emulator”), as well as the Hoof Reaper and Terminal fuzz boxes and the Warden compressor.
EarthQuaker also has its own comic book, Octo Skull, “an epic fantasy adventure … inspired by the company’s colorful and inventive line of musical effects pedals.” The series was created by Matt Horak, the illustrator who does the EarthQuaker pedals’ artwork. “He got a job working for Marvel about two years ago,” says Jamie, “but he still works out of our office. He wanted to do a comic book for us, so we let him have at it.”
Asked what’s on the drawing board, Jamie responds that “we always keep everything a big secret.” Product development has been a nonstop and prolific process, with a new EarthQuaker pedal hitting the market every quarter. “That can be overwhelming for our dealers. They’re just getting used to the thing that came out and getting a handle on how to explain it to customers, and then something else is there.” That said, Jamie remains committed to continuing to create new pedals—and to keeping production right where it is. He’s well aware that many competitors have overseas assembly plants but asserts that has no appeal to him: “A lot of times, when companies start to grow, they try to outsource everything. We’ve taken the opposite approach. We’ve been saying, ‘Handmade in Akron, Ohio’ forever. We’re not going to change that all of a sudden.”
Go to earthquakerdevices.com for more about EarthQuaker pedals, the people who make them, and Octo Skull comics.
Jim Roberts was the founding editor of Bass Player and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).