Full Chat: Brantone
We love new pedals, so I’ll bet you could imagine the excitement at Break the Machine HQ when we welcomed Brantone Electronics to our ever growing catalogue.
Ever since we first heard the Woodstock Silicon Fuzz, we have been hooked on the ‘Brantone Sound’, but please don’t just take our word for it, this UK based builder has received some great reviews from esteemed publications like Guitarist Magazine and The Guitar magazine, amongst others.
We asked owner, pedal builder, guitarist and thoroughly nice chap , Johnny Sharp why he makes pedals, why he loves pedals and where the inspiration came from for the current line up of Brantone Electronics stomp boxes:
Q: How did you become involved in making guitar effects pedals?
A: I started building effects in the mid/late 90’s for just friends and musicians I know & also been on the road a few times as guitar tech and roadie with a few groups looking after their pedal boards and live gig rigs which was a memorable and great experience. In the beginning I made a few pedals for guitarists and they liked the sound of them so much I decided to make more and improve on the designs. To date I have built overdrives, fuzz units, rack mount studio devices and a lot more. These days I just concentrate on foot pedal FX rather than rack mount or studio devices. I took an obsessive interest in electronics as a kid, probably due to the fact that my grandfather use to own a TV & Radio shop post war from 1948-75 bringing me home old valves, radios and components to play with and also my dad who was a semi-pro musician on the 70’s folk/blues circuit, which influenced me to start to the play guitar. I started an apprenticeship when I left school in electro-mechanical engineering and at the same time started building circuits and making electronic projects as well as being lead guitarist in a lot of different groups. Fast forward a few years and I was working in the aerospace and MOD sonar sector in which the electronics were really in depth. I suppose a lot is self-taught and a lot I’ve just picked up over the years. It’s an unlikely pairing but music and electronics seem to go hand in hand with me personally and I’m very passionate about both subjects, so I guess I’m very lucky in that respect. With regards to the future, it’s just great to be part of the extensive pedal building family and culture that exists in the world today. There are some superb FX builders out there and hope that what I do adds to that culture and for many years to come.
Q: Johnny, can you tell us about your current line up of pedals?
THE TONEMASTER MK2
The Tonemaster MK2 is my faithful recreation of the highly regarded Sola Sound Tone Bender® MK2 professional from 1966. It was used by many guitarists such as Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton during his days with Cream, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page throughout his career, so it certainly has a great pedigree. But as far as delivery of amazing fuzz tone and sustain, the Tonemaster is unbeatable and really is a phenomenal sounding fuzz pedal. I took the original circuit from 1966 and managed to squeeze together all the components neatly onto a small veroboard layout and spent time tuning, tweaking & swapping component values until It sounded perfect, plus i’ve also added a trimmer to find the best sweet spot possible to make this device sound incredible. Powered by a PP3 9v battery or standard negative centre power brick, it uses three NOS Mullard Germanium transistors that have been especially selected & tested for gain and leakage. The Mullard transistors give it a different voicing and tone to the Fuzz Face, which was of course hugely popular at the same time due to Jimi Hendrix, who was busy re-writing the book on great guitar tone and how to use it to devastating effect. I personally find that these Mullard Germanium transistors are very ‘organic’ sounding and there really is something special about these British made beauties!!. So how does it sound? The tone is unique and phenomenal, and some say very tube sounding, but its not too harsh and a very smooth sounding tone. Crank one of these through a tube amp for instant ‘Whole Lotta Love’. Even with the ‘attack’ control turned right up it to maximum, it will push your amp into overdrive and give it a superb and unbeatable sustain that goes on, with lush overtones and harmonics. In fact it sounds like the perfect cross between fuzz and a distortion pedal in many applications.
WOODSTOCK SILICON FUZZ
The ‘Woodstock’ is my take on the classic silicon fuzz face in which Jimi used at Woodstock in 1969. The fuzz face was originally made by Arbiter electronics in 1966. I use a simple design and a neat layout on NOS tagstrip construction for direct mount of components. The ‘Woodstock’ uses a pair of silicon transistors which have been especially matched and tested for the perfect gains necessary which really puts this stomp in a class of its own with a superb singing lead sustain and tonal output. It interacts perfectly with your guitar volume & tone controls and cleans up extremely well by backing off a little to give a cleaner rhythm output. It’s an extremely versatile fuzz & one with defining clarity and not at all muddy or too dark. For soaring solos and ultimate sustain just max it all out and play. Put it next in line to a Univibe type of pedal hooked up for instant ‘Machine Gun’ or ‘Star Spangled Banner’. This pedal is perfectly suited for guitars fitted with single coils & humbuckers alike.
TONEMASTER MK1.5 GERMANIUM FUZZ
At sometime in 1966 a new an improved Tone Bender arrived on the market. This is the rare version we all know of as the MKI.5. This was a new design and different in a few ways to the MKI both in appearance and construction. My version is based on the MK1.5 circuit but has been modified and tweaked for the best sonic qualities possible. It uses two NOS 1960’s Mullard OC75 matched & tested germanium transistors which were commonly used in the original unit, has a very neat tagboard circuit layout design, housed in a Hammond 1590BB enclosure and custom powder coated in a ‘Bullion’ gold finish. The sound and tone from this pedal is verging on insanity and on maximum sounds as if your amp is about to blow up, with a colossal wall of thick fuzz which will send your tube amp into maximum overdrive. It’s voiced differently to the MK2 I make and has the nasal tone of a cocked wah wah and find it a bit more aggressive and less smooth than the MK2. With a Les Paul cranked into a tube amp with one of these you get an instant Mick Ronson tone and a sound identical to early Jimmy Page on the first Zep album. With a bit of careful tweaking of the controls there are many different settings that brings out the best in this model of fuzz pedal.
VINTAGE TWEED OVERDRIVE/BOOST
All the vintage tweed tube crunch you’ll ever need!. The Vintage Tweed pedal features not one, but three amplifier settings in one pedal, plus an added boost switch for 10dB of gain lift. Finished in a custom genuine Fender aged tweed cloth tolex, this pedal offers many tones from full out Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ to the overdriven juke joint blues amps of the 1950’s. It’s perfectly voiced for Blues, Rock or Country, or just about anything. If you’re into Keefs tonal palate, Neil Young, ZZ Top and many more, this is a must have device that will have you totally addicted. This pedal also interacts great with your guitars volume and is very dynamic with regards to pick attack and how hard you dig into your strings. It can give you anything from a light tubey overdrive to full out singing sustain with Humbucking pickups. With some careful tweaking of the controls, there are many different settings that will bring out the best in this pedal and will inspire you to play more. Use it as an overdrive or a booster, the choice is yours.
WEM PEPBOX OFFICIAL REISSUE
The WEM pepbox fuzz reissue I manufacture is the only authentic and fully authorised reissue approved and licensed by Charlie Watkins of WEM/Watkins Electric Music. Please be aware that there are quite a few cheaply made replicas and illegally unlicensed WEM badged units available on the web which are of inferior quality and not authorised whatsoever by Charlie being advertised for ridiculous sums of money. The good news is these official reissue units I make by hand one at a time have been praised by Charlie, and impressed enough by the 1st prototype I made for him, he licensed & gave me permission to give his Pep box a new lease of life into the 21st century. These are very sturdy units and use a pair of NOS vintage transistors to giving a medium to saturated ‘garage’ fuzz output. There is quite a commonly used photo of Lennon using one during the recording of The Beatles album ‘Revolver’ in 1966. Personally, I think they are great little fuzz boxes and according to the original magazine advertisements give a ‘fractured sound’. I managed to source some old photographs and adverts of the pepbox and WEM from around 1966-68 viewable in the gallery above with some photos of the new limited pepbox edition, which is in tribute to the life and achievements Charlie Watkins, pioneer of the modern day PA system & tape echo.
The first batch of 20 units i made in 2013 sold out and i’m licensed to make 50, so at present i’m making a new batch which will be available soon.
The 2ft output cable comes as standard to the original unit and it’s powered by a PP3 9v battery.
Brantone Electronics are available now in the store!