An Interview With Doug Tuttle of Mid-Fi Electronics

Sound Shoppe:
How’s it going today?  
  
Doug:
Not bad just sitting here trying to stay cool, and working on a new PCB design.  It’s this sampler/sequencer kind of thing. It's just kind of like a lo-fi thing, -uses  greeting card chips and makes horrendous noises.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
I wondered if you wanted to get into other things, like the samplers and things like that, but you're obviously already doing that. 
  
Doug:
Way back. I had like a little noise synth I used to do as well. And then the first thing I ever did was, it's called a kazoo synth. This was 2001 or so. It was a box with a microphone you hummed into and it had like a filter sweep knob on the side. 
I don't get too deep into that stuff, like, no modular synth stuff or anything but, you know, there's a lot of pedals out there where what you're putting into it has very little to do with what's coming out, so I guess there's a fine line between the two.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
Would you ever go digital? 
 
Doug:
Some of my stuff uses digital chips.I use the pt2399 in a lot of stuff. It's in the pitch pirate and the Clari(not), and the For Parts or Repair. 
I haven't done anything that's like, you know, strictly DSP programming. I don't know how to do that. Maybe someday  
 
Sound Shoppe:
   
I heard that people are using Raspberry Pi to programme their own pedals.  
  
Doug:
Yeah. Right.The Raspberry Pi. I didn't realise it was going into pedals until recently. I should check that out.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
Do you have formal training in electronics?   
  
Doug:
Not at all. No, I just started in the late 90s. My girlfriend at the time, her family had the internet, which was a novel thing for me. And that was the first thing I looked into. There was already a pre-existing DIY pedal community, this was  97 or 98. So I started there, and then you know, I'd go to the library and check out a bunch of 70s hobbyist electronics books.   
 
Sound Shoppe:
When did you decide to make this a business?   
  
Doug:
Yeah, so in 2001 I came up with the kazoo synth that I mentioned before, and the random number generator. I started selling two or three a year just to people I knew. Then around 2005 after getting fed up with the toxic environment of my then job at Guitar Center, I started trying a bit harder. 
   
Sound Shoppe:
Is that guitar Centre in general, just for you?  
 
Doug:
It's probably in general, it was pretty horrible.I had been there for like, three years and I just kind of walked out one day, and it was like, I'm going to try to sell more pedals and that's been it, ever  sense..   
  
Sound Shoppe:
Did you learn anything about selling pedals at guitar centre,   
  
Doug:
No, I didn't learn anything there. It's kind of a horrible business that has little to do with music. It's,  just a sales culture. I can't remember the name of the movie but they quote the “Coffee is for closers” line from whatever movie that is, you know, daily. It was mandatory 50 hour work weeks and you know, that wasn't great.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
A customer asked me the other day if my red pedal was the same as the red in the product phone. I know your pedals are different colours but are the colours uniform? Do you use the same red every time? 
  
Doug:
No,when I run out of enclosures, I just go to my supplier’s website and see what they have. And I order a couple of every color and they do change. I'm also color-blind. So you know, I couldn't tell you if they're exactly the same shade or not. So whatever's next in the pile is what I use for that pedal.   
I try to allow people to pick the colors if they really want to, but it'll be like, Alright, I don't know what color blue you're looking for exactly, but I can pick “a” blue out of my pile.  
Mid-Fi Electronics Scrape Flutter Various Colors

 

Sound Shoppe:
You have at least three pedals that incorporate an element of randomness. How do you make pedals do random things?   
  
Doug:
It's not 100% random, but it's close enough. It's basically just a whole bank of LFOs all controlling each other and then summing into one output. So you know, this one is making this one speed up and slow down etc. 
 
Sound Shoppe:
I think I have the idea, if you take a modulating wave and put a wave on top of it slightly out of phase, what you get is big leaps and jumps.  
 
Doug:
Right. Yeah.I'm sure if you watch it long enough, there will be something that repeats, but you know, you can't tell.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
When I can, I try to write my own product descriptions. I've had a lot of trouble even classifying the Claripirate. How do you describe it?  
  
Doug:
 It's a modulation delay, if you want to simplify it. The LFO section of it is like pretty much any other modulation delay, but instead of going a few semitones up or down, you can do over an octave in either direction. So it’s a pretty big range. And the other Clari(not) element of the pedal, is just envelope control, but it's kind of a bad envelope control where all the ripple and artefacts aren't filtered out. So it's jumpy and adds some waviness.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
I listened to your album. I didn't hear many effects. When do you get the chance to use pedals?  
  
Doug:
Yeah, I have a new EP out. In the US you can get it from green noise records, in Europe you can get it from wild honey records. It’s a one sided 12” 
Doug Tuttle Pinecone

 

There's a lot of stuff on there. A lot of the parts that sound like keyboards are actually guitars with pedals. And then I do use pedals on actual keyboards from time to time. I tend to use the Random Vibrato on most electric guitar tracks now. I don't go real crazy with the sounds on my stuff for the most part, but it's in there.  
 
  
Sound Shoppe:
Besides the randomness, I also enjoy the simplicity of your pedals
 
Doug:
Yeah, you know, it’s fun to have a pedal that you can experiment with for a while, but at a point, you know, you want something that's self-explanatory, as well.   
  
Sound Shoppe:
Most pedal builders building batches, I get the impression that you'd have more of an ala carte approach. Am I wrong?  
  
Doug:
Yeah, everything’s built to order.  
 
I don't build anything ahead of time. I probably don't even own half of my pedals myself. It works better for me. It's just me, I build out of my apartment and don't have a lot of space to stockpile things. An average day I get up and drink my coffee and then build whatever orders I have for the day. And then either, you know, work on a little music or work on some new pedal ideas.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
You’re in Somerville, right? 
  
Doug:
Yeah, we're right on the other side of Cambridge. At the end of my street I can see the skyline of Boston.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
Is there a pedal building community in Boston?  
  
Doug:
Yeah, there's a bunch of builders around. There's actually another place that stocks my stuff called Stompbox Sonic, they have an anniversary party every year and all the builders from around town go and you know, it's something we all look forward to. And people come and try everything out.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
Do you ever collaborate with people?   
  
Doug:
No, I've never collaborated.  I've always kind of just kept to myself on this, but it's you know,  nice to have these people around if I need a hand with something for sure. 
Sound Shoppe:
Do you play other instruments?  
  
Doug:
Yeah, I play guitar, bass, and drums. I can't really play piano or anything. But I use keyboards.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
Do you have a studio?  
 
Doug:
No, My girlfriend and I live in a two bedroom apartment. And the second bedroom is where I work and record music.   
  
Sound Shoppe:
That’s what I'm seeing now?  
  
Doug:
It’s where we are. You know, and if the neighbours are home, I try not to play drums.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
I saw that you were in “the pedal of the day”. They did a For Parts or Repair demo. Do you send products out for demos?  
  
Doug:
I don't pay for demos. I don't give pedals to people for demos. I've never advertised in any way. It's just my own demos which aren’t amazing. They're usually just, you know, audio into my phone, and they're pretty short Clari(pirate) Demo).
 
Sound Shoppe:
Not necessarily horrible, either. I mean, it's to the point.  
  
Doug:
It's, you know, just me doing this, and I don't want to have employees ever. I don't want to deal with all that. So I just let things go how they go. Sometimes I’m broke, Sometimes I'm not. And that's fine.  
  
Sound Shoppe:
Well, has the demo helped? 
  
Doug:
Yeah. I'm sure it has! I'm very thankful to people who do it just because they like the pedal. And yeah, that means a lot to me.  
 
Sound Shoppe:
Yeah, um, yeah, I think that's it. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for answering my questions, very honoured to be the first person to interview you, certainly not the last!
Doug-Tuttle

 

1 comment

  • Since Doug doesn’t advertise I’ll just make a plug here for him. The midfi Demo Tape Fuzz is one of the best dirt pedals out there. It sounds awesome and holds it character well in a mix with a full band.

    Matmosphere

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