I’ve been an effects pedal enthusiast for three different decades now. In all that time I’ve not seen a pedal company, big or small, like Chase Bliss Audio. Bursting onto the scene in 2013 with the incredible Warped Vinyl Analog Vibrato/Chorus, seemingly out of nowhere, the company made an immediate impact. I admit to not fully grasping the depth of this incredible creation at the time, wondering what kind of incredible mind conceived this powerfully creative tool. The most amazing thing however, is that the founder Joel Korte designed and built the Warped Vinyl from his own home – a truly triumphant story of grassroots ingenuity!
In January I made the journey across the big blue to Anaheim, California and attended the music gear utopia that is Winter NAMM. I had the pleasure of catching up with Joel in person and chatting about gear and life. As his company is on the cusp of releasing their most anticipated release yet, the Tonal Recall analog delay, there was a sense of great excitement and expectation around his booth. The chat was far too brief though, and I felt there was so much more to hear about what inspired him to think up such amazing pedals. The following interview I had with him recently scratched the surface just a little bit deeper.
For a lot of us mere mortals, the depth of control on tap in these pedals can be overwhelming. With that in mind, please give us an insight into your philosophy and vision behind the incredible amount of amplitude control you have built into every pedal in the Chase Bliss range.
A big thing for me was simply doing something different. I had been passionate about guitar pedals for a while, and it was becoming very monotonous and boring to see all of the “me too” releases. How many times can you copy and repackage a tubescreamer or a klon? I knew I had a unique skill set where I could offer something to the world that wouldn’t be for everyone, but it would be special for some people. It seemed that there was some fertile ground for digitally controlling analog modulation pedals.
Most pedal companies seek to control the experience of the end user. My goal is exactly the opposite. I want the end user to have complete control over their experience. I want to give them a canvas with all the paint brushes and crayons (or whatever else they like) and let them do what they do. It keeps things really interesting for me too. Often a customer will send me a video of something they did with the pedal that surprises me – I love it so much when that happens.
I also tried to make the pedals relatively intuitive. There’s no wrong way to use the pedals. I get some customers who say, “oh but I would never use all that!” That’s not the point though, it would be crazy to use all the features. The goal is to find *some* stuff that works for you, and give you the ability to save presets, and then it’s a worthwhile investment. Many of my customers never even touch the dip switches (it’s by design that they are on the side) and that is completely OK. The controls on the front should be intuitive and give you years of tones without ever even doing any of the crazy ramping or expression controls. Simple sounds, crazy sounds – we like to think we got you covered.
Your pedals facilitate enormous creativity from musicians around the world. What are some of the coolest things you’ve seen people do with your pedals?
I always enjoy seeing people do creative things with expression, CV, or midi. Mostly because I’ll often hear a sound or combination of sounds that I haven’t heard before. There are also some contexts where the customer will have a simpler sound dialled in and it will completely floor me. I always get super excited when KNOBS does a demo for one of my pedals. It’s pretty much a guarantee that he will figure out something with my pedals that I’ve never heard before.
Honestly, it’s also just fun to see a really good, creative, or unorthodox guitarist mess around with the pedals for a while. Just to hear some really beautiful stuff and watch to see how their playing might change as it interacts or complements the pedal.
Form and function are often mutually exclusive, but your pedals have achieved both to an incredible degree. What drove you to achieve this and what were some of the challenges you faced when originally developing the Warped Vinyl?
It’s strange, I looked back at my notes recently while I was developing Warped Vinyl and the challenges were big. Sometimes I think about (knowing what I know now about starting a business and all that) if I would have the stomach to do it.
The biggest challenges I think come from mixing digital and analog designs – there isn’t any one thing that makes it especially difficult. It’s just a combination of a lot of small considerations that add up to something large that make it really tricky if the designer doesn’t know what they are doing. The other big challenge was the size. It was really important for me to keep the footprint of the pedal down while keeping the functionality high.
You worked for Zvex for some time, how did your experiences there shape your approach to building Chase Bliss?
One enormously helpful thing I learned from Zack Vex was that he generally didn’t get stuck worrying about whether a particular concept or idea of his was going to sell. He designs what is inspiring to him – and luckily enough, that is often inspiring for others. Sometimes when we would be working on a design together I would start worrying about what the thing was going to cost, but Zack was much more interested in making that *thing* happen, not getting bogged down in details that were going to impede the creative process. I think this is the opposite of what most pedal companies do, and it has helped ZVEX to stand out and be as successful as it is. I’ve tried to carry that approach forward with Chase Bliss. Warped Vinyl, for example, has been my best selling pedal. It’s also probably the weirdest of my pedals (well, besides Spectre now). I think that in this industry customers are rewarding builders that are willing to step out on a limb and do something different than the present offerings. So *not* worrying about if something will sell can actually make your business work, because customers will reward you for the innovative (potentially weird) things.
The effects, and indeed the musical landscape has expanded greatly with Joel Korte in it. His amazingly innovative creative tools have already been a huge inspiration to musicians the world over, and with the Tonal Recall just around the corner, let's look forward to even greater things for Chase Bliss Audio.
You can check out the full range of Chase Bliss Audio pedals here, and the Tonal Recall Analog Delay is now available for pre-order!
Written by Rodger van Raalte
Owner and director of Signal Chain
"The pedal cabinet is the best part of any music store"