Published on 15 April 2021
Are you ready for some intense noise-mangling from Canada?
We hope so!
Today, we’d like to introduce you to some new friends of ours from a place called Hull in Quebec. It’s just over the river from Ottawa, and there must be something in the water because these things sound excellent! We’re talking about a range of hand-made pedals from Fairfield Circuitry, and they offer a palette of sounds that begin as familiar-sounding but gradually wade further and further from the shore into some quite vast and mad waters. If you are a fan of quality effects, read on. If you are a fan of pushing your sound into new places, definitely read on!
Venture into Unknown Realms
It’s a regular thing for pedal makers to breathlessly overstate the ‘craziness’ contained in whichever new box they want you to be interested in. Its par for the course in this industry, and after a while, you tend to stop believing it. It’s just another chorus, and just another vintage fuzz.
We know, we’re the same! So, with that in mind, we fully understand that when we say (us, not Fairfield, it’s worth noting) these pedals can go ‘off the deep end’ sonically, we’re hopefully not leaving ourselves open to accusations of hyperbole. What we’ve found is that Fairfield Circuitry’s effects pedals sound excellent and inspiring both as subtle tone modifiers and as gonzo noise boxes, quite depending on how each unit is used. Most pedals will give you one or the other, not both. We’ll choose three examples today, starting with the company’s most popular pedal...
Shallow Water Chorus/Flanger
The Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water is fairly representative of the range, at least in terms of its visual style and construction. Hand-made with custom steel enclosures and with the barest of operational information stamped into the metal, these pedals are the very definition of ‘utilitarian’. It’s a very stylish look actually, and solves the ever-present problem of the increasingly more ostentatious ‘boutique pedal graphic’ situation by simply declining to bother. Less is more? On the outside, maybe, but we really can’t say that about the inside.
So, the Shallow Water is ostensibly a Chorus/Flanger effect, but it’s fair to say that that isn’t much of a realistic description. Depending on how you set this, you can have some unnervingly realistic tape flutter effects, as well as slow, thick, chewy choruses. You can sound shimmeringly light or deep underwater, thanks to the addition of a powerful Low Pass Gate control, which acts as a filter. If you think of this control more as a sort of dynamic EQ, you’re on the right path. Team up the Shallow Water with your favourite drive effect and watch hours vanish as you experiment! It sounds gorgeous and unexpected, with is a combination we can certainly buy into.
Unpleasant Surprise Fuzz
Well, you can’t say Fairfield Circuitry don’t warn you in advance: this fuzz pedal’s title alone gives ample warning to the wary! The descriptive language continues inside the pedal’s manual, which promises ‘sputtery ad-lib farts’ and a control that ‘crushes your signal to shit’.
We like these guys.
So, the Unpleasant Surprise is an extreme fuzz, with a unique set of controls: there are two large knobs for volume and ‘onset’ which is a kind of mix between a reverse gate (the more you open it the more squash and sustain you get) and a compressor. The dials are interactive, so engaging one control will affect another.
There are also three mini toggles to play with, initialled ‘T’, ‘G’ and ‘C’. T is a Treble cut, G is a gain switch, for choosing between ‘open’ or ‘saturated’ settings, and the ‘C’ is for Crush, which is, as you may have guessed, the one you flip to ‘crush your signal to shit’. Hey, it’s what you buy these pedals for! Leave tasteful overdrives to the Klon Centaur brigade: the Fairfield Circuitry Unpleasant Surprise Fuzz is designed to wreak mayhem and havoc upon your pedalboard. Just let it.
Randy’s Revenge Ring Modulator
Questions abound here regarding Randy’s Revenge: who is Randy? Randy Newman? Randy the film geek from Scream? And why does he seek revenge? We’ll be straight with you: no answers will be found upon engaging with this pedal, but we wager you’ll have such a blast playing through it, those questions will happily wait.
Now, the question of what exactly a ring modulator is and does is one that’s never easy to adequately explain. There are head-hurting mathematics involved about division of frequencies, but the end result is always interesting. Now, at the beginning of the article, we mentioned that one of the strengths of this pedal brand is that they now how to go ‘tame’ as well as they do ‘gonzo’ and that’s also the case here, surprisingly enough. Whilst you can absolutely make your guitar sound like a dalek, you can also bring in some lush, subtle tremolo pulses and univibe-style movement to your tone. Whilst we expect that isn’t the primary reason for busy such a device, it’s nice to know that it can be done, nonetheless! You can add subtle texture and harmonic information to your tone without going full-on sci-fi Armageddon, if you don’t want to.
But you obviously DO, right? A ring modulator is not a pedal for the everyday guitarist, so if you are interested then we’re going to assume you’re more of a sonic architect/anarchist. In this case, Randy’s Revenge is just the device to kick your tone off the edge of the cliff and into a buzzing, hostile, cyber-abyss. Mini toggles for waveshape (you can have square or sine wave) and frequency range (low or high) relate to the large central Frequency dial. This is where you’ll ‘tune’ your chaos. Keep close to the frequency (notes) that you’re playing or go gleefully into the atonal: there’s a mix control in order to bring back some semblance of order to your sound, if you need it. Combine this with the Unpleasant Surprise Fuzz and understand that you’re entering terrain that has not yet been charted. You may get fired from a few bands, but pioneers always do, right?
For the Adventurous
As you’ll have ascertained, these are relatively niche pedals. True, they have a lovely analog delay (the Meet Maude) and the Shallow Water will cross over into many a mainstream pedal board, but the heart of Fairfield Circuitry lies in the bizarre, the extreme and the experimental. If you belong in any of those camps, or indeed just dip the odd toe in now and again, then you’ll find some very pleasing waters to swim in here.