How many times have you gone out to buy an amp or a pedal, and come back wondering, ‘Why doesn’t anyone make this in India?’ Well, they do now, in our very own aamchi Mumbai. Meet Aditya Nandwana, the man behind Animal Amplification Factory, who has decided to rule the world with sounds straight from Planet Floyd and Galaxy Soundsmashup. He builds Custom Pedals and Tube Amps for those looking for sounds not found on your everyday hardware. Intrigued? So were we.
IMR: How did AFA come into being?
Back around 1999 when I went to college in Bombay and picked up my first acoustic guitar, the only things I was obsessed with were a.) putting bass strings on it and b) distorting the hell out of it. The first idea had to be relinquished, but the second didn’t. With the help of a friend, I put together Aron Nelson’s Hornet Fuzz, which worked for about one second before never making a sound again. I think we trashed that sorry mess.
That kind of set something in motion though. Over the next few years I started building more simple effects and learning about electronics along the way. I have to thank Warren Mendonsa at this point – he commissioned the first ever pedal I built for somebody else, a clone of the Butler Tube Driver. It sounded horrendous and probably got trashed. Warren, if you’re reading this, I still owe you a Tube Driver.
Around 2008-9, the itch had grown into an urge, the urge into an addiction. If you want to fuel your addiction, you’d better have some disposable income – hence, I figured I should start taking on some of the custom build enquiries I was getting at the time and make my habit pay for itself.
I did a few pedals and a couple of tube amplifiers as custom jobs for people, as well as a few mods and repairs. At some point I got a bit fed up and I figured that I don’t want to be known as a custom shop/cloner and would rather take on a product focus. I think that was really the birth of AFA as an idea.
IMR: Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a bit of a misfit in general. I come from a family business background, so I consider myself very fortunate in terms of having some sort of foundation to build upon, and having learned stuff from very different places. I studied engineering as an undergraduate, and followed it up later with a master in cognitive systems and media. I suppose I’m a bit all over the place. I get pretty geeky – and fairly consumed - about things I’m doing or enjoying., usually music, building stuff, cooking or working out. Other than that, I guess I’m just a regular urban 30-something who needs his black coffee in the morning and is aging disgracefully as we speak.
IMR: What about your tastes in music?
Musically, I’m all over the place. I’ll listen to pretty much anything as long as it’s not too stupid. I go through phases, I guess. My favourite bands/artists would include Nirvana, Einstürzende Neubauten, Coil, Foetus, Explosions in the Sky, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Pantera, Aphex Twin, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Modeselektor, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Arcade Fire; topping that list would be Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. Some newer bands are creeping high up that list – Silversun Pickups, Muse, Foals, The National, Nicolas Jaar/Darkside, The Weeknd, God is an Astronaut to name a few.
So there’s a lot of industrial, electronica, shoegaze, post-rock/post metal. I’ll give practically anything a listen though – there’s really no point closing yourself off to music. Except perhaps the shit on MTV these days, Nicki Minaj and One Direction and that sort of garbage. Currently, I’m lusting for shoegazey sounds – Kevin Shields,Brian Aubert, Slowdive, JaMC...
IMR: What is the process of making a pedal? Where do you start and how much time does it take to make one of them?
Without going too deep into specifics, let’s break down the process- You need a schematic (circuit diagram), a layout (which translates that circuit diagram into a physical placement of parts on a board of some sort), electronic components to build the pedal, a soldering iron, solder wire and wire cutters, a switching mechanism and something to house the whole damn thing in. You’d be best to avoid flimsy enclosures though, given that you need to step on them. You assemble components on a board according to the layout, solder them in place, connect the input, output and power jacks and they you’re usually ready to go. The time it takes depends on your level of skill and the complexity of a circuit, but a simple one or two transistor booster or fuzz shouldn’t take more than 6 hours for somebody who has never touched a soldering iron before.
There are a lot of resources on the internet that explain the process very well. I’ve learned practically everything about pedal building off the net myself. Some of my favourite sites as a novice were: www.geofex.com, www.diystompboxes.com, www.tonepad.com, among others.
IMR: Do you have a particular sound in mind when you set off making something new? Or is it just something that comes along during the process?
It depends, really. Sometimes I do start with a sound in mind. Other times, I start with a specific circuit in mind and hack it apart to rework it. Not so often, they’re just happy accidents. Sometimes it’s a very formal set of requirements I write out for myself – the pedal should do x and have y features. I’m really experimenting at this stage, so I’m letting the creative process and bursts of inspiration guide me rather than set rules to constrain them.
What I love doing is actually coming up with a name first and then designing a product that sounds like the name. That ups the difficulty level in no small way, but is definitely more rewarding than making yet another Tube Screamer clone and calling it the Green Driveway or something idiotic like that.
IMR: Where did you acquire the skill-set and knowledge required to make intricate circuit designs and pedal casings?
A lot of it was learnt by doing and experimentation – I’m fiercely opposed to unnecessary wiring, including inside tube amps. I learned how to lay out PCBs while designing circuits during my undergrad studies in biomedical engineering – a good design makes all the difference, and is pretty critical in physiological signals. Those are a lot smaller than guitar signals, and clean design rules are paramount.
With the pedal casings, it was all self-taught – I’m really big on aesthetics because I don’t see any reason for a good sounding pedal to look meh. I think I was mostly inspired by medieval woodcuts and old inlay work. It was pretty hard to get things right earlier, and a metric fuckton of work at that. Thankfully, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting my processes down, so things are improving
IMR: Do you do the entire work yourself, or is some of the work outsourced to someone?
For the most part, it’s only me as far as research, design and prototyping is concerned. The only thing I don’t do in that department are the actual illustrations. I’m not an artist, and can’t draw for nuts. I’m very interested by different illustration styles, so I bookmark artists that I like and commission work from them. What I do outsource is the bulk of production work (which I’m not particularly exceptional at anyway) like drilling, soldering etc., so that I can focus on doing the more critical stuff – i.e. designing circuits, sounds, final assembly, testing/tuning and quality control.
I etch the limited edition pedals individually by hand though. That’s a process far too sensitive for me to entrust somebody else with at this stage.
IMR: Obtaining the parts must be really difficult.
Yes and no – a lot of passive components in usable quality are easily available in the local market. For everything else, you have to look for suppliers from overseas and import stuff, which can be a huge challenge. Almost every component in my tube amps are imported, down to some of the screws. That’s how hard it is to track down good materials here.
What does help is the fact that I buy in bulk quantities, which improves the chances of getting better quality parts locally. The pricing doesn’t change, but I’m pretty much done with the idea of putting super-cheap crap in my pedals. I usually go for the higher priced alternative, both with components and service suppliers. If I can get components in manufacturer-sealed bulk packs, I’m glad to pay more to avoid counterfeit crap. Quality and reliability come at a cost.
IMR: What is the future of AFA? When can we expect to see AFA’s pedals sitting next to the Korgs and Dunlops?
To answer the second part of your question first – at this stage, my gut says “Possibly never.” No disrespect to either of those companies – I love and have a lot of respect for them - I’d simply like to see AFA grow as a brand that focuses on identity and individuality. I don’t create my pedals according to public demand, or what’s hot on the market, or to make the player sound like the guitar god du jour. I’d much rather like to see people explore sonic possibilities and push their limits of creativity with my products. That’s AFA in a nutshell.
That being said, my products will be available for sale with short lead times starting October 15, 2014. I’d highly doubt they will ever have the mainstream appeal that Korg and Dunlop do to share shelf space in retail stores, but stranger things have happened.
The future of AFA, in terms of products, looks fairly exciting. DSP and digital effects fascinate me to no end, and the good news is that it’s getting easier to develop DSP-based pedals with open-source hardware and pre-coded chips. There’s also something else in the pipeline that I’m not ready to talk about just yet, lest I jinx it before it materializes – it’s giving me a serious case of butterflies in my stomach. If it does happen, I’ll probably be announcing something within the next 6 months, so stay tuned on the Facebook page for updates!
In terms of growth, I’d like to see AFA be more than just a gear manufacturer. I aim to see it drive innovation and creativity, and I’m honoured to have a very healthy music scene in India that I need to create quality products for. The DIY scene is growing too – AFA grew out of DIY and sharing, and we’re going to give back and develop that community as well in various ways.
IMR: What has been the response of users/music fans/critics/people with shared interests so far regarding your creations?
On the whole, unexpectedly good. It’s surprising how many people took to Chemical Burn – it’s a vicious, heavy, scooped, gated fuzz that you simply can’t tame or get a soft sound out of. I was pretty shocked to see a few shredders change styles and pull out some muscular, crushing riffs. Watching my friend, ace singer and musician Sid Basrur, play with it was a revelation. Niko from the Cypriot band Rawbin Cult messaged me raving about how good it sounds on bass.
I guess I like pedals that makes you take a different approach to how you play. The very skilled Gaurav Shah from Grasshopper told me after two weeks of testing a couple of my pedals: “I didn’t play your pedals, your pedals played me.” I couldn’t ask for more! You’re not going to use them on every song, but when you do turn them on step, people will know you’re in the room.
A defining compliment I got was from producer Costatino Francorsi, who saw one of my hand-etched Big Muff clones and told me “I don’t know what it is, I haven’t heard it yet, but it looks so good, I want to buy it.” That was a pretty important moment for me in understanding what makes AFA tick. He eventually played it and loved it, and now owns it.
IMR: What inspires your work- sound itself or music that can be created from it?
A bit of both, really. I’m more of the kind of guy who revels in drones and spacey sounds, so I’d like to hit a chord and let it sustain or reverberate around and just hear the textures change over time.
However, I find it equally exciting though when a musician constructs music around a sound – say, for example, Billy Corgan’s fuzzed out riffs on “Zero” or Kevin Shields’ reverb work on the epic “Loveless” album. The Edge playing the Way Huge Big Cheese in “Discotheque”. Deadmau5’ mastery of sidechain compression. You get the idea.
IMR: What’s your favourite sound effect?
It’s a very, very tough fight between fuzz and delay for that position. Not a nice, disciplined fight either, but an all-out eye-gounging, groin-kicking street fight. If you made me put just one pedal on my board at gunpoint, I’d probably have to go with a more extreme fuzz. Why be quiet?
In general though, I find one without the other incomplete. Time for me to develop a combination fuzz/delay, perhaps?
IMR: What all cool stuff have you made till now, and what are you working on at present?
Oh, I’m not going to ruin any surprises here! So without saying too much, I’ve developed around six different circuits to various stages of completion over the last year. I’m almost ready to roll out three, the other three are being fine-tuned and prototyped further.
My first product Chemical Burn – an almost-clone of the Univox/Shin-Ei Superfuzz FY-6 - has gotten VERY positive feedback so far, and I’m ready to take orders right now. The next product will be another fuzz with a very different character and one very, very unique feature. The third is a bit more mainstream, by popular request – a rich, fat bluesy overdrive/distortion. The other three are distortion circuits of different sorts, all with their own special thing going on.
After that I’ll be looking into other effects – there’s delay, reverb and modulation waiting to be explored. And let’s not forget tube amps, but that’s still quite some time away. All with a twist or two written in, of course. I like loud, noisy, nasty things and sounds with character. Smooth tones and predictable results can take a break. Embrace sonic artefacts, let them embrace you and find your own voice.
A rock devotee from Indore, with strong inclination towards Alternative, Punk and Progressive rock. He is presently pursuing his bachelors degree in IT. His main influences are Foo Fighters, Creed, Green Day, Nirvana and Beatles. He is the vocalist and guitarist of his band, 1000 Watt Sun.
His aim is to bring deserving bands into limelight, specially from the central India region. Their are many hidden gems which he believes have the potential to be at the top in India, but due to lack of promotion and commercial opportunities, they are lagging behind. His motto- Indie is the way to go!
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