Leave it to a bunch of guitarists to glance down at their feet and think how boring the pedals they’re pushing are — and a dream is born. That need to create something visually enticing and sonically impressive has since blossomed into the company called Circus Freak Stomp Boxes.
With four pedals available (at $179.95 a pop), and more on the way, these are exciting times for a company that decorates effects pedals with circus performer carnival art: the fuzz tone pedal is the Bearded Lady; the compressor pedal is the Lion Tamer. See how that works?
“We’re all musicians and we’ve been playing a long time,” explains Circus Freak’s marketing dude, Jeff Hupp. “We all have a bunch of different pedals from a lot of different manufacturers and a lot of them are really cool. What we didn’t really get out of these pedals was the aesthetic. Circus Freak sprung from that.”
Just shy of its one-year anniversary, Circus Freak’s founders acknowledge that the demand for stylized guitar pedals is, shall we say, “niche.”
While they really do look stunning, the oddity that nobody but the band using them will even see the pedals has not been lost on Hupp and his colleagues.
“It’s a little weird,” Hupp says. “There’s definitely a pedal fandom out there though — guys who know that they can get a digital system, but really love the flexibility of an analog pedal. We’re marketing toward those guys.”
The company was co-founded by A.J. Dunning, formerly of the Verve Pipe. “AJ is the sonic profiler,” Hupp says. “He’s the guy who says, ‘This is the sound I want.’ From the beginning, I thought they are some of the finest-looking pedals on the market. They’re all analog and they’re all hand-built. There’s some difference between pass-through. Some pedals have this bypass that, when you hit the pedals, there’s some existing sound. This is true bypass, and that’s one of the things we’re very interested in.”
The pedals are created and assembled in Grand Rapids, while Hupp does the marketing from the Detroit area. The design and packaging are so unusual that the company won top honors from the American Advertising Federation, taking home a gold Addy earlier this year at the organization’s annual awards ceremony.
The company says it has been working on expanding its product line and Hupp describes an analog delay known as “The Juggler.”
“It’s been a very difficult development, because you have to get the timing of the delay just right,” Hupp explains. “We’re constantly tweaking but we’re really close. We’re probably a month out.”
Available locally at the Berkley Music Company and Detroit Guitar in Birmingham, Hupp is working feverishly to introduce the products to more retailers. Beyond the marketing, though, Hupp offers up proof of Circus Freak’s value by citing a positive review by Premier Guitar magazine.
Ironically, the buzz around Circus Freak’s pedals is kind of a fluke in that, as Hupp tells it, the company wasn’t even originally formed to build and market cool pedals: “Originally, the company was formed to make amps,” he says. “We’re hoping that, once we get the first eight pedals out and get that rolling, we’ll be able to turn our attention to the amplifier division and we’re excited about that.”