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Rabbit Hole FX - Factory Visit

Run, Rabbit, Run!

 

by Blake Wright

 

   

Two years in and the small crew from Rabbit Hole FX is looking to the future with a slate of new offerings in the works that girl-boss Safia Harrison is hopeful will lead to sustainable growth

 

AT THE NAMM show last January, Safia Harrison of Rabbit Hole FX had a pedalboard set-up showcasing the brand’s first three pedals as part of the traveling Stompbox Exhibit. Eager to show off the latest Rabbit Hole offerings, she stood front and center, ready to talk gear and walk any interested parties through the functionality of the Chasomic fuzz, Analog Phaser, and A 'Merkin fuzz. Then something she did not expect to happen, happened. 

 

Rabbit Hole FX Pedal Line-Up

 

“When we set up in January, people were coming in and shaking hands with all the builders... and I got skipped a couple of times,” she recalls. “I tried not to take it personally because it is different for me (a woman) to be there. I did adjust a little bit. I forced myself to be a little more assertive and let people know that this is my company. It is neat to see how attitudes change once we’re in a conversation about the pedals. It throws some people off. Again, the gear guy’s girlfriend, which in all fairness, is how it started, but that has changed now. It is what it is. I’m fine with it.”

 

When Harrison attended her first NAMM show, it was with one-time Rabbit Hole partner Adam Cohen. He was a musician in the regional North Carolina metal scene, and a self-professed pedal junkie. The pair attended the 2015 show in Anaheim as retailers, part of Harrison’s MetalString Sound.

“We started meeting people and seeing all of these really cool projects they were doing and I was like ‘I want to do that too!’ and‘I want to be a pedal builder when I grow up!’ explains Harrison. “That moment
of inspiration of ‘Let’s do this!’ was mine. I’ll claim that one. I’m not a musician. I’m not an engineer. Adam was the musician. So when he checked out there was a decision to be made to whether or not to continue. Dad and I ultimately decided, yes, we would keep going.”

By the end of the year, Rabbit Hole’s first pedal, the Chaosmic Fuzz — an unorthodox, six-knob fuzz pedal — was born.

 

Safia Harrison and Ed Hurt discuss strategy

  

Dad is Frank Harrison, the engineer... and Safia’s ‘secret weapon’. On the day of our visit to Rabbit Hole world headquarters (Safia’s house in Raleigh), Frank, who lives in Virginia, was wrapping up a month’s long stay to advance and hopefully finalize several new pedal designs that have been bubbling just under the surface. Once settled in, we, Frank, Safia and builder Ed Hurt, sat around a coffee table, the trio staring optimistically at a breadboarded design for a tube-driven fuzz/distortion pedal. Using old military issue ‘pencil’ tubes, the team hopes to introduce one of, if not the first vacuum tube-driven dirt pedal that will fit in a Hammond 125B enclosure.

“I was wanting to make a very small vacuum tube fuzz, and I knew these tubes existed,” explains Frank Harrison. “I’d seen them on the surplus market and it seemed like a natural thing to try. They’re small and don’t use a lot of power. I used to have a bunch, but I didn’t hang onto them. I went on eBay and found a type that is readily available. Some were selling at $2 each, but if you bought 1,000 they were $0.50. There were people offering them in lots of 10,000. So I know that if it really takes hold we can still get the parts. This particular tube number was chosen because it was readily available. This thing is preliminary. Just to figure out if the tube part will work. To make it into a practical product is going to take a fairly sophisticated power supply. It’s going to need to be able to take 9v and step it up to 75v for the plates.

Right now, we’re using a stack of 9v batteries chained together for that. It’ll need a 1.5v supply for the filaments — the heaters in the tube. Then it needs a negative 1.5v supply for the bias on the vacuum tubes. Then it’ll need 9v, which will come off of the power pack, to run the solid state part of the circuit.” 

 

The tube-driven dirt pedal isn’t the only thing in the works. The brainstorming session also spawned concepts for a compressor/leveler, a noise gate, and a stutter/kill switch, as well as perfecting the clean boost, which is now available.

“I start out with LTsplice, which is a simulation software that lets you model circuits before you actually build it,” Frank explains. “I’ve found that if you get it working in simulation it is usually going to work when you build it. (Laughs) It saves a lot of hassle by simulating it first. Linear Technology offers a freeware. I have learned how to import models from other vendors so it is not totally limiting.”

Of course, the company is still learning as it progresses. The prototype of its most recent fuzz, the A ‘Merkin, had anis- sue. With only a three month gestation period, the pedal spent only half of the time the Chaos- mic fuzz did under development. 

“We built a copy of the prototype we really liked, but it didn’t sound as good,” explains Frank. “It turned out that the one that sounded good had a blown op-amp in it. We just had to figure out how that op-amp was mangling the signal, then come up with a circuit that does that on purpose. It turned out a precision rectifier was the key. We got the Wave switch out of the deal. You can switch it between half-wave and full-wave mode. In the original one, it was always half- wave because the op-amp was only rectifying the top half of the signal cycles. True creativity is what you do with your mistakes.”

 

DOWNSIZING: Rabbit Hole’s new boost is its first ‘mini’ pedal, but probably not its last.

 

The boost took even less time — about two months. “Each time you go around the loop it gets a little easier,” says Frank. “You learn what walls not to run into,” adds Hurt.

“Our processes are getting much more streamlined,” confirms Safia. “We can mill the porto-boards in-house instead of having to send them out and wait two weeks for them to come back.”

The house itself, purchased in November 2016, helps to that end as well. It is neatly segregated into workshop and living space. The build room houses most of what the team needs to build out each Rabbit Hole pedal including a simple pick-and-place machine built by Hurt.

 

To date, there are probably less than 100 Rabbit Hole pedals in circulation, with three of the company’s four current offerings only having been available for less than a year. 

“There are a lot of people that are really good at what they do and I take a lot of inspiration from that,” explains Safia. “To do better. There is no way that we’re going to manage to stay afloat doing this if what we’re doing doesn’t come to anything. In that regard, having my dad as my secret weapon. It is kind of perfect. It was really good timing. The interest was there. So we turned it into a collaboration. Ed and I do all of the building. Dad does all of the design. I feel like we can be competitive and stick around.”    -HC-

 

 

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Who Are Gearphoria? 

Blake and Holly Wright are Gearphoria. They travel full-time in their 25-foot Airstream while writing about cool guitars and guitar accessories. Gearphoria is a bi-monthly free-to-read online publication. You can visit their website by going to www.gearphoria.com and while you are there, sign up for their free e-zine.

 

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