White Mystery guitarist and singer Alex White is best known for performing high-octane rock’n’roll with her brother, drummer Francis White, around the globe.
She’s also gotten press in recent years for putting her Business Management degree from DePaul University to use, juggling band management while constantly touring.
White’s latest musical venture and business partnership led to the creation of a signature fuzz pedal called the Firekeeper, a nickname given to her by Thor Harris of the affecting post-punk noise band Swans. “I’ve been wanting to use that for something it makes sense for, and this pedal definitely scorches,” White adds.
The pedal was constructed by fellow Chicago-based entrepreneur Johnny Wator, owner of Daredevil Pedals. “I wanted to work with a cool DIY band with a woman guitar player, and Alex is about the most DIY guitar player I’ve ever met,” he says.
Like other fans, Wator was curious about how White achieved her guitar tone. “For the last couple of years, I’ve used this Little Big Muff,” she says. “I painted it red and modded it a little bit. People, whenever they see me play, will say, ‘What’s up with that thing?’ Johnny was curious, as well. He said, ‘That thing is so cool. Let’s put it into production and see if other people are interested in using it.’”
Instead of simply retracing White’s steps, Wator used her modified pedal as the inspiration for something unique. “We took the concept and then dug a little deeper, looking at 1970s Big Muff pedals,” White says. “Specifically, this pedal is called a ’72 Ram’s Head—which is a style of Big Muff. We kind of took elements of all these different pedals and combined them into the ultimate fuzz pedal.”
Wator constructs each limited run of 10 pedals by hand. “I do it the old school way, so it definitely takes longer… probably two hours each,” he says. “Everything is done by me—drilling, ordering, and wiring. There’s a lot to it, but that way I know everything is up to par. It’s a labor of love mostly. I obsess about pedals, and I’m always grateful when other people appreciate what goes into it.”
Guitarists will notice at first glance that the Firekeeper lacks Big Muff’s traditional triangle of knobs. “The concept is that it has a volume knob and it has a tone knob,” White adds. “A lot of Big Muffs have volume, tone, and gain. The reason why the Firekeeper just has two is because we maxed out the gain. You can’t turn it down. It’s at the maximum Spinal Tap ‘turned up to 11’ gain. The interesting thing about that is a lot of people are curious with me… Like, ‘How do you get your tone? It’s so fat.’ I’m like dude, just turn everything up.”
The simplicity of the pedal’s design demystifies White’s sound, making it easy to replicate for novices and skilled players. “It’s turnkey is good to go,” she says. “It makes it a good beginner pedal for some people, but it’s also the perfect pedal for people who want to achieve a maximum fuzz sound.”
Firekeeper is the first signature pedal built for White or designed and constructed by Wator. Whether it is beginner’s luck or a testament to the loyal audience White Mystery has built after years on the road, the first run sold out in less than a week. “I didn’t know what to expect so we thought it would be cool to start with 10 and go from there,” Wator says. “I was a little surprised [the pedals sold out quickly], but obviously we hoped it would be well received. Fuzz pedal fans are awesome.”
As of mid-December, a second run of 10 went on sale on White Mystery’s website (www.whitemysteryband.com). “Each run is going to be limited and look kind of different,” White says. “That first run was bright red. The second one is different to kind of timestamp it for the future.”
White’s pedal has been a key element in crafting a playing style that owes as much to hard rock and metal’s past as it does to her peers’ garage and punk influences. “Something I’m really passionate about is tone, having a really strong guitar tone and voice,” she says. “The Orange Amps slogan is that they are the voice of the world. If you play an electric guitar and it’s not plugged in, it’s quiet. If you plug it in, it becomes this rip-roaring force. The pedal is kind of the conduit between your guitar and your amp. Some people elect not to use a pedal and some people have pedal boards full of them. But they afford the opportunity to create a signature sound, a custom sound.”
White Mystery’s stringent touring schedule did not slow down during the creation process, allowing White to test a demo version of the pedal during an October tour with Turbo Fruits. She also took Firestarter on the band’s first trip to Japan in November. With a unique pedal as a medium for White’s signature sound, she’s been finding herself fielding a new set of fan questions after shows. “It’s cool because there’s a lot of electronics nerds in Japan who were like ‘What is that thing?’ so I was able to show them.”