One of the most revered pedal makers of the modern boutique scene, Swedish pedal master Bjorn Juhl has designed guitar effect circuits which have stood the test of time, and evolved through multiple brands. In our 2005 BJF Electronics interview, Bjorn offered incredible insight about the tones available from (the now discontinued) BJF pedals, and how they could be stacked for amp-like tones. In this interview, Bjorn shares his story (in all his Swedish quirkiness) on the birth of Mad Professor pedals and BearFoot FX…the rebirth of original BJF pedal designs. As an added bonus, Don Rusk also chimed in to give us some background on BearFoot FX.
SSS: Can you tell us about how and why Mad Professor got started?
Bjorn: Mad Professor initially started as Harri, then president of Custom-Sounds, gave me an offer and suggestion in that he wanted a BJF amplifier that would work well with the pedal line. At the time, I had my hands and time filled with building pedals and designing new models. While the sounds of an amplifier would be tempting to design, all the mechanical work involved [in] making production models did not seem tempting, nor would I have the spare time…but Harri told he had someone that could build if I would design and explain in detail all I wanted, and thus I could have extra hands.
A couple of years later, when demand had risen further for BJF pedals, Harri gave me a suggestion and presented a business plan at the Hotel Acapulco in which a possible future was presented of growth with a number of models added along the line…and built by beautiful Finnish women that would have many more hands than I. At this time it was decided that Mad Professor would lease designs from BJF Electronics (first out was LGW: Little Green Wonder), and also that the appearance and product marks should be as close as possible to BJF.
The BJF Design was also printed on the boxes, and for any future model the same type of name construction was also to be used so as to show the connection to BJF pedals as closely as possible. At the time, it may have looked like BJF pedals would go out of [production].
SSS: What about the transition from BJFE to Mad Professor, and why the BJFE brand was dropped?
Bjorn: BJF design was dropped from the Mad Professor line, I am told, because they feel they are their own company and they do not deal in personal cults.
SSS: Can you offer a quick summary of the Mad Professor pedals currently in production, and what tones they are good for?
- LGW – This one is based on the BJF Little Green Wonder. It is a high headroom overdrive and it is useful both as overdrive and as a filter. It works well with high output pickups, is available in hand-wired and PCB versions, and circuits for both are the same.
- DBD – The Deep Blue Delay was originally made for Mad Professor production. It is available in hand-wired and PCB versions, and circuits are the same. It was tuned to a sound of everyday delay, as almost any guitarist would use to get a little ambience differing from reverb on “2”. Getting it to work like this, I got a professor in guitar (classical guitar) to play for me, and perfectly out of sync with repeats…so I could hear if pace could be set regardless of playing style. This guitarist was chosen to do this as he is the only one I could think of that can master a guitar made of ice.
- SHOD – The Sweet Honey Overdrive is based on the BJF model Flametop. It was meant to be a mass-production friendly Honey Bee type OD, but when the SHOD was designed there was this session guitarist that told me he needed an overdrive like this, but [one] that could equally as well make the Channel 2 of the Mad Professor amplifier MP101 go into extreme defined distortion for heavy metal sessions…but at the same time, work as a light dynamic overdrive for Channel 1 of MP101. At the point he said that to get the definition he was using a competing brand overdrive [pedal] on channel 2. Well, I will say I know this sound he was after and I felt that the best combination for a Mad Professor amplifier should be a Mad Professor pedal. 😉
- RRB – The Ruby Red Booster is based on the BJF Little Red Trebler and Red Rooster Booster combined, but since it has a Master volume some things were optimized for the format. The Mad Professor Ruby Red also has a switchable buffer in bypass. This combination of LRT and RRB is one used by some guitarists, also Harri Koski himself (president of Mad Professor Amplification Ltd), but [is] now the Mad Professor RRB. I understand [the] Mad Professor RRB also sounds great on banjo. This one is only available in PCB.
- FGC – The Forest Green Compressor is based on a custom compressor made for a rockabilly guitarist with the basis of BJF model Pale/Pine Green Compressor. But this guitarist told he could not get along with any compressor since those squashed the attack, but playing almost entirely clean or low distortion (and being a former heavy metal guitarist), compression would be helpful on tails of notes so as to sustain decay but allow the attack. This makes [for] an easily played sound…almost like a talent booster. FGC is available in PCB and hand-wired [versions]. The hand-wired [version] is favored by bassists because it is full range. Since this model was made also PCB, I decided to adapt [the] sound more closely to guitar, so the PCB version has a slightly different circuit, tone control and filtering…making the PCB favored by guitarists.
- MRD – The Mighty Red Distortion is based on a prototype BJF model that was made partly as a model of sound I once used as a hired guitarist [in the] 80s and 90s, and also so I could bring a prototype to a session with one of Sweden’s studio pros that may feel at ease with a sound like this…and more specifically when combined with more pedals ;). This one is available in hand-wired and PCB, and the PCB version has higher output. This is something I added when reading feedback and it was possible to do when the PCB needed a new layout anyway.
- FRF – The Fire Red Fuzz was initially made as a bet with the session guitarist above, and based on that he showed me all of his Big Muffs. Of course, back in the day when one broke you throw it away and buy a new one. But now he had a really old that had been repaired too many times so that many of the lines on the PCB were not holding anymore. The bet was about wether the sound was in the vintage components (the myth that gear always sound their best just before they die)…or if it could be made with modern components? The FRF is not an exact replica of this, but an adaption, and the original BJF model was named Model V. FRF does hold the most critical things though and is a great fuzz. This one is only available hand-wired.
- BBBOD – A Finnish sales guy once told that the BJF Blue Berry Bass Overdrive was a gentlemen’s overdrive. Now I did some research on this and came up with Finnish heavy metal blueberries and this became Mad Professor’s bass overdrive. This one is only available in PCB.
- SGD – The Stone Grey Distortion is based on the BJF model Cliffhanger II. This is a model I originally made for my favourite Greek taxi driver in Norway, and it is one [that] I have used myself to play on feedback among things. This one is only available in PCB.
- GC – The Golden Cello was made exclusively for Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend. It is dirt and echo in one :). The assignment I got was to get the sound of Eric Johnson playing “Cliffs of Dover.” Actually as I do not know that song well I thought of the sound and how difficult this was to get back in the late 70s…and how much one wanted a sound like that. I also responded then that the likelihood that someone would walk into Guitar Center and play “Cliffs of Dover” even remotely as Eric Johnson would be so slim and unlikely that it would possibly not ever happen—but it did in that Eric himself played “Cliffs of Dover” through it.
- 1 – The One was also exclusively made for Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend, and this time to make the sound of Eddie Van Halen on a particular song. It is a distortion/reverb. I’ll say I never was a fan and also felt guitar-god-dom ended 1980 with Eruption, but the sound EVH had was nothing short of ‘WANT.’ It is the one sound, and playability, which takes less than 20 seconds to get a modern fusion guitarist to remember both hands on the fret board. Actually at the time (80s) it was a lead sound that was the one, as it could make all notes equal, and I would recommend this one as workout…one hour per month (no does not mean both hands on fretboard, just equal note value).
- EBC – The Electric Blue Chorus was made for Mad Professor, and the vision of this is that back in the day you’d get kicked out of the band if you did not have chorus, and so everyone and their mother in law has a chorus in their cupboard. Yes, it felt boring, but then again how could an effect like this be revived so it could be used in more places than just chorus guitar? This one is only available in PCB.
- TOP – The Tiny Orange Phaser is a merge of BJF models Plum Phaser and Folk Phaser, and while I have owned over 35 phase shifters in my day I have never but once had the possibility to use phasing live or in studio and sadly the only time I actually would have been able to I had sold or lent out my last phaser. This one is the starship of [the] Mad Professor pedal line, is a total pain to make, and also proved to be the most expensive. Shortly, it will also be available as a PCB version.
- SWAW – The Snow White Auto Wah is based on the BJF model VCF, [which] in turn is based on a rack mount remote control wah I made back in 1991. It has four controls to set how the filter reacts to playing. This one is available in both hand-wired and PCB, and circuits are the same.
- SWBAW – This is the bass version of the above, and it is tuned one octave lower.
- SSR – The Silver Spring Reverb is a reverb sound I have had in my head and it also allows setting decay time so that it doesn’t get in the way of playing, [but] still fills.
- MYT – The Mellow Yellow Tremolo is based on a prototype of [the] BJF Saffron Yellow Tremolo, [which] was called Sparkling Orange Tremolo. It has a gain control brought out, [and] is made to make the sound of vintage amplifier tremolos…like that of Gibson amplifiers. This one is available in both hand-wired and PCB [versions].
- BODD – Blue Bird is a combined OD/EQ/Delay. It’s avaiable only in PCB.
- AOD – The Amber OD is the dirt section of Golden Cello by itself. It is available in hand-wired only.
- RBOD – The Royal Blue Overdrive is based on the BJF model Aqua Marine OD II. It sports a dynamic distortion/overdrive with a two band EQ. It can be used as a booster, distortion, overdrive and equalizer, and as the former it can make sound[s] more easily set on many amplifiers…but it also works totally great at overdriving distorted sounds, as well as providing distortion overdrive on a clean amp. This one is available only as PCB.
- SBOD – The Sky Blue OD is based on the BJF model Aqua Marine OD. It is only available in hand-wired [versions].
SSS: BJFE pedals were very popular with guitarists who liked to stack pedals to recreate popular amp tones. Are Mad Professor pedals good for that too? If so, what are some of your favorite “stacking” combinations?
Bjorn: Yes, Mad Professor pedals are also made to combine well. This is something I think of in design. One of the more recent stacks I have shown, and that also gave a guy the sound he had been looking for all his life, was running Les Paul > Royal Blue > Mighty Red > Fender Blues Deville (knobs on pedals about halfway and you will hear a minuscle turn to make). 😉 There are many more combinations, and I am thinking of writing something about it, but also I have had long discussions with [the] Mad Professor demo guy on how to combine (there are several YouTube videos on this).
SSS: We seem to remember Mad Professor’s first product being a guitar amplifier. Can you talk about your approach to amplifier design?
Bjorn: Correct. My approach starts with a sound (or sounds), and how those feel to play (as with any design). But specifically with amplifiers, there are limits to what is available to use, as of course it also is to mass production, however approach could start like this as with the MP101…
One session guitarist asked me that when you played amps in excess of say 100W’s, would it be so that sound would get so loud that you could not tell exactly what it sounded like…because of the shear power? As this coincided with a project I was working on, I felt it was something to investigate and I will say I certainly knew the feeling of so loud that power itself was overwhelming. But, I also had the feeling there would be specifics in sound at those levels that could make sound playable, even enjoyable, as well as just piercing loud…but then playing that loud would not be an everyday experience, and crave somewhere to blast. Anyway, so a studio was rented and many hours spent listening at ear shattering power to find this frequency band here and there, and that distortion mechanism there and here…all in an environment where sound levels felt comfortable—away from sound police—it would take to rest [our] mind(s) as well, and hours of silence in between, to make sure listening was accurate.
Right, well after a couple of days getting rid of anything I found annoying at these levels, I found myself playing sitting just a few feet from amplifier and cabinet and notes would then play them selves from the feedback. But I was wondering if it really was loud enough, as I felt it comfortable to sit and play at these levels? I decided it was, as I had a hard time hearing thoughts in my head but rather feel vibration of sound with the whole body. An amplifier like this would be perfect for bedroom and NAMM show as well of course?
Well that is [the] vision anyway, and yes I did test with that too…placing the amplifier and cabinet against the wall in an apartment with a Finnish ex-boxer sleeping off a hangover on the other side of the wall. You know amplifier design is not an exact science, and so practical experiments has to be performed. 😉
SSS: Wow. What a story! Let’s switch gears for a moment. BearFoot FX has been reissuing some of the classic BJFE circuit designs. Can you talk about how this came to fruition?
Bjorn: BearFoot came to fruitation because, with even more years, demand for BJF pedals escalated. Even more so with a guitar show in Chicago that was partly filmed and placed on YouTube…and also partly filmed and made it into [the] documentary FUZZ: The Movie, and even exploded after some internet commotion about Honey Bee and there were people advertising to buy one via Google so they could take it apart. There were clones made that actually did not sound that close, and it seemed then [to be] a good move to have beautiful US women give me more hands. But the key was to make [them] exactly as I would in small series, also using the parts I’d use, and make them as clones…[as] exact as possible. I guess I cannot answer this without explaining [the] relation [between] BJF and Mad Professor:
It was not possible to have this made through Mad Professor, as [the] series would be too low to even start machinery. It was plain to me that Mad Professor meant new designs, and mass production, and a challenge in that. Making BJF pedals as close as possible…the very best option I could find was making them in [the] US, and I am forever grateful for that decision. I could extend a thank you to website FSB for pushing the envelope and making me more famous than I ever was.
The enchanting thing about BearFoot is that (for a model) I can ask for components that I have once found in a small shop years ago, and measurements on components that I’d otherwise ask my local submarine engineer to do, and I can also have the colours that I bought from a paint factory (that blew up) in [the] US by a skilled motorcycle painter. The amount of small things developed over the years is just amazing when you have to reproduce them. It’s like over the years when there’s a problem you find a solution, but when years later you reproduce it becomes massive.
BearFoot felt like the right thing to do as it meant more affordablity, but just as they are BJF pedals. In contrast, Mad Professor has gone in the direction of more complex things, new designs and really large productions that excludes making small runs such as units painted by artist[s] that are available via BearFoot.
I find both Mad Professor and BearFoot challenging on different levels, making designs apt for the respective production model. With a Mad Professor model, I’d have to think that it must be possible to make in excess of 1000 units. With BearFoot, 50 units is enough, and with BearFoot that also means I can use any component I would ever wish for…and I also get scouts to hunt those down.
Don: Birth of BearFoot FX…well BearFoot is sort of a 10 year overnight success story. Today, BearFoot is 2.5 years old and already has 20+ models and climbing (which is pretty astonishing for a new company), but I met Bjorn in about 2001 and have been working with him ever since.
BearFoot is actually my fourth pedal company. The first being PedalworX – and my original idea then was to do the outside stuff for designers that would do the inside stuff…and thats what I have done since. I left PedalworX and started DonnerboX, doing custom paint jobs for people and then I started a multi brand “custom shop” that [featured] my paint jobs on a number of different brands like BJFe, Analog Man, Sweet Sound, Cusack and some others. I started the BJFe.org website and the BJFe Custom Shop in about 2006, and we did a number of small batch “research” pedals with Bjorn on the .org site.
I also was working with a friend in St. Louis to start the Full Moon Amp and Effects company, and we had a full line of amps designed and just put out the first run of a drive pedal called the Fraternity when my partner had to move back to Detroit.
This was about the time that a concerted effort was being made to uncover and clone the Honey Bee and some other of Bjorn’s designs, as they were higher priced and harder to get than most.
As Bjorn said Mad Professor was going strong making his mass production designs, but it was time to find a way to really clone his own pedals so they could be made less expensively…and and in greater numbers.
Bjorn asked me if I wanted to start a company around his designs that would take more hands on parts measuring and tweeking than was possible with Mad Professor. Because of our long association, and the BJFe Custom Shop and .org research models, and my other pedal company experience, it was a good match. I thought of the name BearFoot as Bjorn means Bear in swedish and Foot for pedals…and it gives him another leg to stand on.
I actually rebuilt the BearFoot team 3 times before we launched in 2011 with the Honey Bee, and we have continued with a mix of the most popular BJFe models, and the research models (SYOD, Model H and Arctic White Fuzz), and some new variations like the Honey Beest, Beeatch, Dyna Red Hot, Emerald Green OD, etc.
My basic mission is to make BearFoot as close to BJFe as possible. I had the knobs custom made, the colors spectrographed and mixed, we use all the same parts and Bjorn still chooses every single part that goes into BearFoot. He taught us how to select and tweak them where needed. I still have an ongoing custom shop that has grown to include many other artists, and will grow further so we can do some custom build requests like Bjorn does. In some ways the hardest thing to do is correctly copy something built in another part of the world, but I’m really proud of what we are making and where we are heading. Our team of engineers and builders can make anything Bjorn designs to very high standards, and with Bjorn’s design genius, there is still a long line of things waiting to be born.
SSS: Can you offer any insight as to future BJF pedals that might be re-released by BearFoot FX?
Bjorn: A plan is to have nearly all BJF models, and then possibly some new models that are offspring[s] from research.
Don: Im convinced that Bjorn can design anything he sets his mind to, and he has two good outlets for his designs. Mad Professor can make the mass production designs and BearFoot can carry on the hand built/custom shop side of things…and he can still build what he likes in BJFe. As long as there is need, there will be all three…and more.
Really what determines what can be given to BearFoot is if all the parts can be found in quantity and quality. A few substitutions have been made with superior parts that were uncovered, but we haven’t cut any corners just to bring something out…like Bjorns first BJFe pedal, the BBOD, is still not doable…yet.
BearFoot started as an outlet for BJFe fans who all knew exactly what we were doing and craved BJFe at lower prices and faster availability. But BearFoot now has grown its own fan base, and many new customers have never heard of BJF or Donnerbox, and that’s good…as part of the hope was to get Bjorn’s designs to people who could never afford a BJFe pedal (or stand to be on a waiting list).
There will also be some new designs for BearFoot coming up and that will be exciting for everyone.
SSS: If you had to choose your 3 favorite pedal designs from either BJFE or Mad Professor, what would they be? Why? What settings in particular?
Bjorn: Well, I have made over 100 designs, and usually I find the latest most inspiring…bringing out new or old ways to play. Hmm…three, just three? I can say I’d normally pick, say a Mad Professor SSR, one OD and one Fuzz or distortion, but the dirt has so many faces and inspiration levels I don’t think there is one device or even two that makes me smile every day. With a bit of choice I can smile every day. 😉
SSS: Can you give us a glimpse into some new pedal designs that Mad Professor is working on?
Bjorn: A glimpse would be an OD with three sounds set by a rotary, and it is particular in how it addresses feel as well as filtering of each…
SSS: Is there one artist out there, who does not use your pedals, who you think would really sound amazing playing through them?
Bjorn: I am sure there are plenty but I will say I am fortunate in working with artists that I am able to tune the sound for with their gear to make them think less of gear, and more about the next note they play. I tend to see the sound as a whole, and you can have various building blocks and combination to make a sound.