At some point in their guitar pedal journey, nearly every pedal-loving guitarist has read, heard and/or seen the words of Joshua Heath Scott.
In addition to having his own line, JHS Pedals, Scott has become the unofficial historian and human encyclopedia of the pedal world. Need to know the history of the RAT pedal? Scott’s got you covered. Wondering the differences between the dozens of common overdrives out there? Scott wrote about that too. Looking for the hot new boutique manufacturer or a hidden gem from the past you might’ve missed? If Scott mentions it, it’s probably going to be a good time — and that’s not even counting his end-of-year “Best of” lists that are the biggest tastemaking entries in the entire industry.
But while Scott’s role as a source of information is unrivaled, he’d be just another guy with a blog if not for the pedals that he also creates. His JHS Pedals run the gamut from simple and cheap to pricy and complex, featuring everything from singular pedals containing exact replicas of nearly a dozen variations of common circuits to their no-frills “3 Series” options to original circuits that have defined new sounds ever since the company’s 2007 founding. Outside of some of the giant corporations, one could argue that Scott’s company has among the widest and most universally usable ranges of pedals on the market.
SPIN spoke with the pedal builder, historian and kingmaker about his unique role in the guitar effects industry.
SPIN: First things first, how did you become this historian and information source for the entire guitar pedal industry?
Josh Scott: It was accidental, but in hindsight, it’s where I was always going to end up. I started JHS in 2007, and it grew very big, and I got really burnt out. But I love history and I love teaching, so I found myself just sharing stuff and finding these interesting threads in the narrative with inventors and how things actually happened. I would see the typical internet version of a story, and it would bother me because I knew it wasn’t right. So I just dove into that, and one thing led to another, and we ended up with a YouTube channel that I started committing 25 hours a week to. The icing on the cake was that I’ve always hated demoing my stuff — I feel like a used car salesman — and I’ve always had the philosophy that if my pedals are good enough, they’ll sell. People will talk about stuff, and it’ll be contagious. I no longer wanted to do the typical pedal demos, so I started teaching how other people’s companies work and all of the secrets and fun stuff. It just exploded from there. It was an accident, but it was a lot of hard work, so it felt exciting.
And I know you really switched into historian mode not too long before the pandemic, so what was it like to see that explosion of brands during that stretch of time?
The musical instrument industry in general exploded during the pandemic because everyone’s at home with their Amazon shopping cart. But it wasn’t really linear for me, it’s been a lot of parallel stuff happening. The more I got into this historian mode, researching, traveling around the world and revealing people’s stories, my company was growing as well. It almost felt like I had split lives, like Bruce Wayne and Batman. It was like “I’m here promoting my friend’s pedals, which helps them sell a pedal out. But at the same time, my company’s trying to sell its own pedals.” Those two things are not necessarily connected. It felt like I’m Josh from JHS pedals, but I also have this platform that I’m so excited to use to help my friends. I think there’s been this really cool synergy of being a part of that booming market and telling the story, because I believe stories are the best way to sell anything. The story is what really catches people and makes them want to be a part of something, and I feel like I do that for myself, but I get to do it for my friends as well.
What’s that been like to settle into this role as a bit of a pedal tastemaker for a lot of people?
Well, it comes from the fact that I’m really bad at a lot of stuff, but one of my strengths is that I’m really secure. I don’t wake up and worry about Robert Keeley or Earthquaker stealing my business. I don’t think that’s ever going to be my problem. I think my stuff will stand on its own. I’ve always been like “Hey, there’s room for everyone,” even to a fault. So it feels really good to build the community aspect of pedals and bring people together instead of the competitive nonsense.
Speaking of your pedals, what’s your philosophy when creating a new JHS pedal?
I want to make really great products that are simple to use and that tell a story. For me, the product is an opportunity to tell a story. That’s my number one motivation. I’m not the guy who’s going to try to reinvent the wheel for the sake of it. “Cutting edge” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” I really like pulling from history, telling a story, honoring somebody or something or some moment that was lost and giving people an opportunity to experience something they never knew existed. It’s almost like a little bit of archaeology.
What made you want to have such a wide variety in pedals instead of just focusing on one area or another?
I just love trying a little bit of everything. You get 10 years in and realize that we’ve held a brand aesthetic together, but I really am all over the place. As I said, I pull my ideas from history, and I’m also pretty selfish in that I design stuff for me. The joke is always that every JHS pedal is my signature pedal. But you take 15 years, and there’s just so many different moods I’ve been in — just like any guitarist or creative. If you picture yourself 15 years ago, you might have had a weird haircut. That’s how it feels to me. It’s just wherever the inspiration is striking. If it excites me, I’ll do it and keep it within the brand aesthetic.
How did you decide to do your “Multi-Mode” pedals, which pack a ton of versions of a classic circuit into the same pedal?
The idea started with the Muffuletta in 2016 — I started working on it before that, but that’s when I fell off the deep end as a collector and historian. I was going to make a Big Muff, just like everyone else, so I started digging everywhere to buy all of the Big Muffs. I had a folding table in my shop, and I had like 15-20 Big Muffs on it. I just remember standing there and getting the idea of “What if we could make an all-analog representation of all of these? One pedal with many clones in it. Not just mods, but the actual pedals are in there.” That was the moment when that started. Those three pedals are really special, because I think they most reflect some of the insanity in my head as an incredibly obsessive historian collector. It was like “Instead of telling the story of a Big Muff, how about telling the whole story of all of the Big Muffs?” I was surprised we pulled it off, because it was very hard at first.
In addition to the Multi-Mode craziness, we need to talk about some of the collaborations you’ve done. For instance, you did the Angry Driver with BOSS, and BOSS doesn’t work with pretty much anyone like that.
It’s really fun, but it’s also a bit of a roller coaster for me. As a person who’s obsessed with history and telling these stories, I’m such a fan of these companies in such a deep way. The BOSS collaboration is crazy, because I met [former BOSS president] Yoshi [Ikegami] at NAMM in L.A., and I would just annoy him like a nerd by asking him a ton of questions. Tthen we became friends, and I get an email two years later about doing a collaboration. It’s like getting to play for the ‘96 Chicago Bulls or something. It just feels crazy to me. They just came out of me being myself and allowing myself to be the person who’s learning. People who didn’t ever collaborate feel comfortable collaborating with me because they know I’m really just doing it because I absolutely love it. I think people feel that. Maybe it’s disarming when this literal nerd comes up and he’s just obsessed with your brand.
Out of your entire lineup of pedals, are there any specific ones that stand out to you?
I think there are milestone moments for me as a creative and a self-taught engineer. The first one would be the Colour Box. It’s insane what that pedal has opened up for us as a company. The people that have used that on their records, it’s just stunning. I think it’s because it’s a truly unique thing, and that’s hard to do nowadays. I’m also really proud of the Multi-Modes, just because they were so difficult to build and yet so simple to use. The other is the Morning Glory, because we wouldn’t be talking if it wasn’t for that one. That was my first hit song, so to speak. I wouldn’t be here without that pedal.