When someone with a very science-based or engineering heavy background starts building guitar effects pedals, they deal with the opposite challenges that a lot of musicians run into. They may understand how electronics and circuits work just fine, but they also sometimes have a tendency to over-engineer things to the point that they’re too complex for their own good.
So when Jesse Rude started Rude Tech after proving himself as an aerospace scientist, he made sure to do it with the same mentality he had as a middle schooler when he built his first guitar pedal. He wanted to let his scientific brain work with some ideas and concepts that legitimately interested him, but he also wanted them to be accessible and practical, rather than requiring an engineering degree just to use.
To date, that philosophy is working quite well for the Nashville-based builder. He most famously designed The Falcondrive! — the signature sound of the one and only Ian “Eaglebones Falconhawk” Fowles of the Aquabats — while also designing various other pedals both as one-offs for artists and commercially sold options. Rude Tech’s only currently available pedal, the 3MuF-14 Distortion/Fuzz, possesses Rude’s take on three different Russian Big Muffs — and then adds a toggle for a mids-focused overdrive for good measure.
SPIN spoke with Rude about the combination of science and art that goes into each one of Rude Tech’s creations.
SPIN: Why did you decide to start Rude Tech?
Jesse Rude: When I started Rude Tech, I’d been building gear for people as one-offs for session musicians and studios, and living in Nashville really helps for that. I officially started calling my stuff Rude Tech in 2013, but I’ve been building guitar pedals since seventh grade. I was always really into science and electronics — and I had just started learning to play guitar — so I saw that Popular Mechanics magazine had a project for a guitar pedal in the back of it, and I thought it was perfect. My dad took me to RadioShack to get the parts and I built it.
As a kid, I was always tearing stuff apart, looking at it and tinkering with it, so I went to school to get my electrical engineering degree. Then I graduated right at the height of the financial crisis, so I had a job lined up, and then it fell through and I just could not get interviews anymore. I ended up getting a software development job that paid $10 per hour, so that taught me that I never want to rely on one single source of income. So when somebody asked if I could mod something for them, I told them I’d just make something that’s even better than just modding it. Soon enough, some pretty big players were reaching out to me about their specific needs.
Considering your only publically available product right now is the 3MuF-14, what went into making a fuzz combo like that?
So, my specialty is signal processing and time-based effects like delays and modulations. The 3MuF happened because it was NAMM 2017 or 2018 and I just needed something new and cool to show off. I know tons of bands that I listen to love Big Muffs, so the 3MuF started as a blatant cash grab. But it taught me a lesson, and I treat Rude Tech as a way to learn different topics about electronics — and then after I’ve learned it, I make a product around it. The lesson of the 3MuF was more about “What do people actually want?” and learning to design something around that. Of course, I got to put my own little spin on it and do something that other people probably wouldn’t do.
What was it like working on The Falcondrive! with the Aquabats?
It was super fun. Everybody I dealt with there was sending me jokes back and forth the whole time. It was a really fun experience to design something for somebody, which is not always the case. They were really the first band that I ever really got into. I would never have listened to Minor Threat or gotten into punk at all if not for them. Finding the Aquabats was really me finding music. The first song I learned on guitar was “Red Sweater!” So making The Falcondrive! was really me going back to the very start. I didn’t approach them about it either. I think I followed the Aquabats account and Ian [Fowles] on Instagram, and he commented on one of my photos of a chorus I used to make. He was like “Man, these look really sick.” And I was like “You’re really sick. Let’s get one in your hands.” So I literally just sent him one right then.
Seeing as you already had the engineering background, what were some of the biggest challenges or lessons you had to learn as Rude Tech has expanded and grown?
Managing inventory was a big one for me. One great thing The Falcondrive! helped me out with was filling much, much larger orders. With that comes a lot of new problems, like how to build things fast enough — which you have to bake into the design process from the start — or how to fill the orders fast enough — “Am I going to order pickups from FedEx or UPS to my house or am I going to drive these to the post office that’s closest to the airport, because they have a big bin I can dump them all in?” But a lot of the attention I got from it really helps, because I like to experiment with stuff and get a little wacky, so I have this email list called the “lab rats” because I run experiments on them. I let them vote on what the next pedal is or what to call something or what colors the knob should be. I’ve found that if you show your personality through your business, people connect with that a lot more. People don’t want to go to Walmart or Amazon to buy guitar gear. They want to interact with the brand itself.