As StompboxBook discovered during an exhaustive hang this past spring, Juan Alderete has a signature warning to visitors to his pedal sanctuary nestled on the eastern edge of Los Angeles. “So, there’s no order to this shit,” he explains wearily. “It’s just a mess.”
One person’s mess is clearly another’s treasure. To stompbox connoisseurs, to whom Alderete should need no introduction, clutter is not a worry – they’d be happy to Marie Kondo his shit. After all, if Alderete has it in his collection, it’s probably cool. After all, he’s the founder of perhaps the most influential, authoritative pedal-centric website/blog, PedalsandEffects, and has remained one of the most innovative, in-demand bass players for over three decades – spanning genres from his innovative shred beginnings in Racer X and sonically unpredictable virtuosity in The Mars Volta to touring and recording with everyone from Dr. Octagon and Deltron 3030 to Marilyn Manson, Lil Peep, and Frank Ocean. Therefore, it’s no surprise the longtime gearhead has his pedals crammed into every nook of his recording studio and haven where almost all of PedalsandEffects’ deeply opinionated review videos are shot. As a visionary iconoclast, however, it becomes clear there’s a personal organizing method to what initially looks like madness.
“I get something new and inevitably think, it’s not radical enough for me to actually use”
“We put Earthquaker here, who’s a big sponsor, and then MXR, who’ve been with me forever, over here, and then this is Boss’ section,” Alderete explains with crackling East Coast energy – despite the fact that he’s an eternal California native – as he leads a tour of his creative workspace. “I should put Death By Audio over here, and then there’s Dwarfcraft, of course. All these dudes are our buddies – they’ve always been really supportive – so I tend to organize what I have by company.”
Meanwhile, with such a heavy workload reviewing for the site, playing, and recording, Alderete maintains a battery of multiple pedal boards that are always being revised and altered. “A lot of what I have is in pedalboards,” he notes. “I have shit in storage with Manson’s gear, that’s still in road cases here, stuff I used with Mars Volta… At this point, I build a new board for each gig. The pedal board that’s here currently started as the one I used in Halo Orbit, which is my band with Sugar from Buffalo Daughter; now I’ve morphed it into my Dr. Octagon one.”
In his dominion, Alderete is indeed surrounded by the tools of his trade that he’s become known for, like the Warwick bass he had custom made to his specs that leans on a hard drive tower next to his recording computer. “It’s 32”, and has vintage ‘66 P-Bass pickups – it’s the only one like it,” he explains – quickly clarifying that he got into pedals in the first place not because he’s a collector, but a working musician who needs to come up with a variety of tones on the reg, STAT. “I use these pedals for their unique sounds that I need to create,” Alderete continues. “Also, I’m not a guitar player, either, so I have a different relationship to what I make pedals do.”
Alderete in fact credits his former bandmate Manny Nieto in the noise-rock band Distortion Felix to expanding his interest in the stomp domain. “Manny was the reason I got into the weirder, heavier shit,” Alderete explains. “I was into pedals, but he got me deep into, like, Electro-Harmonix. Manny used to deal pedals to people like The Edge, Bowie, and all the metal shredders. He would drive fucking two-thousand miles to buy a pedal. He would hear about a Tycobrahe Octavia in Yuma, Arizona, go buy it, and pick up twenty other pedals on the way back; then he’d live off that for a whole year.”
Alderete remains democratically catholic in his tastes, however. “Boss – nobody fucks with them,” he says, eagerly comparing his vintage Boss treasure trove to their new Waza Craft recreations. “The colors always kind of correlate with the sound, and the boxes still look so tight.” He’s as quick to sing the praises of his rare Boss Vibrato units and unsung Ibanez multi-effects pedals of bygone eras as much as he is a cork-sniffer’s grail like an original A/DA Flanger, or the Digitech 2020s and Electro-Harmonix Micro-Synths he claims can be heard on “a lot of Mars Volta bootlegs,” or the Maestro Ring Modulator, his favorite ring mod ever, which he claims powered much of Mars Volta’s masterpiece Bedlam in Goliath.
Whether it’s the Maestro Ring Modulator, his all original, much loved Mu-Tron Envelope Filter, the rare DeArmond Square Wave, or a random Soviet era objet trouvé fuzz box, when taken together they paint a picture of Alderete’s maverick musical impulses. It’s those idiosyncratic, legendary oddballs that Alderete uses to compare against the newfangled pedals that come through the transom each day in his world. “I get something new and inevitably think, it’s not radical enough for me to actually use,” he explains. “They always think they’re going to blow me away with how extreme some pedal is, and I’m always like, ‘Double that, and then maybe I’ll think that’s cool.’ Most people don’t want ‘times ten’; that’s where I begin with every single pedal. Most people want ‘just enough’ – but if something isn’t already times ten, I’m not interested.”
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Full interview and photo of Juan’s chosen pedal will be featured in the Stompbox Book, coming summer 2020.
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