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Feel Good Hit Of The Summer: The Skeleton Key Revealed

Posted by Andrew Ilgunas on

Alrighty then; now I know to some of you this is old news and that you have been waiting quite some time for it. However, as the old saying goes, better late than never. I think we are dropping this just about in time to qualify for feel-good-hit-of-the-summer status.

For those of you that are currently in the dark; allow me to enlighten you...

I won’t run through the whole saga of the 1991 again, it’s well trodden ground now.

Overnight success.

Not planned and definitely not prepared for.

Demand outstripping supply by miles.

Glowing review in Total Guitar magazine.

In short, a dream come true.


It was all going so well.


July 2022. My son contracts the mother of all stomach bugs which results in me spending the night on his bedroom floor and periodically shoving a sick-bowl under his face between bouts of fitful sleep.

At around 5am, slumped against the radiator I reach down to my nether regions to “adjust myself” in the interest of comfort. That’s when I feel it. Something that is small, hard, painful to touch and wasn’t there before…


November of 2022 and I am, physically at least, fully recovered from my recent brush with cancer.

The 1991 continues to sell while I struggle to keep up with orders as usual and alongside this I attempt to continue with the development of the long awaited “difficult second album” as it has become known.

 Trying to jump back in where I left off after a three-month break is migraine inducing and though I sit with breadboard and oscilloscope in front of me, for hour after hour, I make little progress.

All the while, there is a nagging in the back in my mind, a sensation of something persistently tugging me away from what I am trying to work on and toward something else.

Eventually it takes over.

Instead of working on nailing the circuit I have at this point invested hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds in I find myself starting afresh with a couple of op amps and no set direction or even clear idea of what I am doing; working on pure instinct in an attempt to satisfy the hammering in my head.

After a week I have something.

In terms of the circuit topology, it is completely unremarkable, but the sound it produces is exceptional. Visceral and thrilling.

Around this time, Queens Of The Stone Age announce the re-release of their eponymous debut album so, having not listened to it in over a decade I give it a spin.

And there it is, in the first track “Regular John”. That same hammering, relentless onslaught that I have had bludgeoning my brain for the past few weeks.  

It all just clicks into place and I feel like I finally have my mojo back.

There are a few kinks to iron out, the tone control and the gain stages need fine tuning to ensure we maximise the sonic potential of the circuit. Although a lot of QOTSA songs contain what are ostensibly very similar sounds, there are several sonic nuances that feature, and which are not easily captured. There’s a reason Josh Homme’s tones are so hard to nail.

We should probably address the inevitable questions surrounding the Peavey Decade here. Let us be clear, this is not a clone of that amp. Whereas it is verified that the Decade has been used throughout the making of several QOTSA records, the fact is it is only a single part of the sound as a whole and I remain unconvinced that the Decade alone can truly capture the QOTSA sound.

As with the 1991; the aim for this pedal is to give you as wide a range of tones as possible within set parameters. The tricky thing with capturing QOTSA’s sound is that it is often not what you think it is and due to the general veil of secrecy that has surrounded the band and how they record there is no magic key for unlocking their sound.

As such, Matt and I have spent hours listening forensically to a multitude of QOTSA songs and making comparisons with the circuit, steadily making minute adjustments to capture as many of the intricate sonic nuances as possible.

The most important part of any circuit is the gain staging. This posed one of the biggest challenges in the circuit’s development. You might be surprised but, for such a powerful sound, the QOTSA guitar tone isn’t that high gain. I have lost count of the number of times I sat on the floor of Matt’s studio while he would play the current iteration of the circuit and take off his head - phones only to say, “There’s still too much gain”.

Then off I would go to FLB HQ and make more adjustments to bring the gain into line. This would then present a new set of problems in how the adjusted gain would affect the eq. Needless to say that the tone and gain controls in this pedal are highly interactive with each other so the development of this pedal has mainly revolved around a delicate balancing act of the two.

Fiddly as it has been, it has been worth every single second. 

Sounds aside, perhaps the trickiest aspect of this pedal has been deciding on a name.

I must give all of the credit for this part of things to Matt really as he had the vision to look far wider than I for inspiration in this respect. Noticing that skeletons seem to play a large part in the artwork of later QOTSA albums Matt came upon the perfect name for a pedal that takes a notoriously hard to achieve tone and breaks it down into its most essential parts, allowing easy access to all.

Skeleton Key.

As I said earlier there was no such key to easily unlock the QOTSA guitar sound, but there is now that we have made one.

Matt then took things one step further by tracking down the artist who produces QOTSA’s album artwork (Villains onwards), the wonderful Boneface who we were thrilled to have work with us. Hopefully you agree that what he produced for us is phenomenal. We want to say a huge thank you to Boneface for working with us on this because it really is the icing on the cake to have him produce such an awesome piece of art for us.

So, there you have it, the pedal formerly known as the difficult second album, henceforth known as the Skeleton Key.

An op amp based distortion pedal with a unique voice and specifically tuned gain stages so that when you put it between your amp and down tuned, humbucker loaded guitar you can nail a range of the incredible tones on offer throughout the QOTSA back catalogue. From Regular John and If Only from their self titled debut; Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer from Rated R; Mega hits No One Knows, Little Sister and Go With The Flow; all the way up to Paper Machete from this years In Times New Roman release.

Getting to this point after the trials of the last year has been no easy feat, particularly when you add in the fact the 1991 has made itself some pretty big shoes to fill. We have left ourselves nowhere to hide with the Skeleton Key.

It stands proudly in splendid isolation from the 1991, completely different and absolutely its own thing.

We really hope you love it as much as we do.

All the best




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    • I got this in November ‘23, and I was really excited to finally get hold of it. But I deliberately wanted to hold off posting a review for a few months – just so it’s not based on the initial hype.

      Anyway – about 6 months on and this is by far and away my favourite pedal. I love QOTSA and I can safely say it nails their tone. And it really isn’t an easy sound to replicate. You can come close with a lot of messing around, but I was never happy with what I could come up with before. This pedal gets it right every time. And the other thing is – it’s just an awesome pedal in its own right. I use it for lots of other sounds too because it’s so hugely versatile.

      So impressed with it I’ve pre-ordered a 1991 which I hope to get early May. I suspect they will be my main two pedals. And if the 1991 is as good as the Skeleton Key then that’s an awesome package for less than £200! Can’t wait to get hold of it. Cheers Andy – keep up the good work! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with next!!

      Campbell on
    • I was excited when I purchased it. Out of the box the pedal was not properly functioning. Now I can’t even get it to power on, and I can’t get a response from customer service.

      Matthew Owens on
    • Ordered Skeleton Key in early Sept 2023. Emailed sent earlier this week asking for an update and just got my DHL tracking #! Being a massive QotsA fan, can’t wait to hear his new magic pedal in person. Happy Holidays and hope you’re feeling better, Andy! Cheers from Jacksonville, Florida!

      Shane Duncan on
    • Ordered one in the summer and just received it. QOTSA awesomness in a red freakin pedal. Just wow! For those who have ordered it, be patient, it will come. And it is goooodddd!

      Wil Geraets on
    • Can you please check on my order I’ve paid back in August and still no pedal

      Jason Wentzel on

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