Everything In Its Right Place: How Funny Little Boxes Came To Be

Posted by Andrew Ilgunas on

In 2003; the bassist from my band and I took ourselves off to the nearest music store; "One Man Band" in Banbury and came back with a new effects pedal each. Both from the Danelectro "food series" of mini pedals, which were the only ones in our price bracket. Funny shaped, little plastic boxes with tiny control knobs, in vibrant colours and named after classic American diner staples. He bought the Hash Browns Flanger and I the Milkshake Chorus. If I'm honest, I didn't understand what a flanger or a chorus pedal were at the time and I barely played the thing. 9 volt batteries were expensive and I just couldn't be bothered with the faff of loading in a battery and connecting the thing up between my amp and guitar in order to achieve a sound which wasn't really usable for the aggressive music we were playing at the time. I think the same went for the bassists flange pedal; I don't remember him ever actually using it at a rehearsal or gig. We were an angry, shouty punk band with a seriously good drummer who was also a way better guitar player than me. We played a few gigs but the Danelectro never got a look in, the drummer had a Zoom multi effects unit which had a power supply so we didn't have to faff around with batteries and I would borrow that just so I could flick from "loud and distorted" to "really loud and distorted" with ease. The band was pretty short lived but a lot of fun, after being together for a couple of years I went off to uni in Norwich while the others stayed in Oxfordshire; which made it pretty difficult to keep things together so we called it a day with no hard feelings. 

 

From then, 2006 right up until 2017, the electric guitar played a pretty insignificant role in my life and I was solely acoustic. From 2009 to 2014 I didn't even have a working amplifier so my lovely Fender Telecaster sat in its case and only came out if I couldn't sleep and wanted to play quietly in the dead of night when an acoustic guitar wasn't an option. The Danelectro sat at the bottom of a box, nicely preserved but pretty much forgotten about until the summer of 2017.

That's around the time that I suddenly took a real interest in it; if you'd asked me why at the time I couldn't have told you. I just decided to dig it out of the box one day and have a look at it. I don't think I even plugged it in, just had a look at it and then put it back in the box; had a flick through the little catalogue that came with it and then found myself searching on ebay to see if there were any of the others in the series floating about. This was to be my descent down the rabbit hole.

I managed to bag a collection of 6 of them, with a specially designed pedalboard and power supply which all folded up into a neat carry case. I bagged another 2 off of Facebook market place, all of which turned up just in time for me to use them at a gig I'd been invited to play with a colleagues 60's covers band. I just had to stand there and play some lead guitar. It was the first time I had ever used a pedal board at a gig and there was something about it that I loved. Having that tonal control just a footstep away felt good and that spurred me onto delve deeper and deeper into the world of effects pedals.

My primary concern, or complete obsession as my wife would put it was with collecting the Danelectro food series in its entirety; there was something about those "funny little boxes" as my wife termed them that had me hooked, and there was a deep satisfaction in seeing them lined up along my piano. Some of them even sounded good when plugged in; to this day the French Toast Octave Fuzz is one of my favourite stomp boxes and until very recently was my favourite fuzz outright. While searching for the Dano pedals I would happen across forums and discussion groups and found myself being absorbed into the world of effects pedals in general and I started to branch out from the Danelectro pedals and vary my tastes a bit. I found myself pretty astounded by the prices which some little boxes would go for; some of them cost more than my guitar and amp put together so I started to apply certain rules to myself in order to ensure I didn't bring about financial ruination on my family. I set an upper limit of £100; anything beyond that was (and still is) beyond my means and just not something that I feel I can ever justify. That's not to say I don't think that the myriad of expensive stomp boxes out there are worth their price tags; on the whole I think they are, I just know where my limit is. I also only looked for things which ignited my interest; there are plenty of tried, tested and very succesful pedals out there that I just wouldn't consider touching; not because I don't think they're good but because I know my own taste and I'm not going to pay for something that doesn't ignite my curiosity. A good example of this is the Boss P-W2 Power Driver. It's Boss' worst selling pedal and that fact alone made me want to play it; I'm terminally on the side of the underdog and having played the thing, there's a lot to love in it when you look past its bad reputation.

As the boxes flooded in and the piano filled up with them stacked on top of each other; family and financial circumstances changed and I had to let a few go. I expected to find this a pretty devastating experience, I hadn't managed to collect the entire set of food pedals and had to dispense with that obsession. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually got as big a buzz from selling them on as I did from collecting them in the first place. There was a feeling of satisfaction that they had served their purpose with me and were going off to make someone else happy. But the real joy with selling them on was getting to talk to people about the pedals and music gear in general. I'm the only guitar player in my house and I don't want to bore my family with talk of geeky stuff they're not interested in and don't understand. Having a channel of nerdy communication open to me was a great thing and it's ultimately the main reason why I'm in this trade. Having a passion is one thing, but getting to share it with like minded people just makes it a hundred times better. Thus began my full immersion in the pedal world and having an active "side hustle" alongside my "real job". 

For the past ten years I've worked in various roles within specialised education for young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and become gradually more and more jaded as time has gone on. Knowing you're doing a job you're passionate about and putting your all into it is one thing, but when you're constantly battling a system that simply isn't in line with your values it becomes soul destroying. The final kick in the teeth came in March of this year when I was suddenly made redundant from my role as a maths tutor, I was one of the top performing tutors in the company and had been for a year. Being good at the job was no protection and that stung bitterly. It still does...

This is where the real reason for my obsession for these funny little boxes comes in. Like I said earlier, If asked at the time I couldn't tell you why I suddenly felt the urge to try and collect all of these curious little objects that I'd had no inclination towards before, it's only now, with Funny Little Boxes established as a business and with the time to reflect upon the past few turbulent years that I can really put my finger on it.

There was a BBC drama on a while back called "Baptiste", a gritty crime thriller in which the titular French detective claws his way through a murky underworld of sex trafficking and murder to finally get to some dirty truth, buried deep. The drama opens with a man collecting shells on the beach and carting them back to his home before being hideously murdered by a hit man. In one of the final scenes the man's son and Baptiste are on the same beach, with the son collecting shells just like his father had been and ruminating on how he'd never understood why his father did it every morning of his life. Sorting through endless shells to find specific ones, washing them and taking them home to display them lovingly. What's the point? Here, the wise French detective pipes up and proffers the thought that people who collect things as the mans father had done, did so because they were seeking to bring order to a chaotic world. Now as cheesy as it may be, that little closing nugget of wisdom rings profoundly true with me. Looking back to the time when this passionate pursuit of mine began, my world was certainly chaotic. My family and I were in the early stages of dealing with the severe mental health problems of a close family member that had reared their ugly head just a few months before; bewildered at how suddenly our seemingly peaceful lives had been turned on their heads and struggling to find our footing (we still are). At the same time we had an eight month old baby to care for, had just moved house and were just coming to terms with the fact that we would soon have another baby as my wife had fallen pregnant very unexpectedly. I can see now that the satisfaction I felt when looking at those oddly shaped, brightly coloured boxes lined up along the piano was the result of being able to set my eyes on something ordered; as it should be; in its right place. 

Now, the pedals that are lined up in boxes on top of my piano are my livelihood. There's a sense of excitement to seeing them there, I enjoy the anticipation of waiting for a sale to come through; wondering which one it's going to be and where it will go. Each one is a box full of promise; in these strange times it seems hard to justify that effects pedals could be considered "essential", but to the person that plugs one in and after a bit of knob tweaking finds that sweet spot and finally gets to hear the sound they've had in their head for God knows how long... it's a genuine joy. And therein lies the crux of what I'm trying to do with Funny Little Boxes. To provide someone with a bit of joy at a price that won't break the bank. 

 

 


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2 comments

  • Love those Dano pedals, the Tuna Melt has some of the best noises to come out of a yellow plastic box ever! May the purchase of the most excellent Dano FabTone be the first of many!

    Trev on
  • I had the pleasure of purchasing one of these “funny little boxes” from Andy and it was a wonderful experience; he guided me through his collection and we found the right one for me. Andy was honest, reliable, and knowledgeable. The “funny little box” arrived quickly and the quality was outstanding. Since receiving the box I’ve entered a whole new world, a real journey which has made being in full lock down so much better. Thank you Andy for the advice and superb service this will completely change how I play my guitar.

    Andy Ralls on

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