Starting a pedal company is one thing. Growing a massively successful one is another. So how did Walrus Audio find their place in the front of the pack of modern stompbox brands? This week on TPS, Jason Stulce and Colt Westbrook from Walrus Audio sat down with Dan & Mick to share their experience and sample a smorgasbord of made in Oklahoma gear.
While there’s no single path to success in the gear biz, the journey of Walrus Audio has involved a number of (mis)adventures, all of which made the brand what it is today.
So what were some of their unknown experiences and insider insights to building the brand?
Making Bold Moves while Avoiding an Intergalactic Lawsuit
As all four pedal gents swapped stories of being hit with copyright issues for playing riffs of famous tunes on YouTube, Colt cautiously hinted that Walrus too has had a few “cease and desist” experiences. But not from just anyone, from the emperor of the dark side himself, George Lucas.
Colt shared that Walrus hatched the plot for a Star Wars themed lineup of pedals to coincide with the release of a recent film. Naturally, the product names wrote themselves. I mean, the Han Solo Booster? That’s almost too easy.
After eight months of no response from the LucasFilm licensing department, Colt decided to press on by commissioning their own artwork to hopefully avoid any legal upset. Not so. As word of the pedal hit social media, within days Walrus received a call, then a fax, then an email with a “cease and desist” order. As Colt commented, “that was like four years ago, and it was still our most viral post.”
Sadly, none of the units shipped, but it was a lesson learned. “We could have had loads of money that we never made,” Colt laughed.
Thinking Differently about Traditional Effects
While creative branding is a major part of the Walrus lineup, so is thinking creatively about pedal circuitry and their sources of inspiration. Take overdrive, for example. How do you make a mark in that market?
As Jason recalled, Walrus’ contribution didn’t feel like a Tubescreamer clone or Marshall amp-in-a-box style effect. It was at a Dawes concert when his eye caught an unusual amp head on stage that started the journey down the rabbit trail to the 385 Overdrive. “They just had these, what I now know, to be film projectors. They were open and were lit up…I didn’t realize it at the time but underneath, they are literally tube amps.”
From there Jason picked up a Film-O-Sound project off eBay for $35 and got to work. After dissecting the circuit and understanding how it broke up in an unconventional yet warm way, the recipe for the 385 Overdrive came together. As Jason recollected, this was what Walrus was looking for in the gain game. “All along, we were thinking ‘How do we separate ourselves and do something different?’”
Growing Fast while Taking it Slö
As Dan & Mick recalled their first encounters with Walrus Audio pedals, it was items like the Fathom Reverb, ARP-87 Delay, and Julia Chorus that stood out. For the TPS anchormen, Walrus is one of the key players holding their own in the modulation game.
So how does their latest entry, the Slö, add to and extend this profile?
As Jason described, “if the Fathom was a little more meat and potatoes, this is way down the ethereal track. You’re not going to just get a spring or a plate: it’s designed for modulated ethereal stuff.”
Part of the magic is found in how different algorithms within the pedal feed into each other. For example, for a day-dreamy sound that takes you of into the dusky distance, the lower octave drives into a reverb signal. To explode the sound further still, Dan busted out his Ed O’Brien signature Stratocaster with Sustainer pickups. Ambience, oscillation, and mystery, it’s all there.
So where to next? As Dan & Mick pressed Colt and Jason for what’s in store, Colt commented, “we’re trying to go into spaces that are new and challenging for us.” Guess we’ll have to wait till NAMM to see!
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Supro Jamesport, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Fender Ed O’Brien Sustainer Stratocaster.
Pedals: Walrus Audio Slö Multi Texture Reverb, ARP-87 Multi Function Delay, Monument V2 Harmonic Tap Tremolo, Julia Analog Chorus/Vibrato, EB-10 Preamp & EQ Boost, 385 Overdrive, Iron Horse V2 Distortion.
Amps: Two Rock Classic Reverb Signature with Two-Rock 212 cabinet / TR 1265B speakers, Matchless HC-30 with Hughes & Kettner Vintage 212 / Celestion G12M Greenback.