Building a Distortion Pedal

greatwallfinishedMy first effect pedal was a Phaser. Technically, it was an MXR Phase 90. Worst first pedal ever. So later someone was having a sale on the BBE Frequency boost. I’d been meaning to pick up the Holy Stain by EHX, so I bought both. I learned the hard way that the reason there are so reviews of the Holy Stain is the fact that the distortion on that pedal sucks, so if you demo it, you end up not buying it. It does however, have built in, a pretty good Hall Reverb, a fantastic Room Reverb, serviceable tremolo (I said serviceable, not great) and a pitch shift which I guess is a (useless) freebie.

Anyways. Distortion, which is what mainly I bought the Holy Stain for, is terrible. I don’t want just another Boss DS-1 and I don’t want a Big Muff. Which means you start looking at boutique fuzz pedals or DIY kits. In the “post your gear” thread on a forum I frequent, someone pointed out the “Great Wall” distortion pedal by Fuzzhugger(fx). After watching the video which explains how it works, I had to have one. In what was probably a one time only deal, the maker/designer (who is a really cool, helpful guy btw) agreed to sell me the five dial model in a sort of kit form. Well, I finally finished it. I’m very happy with it.

More below the cut…

So here’s a pic, about half way through the project. Tom provided some great paper drilling patterns, which worked out great. I don’t have a drill press, but I was able to drill all eleven holes without much problem. Now I see why predrilled pedal cases come unfinished! It just so happened that the pedal case I found at Fry’s was the exact same one Tom uses on his Great Wall pedals, and I’d painted my case for a $20 Korg tuner -> tuner pedal conversion black already. Clamping the case in place, with all the aluminum shavings everywhere, uh, gave it an interesting patina. I guess Fender would call this “relic’d”.


One thing to note about this pedal, there are FIVE knobs, plus a DPDT switch in addition to the regular 3PDT 9 pin switch. That’s 21extra connections, in addition to the two on the power adapter, and two on each of the 1/4″ input jacks, and the wires connecting to the actual circuit. Some of the connections have 3 wires each. So this was my first real soldering project, I guess you could say. Final pic (I really need to get a new camera, this cell phone cam isn’t cutting it):


Things I would have done differently: Paint after finish drilling the holes. Make sure the 3PDT switch is in the correct alignment. The build pic shows the 3PDT switch rotated about 90 degrees from where it should be. There’s a reason why every 3PDT diagram ever has the pins as rectangles and not squares! Pay attention, so you don’t have to completely rewire your switch after a stunning disappointment that your pedal does not work. I would also get a drill press They’re only about $80 at Harbor Freight, and allow you to make precise, vertical holes, and keeps the drill bit from “walking”. I had a center punch, but it’s hard to drill a perfectly vertical 1/2″ hole through cast aluminum using a hand drill. My Tone (TNE) knob is slightly out of line with the others due to some drill walk I was unable to correct.

Labeling is an old fashioned Dymo “Embossing Labelmaker Organizer Xpress Pro” that I picked up at Office Depot. The home networking section at Home Depot will sell you 200 port home networking patch panels, but no labeling machines, how weird. I’m pretty sure Dymo makes their label makers to exceptionally low standards just so the lettering will come out uneven and amateur looking – those labels were made from a brand new label maker.

So, what does it sound like? In a word, awesome.Great, great fuzz, which is completely adjustable. I leave the tone circuit on bypass, which gives you a huge amount or presence, and generally keep the Volt knob at mid or higher for a sort of tube overdrive breakup that responds just really well to pick attack. Crank the gain and let off the trim and you get some gnarly “Great Wall” sound. Lower the voltage knob and it really comes alive. The pedal, unlike most distortion pedals, sounds great pretty much at any setting, and one of the main reasons I decided to build one, was the huge versatility the pedal gives you. Another person wrote a review on his site, pointing out that the Trim knob is the key to the whole pedal – I have to agree. They no longer sell the “5K” model that I built, but the Deluxe model still has the trim knob. I can see why Tom is selling a V2, or standard model with only 3 knobs now, in addition to the 4 knob and the Deluxe 5 knob model – these things are labor intensive to assemble! I’m sure if I put together another two or three I could get build time under two hours, but it was a good weekend project.

Final thoughts: Great sound, lots of low end, which is unusual for a distortion pedal. The tone circuit isn’t really for me; I guess if you’re playing rhythm guitar this might be for you, but it seems to really clip out too much of the “meat” of the signal for my taste. I usually leave it disabled, or in bypass mode.  Maybe I’ll enable it more as my musical tastes change with time.  I’m finding myself putting this right behind my BBE Frequency Boost pedal, which seems to really “wake up” the Great Wall. Not that the Great Wall needs it, but like anything else, depending on your guitar, pedal chain and amp, an equalizer will do wonders for your tone. The Freq Boost just happens to be an awesome equalizer preset (Essentially).

You can pick up a Fuzzhugger (fx) Great Wall here.

I’ll see if I can get some soundclips up here later.

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6 Responses to Building a Distortion Pedal

  1. Nice post. Would enjoy reading a follow up.

  2. admin says:

    Too much bass (he comments on the bassiness in his initial youtube video), which I think was fixed in later iterations. Probably need to run it through an equalizer to pull out the overpowering bass tones. It’s similar to a big muff, but the amount of bass means it’s better suited to a rhythm guitarist rather than punching through the mix for leads.

  3. Uygar says:

    Hi TommyCan you take my name on 26 May 2011, 00:47 posadted on Talk Porty, just make it ‘kaori’ rather than Kaori Simpson. Its just that icmoes up on google page if someone type in my name, sorry about that but like not be on google!kaori

  4. This was so helpful and easy! Do you have any articles on rehab?

  5. This site is like a classroom, except I don’t hate it. lol

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