Bending the Circuits
local rocker crafts custom guitar pedals, sound
Ben Hinz is something of an enigmatic figure in the Eau Claire music scene. No, he’s not one of those “typical” artsy types that holes themselves away for years and years writing perfect pop records and shunning the outside world. When I contacted him for this article it was quite the opposite; Hinz was passionate, smart, and most importantly, articulate about what occupies most of his time, music. The real question that follows him around whether it be on stage, in recordings, or in a simple interview is this: Why isn’t this guy famous already?
Hinz has played in multiple bands (in multiple roles) over the course of the last decade. He has fronted his own electronic group Aen, teamed up with local prog-rockers, Silvering, and found numerous other ways to push the boundaries of local music. Recently Hinz’ biggest success hasn’t been on stage or even in the studio, but on an even more basic level of electronic music: he designs pedals.
For the uninitiated (non-gearheads), circuit bending is the process of taking apart a guitar pedal and literally messing it up. Circuit benders try to change the way a pedal is run to make new and exciting sounds that were previously unavailable through traditional methods. Circuit bending can be a frustrating process in that there is no real science to it, most of the sounds are made through trial and error. This frustration is what drove Hinz one step further, to not only mess with existing guitar pedals, but to make his own from basic electronic components that he ordered off of the internet.
Hinz started Dwarfcraft Devices (named after the fact that, “historically dwarves make cool stuff”) after experimenting with circuit bending for the past couple of years. “It really started as a hobby,” said Hinz. “There was a little interest on a local level, but mainly I was just trying to fund myself so I could make more stuff that I could use in my own music.” Soon, Hinz met indie-rock icon Alan Sparhawk of Low.
“I sort of gushed to him. I told him that I had named a pedal ‘The Great Destroyer’ (a Low album) and asked if he wanted one. He was intrigued.” Sparhawk bought a pedal from Hinz, and now uses it in his group Retribution Gospel Choir. “That was maybe the coolest thing for me,” Hinz said, “just to see Alan Sparhawk using my pedal on stage.”
Hinz has now sold pedals not only to Sparhawk, but to Justin Mehldau, who now plays bass for Beck. In addition, Analoghaven.com has ordered 60 devices from Hinz to sell on their website. It’s just the tip of the iceberg for Hinz, who says he has at least three new devices planned for release in the next year. Look for his stuff in local music stores within the next year.
Check out Dwarfcraft Devices at www.myspace.com/dwarfcraftdevices.