Zach Broyles is from small-town Sparta, Tennessee. He is the owner, operator, and creator of Mythos Pedals, a one man shop, one-at-a-time boutique pedal builder now located in Nashville. Earlier this month I sat down with Zach to talk with him about pedal building, guitar playing, and the journey that has led him to where he is currently, and where he hopes to go from here.
Where It All Started
Zach started playing guitar at age 15. Like a lot of us he got his first guitar for his birthday. He grew up in a house listening to all the records that his parents grew up on. His mom introduced him to the blues, guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, while his father turned him on to Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and ZZ Top. Those were the bands that made him want to play guitar, and while no one else in his family plays an instrument, he always felt encouraged. “I’m the kind of person, that once I decide to do something, I’m all in, I commit to it completely,” Broyles says.
Unknown to him at the time, playing guitar was going to take a lot of commitment. Zach has a strange handicap that he was unaware of until he began playing. As a child, he broke his left hand at the wrist, and can only turn his hand halfway over. For better or worse, this has forced Zach to adopt a rather unique playing style. Just watching him play is rather remarkable. Oh, and just in case anyone was wondering, the dude shreds!
“I can’t play bar-chords,” he says with a laugh, “I’m not the best rhythm player either. I have to use my thumb a lot, and I've had to come up with a unique way of playing the simplest chords."
Watching Zach play guitar is not only inspiring, but rather remarkable. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of patience required to get to where he is today. He is a fantastic guitarist with a unique sound and style that is truly all his own.
Every guitar player that I’ve ever met has a “tone” inside their head, the metaphorical dragon they chase. For Zach, the tone that he seeks, his favorite of sounds, comes from a combination of a few things. First, he loves Gibson Les Pauls, especially when they are hitting the front end of a crankedPlexi-era Marshall, or an old Brownface Fender Tweed Deluxe. Secondly, Zach loves Paul Kossoff of the 70’s rock band Free. Broyles explains, “Kossoff had the most natural, pure sounding tone, and he was getting all of that from a Les Paul plugged straight into a Marshall. That’s it for me, it’s the sound I’ve always set out to achieve.”
This is where the inspiration to build pedals started for Zach. Almost by accident, seeking out that tone inside of his head, buying and trying out some of the most common pedals like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, and asking himself, "can these sound better?"
Going back a decade or so, at around the age of 20, Zach had purchased a book by Brian Wampler called, “How to Modify Guitar Pedals.” He almost immediately started modifying and selling his own pedals as a side business. “I would buy a pedal, modify it or improve it in some way, give it to a friend or sell it, and then start all over again,” recalls Broyles. “I had bought Brian’s book, and I would email him with questions. He was always really kind to me and really helped me out a lot in the beginning.”
The first pedal Zach rebuilt from the ground up was a Dunlop Fuzz Face. “I bought one of those big-old red ones, and it died. Actually, it didn’t die, but it only picked up radio signals,” Broyles says smiling ear to ear. Broyles went on to explain this early experience. “I figured out how to read a schematic. Ordered all the parts. And rebuilt the thing on perfboard, bending leads and soldering them end to end, one at a time. I got it all put back together. Plugged my guitar into it and it worked! So that was where it all really started, making simple fuzzes on perfboard.”
Zach builds all of his pedals by hand, one at a time.
Zach currently works part time at Carter Vintage here in Nashville. That’s how our paths crossed. Although, I must admit I was already familiar with his Mythos Mjolnir Overdrive, I just had no idea who the builder was. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that not only was he the builder, but that he was a local guy at that. That day at Carter’s we plugged his Mjolnir into a Dr. Z MAZ 18 and set her up with a clean tone. Zach dialed in the Mjolnir and handed me a Gibson Les Paul. I handed him my phone and asked him to record me playing through it, because I wanted to have something to go back and listen to.
This meeting is literally what started our conversation about that mythical, often debated, Klon Centaur and the slew of Klon Klones that have flooded the market over the last decade. We talked about the J. Rockett Archer (a pedal that we both love) and we talked about the Mythos Mjolnir. I wanted to know why Zach’s pedal sounds so much better than a lot of the other Klones currently on the market. Zach gave as straightforward of an answer that one could ask for:
“Originally, the idea was to make something as good as possible that would also sound consistent from pedal to pedal. So many of the Klon Klones that I’ve played over the years sound so vastly different from one to the other. I wanted to have a pedal that sounded great, and did so consistently. I knew that I was going to use high-quality parts, and I was extremely selective when it came to choosing the diodes. Building the Mjolnir has required a great deal of patience. I’ve been very selective with everything. There’s also some ‘special sauce’ in the clipping that took a lot of trial and error. Another big goal for me was to have a pedal that sounds as good as it can, and with very little noise. I hate when I plug a pedal in and it’s noisey. It might elevate the noise floor of the amplifier because it’s adding volume, but the pedal itself shouldn’t be making a lot of unnecessary noise. The diodes I’m using now have such a smooth, open-sounding sweetness to them. I’m really happy that I’ve been patient, and that I was able to find the diodes that I'm currently using."
Stopped in at Carter Vintage to try one of these out and fell in love with it! The Mjolnir Overdrive is one of the best Klon klones I've ever heard.
The Mjolnir Sound
The Mjolnir is a very transparent, light-to-medium overdrive, with the ability to be used as a clean boost, or as a stand-alone drive unit. There’s actually more gain on tap than what you would expect, but you have to dime the gain control to get that out of it. The three controls (Volume, Tone, Gain) are all very interactive with each other. This is definitely a pedal where you should spend some time turning all of the knobs until you find a sweet spot. The Mjolnir has a generous amount of headroom, and works just as well with a clean amp as it does with an amp that’s already breaking up naturally. This pedal also plays extremely well with other overdrive and fuzz units. Back down on the gain, and this pedal sounds articulate and open. The Mjolnir adds a significant amount of harmonic content to any guitar or amp combination. It's not just a "Klon Klone," there is definitely a little something extra going on underneath the hood. But don’t take my word for it. Try one out for yourself!
Overdriving Into the Future
Zach is excited about his future. He’s getting married soon. He and his fiance are both passionate about music and creating music together. Along the way, he hopes to turn a small one-man-shop into a full blown pedal business. He’s excited about where he’s going with Mythos, and I’m excited for him, too.
Zach currently offers three pedals in his lineup. The Mjolnir (klon klone), the Daedalus Overdrive (bluesbreaker clone), and the Herculean Overdrive (classic 808). He also mods and repairs pedals, and plans on adding more pedals to his Mythos line. You can buy or contact Zach at his website. We here at Original Fuzz also plan to interview Zach for an upcoming podcast and we are currently working on a video demo of the Mjolnir.
Zach was kind enough to let us take some photos of his work space. We're hoping all of you fellow gear nerds can appreciate this as much as we do. Feel free to contact Zach email@example.com with questions or inquiries about his product line.
Desmond Smith is a guitar tech and guitar player living in Nashville, TN. You can keep up with all of his guitar and music related adventures by following him on Instagram @desmachine.