While the connection between guitar effects pedals and bikes may not be immediately evident, for Josh Scott at JHS Pedals their relationship has become interdependent. Scott founded his company over a decade ago and has quickly become a leader in the boutique guitar pedal industry. Looking for the ultimate fuzz or distortion pedal? JHS has it. And it makes some pretty mean delay, tremolo and reverb pedals as well. Today in fact, his guitar pedals can be found on the pedal boards of many of the music industry’s biggest stars. But while Scott’s company boomed, he struggled to keep up. Overwhelmed physically and mentally, he soon found that cycling provided many answers. It allowed this one-time basketball player to get back in shape, as well as provide him with the perfect moment to reflect on his company or his next dream pedal. Today, you can often spot him sporting his latest cycling-themed shirt on the JHS YouTube channel; and he tries to average 200 miles per week on the roads around his home in Kansas City. A recent graduate of the Dirty Kanza 100–miler, Scott is already training for the 200mile event next year.

PELOTON

Hey, Josh, it is great to catch up with you. As you know at Peloton we like to connect cycling with other walks of life and that often takes us to music. We did a feature a couple of years back on John Stirratt, the bass player for Wilco, and last year we rode along the Natchez Trace from Muscle Shoals to Tupelo. 

Wow, that’s amazing. That’s where I’m originally from. I grew up there and my first band in high school recorded our demo there at the Jackson Highway Sound Studios.

Wow, this is a small world! You are obviously passionate about guitars and effects pedals. And you are a big bike fan too. What came first for you, the effects pedal or the bicycle? 

Oh, effects pedals and guitars for sure. I started in high school. I heard a Pearl Jam cassette tape on my brother’s floor and I freaked out and said, “I gotta have a guitar!” So I got a guitar and joined a band and that pretty much took over my life. It turned into full-time music. I graduated from high school, did some college, but just decided that college wasn’t for me and I started touring, doing session work, producing and songwriting.

The whole pedal thing was an accident really. Around 2006, I had a broken pedal and I fixed it and then I just wanted to know how everything works. I mean, I was the kind of kid that would take a flashlight apart. I just got into it and the company just kind of started in 2007. I have no business background, and nobody does in my family. But now we are around 12 years in with 25 employees. It’s been a wild ride.

That is a wild ride. Did you ever imagine when you started out that JHS pedals could grow into one of the industry leaders? 

No, I never could have imagined that. It is a miracle that I didn’t destroy it at some point! It’s been really fascinating.

at the finish of the 100-mile opal wapoo gravel grinder
At the finish of the 100-mile Opal Wapoo Gravel Grinder.

Well, I really love your YouTube channel and the pedal show. I’ve learned a lot actually as you break down the history of fuzz or distortion, or delays. 

Yeah, it’s been so fun. We started the show, conceptually, about two years ago and started filming about a year and a half ago. I got really burned out about 10 years in and really didn’t want to even see a guitar. I love history and just started talking through the history of effects pedals and fell in love with it. I wanted to do something on the internet, but I wanted to do something different than just a demo of my own pedals. It makes me feel like a used car salesman! But I literally fell back in love of the guitar through its history and sharing these stories.

And cycling? 

Ah, cycling is much more recent. There was this point about nine years into the company, so about 2016, I was dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety regarding the company. I was traveling a lot and was unhealthy. I am six-foot-six and I played basketball in high school, but at this point I was just deteriorating and I was just like, “I’ve got to do something physical.” I remember going out for my first ride and doing like 5 miles and felt like I was a pro athlete or something. It was just amazing. So I kept sticking with it doing these out-and-back routes. And one day I got about 40 miles out and had to ride 40 miles back.

Mostly road or off-road? 

Well, I really got into gravel. I can be a real hermit, you know—just put me in a dark room with a book. I think the anxiety was coming from just all of the constant stuff that was coming at me regarding the business. But when I got back out on a bike it was just me. I live in South Kansas City and there are a ton of farmlands and gravel roads. And the first time I put fat tires on my bike and went out there I just found it to be magical! I mainly ride solo just because I like the solitude and it has been massively lifechanging. Everything I got into it for, I found. I lost like 50 pounds. It cured the anxiety and stress. Cycling has just been amazing for me.

josh middle after finishing the 100 mile dirty kanza
Josh (middle) after finishing the 100-mile Dirty Kanza.

I got a sense that you were quite a bike fan, because I noticed all of these cycling-themed T-shirts on your YouTube channel. Are you even aware of how many cycling T-shirts you wear on the guitar pedal show? 

No, not at all. But my favorite T-shirt company ever is Thread + Spoke. They also do DNA, and I love their products, and I just love their cycling T-shirts. My wife makes fun of me because they are almost all black and she is like, “You could maybe work in a little color!”

Well, I really love your pedal show for the content too. It is really open and organic. I mean, you talk about other brands—potential competitors—really freely. And it is very informative. How did it all develop? 

Well, as a company, we are in the internet age of guitars. And the last 10 years has been a really different way of thinking for companies. It has been challenging trying to find our place in Instagram and Facebook posts, etcetera. I really wanted to get away from me from doing a demo of a pedal in front of a black wall. There is nothing wrong with that but I wanted to do something different.

Now I really love history. One of my most fond memories from childhood is watching “The Civil War” by Ken Burns with my dad. My passion is for the history and philosophy of guitar pedals and I wanted to take a bit of what Ken Burns does and put it toward the stories of guitar pedals. I get to meet so many great people and I wanted to talk about the people, their stories and the history. I firmly believe that when the tide rises we all benefit. And I just want people to enjoy and love pedals and guitars more.

pedals gravel

Well, you obviously spend a lot of time working on your guitar pedals. Do you enjoy working on your bike too? 

Oh yeah. I made a little bike shop in a corner of my garage. Winters in Kansas City are pretty brutal, but I set up a Zwift trainer bike in the corner with a workbench. One of the things I love about it is that I am back to the guy that is learning. With guitar pedals I am the guy that knows everything. I am consulting others frequently, working on the tour rigs of musicians, etcetera. But with the cycling thing, it has been fun because I get to go back and see something from a customer’s perspective. I am asking questions like, “What do I do with this derailleur?” I built my own single-speed and enjoy learning how it all works.

Are there similarities with cycling and building an effects pedal, or do you go out and come up with the new effects pedal you are going to produce? 

I definitely have the best ideas on the bike in the middle of nowhere. I used to listen to podcasts or music but now I just listen to the wheels. There is something magical when I hit 40 miles. My brain lets go and my ride suddenly becomes the ultimate escape. I end up fixing problems I didn’t even know I had and coming up with all kinds of cool ideas. Running a business can be intense and when I get out there on my bike it is the only thing I have found that truly unplugs me.

tweaking some prototypes
Tweaking some prototypes. Image: James Startt.

You just rode the Dirty Kanza. What was that like? 

Well, I did the 100- mile event this year and want to do the 200-mile event next year. It’s a brutal course but I loved it. I’ve done a couple of gravel events that actually felt harder, but the Kanza terrain is just nuts. It’s become a big event and it is a fun race. It was my first experience with the big-time cycling culture. Riding out with Ted King and guys like that. It was just a blast! I think the culture of these longer endurance rides is really taking off here in the Midwest.

How often do you get out? 

Well, I try to do about 200 miles a week. A lot of times I only get to 160 or so, but that is my goal.

That’s serious cycling….

Yeah, I really try to be consistent. It can get hard with traveling but I often take a bike with me and try to get out a bit even when I am on the road.

What would you say is your favorite-ever effects pedal? 

Well, I would say that my favorite effect is probably the Fuzz pedal. A good, classic germanium fuzz is way up there. And the only thing that comes close to it would be a good analog delay. My favorite pedal company would probably be BOSS. I am just a huge fan of their stuff.

And your favorite bike ever? 

Oh well, I would say my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross. I started with steel frames because I am so tall and needed a 64cm and that can be tricky. But I love this one! I ride it in road group rides or in dirt. It is the ultimate bike to me. I can take it camping, ride the road, gravel, whatever, you name it.

When you are out on a ride dreaming up effects pedals, is there an end-all pedal that has never been done that, if you could wave your magic wand, would appear? 

Well, there is the pull inside that is kind of haunting, that is saying to me, “What’s not been done?” And that is a really hard question. The closest we’ve come has been our Color Box pedal that duplicates a recording studio console. It goes after The Beatles’ White Album sounds a bit. Sometimes you kind of stumble into it, but it has been wildly successful.

And what would be your dream bike? 

Hmm. Well, you know what’s wild, and I can say this in all honesty, because you’ve watched my show and you know that I am a serious collector.

Well, you definitely have a few guitar effects pedals….

Yeah, I have like 2,000 pedals; it’s a museum of sorts. My amp collection is huge. My vinyl collection is huge. But with the bike thing I am super-satisfied—which is wild for me. I have an obsessive personality and I have just been shocked that the Black Mountain Monster Cross, well, I just love it to death. I will admit that I would love a custom Ti, so probably if I got another bike it will be a custom Ti frame like this bike. I think it would basically be the bike I have but in titanium.

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