Collaboration Culture: Joel Korte on the Bliss Factory
Joel Korte and Zachary Vex have an interesting relationship.
The two first connected back in 2008, when the former was in the middle of what he thought was a career change.
“I had quit my corporate engineering job to pursue a career in speech-language pathology,” Korte says. “More specifically, I wanted to help people like myself who stutter.”
And so it was Korte, the electrical engineer turned University of Minnesota grad student, hounding Vex for a part-time job at his namesake pedal company, ZVEX Effects.
“Eventually he allowed me to work for him and after about a year of that arrangement, I transitioned to full-time ZVEX employee and part-time grad student.”
Fast forward to 2013 and, having completed his graduate degree in Speech-Language and Hearing Sciences, Korte found himself at a crossroads.
“I wanted to do a little bit of everything,” he says. “Give speech therapy, work on my own designs, and also finish up some projects with Zack — so that’s what I ended up doing.”
You may know what became of Korte’s designs as the digital-brain-meets-analog-heart machinations of Chase Bliss Audio.
But things between Vex and Korte are cool, Korte says.
“Our relationship has never been better.”
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You might be familiar with Reverb.com’s upcoming feature-length film, The Pedal Movie. According to the teaser info, it’s the story of guitar pedals and effects, told by the people who make them and the artists that use them.
In a lead up to the film’s release, the Reverb team pitched Joel and Zack on the idea of Chase Bliss and ZVEX collaborating on a project as a promotional element.
Of course, Korte is no stranger to collaboration.
At Winter NAMM 2019, Chase Bliss unveiled the Automatone platform and announced the Preamp MKII — a joint effort between Korte and Chris Benson of Benson Amps.
Simultaneously futuristic and retro, the Automatone platform is a pedal addict’s wet dream, complete with motorized sliders, presets and MIDI capability — and the Preamp MKII has been widely celebrated since making its way into the hands (and under the feet) of players worldwide earlier this year.
Similarly, the second iteration of the Automatone — a tag-team reverb project called the CXM 1978 that incorporated Terry Burton and Angelo Mazzocco from Meris, announced earlier this year — is equally anticipated and currently available for pre-order.
Korte has previously collaborated with other companies, too, like Cooper FX and Resonant Electronic on now-retired gems like the reimagined Generation Loss and Brothers drive/fuzz/boost.
But when Reverb started asking about a potential CBA/ZVEX mashup — Korte knew exactly what he wanted to do.
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“I’ve wanted to make a Fuzz Factory in a Chase Bliss pedal ever since I came up with the platform, but it just seemed like it’d be impossible for it to happen.” Korte says. “But the stars aligned for this thing.”
To be clear, it’s worth noting that Korte is on the record as saying that the Fuzz Factory is one of his all-time favorite pedals.
“The sheer variety of sounds has always inspired me to no end,” he says. “That, and the fact that, component wise, it’s a relatively simple circuit. To be able to get that much, out of that relatively few components still astounds me to this day. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of over-engineering things.”
And to everyone’s delight, Vex was just as excited about the idea.
“He was very supportive,” Korte says. “I was really enamored with the idea of fusing the Fuzz Factory with my Condor LPF — as I’d kind’ve been fleshing it out in my head for the past few years — so I pretty much just went all in. I gave Zack a prototype when I felt like it was pretty close, and we made some adjustments after that to finish it off.”
The result of their collective tweaking — a digitally-controlled Fuzz Factory with the Chase Bliss suite of MIDI/Expression/Preset control and a fun resonant filter called the Bliss Factory — was a smashing success.
“We sold 1000 units in an hour — which is just insane,” Korte gushes. “I knew they’d go over well, but that just blew my socks off.”
Now, it almost goes without saying that a thousand of anything would be a large undertaking for a small company like Chase Bliss Audio, and that’s why the Bliss Factory was originally planned for limited release. But when Korte’s various inboxes lit up like never before after the sale went live — most people demanding that he make more — he ultimately decided to expand Bliss Factory production.
And that’s the thing about collaboration: everyone wins.
“Going through projects like this, there’s just always going to be a million little challenges to overcome,” Korte says. “But I think it just makes better products. By collaborating, we can all build off each other’s strengths and make the best thing we know how, together. Plus — it’s just plain fun.”