Why We Owe a Lot to Zachary Vex. (Trust Me: You’ve Heard His Work)

Before I found this article from Inc, I had no idea who the guy was, either. But all of us are familiar with his work.

It was a ZZ Top Christmas miracle.

In 1996, camped out in an apartment with a busted furnace, Zachary Vex, broke as usual, was gamely trying to assemble his Fuzz Factory model guitar pedals. This was December in Minneapolis, so the temperature inside topped out at 55 degrees in daytime. Vex, shivering in a parka and fingerless gloves, was struggling to operate a soldering iron when the phone rang. It was Greg Bayles, owner of Make’n Music, a guitar store in Chicago. Bayles told Vex that ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons had just come in, bought up the store’s entire stock of Z.Vex Effects products, and wanted more.

Soon after, “Gibbons called me and bought everything I had,” says Vex, now 54. “It was mostly destined for Christmas presents for his friends. I made enough money from that to get into a different apartment and be warm again.”

Z.Vex makes effects pedals: electronic devices that plug into electric guitars and amps to change the sound, or–in the case of Vex’s products–to push the sound to the edge of madness. For years, Vex played a minor role in Minneapolis’s eclectic music scene as an audio engineer, until one day his tinkerer’s passion brought him front and center. This is a guy who almost didn’t launch because he thought his products were too weird. Today, he sells roughly 20,000 pedals a year to bands shredding in private basements and public arenas.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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