Local Current Blog

Chase Bliss Audio: Guitar heroes go gaga for Anoka pedal company

Joel Korte with his pedals. All photos by Lillian Speakman for MPR.

Inconspicuously tucked away in a second-floor shop in downtown Anoka is Chase Bliss Audio, a guitar effects pedal business selling its own brand of musical mojo. The relatively young company is designing and selling pedals that provide guitar heroes with a unique combination of digital and analog manipulation.

For most of his life, founder Joel Korte has had a love for music and a desire to understand how it’s created. He started playing guitar at the age of 15 and quickly developed an interest in audio technology. He went on to study electrical engineering in college at the University of St. Thomas, graduating in 2008. It wasn’t until later in his life, though, that this initial passion would turn into a business.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Korte welcomed me into his comfortable shop. Dozens of pedals hung on the wall near a work table, and guitars stood on stands ready to be played. A comfortable couch helped make the space feel like a backstage green room, or a band’s practice space.

Part of the inspiration for starting Chase Bliss Audio came from Korte’s brother, Chase Korte, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2007. “His whole life philosophy was to ‘follow your bliss,'” said Korte, “so that concept and then him no longer being around was really influential, but it took a long time to get to here.” When Joel founded the company in 2013, he combined his brother’s name and philosophy into a moniker for the business.

What’s unique about the Chase Bliss technology? For starters, the pedals combine analog and digital processing, typically an either-or decision when it comes to effects pedals. All of the company’s pedals, except for the recently released Brothers — a collaborative effort with Resonant Electronic — were designed by Korte. When it comes to sound, the overall effect of the pedals is analog, but they have the added features of a digital pedal. This allows for artists to achieve a classic sound, but still have the ability to save and program settings, which digital technology allows.

“It would be like if you had a record player,” explained Korte, “but it was smart [about] where the tracks were located and it was able to flip the LP over. So what you’re hearing is old-school and analog, but it’s very sophisticated controls.”

As you might imagine, this means that these particular pedals are slightly more complex and, as Korte admitted, “they’re definitely not for everybody.” While some may be intimidated by the intricacy of the pedals, they are designed for guitarists who are looking for something a little different. Korte designs his pedals with the intention of giving performers the ability to explore and tweak their sound to make it their own; part of what makes this possible is the digital technology.

“A huge advantage of the digital control is that you’re able to save everything,” said Korte. “With a normal analog pedal, you turn the knobs and that’s that, but since the control [in these pedals] is from a computer essentially, you can have all these complicated combinations of parameters, switches, and knob positions and you can just save it. Then you just hit a button and it will recall it exactly how you left it.”

The digital controls are also what makes the pedals so versatile, as artists can hone in on the particular sound they’re looking for in a studio setting and then save the parameters for when they perform live.

Apart from their complex design, the pedals stand out for another reason: their names. When asked how he comes up with the unique names for his pedals — which include the likes of Wombtone, Spectre, and Warped Vinyl — Korte said it’s one of his favorite parts of the creative process and that each pedal has a story behind its name.

“Actually, this is funny. This one I stole from The Current,” Korte laughed as he pointed to his best-selling product, Tonal Recall. “I would listen to The Current and they had that segment called Tonal Recall and I thought, that would be a great name for a delay pedal.”

As a guitarist himself, Korte draws inspiration from his own interests and desires when coming up with pedals. He’s not the only musician working at Chase Bliss Audio. Holly Hansen, formerly of Zoo Animal, is a part of the Chase Bliss Audio team and has been instrumental in helping the company have a strong local presence. As Korte put it, “Holly knows everybody.” For example, Hansen’s connections led to Alan Sparhawk playing in the demo video for the company’s new pedal, Brothers.

Several other well-known artists are also using Chase Bliss Audio pedals. According to Korte, the company has developed a relationship with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. Ryan Adams has also been a fairly vocal fan of the company. Last December, Adams shared an enthusiastic review of the Tonal Recall pedal on Instagram, claiming, “if you play guitar and want to go to space for way cheaper than on a soviet satellite repair rocket, get this f*****.”

A particularly unexpected fan of the pedals came in the form of the Australian actor and musician Guy Pearce, who reached out to Korte in an e-mail. “It was very short and it was just signed, Guy Pearce. I wrote back and said something like, hey, thanks a lot for the kind words, that’s funny you have the same name as the famous actor, Guy Pearce, and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’ We actually kind of got to be friends after that.”

In the few years that Chase Bliss Audio has been around, the business has achieved an impressive level of success. Not only are the company’s pedals available in stores here in Minnesota and across the U.S., but the company’s pedals can be found on store shelves worldwide. Korte has designed and released seven pedals since starting the company in 2013, with the Brothers pedal being the most recent release. As for the future of the company, Korte is looking forward to designing new and innovative pedals.

“The ideas that have been the most successful,” said Korte, “are when I think about myself as a guitar player getting excited about it — that it solves some problem or it’s something that isn’t out there that could be. That’s when I think it works the best, so I always try to tap into that.”

Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.