Friends of the Bear Q&A – Gwion Christmas // Holy Island Audio

Back in 2019 I discovered Holy Island Audio on Instagram and was instantly drawn in to what Gwion was creating. As someone with an interest in heavier guitar music, noise and sonic art, I was really intrigued to find someone designing effects pedals with unique circuits that catered to these styles, plus, finished with his original design and print work, they looked super awesome too!

Gwion wasn’t selling at that time as he was, respectably, very keen to make sure everything was solid before beginning to trade. Two years later, he’s released several pedal designs that are becoming recognised for their unique sound and build quality, and which regularly sell out through his online store in just minutes. How cool is that?

I absolutely love playing through my TIDES and APOCALYPTOR, for which we worked out a nice guitar cable / effects pedal trade, and I’m super excited to see some new developments and how this journey will develop for Holy Island Audio.

Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you’re up to with Holy Island Audio?

A: Hey! I’m Gwion, I’m a one-man operation who hand builds small batches of effects pedals out of my spare room in Cardiff, Wales. I tend to lean into the weirder, more chaotic spectrum of noise that others might steer away from as that’s the sort of thing that keeps the guitar an exciting instrument to me!

Q: Can you give us a bit of background on your journey as a maker in the world of boutique/DIY pedals and in which direction you might take it from here?

A: I kind of accidentally fell into doing this as a job and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to do so. I basically started building pedals because I couldn’t afford to buy them. I’d initially set out to make pedal demos and did that for a while. I was looking at buying a feedback looper when a bandmate at the time mocked me for spending so much money on something I could build so easily and cheaply. I don’t think I’d ever even contemplated the idea of building my own effects before that moment, it wasn’t even on my radar of things that I thought were possible.

As soon as the seed was planted it was all I could think about and I started mocking up designs pretty much straight away. I started building clones relentlessly just trying out everything I’d lusted after for years but could never get my hands on before. I was screen printing on paper a lot at the time alongside working professionally as a screen printer and it felt only natural to transfer the practice over onto the enclosures. There wasn’t much info online about printing pedals that I could find at the time so I kind of just learnt through trial and error.

When I was first starting out, I needed a pedal repaired and reached out to Mike at Life Is Unfair Audio for help. He offered to repair the pedal in return for some art prints. I ended up offering to print a few things for Mike in return for tuition which luckily, he was up for and he invited me down to his workshop and ran through a lot of the basics with me and helped me trouble shoot some builds I was struggling to get working. I’ve been reaching out to him for guidance ever since and he’s definitely guided and encouraged me to keep building.

I was documenting my builds on Instagram since the beginning and was getting quite a few messages from folks who wanted to buy what I was making, but I didn’t really want to sell anything until I was confident that I could provide a reliable product. I was also hesitant to sell straight clones as that just felt a bit weird to me. Eventually I learnt Eagle (after a walkthrough from Mike) and started building short runs of pedals and have been doing so ever since.

As for the future direction for the brand I’ve got a hell of a lot in the works, some of which I’m not quite ready to reveal yet. I’ve been really keen to break out of the fuzz/distortion world for my next few releases, the most imminent of which is the GlitchFinder. It’s two ring modulators running in parallel for awkward and unusual glitchy, wobbly and noisy madness. I’ve been chipping away at it for a while and it’s super close to being finished. Don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to record a demo video! I’ll also have a Triple PT2399 modulated drone delay (with FX loop for the wet signal) coming out shortly after that called BLANKETS. There are a few sound clips of the prototypes of both of those pedals on Instagram if you’d like a peek before the official demos are released!

Q: What sparked your interest in what you’re doing with pedals? Are your ideas influenced by your own playing style or the music you listen to, or are they in response to something you just can’t find anywhere else or a desire to create something unique and new?

A: I think the primary driving force behind what I’m doing is just the excitement of digging for new or unexplored sounds. My musical taste tends to lean towards heavier genres as I’ve always felt like that’s where the most exciting ideas for chaotic and explosive noise tend to fester. Those sounds make for a much more entertaining listen to my ears!

Most of the circuits I release are things that I’ve initially built for my own needs. Gauging the reception that a build receives on Instagram kind of dictates whether or not it will see a commercial release. That tends to be the beauty of being a developing business on social media, for me at least. I feel there is a very direct connection between myself and my audience and if people are asking me to release particular circuits, I will absolutely take their requests on board.

Q: I’m a big fan of the first issue of The Electric Alchemist Zine, for which you’ve pulled together some great articles from a brilliant range of makers. Could you tell us a little more about your intention in creating the zine, what it means to you to share so generously and what we might expect to find in future issues?

A: I owe everything to the DIY community and absolutely would not be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for the generous contributions of so many people online. I really wanted to give back to the community with the zine as well as provide some insights into aspects of building that aren’t always easy to find information about. I knew that there was specifically a lack of information on screen printing pedals so initially it was just going to be a zine explaining my print process, but I decided it would be a lot more interesting to expand the content by asking for contributors to join the project. Flash forwards a few months and The Electric Alchemist was born.

The reception to the zine has been nothing short of incredible to be honest and I never expected to print so many! The next issue is slowly coming together and should be out in early 2022. For future issues I’d really like to experiment with more interesting formats for the zine and break away from the traditional booklet. I’ve also been putting video tutorials together for simple electronic projects on my YouTube channel under the Electric Alchemy banner and I have a heap more of those planned, so subscribe if you’d like to give pedal building a try!

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Q: Which other makers are you showing respect to at the moment and who do you recommend folk check out?

A: The Pedal building community has been nothing but welcoming since I started building and it blows my mind how many incredible makers I speak to online. It truly feels like an exciting time to be making effects pedals and there is a wealth of incredible products being released. There are some that I feel are really pushing the boat out and re-inventing the game. Builders like Wraa LabsEzhi&Aka and Rainger FX are consistently putting out incredible innovative work!

Q: Your design and print work is awesome! What’s the history behind that and from where/who do you draw inspiration?

A: Thanks a lot! I have a degree in Illustration, which is what I had originally intended to do as a career. It took graduating and a few commissions to realise freelance illustration work just wasn’t for me. I was far too attached to the work I produced that it ended up being emotionally draining to have to alter things to suit the tastes of an art director or client. Luckily with the Holy Island stuff I get to be in total control of the design process which makes the whole thing incredibly satisfying!

I still draw heavily from the artworld for inspiration and there’s a plethora of creatives that have had a profound effect on my design process throughout the years. The big hitters for me that really shaped the way I thought about design are a Berlin print studio called Palefroi, Neasden Control Centre, David Carson and Henrik Drescher. They all work in pretty chaotic and unpredictable ways to produce strong graphic work built from found materials and textures. I definitely think their work has informed the aesthetics of my pedals.

Q: What’s currently on your own pedalboard. Can you let us in on how you craft your sound for your band Better than Mending?

A: To be honest it’s in constant rotation and rarely stays the same for longer than a few weeks but as of this very moment the signal chain is as follows:

VP Junior > Digitech Synth Wah > Death By Audio Interstellar Overdriver Deluxe > Tronographic Rusty Box > Modified EHX Octave Multiplexer > MAE Maybe > DOD Rubberneck > OBNE Dweller > EQD Astral Destiny > Tides > JPTRFX Kaleidoscope

Because we’re a three piece I’m always trying to fill as much sonic space as possible so I use a lot of Reverb and Delay to expand the space my guitar takes up.  I’ve recently been experimenting with multiple cabinets as the extra speakers definitely seem to fill things out, especially mixing guitar and bass cabs. I’m not sure if that’s just psychological mind, nothing quite beats standing in front of a wall of cabs!

I think I’ll go down the bi-amping route eventually, I’ve been working on a ridiculously over engineered ABY/blender/mixer pedal but it’s kind of been on the back-burner while I’ve been working on different circuits.

Q: I imagine it’s been great to get back out there gigging with your band. Have you got any gigs lined up and where can folk listen to your stuff?

A: It’s been quite weird to be honest! England have dropped the mask wearing indoors thing but we’re still wearing masks indoors in Wales, so the few shows we’ve had back have felt quite strange to be face to face with a crowd of people. Saying that, it’s actually been wild how busy the shows have been since coming back, it definitely feels like people have missed live music during the pandemic.

We’ve got few shows in the pipeline for next year playing with some of my favourite UK bands but nothing’s been announced yet so I’m not sure what I can share about that.

If people want to check us out, we’re on all your usual streaming services, just search Better Than Mending. If you prefer your music in physical formats, you can head over to the Trepanation Recordings website, they kindly put out all our releases to date on a double gatefold CD earlier this year. They’re working with some incredible bands at the moment and I highly recommend checking out their catalogue for some truly great heavy music.

Q: Where can people find you to learn more about what you’re up to and get their hands on a pedal, if they’re quick enough to snag one?

A: For day-to-day stuff, I’m pretty active on Instagram, I’ve always loved sharing my development process with the internet as I get immediate feedback on thoughts and ideas and have found that the hive mind has helped me develop better pedals than I ever would have done in isolation.

I have a mailing list for those who prefect not to use Instagram and I try to write updates every month or two on new circuits, upcoming batches of pedals as well as blemish sales, so sign up if those are things you’d like to be emailed about!

I’m also always happy to talk to people about my pedals and general guitar/circuit nerdery, so if anyone wants to get in touch feel free to shoot me an email at:

Thanks a bunch to Gwion for contributing to our blog and for giving us a bit of an insight to the world of effects pedal building. Sign up to his mailing list for a chance to get your hands on one of his next builds and check out his store for some really great merchandise.

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