You’ve heard the adage: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. At a young age, Alex Avedissian, owner of Avedissian Pickups and guitarist in Atlanta metal band Insomniac, was faced with a situation that led him to believe he was better off doing his own work. It was a realization that propelled him to find success in the underground metal community.
Avedissian has always been mechanically inclined. “Both of my parents are engineers and that’s a huge part of it,” Avedissian told Behind the Setlist. “I look at the technical aspect of anything I get into. I remember being into skateboarding and looking at all of the different things you can do to tweak it or mod it. Every part is interchangeable.” His curiosity naturally extended to the guitar, which he began playing in elementary school. Eventually, an issue arose with one of his guitars, and he became frustrated with the repair process. “It was still unplayable and I had just spent $200. After that, I bought a book and figured out how to do it myself.”
Avedissian started tinkering on his friends’ guitars. Together, the group rapidly soaked up the heaviest underground music they could find. Their mecca was Deathgasm Records, the record store and music venue. There, Avedissian and his buddies were able to see bands come through Atlanta and play a small room months before playing legendary festivals such as Germany’s Wacken Open Air.
Experiencing music in such a visceral way was intoxicating. It was at Deathgasm Avedissian saw his first ever doom metal show, a life-altering moment. The band Loss, a Nashville doom mainstay, was on the bill, as was a new group from Atlanta called Zoroaster. “I was into death metal and black metal and had never heard anything that slow. That changed a lot for me.”
Avedissian took his love of music and guitars to Tennessee while he attended Belmont University, and his friends kept the scene going in his absence. “My friends kept pushing through and playing in town. They really did a lot for [Atlanta]. It was cool to come back and always have shows going on. Once a month I’d be down here at some DIY warehouse show. I know they’ve been dealing with the city expanding and a lot of practice spaces are going away. People are scrambling to get storage units in a city that’s pushing against [them].”
Nashville, however, opened doors for Avedissian, eventually becoming the birthplace of Avedissian Pickups. But first, Avedissian studied music business at Belmont. It was during this time when he decided to be a part of the burgeoning scene of independent builders and craftsmen he was getting exposed to. “I was able to try out a lot of gear in Nashville. In 2009, pedal [manufacturing] really became flooded and I figured pickups were something I could jump into. I started to get busy with tech work and sold my Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, my dream amp from high school, and bought a Peavey XXX and a pickup winding machine.”
The Night Prowler
Avedissian (L) with Jeff Matz (R) of High On Fire
When he wasn’t studying or winding pickups, Avedissian played guitar for a psychedelic doom metal band called Clorange where he was one of the band’s primary songwriters. Clorange conveniently served as both a creative and technical outlet, a way for Avedissian to hear his pickups in context. The band quickly became a staple in the local scene, opening for touring acts that came through Nashville. One of those acts, Premonition 13, was a side project of Saint Vitus and the Obsessed frontman Scott “Wino” Weinrich, who became one of Avedissian Pickups’ first endorsees.
“I’d been listening to his stuff and knew who he was and just wanted to get him a pickup. I handed him a pickup and told him to try it out when he could, here’s my contact info. After our set, he came up to me and was like ‘Dude, your tone was really, really good.’ I was taken aback. Wow, this guy actually checked it out! I kept up with him with the Saint Vitus reunion shows, and next thing you know, he signs onboard. He rocked my pickups on the new Obsessed record and has been wearing Avedissian Pickups shirts onstage on the road.”
Avedissian also had the opportunity to intern with Joe Glaser, one of Nashville’s most in-demand guitar techs. While interning for Glaser, he was able to be around the true industry side of the business with the perk of seeing some great instruments and amazing players walk through the door. “Being with Glaser was an unreal experience. I got to be around a lot of old guitars and learn everything about them. In comes in a ’59 Fender Strat, or a Ken Parker archtop that there are only 30 of in the world. They took the utmost care of any instrument I’ve seen. ’50s Strats, ’60s Strats, and Les Pauls and SG’s. Plenty of great guitars would come in and get top-notch work on the way out.”
Another crucial experience Avedissian had in Nashville was hitting the road with Hank Williams III. Doing merch, he was able to see firsthand how a business was run. It gave Avedissian real world experience in a niche environment. “Talk about a hard working musician right there. Every day was an adventure on that tour, no doubt. Usually you’re loading in by 1 pm and there’s no local support. He’s loading his own stuff in and out, and playing in three bands with no more than five minutes between each set. So four hours straight, night after night, playing different kinds of music and rotating everything out with one crew, all on the road. That was neat. For me, the takeaway was that if you could do your stuff well and take care of it professionally, you can do whatever you want to do.”
“If you could do your stuff well and take care of it professionally, you can do whatever you want to do.”
Avedissian’s band Clorange eventually disbanded and he moved back to Atlanta. After pursuing a master’s degree in accounting from Georgia State University, he eventually decided to pursue pickups full time. Recently, Avedissian was able to move his operation into a shop and now rents a bench space with Acorn Amplifiers. One of the benefits of working out of a music store with a bunch of amp builders, Avedissian claims, is that the open forum has led to some interesting cross-pollination of ideas.
“It’s good to work with guys who are on one side of the spectrum and I’m on the other. They’re on the amp end of things and I talk to them from the guitar end of things. The pickup creates the signal and the amp expands on that signal. Now you think of how what you build is going to interact with the amp. It’s cool to be around people who you can openly talk about designs with that aren’t in direct competition with you. You can teach each other and help each other grow.”
Avedissian’s latest pickup is the Night Prowler (pictured above). It’s his take on a low-output PAF-style humbucker, dialed in to handle intense high gain. “A lot of people shy away from PAF and vintage style pickups when they play high gain. But honestly, it’s great for sitting in a mix. This set is designed to feel like a high-output signal, but not slam your signal and overcompress it. Or then you throw it into a bunch of pedals and into a gainy amp. Higher output stuff is better if you’re just going straight into the amp and want the drive to be unleashed. When you have a long signal chain, you don’t want to squash your signal to start it off. You’re not going to get it back.”
Avedissian is also planning to release a new line based on commonly requested tonal characteristics from his years of custom work, including for bands such as High on Fire, the Obsessed, Pallbearer, Withered, Jucifer and Diarrhea Planet, all of which consistently hit Atlanta on tour.
At the end of the day, Avedissian remains committed to approaching the craft from the player’s perspective. It helps that he’s been able to see his work tested in different settings. He credits this ability to his experience of living in Nashville. “In Nashville, you’re in an environment where you’re in the studio one night, onstage the next night or on the road. You live every aspect of being a musician. I could hear the pickups being tested out, [and I would ask], ‘What do I need when I’m in the studio? What sounds good in the studio and is the same on the stage?’ You want to make sure it can stand the abuse night after night after night.”
These are the questions Avedissian Pickups continues to pursue as it grows and gains momentum, shaping the sound of a scene that first inspired its maker.