KOD Distortion Plus
Sometimes in the vast history of effects, it can be hard to remember every brand. And while it’s important to pay tribute to the folks that helped shape popular music, it’s equally important to acknowledge those small builders that were just as important as the big boys but reached a much smaller audience. This is the Distortion Plus from a Polish brand, KOD.
It all starts with Krzysztof Wojtak. Not much is known about his early life other than the bit of info that he was born in the town of Gniezno but moved to Dresden, Germany in 1968 to study astronomy at the Dresden Institute of Technology. While in school, he traveled by train to Bern, Switzerland to see the band Ash Ra Tempel and became enamored with the electric guitar and the sounds that Manuel Göttsching coaxed from his. Wojtak met Göttsching backstage after the show and asked him about his equipment. Göttsching told Wojtak that his setup was finely tuned and dialed in, but in his eyes, the tone was not “perfect.” Wojtak dropped out of his astronomy courses and switched to electrical engineering, then left Dresden before completing his studies to take care of a sick family member in Czeladz, then moving to Siemianowice because of the budding progressive rock scene started by SBB and namely guitarist Józef Skrzek.
Wojtak attended a SBB show in Siemianowice and left with ringing ears. He surmised that Skrzek’s amp was turned up so high because he couldn’t achieve a proper distortion tone without redlining it. Wojtak bought a handful of computer cards from a local junk shop, harvested the components and built his first effects box, with only a single volume knob and a fixed amount of distortion. After another SBB show, he approached Skrzek and gave him the only copy of his invention. A month later, Wojtak attended another SBB gig and asked him what he thought of the unit. Skrzek told him that if he could fix the pedal such that it had a tone control and a distortion knob that could accentuate the dynamics of some of SBB’s more delicate passages, he would buy two of them. A week later, the Distortion Plus was born. Skrzek ended up buying five.
Soon after, guitarists around Siemianowice began approaching Wojtak at shows and eventually the textile mill where he worked, asking for his pedals. Having cleaned the local shop out of computer cards, Wojtak wrote one of his professors at Dresden and asked for a list of parts with a check included, as well as a document he could mail to PCB manufacturers in Berlin to get some circuit boards fabbed. When he received his box of componentry, he began manufacturing his Distortion Plus. He needed a name, and recalled his rendezvous with Göttsching in Switzerland and how his setup was missing something to make it perfect. He settled on KOD, or in Polish, Krzysztof obejmuje doskonałość; translated as “Krzysztof embraces perfection.” Needing a way to insulate his circuit boards from the enclosure’s metal, Wojtak cut up his old astronomy textbooks from his time at Dresden and fashioned them into board insulators.
He sold these KOD pedals to a number of Polish rock bands, having amassed a handful of models. A handful of them made it to America in the early ‘70s, having been purchased by a handful of music retailers on the east coast. One such was Bruce’s Sound Shop in the Bronx, New York which found its way to Rochester and into the hands of MXR. Not wanting to step on any international toes, MXR changed the name of its flagship Distortion Plus to Distortion+ as tribute to the original KOD manufacturer.
Eventually, Wojtak fashioned plastic switchplates to further develop his brand and having sold hundreds of devices, he traveled to Frankfurt in 1980 to take part in the first Musikmesse trade show. Among other show attendees was David Oreste Di Francesco, the founder of DOD. DOD was looking to standardize his line and fell in love with Wojtak’s designs, licensing the KOD switchplate and adapting it to his brand. Of course, MXR and DOD get the credit for the Distortion Plus name and the embossed plastic switchplates, but it was Wojtak behind both.
The sound is quite unique for a distortion device, the Distortion Plus contains an exciter circuit that accentuates either odd or even-order harmonics with the turn of a knob, as well as a frequency range control that essentially dictates where on the fretboard these harmonics start distorting. These two controls are rubbed out on my model, but function all the same. The circuit is also powered by two different 9V plugs in lieu of a single 18V plug, allowing for greater polar separation of power rails. Pretty groundbreaking stuff, and I can only assume there aren’t 100 clones of this unit is the sheer rarity of them and the fragility of their innards.
Still, it’s important to recognize the significance of Wojtak and his brand, because without it, the pedal landscape might be drastically different. Oh, and April fools!