Pedalmania! 27 Blazing New Stompboxes Reviewed

June 1, 2016
  • Why is it that we go so nuts for pedals? A big part of it is that stompboxes offer more instant gratification for the money than practically anything you can plug in to and haul to a gig. An inspiring distortion, delay, or modulation pedal can make a performance way more fun, and even when the honeymoon ends with a particular effect, there’s always something new to restore the rush. Fresh out of the box, a new pedal might be the trigger that’s needed to write a song or bring something fresh to a solo you’ve been playing for ages. A pedal whose whack factor is too much for the local bar gig could be gold—literally—for a sound designer, and what experimental music performer doesn’t like to deploy annoying sounds just to see the audience wince?

    The 27 stompboxes in this roundup come from all sectors of the effectoid galaxy, and while we weren’t able to try out ZVEX’s new candle-powered Candela in time for this story (Zack Vex has offered, however, to bring the only one in existence to our office and light it up), we managed to gather some truly inspiring and intriguing pedals. All of them were put through their paces on gigs or in our studios, using humbucker and single-coil guitars from Gibson, Fender, PRS, Kiesel, and Feiten, and a range of amplifiers that included a Blackstar Artist 30, Fender “The Edge” Deluxe, Komet 60, Mesa/Boogie Mark 5:25, and a Vox AC10C1.
    —Art Thompson

    Amptweaker Tight Rock Jr.
    $160 street

    Full-size drive pedals in the original Amptweaker range are distinguished by their flexible EQ parameters in general, and their eponymous “Tight” settings in particular (read aggressive, chunky, and fast). The new lineup of “Jr.” pedals brings the same versatility to smaller boxes suitable for cramped real estate, and while their renditions of this popular theme for the 2010s come out a little larger than some mini pedals, they also carry a lot more controls than most. The Tight Rock Jr. is a distortion pedal (ie, gain shy of their Tight Metal, but heavier than Tight Drive) with knobs for Volume, Tone, Gain, and Noise Gate, plus threeway switches for EQ and Tight level. Tested with a Les Paul and Strat into a JTM45-style amp, the Tight Rock Jr. revealed a real cornucopia of modern-flavored overdrive and distortion tones. I liked it best with Gain at about 75 percent, EQ at “Plexi” (or neutral), and Tight switch at “Fat”, where it achieves some appealingly gnarly sizzle, and livened up what felt a touch choked in the “Smooth” and “Tight” positions. The Noise Gate worked well, too, but was a little spitty past moderate settings. A lot of dirt in one sturdy, compact box.
    —Dave Hunter


    Analog Alien Bucket Seat
    $199 street

    Extracted from the drive channel of Analog Alien’s three-in-one Rumble Seat pedal, the Bucket Seat seeks to deliver the overdrive tone of a late-’60s Marshall plexi. A colorful contender in its orange-enamel box, the Bucket Seat doubles down on the playful aesthetics with cartoonish graphics and orange, white, and blue knobs—for Gain, Tone, and Output. Features include a center-negative power input and battery access via removal of the bottom plate. Plug it in, though, and this thing is surprisingly fierce for a box that looks like it would spew out Crayolas if you cracked it open. Tested alternately between a Strat and a Les Paul and a JTM45-style amp and cab, the Bucket Seat impressively nailed its agenda, issuing authentically plexi-esque lead tones with the greatest of ease. If the EQ and Gain range are not particularly broad, the pedal’s tone makes up for any perceived limitations: slightly raw, bold yet playably tactile, harmonically enticing yet a tad asymmetrical—just enough to grab the ear and cut through a dense mix—and thump-worthy thanks to a gentle hump in the lower mids. In short, it’s a great lead pedal for many styles of music, and an easy quick-track to Marshall-dom.
    —Dave Hunter


    Boss VO-1 Vocoder
    $249 street

    Just when you thought there was no way Boss could cram another new effect into their iconic housing, they come out with this amazing little box. The Vocoder takes both a guitar signal and a mic input, and three out of the four onboard sounds (Talk Box, Vintage, Advanced) need the microphone to do their thing. The fourth, Choir, is a really sweet tone that makes your guitar sound like, well, a choir. The real fun, or course, is when you use the mic to add vocalizations to your guitar notes and chords. It really works! I called up the Vintage setting and played New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and it was spot on. Of course, what I really wanted to hear was the Talk Box setting. I dialed it in, played “Rocky Mountain Way,” “The Zoo,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” (sorry, I don’t know any Frampton) and I was knocked out. The Vocoder gave me all the growls, gurgles, and robot voices that I’ve always loved on those recordings, all through my amp—nothing external. Super cool and highly recommended.
    —Matt Blackett

    AnalogMan Bi-Comprossor
    $275 direct

    This double-whammy is a veritable modern legend, thanks to its clever reimagining and handy repackaging of two classic guitar compressor pedal circuits in one mighty box of squash. The Bi-Comprossor derives part of its name from the modified Ross Compressor circuit on its left side, while the right houses the Juicer, a clone of the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. Tested here is the new-for-2016 Revision 5 circuit which, among other things, includes a comp/dry mix knob for the Ross side, improved output impedance for better clarity and less signal loss, increased output, and no phase reversal. Speaking as a past owner of a vintage gray Ross Compressor, I was mightily impressed by the left side of this pedal, which beautifully attains that addictively juicy, smooth comp tone and response—as much a feel thing as a tone thing—with greatly improved functionality and signal-to-noise levels. Placed between Strat and JTM45-style amp, this was just about unswitch-off-able, sweetening everything that touched it… although a stomp to the Juicer rewarded bountifully with its own rounder, squashier tones. The Comprossor alone would suffice for most boards, but as a two-fer it offers many nifty possibilities.
    —Dave Hunter

  • Carl Martin Andy Timmons Signature Compressor/Limiter
    $279 street

    Carl Martin’s long-running Compressor/Limiter was already a favorite with many notable players (and a former GP Editor’s Pick Award winner, too) when Andy Timmons suggested the Danish designer update it with dual selectable presets for added flexibility. Voila! The signature Andy Timmons Compressor/Limiter at your service. Each preset has its own Comp and Level control, while sharing mini-knobs for Threshold and Response. A 9v DC power supply is ramped up internally to 12v DC for improved headroom, and there’s a Remote Footswitch connection jack for those who would rather trigger the presets from afar. Tested with a Strat and a Les Paul into a JTM45-style amp, this pedal revealed a warm, clear, and detailed tonality, with a thick, chewy voice with comp levels dialed up past noon. Equally cool for subtle tone enhancement, mega-squash, or cranking up with minimal comp to drive your amp booster-style. Given its bold sound and good signal-to-noise ratio, it’s no surprise Mr. Timmons wanted it in two handy presents: an always-on light comp, and heavier limiting for gnarlier solos, perhaps? You might too.
    —Dave Hunter

    Cast Engineering Pulse Drive
    $179 street

    It’s always a drag when you kick on your tremolo pedal and the volume gets sucked down, but that won’t happen with the smooth sounding Pulse Drive, which can deliver up to 30dB of boost when the Level is cranked. That’s enough to overdrive an amp, and, by turning the Depth control all the way down the Pulse Drive can actually double as a booster. Made in Atlanta, GA, this pedal features a true hardwire bypass and can operate on 9v battery power as well as an external adapter (not included). The Depth and Rate knobs afford excellent control over the modulation, which has a warm, amp-like character that’s perfect for imbuing your guitar parts with swampy throb. It doesn’t veer into the super choppy side of the trem spectrum, but otherwise this pedal does exactly what a good tremolo should. All of the clear plastic knobs have an LED in them, and they all pulse in sync with the modulation speed. It would be nice have a black-knob option too, but either way the Pulse Drive is a well-designed pedal that earns bonus points for its muscular delivery.
    —Art Thompson

    Catalinbread SFT
    $179 street

    If you’re burnt out on the me-too nature of overdrive pedals, you need to stomp on an SFT. It’s going after the righteous Rolling Stones tones when they were plugged into Ampeg amps and getting their ya-yas out, and it nails those sounds in a very pleasing, amp-like way. But thanks to the Stones/Stoner switch, you can easily go from Altamont to the Palm Desert for sludgy, fuzzy, infinite-sustain freakouts à la Josh Homme. The SFT accomplishes all of this with impressive dynamics and touch sensitivity, behaving much like a great amp (in Stones mode) or a great amp that is about to catch on fire (in Stoner mode). All the sounds are sweet, but my favorite was a medium-gain Stones tone with the Treble boosted slightly and the Volume at one o’clock into a clean amp. This was a brilliant, loud-as-hell sound that wasn’t clean but wasn’t dirty, with a ton of harmonics and balls. For more oomph, I kicked a boost pedal in the front, which the SFT absolutely loves. Nice! I’m a fan.
    —Matt Blackett

    Crazy Tube Circuits Time
    $235 street

    This neat-looking delay pedal is meant to simulate the tape and magnetic drum echoes of yesteryear, and it does it in a compact, gold box with awesome tape reels under its four knobs. The two footswitches control Bypass and Tap Tempo but they perform secondary functions as well. Time’s sound quality is beautifully warm and musical. The repeats are dark and sexy, but you can brighten them with the nicely voiced Mood knob. You get a minitoggle to switch the Tap Tempo between quarter-notes, dotted-eighths, and triplets. Time ships in Buffered Bypass mode, which allows the repeats to trail off when you turn the pedal off, but you can change to True Bypass mode with an internal switch. Holding the Tap button for more than a second gets you in Hold mode, gradually ramping up to infinite repeats. This is a blast—you can keep playing and layering until it goes into full-on oscillation and then simply take your foot off the Tap button to gradually come back to normal. Holding the Tap button is also how you set the level of the vibratostyle modulation. A sweet-looking, sweet-sounding delay that won’t hog ’board space.
    —Matt Blackett

  • DigiTech Trio+

    This ingenious pedal puts a new twist on the “band-in-a-box” concept by analyzing what you play and how you play it, and then integrating that data with one of 12 Genres (Rock, Blues, Metal, Jazz, etc.) in one of 12 Song Styles. The ability to simplify the bass part, choose alternate times, and vary the tempo provides even greater flexibility. You can also create up to five song parts and then select them individually in real time or sequence them for auto playback. A one-bar count-in can be added and some parts can be made more intense than others to create dynamics. A simple and easy-to-use looper lets you layer in parts once you get your song going, and you can overdub indefinitely, though it’s only possible to undo one previously overdubbed part. There are all sorts of inputs and outputs, including a headphone jack with a volume control, an effects loop, and a jack for the optional 3-button FS3X Footswitch. The preprogrammed guitar effects and USB capabilities (backup, firmware updates, etc.) are also nice touches. The Trio+ works like a charm and is great for practicing, teaching, and songwriting—but it is also a creative tool in itself and actually sounds quite good. Many of the pieces I came up with were really interesting, especially when throwing it curveballs such as diminished chords descending in minor second intervals with Genre set to Hip Hop and Style set to 3/4 even 8ths. I loved this thing.
    —Barry Cleveland

    Dr. Z. Z-Drive

    Designed by Jamie Stillman, of Earthquaker Devices, the Z-Drive is the first overdrive pedal to accompany Dr. Z’s line of handwired tube amplifiers. This pedal differs from most other overdrive/boosters by offering an active global EQ that can be used to increase overall gain and distortion. It has two channels, one using NOS germanium diodes, and the other MOSFET based. The gain stages for both channels utilize hi-fi OPA 2134 op amps, and deliver plenty of level. In fact, with unity gain set at only 10 o’clock, the Z-Drive could easily act as a pair of differently voiced clean boosts. By using more drive and less boost, the germanium channel added transparent dynamic grit to a crystal clean 50-watt Little Walter head, while the MOSFET side’s distortion provided a bit more coloration and edge. Pushing the drive level up on either side revealed a distinct tweed-Fender flavor, making it easy to get crushing Neil Young-style grind. Each side has a bass cut switch that can be activated to get more clarity at higher gain levels. Leaving the bass full on though, let me sculpt classic pawnshop amp blues sounds like those on Howling Wolf or Black Keys records. If these kinds of tones suit your style, the Z-Drive is something you should definitely try out.
    —Michael Ross


    EarthQuaker Night Wire

    The Night Wire is nominally a harmonic tremolo, where the signal is divided between high pass and low pass filters, then modulated with an LFO split 180 degrees. The pedal’s filter frequency has three modes: Manual, LFO, and Attack, while the Rate offers Manual and Attack. With the Frequency set in Manual mode, the center point can be set to a fixed position with the frequency control. In LFO mode, the filters are continuously swept, and in Attack mode, the filters are dynamically swept according to pick attack. The Night Wire did indeed produce character-filled, filtered tremolo, but that was just the beginning. I could also create a credible Uni-Vibe, or, with the filter section set to Attack, a fabulously funky envelope filter. It didn’t end there though, and when the Rate was set to Attack, the speed of the LFO followed my picking strength for new modes of expression. And, with the Frequency set in Manual mode and the Depth knob all the way down, I could achieve cool cocked wah tones, or—in LFO mode—phase-shifter sounds. This list doesn’t begin to include all the totally new effects available, so it’s hard to imagine a more versatile pedal of this size and simplicity.
    —Michael Ross

    Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight
    $111 street

    From its name, you would expect Cock Fight to provide the honking, half-cocked wah sound made famous by guitarists such as Mick Ronson and Michael Schenker. What you might not expect is the plethora of other things it does so well. A more trebly Frequency knob setting revealed a distinctive, otherwise unobtainable, Hendrix rhythm tone. Other settings among the upper frequencies turned my warm, American sounding Little Walter amp into a clanging British beast. Merely toggling on the pedal’s distortion effect, either pre-or post filter, further increased the palette of sounds, while manipulating the pedal’s six parameter knobs kept the usable tones coming. This was all before plugging in an expression pedal, which turned Cock Fight into one of the best sounding and most versatile wah pedals I have played. And there is more: switching a mini-toggle from Cry to Talk turned wah into talk-box-type effects. Players routing a single expression pedal to multiple effects, should seriously consider losing their wah and using Cock Fight instead, thus freeing pedalboard space for another stompbox. For its ability to carve your sound into any live or recorded mix, and its great wah tones, the Cock Fight is one talented bird.
    —Michael Ross

  • Gurus Optivalve Compressor
    $399 street

    Italian maker Gurus has earned plaudits for tube-loaded pedals like its 1959 Double Decker (basically both channels of a plexi Marshall) and Echosex 2, a Binson Echorec emulation. The Optivalve is an entirely worthy extension of the range: a nifty reconfiguration of the fabled Teletronix LA2 studio compressor, using an optical circuit driven by a smooth, low-gain 12AU7 tube, plus the original simple control interface with the addition of a Tone knob. An Input knob governs how hard you drive the circuit, with compression level determined by a lone Ratio knob, while Output makes up gain as necessary. Tested with several guitars and amps, the Optivalve excelled at everything from light leveling to major squash. But what I noticed most was the tactile and infectious smoothing of my tone, which brought with it a lively, dynamic aural spectrum that was hard to live without once I turned the pedal off. The circuit does induce some noise, but it’s not obtrusive once you start playing. Overall, the Optivalve is a sweet, luscious-sounding compressor that will be an “always on” option for many players—Steve Lukather among them, it appears.
    —Dave Hunter


    Ibanez Analog Delay Mini
    $99 street

    The original deep-pink Ibanez AD9 delay is renowned for its rich analog sound, and remains hugely popular in both original and reissue editions. With the new Analog Delay Mini Ibanez purports to squeeze the same tone and functions into a pedal slightly less than half the size of its predecessor. Don’t let its diminutive dimensions fool you. It’s a rugged little steel box with some heft to it, and still carries the same three functions found on the original, with a delay range of 20ms to 600ms. No room for a battery here—external 9v DC supply only—and the traditional Ibanez stomp pad is swapped out for a more compact footswitch, wired for true bypass. “Analog delay” implies “warm and softened,” but like the AD9, the Mini makes no attempt to emulate sludgy tape or tube echoes of old, so in use it is crisp, clear, and luscious. Tested with a Gretsch Duo Jet and a Strat into an AC15-style amp it proved superb: simply a great sounding and easy-to-use workhorse delay at this price. The mini knobs for Repeat and Blend could use white indicator lines for ease of on-the-fly setting; if it were mine I’d paint them on.
    —Dave Hunter


    JW Guitars Velvet Crush
    $165 street

    Described as a “hybrid between a preamp and a true overdrive,” the Velvet Crush is a medium-gain pedal that features Volume, Gain, and Tone controls; a switch for selecting between American-and British-style sounds; and a Hot/Sweet switch that affects gain and EQ. It’s not clear if this pedals has a path in the distortion circuit to blend in a clean signal, but one of the things that stood out right away to us is how clear and articulate it sounds, even in its most overdriven modes. In other words, if you want a distortion box that doesn’t impart a lot of color on your tone, this is one to check out. The Hot setting provides more gain and compression, but for some reason it’s not as loud as when set to Sweet. Not a big deal, though, as this pedal has more than enough output to make up for it. The Tone knob can add considerable low end when turned clockwise, and coupled with the USA/British switch it’s easy to dial in this pedal to do what you need it to. The beefiest and most overdriven tones occur in British mode, and I tended to stick with a British/Sweet configuration, which sounded badass with a Tele or a Les Paul. No matter how you set it, though, the Velvet Crush is a great choice for players who want dynamically responsive distortion tones and multiple ways to tweak them.
    —Art Thompson

    Keeley Engineering Monterey Rotary Fuzz Vibe

    Falling in step with Keeley’s other “workstation” stompboxes, the Monterey packs fuzz, wah, auto wah, harmonic wah, rotary, octave, and vibrato effects. The small labels on a graphically busy top surface make it tricky to grok what the six knobs do (at least at first), but, wow, what an amazing array of sounds this pedal provides. It all begins with a 3-way mini-toggle in the center that selects Rotary, Vibe, or Wah. Set to the latter position, click on the Modulation footswitch, and use the Depth knob to sweep from standard wah—which can be “rocked” via the Rate knob or with an optional expression pedal—to a touch-responsive auto wah to a “harmonic wah” that Keeley says is akin to a brownface Fender amp’s Harmonic Tremolo, but with wah-style frequency inflections. The Rate knob adjusts the tremolo speed, while the Octave control can be used to add a down or up octave effect (center position is off) to create some very enticing trem tones. Kick on the Fuzz footswitch to grunge things up (the Fuzz knob is upper right), and you’ve got a mind-bending assortment of sounds to play with.

    That’s a huge amount of sonic capability right there, but wait, there’s more: The Vibe setting brings on an authentically phase-shifted Uni-Vibe effect, and you can slather fuzz on it and/or use the Octave knob to add synthy sub frequencies or ringing top-end. I also dug the chorusy swirl of the Rotary setting, which, besides Depth, Rate, and Level controls, uses the multi-talented Octave knob to vary the level of the “spinning horn.” Of course, fuzz is also available here, and by setting the Rate to zero, you can use the Depth and Octave knobs to dial in just about any kind of texture, from dark and wooly to chiming and Octavia-like, with perfect tracking to boot. Suffice to say if you’re looking for a stompbox entertainment center this is it. The Monterey is a mind-blowing pedal that could easily become your new ultimate creativity tool.
    —Art Thompson

  • Lo/Rez Mona Lisa Overdrive
    $189 street

    Calling this pedal an “overdrive” tells only part of the story, as what we have here is a powerful fuzz circuit with selectable tremolo. The Bias knob varies the fuzz sound from spitty and buzzy to quite round and meaty, and the Level control can unleash a huge amount of output. Pressing the left-hand footswitch turns on the fuzz, while the right-hand switch activates the tremolo. There’s nothing subtle about it either, as the fuzz is modulated in a tight, staccato fashion that sounds very intense when you crank it though a loud amp. The Rate knob adjusts the speed (indicated by a pulsing LED), and you can also control speed with an optional expression pedal. The Depth knob varies the intensity of the modulation, and the best sounds occurred with it turned up halfway or higher. Lastly, the Mona Lisa has a mini switch in the center that toggles between a full-range or a much skinnier sound. On whole, this pedal doesn’t exactly replicate what you’d get by running a Tonebender into a Fender vibrato channel, but if you’re looking for a spotlight effect, it’s a great candidate.
    —Art Thompson

    ModKits DIY The Aggressor
    $75 direct

    Want to craft your own distortion pedal? Depending on your electronics-fabrication skills, this new kit can make you look like a boutique builder, as everything is wired point-to-point on terminal strips. The kit includes a pre-drilled metal enclosure and all the parts. All you have to provide are hand tools, a soldering iron, and solder. The Aggressor has Gain, Volume, and Tone controls, along with a mini-toggle switch that shifts the mid-frequency response: You get a darker, more scooped sound in the down setting, and a brighter, mids-forward tone in the up position. This pedal is capable of a wide range of meaty distortion—from edge-of-breakup to quite saturated—and the Tone knob has ample range to accommodate single-coil and humbucker guitars, and is voiced to provide plenty of bass. The only weird thing about our test sample (which we did not build) was that the Volume control never went fully to zero, and only increased loudness in the last part of its rotation, sort of like a switch. That’s apparently intentional in the design, however, and other details of this reasonably priced pedal include a true hardwire bypass and an LED indicator.
    —Art Thompson

    Red Panda Raster
    $249 street

    This insanely cool pedal is essentially a digital delay limited to 750ms of delay time, with a pitch shifter inserted into its feedback loop. Sounds simple enough, right? But it is the ways in which the two effects interact that result in the Raster’s distinctive sonic soundscapes—from standard delays and modulation effects (though dripping with personality) to awesome ring-modulation and runaway self-oscillation sounds. Highlights include extraordinary climbing arpeggiated delays (alone worth the cost of the pedal), tuned (+/-12 semitones) and micro pitch shifting, several flavors of phase-shifting, quasi-“barber pole” flanging, cool comb-filtering, synth-like feedback streams and other electronic textures, and fantastic reverse-delay effects with envelopes that closely mimic an actual reversed tape. And those are just the sounds there are names for. Connecting an optional expression pedal allows continual control over pitch shifting, and patching a fuzz pedal in front of the Raster opens up entire universes of additional aural possibilities. Despite the Panda’s inherent whack factor, I found that even the most out-there sounds were typically more musical than annoying, not that “annoying” sounds don’t also have their uses (sound designers take note). The only bugaboo I encountered were bits of digital noise and other artifacts on a few settings, but those are hardly deal breakers. The Raster is easily one of the most innovative and inspired pedals I’ve encountered in some time. Hats off to Red Panda!
    —Barry Cleveland


    Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage

    While the Palladium’s claim to be “the first stompbox that actually captures the feel and responsiveness of a high-gain tube amp” may be difficult to substantiate—its performance and tone are not. Designed for use with a power amp or clean guitar amp as a high-gain front end, or in front of a dirty amp to further sculpt distorted tones, it delivers on all counts. In other words, this is one badass pedal. The Palladium does its thing via low-noise op amps and germanium clipping diodes, and features the obligatory hard-wire true bypass. Its center-detent tone controls boost or cut an array of well-chosen center frequencies. Cranking Bass delivers scary-yet-tight low end, the Mid control is seriously sweepable, the 5.2kHz Presence control nicely finesses the top beyond Treble, and Resonance gooses the lows. Up to 25dB of switchable Gain is also on tap. Although clearly targeted at metal and hard-rock players, the Palladium is equally effective at crafting less-aggressive classic rock tones from early Stones to Dire Straits, nasty blues blasts, and chunky punk thump. On most settings it even cleans up appreciably when you lower your guitar volume, resulting in additional layers of tasty tonal choices. The Palladium is so fun and inspiring to play that I found it nearly impossible to stop.
    —Barry Cleveland

  • Supro 1305 Drive
    $219 street

    With the new Supro reissue-style amps being produced by the team behind Pigtronix pedals, this is an outfit well positioned to capture that vaunted overdriven-Valco combo tone in a stompbox. One of the main ways in which the 1305 Drive pedal differs from other such attempts, though, is in its acknowledgement that the classic Supro grind happens largely in the output stage, and the inclusion, therefore, of a genuine multi-tap output transformer for bona fide magnetic saturation (switchable for two different flavors: Bold and Rich). Other controls include Gain, Tone, and Volume, and there’s a TRS jack for expression-pedal connection to govern gain on the fly. Tested with Strat and Les Paul into a JTM-style amp, the Drive Pedal did a great job of emulating the distinctly aggressive, jagged overdrive of a cranked Supro. Set around noon, the Gain knob delivered a throaty, asymmetrical boost that added gnarly thickness to my core tone. I most enjoyed it almost fully cranked, though—in Bold and Rich equally—where a raw, sputtering, fuzz-like lead tone beautifully approximated an old Valco verging on self-annihilation. Pure rock’n’roll, always a fun ride, and bags of fun to play.
    —Dave Hunter


    TC Electronic Alter Ego V2
    $169 street

    Founded on its pro-level production and mastering tools, TC Electronic has taken its expertise to a range of award-winning pedals over the past several years, and seems to display a particular knack for delay-based effects. The Alter Ego V2 was developed in cooperation with ProGuitarShop, but is widely available at other retailers, and captures nine vintage analog delay types plus looper in a relatively compact DSP-driven pedal. The features are impressive: maximum delay of seven seconds, 40 seconds of looping, stereo ins and outs, switchable true or buffered bypass, and the Alter Ego is TonePrint enabled, so you can download custom presets from a range of star players (USB cable included). Clearly there’s more going on here than space allows us to discuss; suffice to say the Alter Ego V2 offers a boatload of delay flexibility at an impressive price. Of the straight-up delays, I think I most enjoyed its renditions of the classics—Echoplex, Echorec, Space Echo—which are good emulations at this price point, but there’s plenty more here to create with, and the looper is a major bonus. It takes some exploring, so perhaps not a pedal for the set-and-forget crowd, but the Alter Ego V2 packs plenty for almost any delay freak to love.
    —Dave Hunter


    Tech 21 Boost Comp
    $149 street

    A compressor can help to fatten up your tone and increase sustain, and Tech 21 has made it easy to do all that with the Boost Comp. This analog pedal uses FET technology to deliver warm, clear sound, and it features a set of Level, Tone, Compression, and Presence controls, along with a separately footswitchable Boost function that can be used to bump up the output level as much as 21dB. The boost can also be used independently of the compression, which is great for players who like to keep a little boost going full time, and may only want to use compression for certain things, like slide playing, for example. One of the novel elements of this pedal is that the Presence control lets you adjust the tone pre compression to enhance crispness of the note attack, while the Tone control cuts or boosts post compression to allow for dialing in just the right balance of clarity and fullness. Using both of these functions made it easy to keep even highly compressed tones punching through with plenty of definition, and without necessarily having to jack up the volume. There are lots of good compressors around these days, but the way Tech 21 has implemented the pre/post EQ on the Boost Comp definitely makes it worthy of an audition.
    —Art Thompson

    TWA WR-03 Wah Rocker
    $189 street

    Based on the Guyatone pedal of the same name (the company went out of business in 2013), the WR-03 delivers super funky wah sounds via a complement of controls that advance the old model’s Threshold and Decay knobs by adding Gain, Range, and Blend controls. The WR-03 is also equipped with a Guitar/Bass switch that allows you to tap into super-fat effects that made Guyatone’s Bottom Wah Rocker a hit with a lot of players, and it has TWA’s proprietary “Shortest Send Switching”—a type of true bypass that uses electronic relays combined with a mechanical switch. It all adds up to a versatile pedal that delivers a broad variety of notched-wah and envelope-filter effects, thanks in large part to the Range control, which affects the frequencies that the filter sweeps, enabling everything from ultra “phat” effects to slicey, squirty, “toe-down” sounds that precisely track your picking dynamics. Factor in a Gain knob to control output level (it doesn’t boost volume very much, however), and a Blend knob to vary the wet/dry mix, and the WR-03 is a most welcome reissue!
    —Art Thompson

  • Wampler Tumnus
    $179 street

    Wampler’s take on the myth-inspiring Klon overdrive is compacted down to mini-pedal size thanks to a surface mount technology (SMT) circuit board and some clever engineering, yet the Tumnus still squeezes in the requisite Gain, Level, and Treble controls. Like the original, it is also not a true-bypass pedal, providing a unity-gain signal buffer when switched off. While some players balk at anything that isn’t overtly true bypass, I find the feature extremely useful at times, particular amid small setups where no other buffer is available to drive long cable runs. Either way, the Tumnus’ rendition is extremely transparent and unobtrusive. More to the point, though, the overdrive itself sounds superb. Tested with a Strat and a Les Paul into a JTM45-style amp, lower Gain settings elicited an addictively sweetening clean boost. Raising the Gain control slowly through its spectrum added delightful helpings of juice and depth—easily balanced for tone and volume—that never smothered the guitars’ essential characteristics. A handy rendition of a stompbox classic.
    —Dave Hunter


    Xotic BB+ Plus
    $224 street

    This ambitious pedal features two channels—each with Gain and Volume controls—that can be switched on individually or together. According to Xotic, Channel A is essentially the original BB preamp, and is designed to deliver rich, touch-responsive distortion with loads of sustain. You get only a Tone knob and Hard/Soft Comp switch, but nothing more is needed to get a wide range of muscular tube-like tones with single-coils or humbuckers. Channel B packs even more gain, although it also serves as a powerful booster preamp, offering an expanded EQ section with Bass, Mid, and Treble controls, along with its own dedicated Hard/Soft Comp switch. This latter function affects the gain and dynamic feel of each channel. I found it to be a little more effective on Channel B, where the Hard setting provided the most badass sounding crunch and lead tones. Perhaps most useful with high-output pickups, the Soft position slightly loosens the feel and pulls back a tad on the gain. Another switch lets you run Channel A into Channel B or vice-versa, which has a big impact on how the BB+ sounds. Though I mostly used Channel A and toggled “B” on for a bump in volume, running them in combination is definitely the ticket if you’re looking for stratospheric gain—albeit with a corresponding increase in hiss. All in all, the BB+ is a very flexible OD box that also comes with true-bypass switching and the ability to run on battery power or optional 9v or 18v adapter (with the latter option providing enhanced headroom).
    —Art Thompson

    Mindblower of the Month

    Source Audio Nemesis Delay
    Tested By Matt Blackett

    Next to distortion, the one effect I absolutely cannot live without is delay. I’ve always loved the expansive way it fills out my sound, the dreamy quality it imparts to a bent note in a solo, and the far-out sci-fi special effects it can produce. I was psyched to try the Nemesis from Source Audio ($299 street), because I knew they would be able to create an echo unit that not only had superb sound quality but was also incredibly musical and inspiring. They delivered on all that for a pedal that is easy to use, sounds amazing, and is as deep as can be.

    The Nemesis is somewhat curiously named, because I find it to be a very user-friendly device. (According to Source, the name actually comes from Nemesis, a theoretical dwarf star thought to be a companion to our sun.) I plugged in and was greeted with a beautiful, warm, lush echo with a hint of gorgeous modulation on the repeats. I was hooked. If that’s all I got out of this pedal, I would definitely still want it. But I got more. A lot more.

    Nemesis comes packed with 12 delay engines onboard (with 12 more available with Source’s Neuro app); controls to tweak the delay and modulation parameters; switches for Effect On/Off, Tap Tempo (with a super-handy mini-toggle to choose from quarter-note, dotted-eighth, and triplet subdivisions), and Preset selection; and the intriguing Intensity knob—all feeding a 56-bit signal path and 24-bit delay line. Looking to the sides and back, there are stereo ins and outs, MIDI In and Thru, a USB port, and input jacks for expression pedal and Source’s bitchin’ Hot Hand ring controller. Whew! This ain’t your grandpa’s Echoplex.

    In conjunction with a clean Victoria combo and a Maxon OD-9, I auditioned the various delays. For echoes that I leave on all the time, I tend to like analog-type sounds, because the warm repeats mask some of the pick attack and keep things from getting messy or clicky. The Nemesis has several great takes on this concept, with Analog, Tape, Noise Tape, and Diffuse being variations on that analog theme. The Modulation controls and the Intensity knob do different things depending on which effect you have selected, but all the modifications are musical and appropriate to the engine (like wow and flutter on Tape and chorusing on Analog or even wild ring mod-style sample rate reduction on Degrade).


    For Edge-style timed echoes, I favor a pristine digital delay, and the Digital engine on the Nemesis is exactly that. You can warm up the repeats if you want with the Intensity control, but I left it at 12 o’clock for no filtering of the repeats. Then to get Edgier, I set the mini-toggle to the dotted-eighth setting, tapped in a tempo and pow! I found the “I Still Haven’t Found…” tone instantly. I saved it as a preset and then saved three others in about a minute. When the Nemesis is off, holding the Tap button scrolls through the four presets so you don’t have to crouch down onstage. When the Nemesis is on, holding down the Tap button engages a sample and hold effect, allowing you to drone a chord underneath and play over it, or—with some of the special effect delays like Reverse and Sweeper—you can create gorgeous synth-style pads. Bravissimo!

    Although I’m not usually a guy who uses his smart phone with guitar effects, I grabbed the free Neuro app to see what it could do with Nemesis and I’m so glad I did. It’s simple to use and it gives you 12 new delay engines and tons of deep parameters for profound editing. I plugged my phone into the Nemesis, called up a delay called Sequenced Filters, hit the Send All button, and then messed with some of the parameters and could hear it all in real time through the amp. When I got something delightfully freaky, I stored it into one of the onboard presets on the pedal. It took no time at all and when I called up that preset, there was my Sequenced Filters delay tone. The extra delays you get (for free!) are really hip and useful, and the Complex Rhythmic, Oil Can, and Tremolo echoes are so damn cool I can’t believe they didn’t make the cut for the top 12!

    This is an amazingly well thought-out piece of gear and I do not hesitate to put it up there with the most inspiring delays I’ve ever tried. And for $299? Are you out of your mind? With a Nemesis like this, who needs friends? Color me impressed, impressed, impressed, impressed ...

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