The stompbox scene has blown up to thermonuclear proportions, and keeping tabs on new pedal introductions—let alone all the new outfits that are jumping into the FX game—is essential for guitarists searching for new sounds, as well as producers and studio engineers who want to keep their artists visible amidst the fast-moving avalanche of music coming from every media outlet. For those of us who write about guitar gear, we get intel on the hippest new devices via our own playing needs, by staying tuned to what is trending in the blogosphere, and by what the pros we interview are saying about effects they’re using for studio work and live performances.
The GP staff also got a lot of early peeks at new pedals at the winter NAMM show last January, and, as review samples started rolling in some weeks later, the stage was set for another installment of our annual Pedalmania stomp-a-thon. The FX pedals reviewed here—which cover the spectrum from distortion and fuzz boxes to reverbs and delays to some very adventurous sound modifiers—were all tested on gigs, rehearsals, and at home studios, using an assortment of guitars from Fender, Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, Gretsch (among others); vintage and modern tube heads and combos; and state-of-the-art modeling systems from Fractal, Kemper, and Line 6.
Anyone who has experience with high-end studio compressors can be forgiven for avoiding some stompbox models. Although the great thing about many pedal compressors is their unique coloration of the input signal and that often-cool little “pop” your notes get as the compression circuit grabs your attack, it’s also those very elements that frustrate players looking for lesseffected options. The Lyndhurst is a marvel because it not only includes a transformer designed by studio legend Rupert Neve, but it’s as simple to use as opening a box of cornflakes. You can go for an automatic Attack setting or dial it in yourself; go for Flat, Chime, or Sparkle tones, and just twist knobs to find your bliss. Not surprisingly, the Lyndhurst produces transparent timbres that retain your guitar’s sound—even at crushing compression settings. It’s like having an expensive studio processor on your pedalboard!
X1 TUBE PREAMP
Carvin fans were likely crushed when the manufacturer shut down its California factory last year, but the brand is far from pushing daisies. In fact, the company is celebrating its heritage with the release of the new X1, which puts the sound of its seminal X-100B amps into a box that can work for home recording (via a cabinet-voiced output and a 2x12/4x12 switch), practicing, and as an onstage tube preamp or the perfect fly rig. The controls of this two-channel (rhythm/lead) processor are powerful and easy to rock—though the small labels for the four footswitches can be tough to see during live performances. The X1 sounds organic, dimensional, and awesome for practically every tone you desire—clean, slightly gritty, overdriven, or saturated—and it saved my butt on a few sessions where I wasn’t digging the available amps. Carvin to the rescue!
BIG SPENDER SPINNING SPEAKER
The name says it all, and Big Spender delivers a good replication of classic Leslie-speaker effects courtesy of its Speed, Volume, and Treble controls, as well as a clever Ramp footswitch (adjacent to the true-bypass switch) that toggles between ramp up/down to simulate the speed-change time envelope of a motor-driven rotary speaker. It all works quite well, and the Spender provides a satisfying array of swirly, doppler-esque sounds that aptly fill a niche between what you get from most chorus and vibrato pedals. The curvy metal enclosure (which doesn’t allow for battery use) and glossy paint job (common to all of Dano’s Billionaire series pedals) give the Big Spender a look befitting its name, even though it lands at a middleclass price.
DEATH BY AUDIO
Death by Audio’s Deep Animation adds selectable up sweeping and a gnarly, textured voice to the “auto-wah” sounds of traditional envelope filters. Housed in a chunky box reminiscent of ’70s classics, its knobs offer control over Sensitivity, Intensity, and Volume, while a rotary Frequency Selector enables six accent bands from bass to treble. Two footswitches select Bypass and Up/Down, and a Trigger input enables you to trigger the filter’s pulse from an external signal (a drum machine, for example). How does it sound? Let’s just say the Deep Animation is more a way of life than a sound … which is to say, cue the Mother Ship, Bootsy, ’cos I never knew I was half this funky. From chewy and marble-mouthed to edgy and squawky and all points between, with delectably playable dynamics, this is a marvelously creative groove tool, which will rapidly burn up hours of noodling time, likely with great results. Love it!
I’ve said many times that I’m an unrepentant fuzz freak. I have so many boxes of boutique, major manufacturer, vintage, and just plain weird fuzz pedals in my studio that it’s often a chore to track down my other stompboxes. But what a joy to have that problem. The Carcosa is one of my new pedalboard faves, because it produces two fuzz tones that I use a lot—ugly and blistering and organic yet slightly fizzy—and it’s also quite the deal at just $99. Whatever chaos or clarity you’re going for, the EQ options are enough to get it done—Dehme (lowmid boost), Hali (bass cut), and Hi-Cut—and the After (or bias) control conjures everything from Hendrix to the sound of drunken and belligerent Vikings engaging in aggro anarchy. How can I not love this?
At half the size of a standard Crybaby, the Mini 535Q is perfect for small boards, yet it doesn’t compromise on features. It has a four-position range selector that moves the voicing from bassier to brighter, a Q knob that lets you set it for a narrow bandpass (more high-end emphasis) or a wider bandpass for enhanced low-end response. There’s also a Boost switch and corresponding Volume knob that provide up to 16dB of level increase. Incorporating a Fasel inductor for authentic late-’60s sound, the Mini 535Q’s vocal-like color and stout range of tones makes it a great choice if you want to put one pedal in your kit that can cover the bases for pretty much any wah sound you need.
This new pedal is essentially an EHX Pitchfork and expression pedal in one, and it lets you transpose or shift single notes or chords (over a +/- three-octave range) with glitch-free tracking. The polyphonic pedal has selectable Up and Down modes, as well as a Dual Shift setting that generates two separate pitch-shift intervals simultaneously. Sidemounted controls include wet/dry Blend, Pitch Mix, and an 11-position Shift knob with settings for Detune, Minor 2 and Minor 3, Major 2, 3, and 6, Perfect 4 and 5, and Octave 1, 2, and 3. There’s also an interesting X-Fade function that fixes the pitch-shift interval so that you can use the rocker pedal to morph between dry and pitch-shifted sounds, or from one pitch-shifted interval to another without taking your hands off the guitar. From Whammy sounds to doubling and chorus effects to instant key changes, the Slammi Plus is the sonic equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. Other details include battery or external power, and a rugged, rack-and-pinion drive for the rocker.
What a fun, trippy, and musical box this is. The Okto-Nøjs gives you a fast-tracking suboctave (Okto) and a fuzz octave (Nøjs) that you can use individually or combined. The Okto side is a beautiful-sounding octaver that can add just a hint of bottom end with the Dry control cranked, or full-on subterranean lows with Dry backed off. The Nøjs features a sweet fuzz circuit that takes you into ultra-cool synth bass territory, with tones that go from edgy and biting to gorgeously sludgy. It tracks very well, but I love how I can get it to freak out with certain chords and intervals, giving rise to ring-mod sounds, monster gurgles, and sequencer-like pulses. Engage both sides for a whole new range of tones. Inspiring and creativity boosting.
This unique pedal combines tremolo and reverb, and has controls for Depth, Rate, Reverb, and Waveshape (Ramp Up, Ramp down, Sine, Square, Harmonic). The heavy-duty aluminum housing features a slip-proof rocker that varies the intensity and speed of the tremolo—along with reverb level—in relation to how the controls are set. The Depth and Rate controls also have a push on/off function, and when switched to “off,” the rocker automatically sweeps from zero in the heeldown position to maximum depth and speed in the toe-down setting. The unit operates with 9VDC external power only (adapter not included), and features tight, roadworthy construction inside and out. The Expression Tremolo is a blast to play though, and the Waveshape switch provides plenty of cool-sounding trem textures, ranging from smooth amplike pulse to stuttering chop to rotary-like effects to a syrupy chorus-trem. The spring-sounding reverb adds airy dimension to everything, helping to make the Expression Tremolo one of the hippest new rocker-style pedals around.
The skater-graphic’d Asphalt Lunch—as in “face plant,” or “eat pavement”—is a distortion with active 2-band EQ, plus controls for gain (Rip) and Volume, all governing cascading amplifier stages derived of two op-amps (rather than clipping diodes or transistors). The results are maximum grinding saturation in a big-sounding pedal with crushing lows when you want them, and smooth, liquid highs. Fat, fuzzy, raw, and not the least bit polite, it has a watery touch sensitivity that screams of slammed cascading-gain stages, and gets über hairy and close to meltdown before you even roll the Rip control past noon. Not one for creamy, singing lead tones or lush harmonic sparkle, it’s more about aggressive garage-rock and noise-police-alerting mayhem, reminiscent of early ’70s distortions with a distinct hint of op-amp style fuzz in the brew, and a lot of fun in the process.
MIRROR IMAGE DELAY
If you’re old enough to remember the Fender Multi-Echo from 1969, you’ll definitely see how far they’ve come in the delay world when you try the new Mirror Image Delay. Rather than throw in the kitchen sink, Fender has provided an easy and intuitive feature set that still provides a ton of flexibility. You get three delay modes (Digital, Analog, and Tape), each with two variations, and you can add modulation to any of them. There’s a Dotted 1/8 switch that adds a repeat at 75 percent of the selected time, for an interesting take on The Edgestyle repeats, although there’s no tap tempo, so you’ll need to set the rate by hand. What this box does really well, however, is sound great. The Doubler algorithm is super cool, adding random timing and pitch variations to simulate double tracking. The Mirror Image is an atmospheric and vibey take on a musthave effect.
This smaller and simplified version of the Fulltone’s classic Full-Drive II dispenses with the II’s Boost function (and fourth knob), but features everything else, including the 3-way Tone switch that, in the CC (comp cut) position, boosts mids and also volume (particularly at high Overdrive settings), while providing smoother and subtly different tones in the V (vintage) and FM (flat mids) settings. The FD1 is a girthy-sounding distortion box that’s very responsive to changes in guitar volume—and, with lots of output on tap, is great for players who want to either slam their amp with a hot signal using lower Overdrive/higher Volume settings, or generate loads of sustain up-front by turning the knobs in the opposite directions. The Tone control plays well with single-coils or humbuckers, and other noteworthy points include 9-18V operation, easy battery access, and true-bypass switching.
The LucyDreamer Supreme delivers two of my essential live-performance needs—boost and overdrive—and saves pedalboard real estate, as well. Of course, as much as I love order and cleanliness, I wouldn’t dig the Lucy-Dreamer if it simply made my board more tidy. The Boost level is adjustable (via trimpot or optional expression pedal), and it’s just right for when I want the sound of my amp pushed into organic overdrive. The Overdrive is very dynamic, and it gets me easily from classic-rock tones to near full-on shred. Even hipper, the Exp Mix feature lets me blend my clean and rev’d-up sounds to taste (again, with an optional expression pedal)—which is very much like layering guitars in the studio. There’s a ton of versatility here, and every sound is killer.
“Not another Tube Screamer clone!” you howl, yet JHS’s Bonsai is not just another Screamer, but every Screamer in one box—or all of the most desirable renditions, at least. In addition to its traditional Drive, Tone, and Volume controls, the Bonsai has a 9-position rotary switch to select between significant TS circuit variations, including obvious classics like the TS-808, TS-9, and TS-10, plus several mods and sleepers. Plugged in and twiddled judiciously, the Bonsai revealed subtle variations between some modes, but quite significant shifts between others. I was most enamored with the reworked renditions found in the hot and gainy TS-7+ setting, the juicy and compressed Keeley Mod setting, and the crisp and articulate JHS Mod setting—which, I suppose, is why the TS is modded so often in the first place. Tons of fun, and even if you only need one Screamer, a few of these selections might be among the best TS ODs I’ve ever heard.
More than just a graphic EQ and compressor combined, the I.Q. chains its 6-band graphic equalizer in front of the compressor so you can determine which frequency bands hit the comp stage harder, and are therefore treated more severely. The Mix knob blends clean and compressed signal, and Vol governs overall output, all in a rugged, bricklike steel enclosure. Although my first few moments with the I.Q. were slightly puzzling, it really clicked into place once I raised all sliders together as pre-gain to push the compressor to the desired level, then nudged individual bands up or down slightly to carve out an idealized guitar sound. It’s a great, smooth-sounding compressor in its own right, which doesn’t overly squash or impact your tone, but adds the nuance of hitting individual frequency bands harder—whether subtly or considerably so—making the I.Q. a highly intelligent design with some powerful potential.
RED FUZZ 1
With a generous gain range provided by the Fuzz control and a very effective Low-Cut knob, the Red Fuzz 1 gives you plenty of options for crafting everything from bottom-heavy fuzz with tons of sustain to skinnier tones that sound smooth and balanced at lower gain settings, and with excellent dynamic response to the guitar’s volume. If you’re looking for sicko, transistor-on-life-support tones, this pedal doesn’t go there, but with its excellent touch sensitivity, high output, and ability to deliver massive fuzz sounds, this pedal is something to try.
With a name and cosmetics that are a nod to In-N-Out Burger, MXR is serving up two hot and greasy takes on classic overdrive sounds. The Double-Double lets you choose between a TS-808-inspired flavor on the Gain switch’s Lo setting and a takeoff on the more boutique-y OCD on the Hi setting. You can’t footswitch between the two modes, nor can they be cascaded, but they both sure do sound great. The Lo realm is amazingly transparent and does the SRV “Drive set low with Level cranked” thing beautifully. Switch over to Hi and all kinds of ballsy rock tones are there, from barky to singy. The potent 2-band EQ provides tons of thump, sizzle, or both, and you can find great sounds even with the Bass or Treble controls rolled all the way off. Flexible, powerful, and a super bargain, I’ll take mine to go!
One of the latest in this Oregon company’s single-effect Foundry series, Gold is an “amp-in-a-box” style British-voiced overdrive with extended tonal range. The controls are Gain, Level, Lows and Highs, plus both Mids and Mid Freq, the latter of which allows you to sweep the mid boost from 400Hz to 2kHz. Inside the gold hammer-finished steel box lurk the high-end components that Pettyjohn is known for using—through-hole components on a sturdy board, with esoteric tidbits like AuriCap and Orange Drop tone caps—plus mini-toggles to shift the bright cap or select between higher headroom or increased saturation. In use, the Gold reveals a juicy, vintageleaning breed of cranked-Marshall-style tone, with opulently textured midrange, silky highs, and soft yet buoyant lows. I found its slight but easy sag and great touch sensitivity added to the fun, and the EQ and internal switching provided great versatility. A cool fast-track to classic-rock leads and power-crunch alike.
FX REVERB X
This is one of the reasons I still love NAMM. I bumped into London-based designer David Rainger and his table of oddlooking pedals while rushing to another booth, and I’m glad I did. The Reverb X is one whacky box that’s not for the conventional or faint of heart, but anyone looking for cinematic soundscapes is going to love this thing. You can gate the reverb, “stutter” it using the included Igor momentary pad, and add distortion. The “normal” reverb is vibey enough, but when I added some distortion and stomped on Igor, the funhouse of ambient mania is both a barrel of laughs and exquisitely inspiring. I started writing songs and licks based on my explorations, and I had to force myself to stop, or I’d neglect myself, my wife, and my dogs. Beware!
SUNSET DUAL OVERDRIVE
Wow! Talk about an overdrive that can do it all. The Sunset gives you six different flavors of grind and boost, based on their interpretations of some classic circuits. There are three on the A side and three on the B side. You can run them individually, in parallel, or cascade A into B or B into A. That makes for a headspinning number of possibilities. (Strymon’s video demo of the Sunset is nine minutes long!) Each mode sounds sweet on its own, and I really loved the Channel A Treble boost in parallel with Channel B’s Hard setting (for a super complex clean/dirty sound) as well as the Germanium and 2stage in series for a beautifully vicious slide tone. The Sunset does a lot more, with all the flexibility available to pair it with any kind of pickup and any kind of amp. Seriously. Strymon does it again. Dang!
1 SPOT PRO CS6
True enough (sorry—had to make that quip), the brand-new Truetone 1 Spot Pro CS6 isn’t an effects pedal, but isolated power is unquestionably a crucial tool for any pedalboard. In addition, as with some of the pedals I’ve reviewed for our Pedalmania feature, it solved a problem for me. I’ve been using a Line 6 M5 on my pedalboard as a “multi-purpose player” to provide effects that I don’t use all the time—such as flanging—but might need for a specific session. Unfortunately, I have to run two power lines to my board, because my current power brick can’t handle the M5’s 500mA requirement. Well, guess what made that a non-issue? The Pro CS6 has the juice to power almost anything (yay!), and it’s 6-output frame is slender enough to easily sit on most pedalboards. I’m back to one power cord, and as happy as a puppy.
You wanna get crazy? This thing will let you instantly tap into your wild side, with super-musical effects that don’t sound like anything else. The Dynamorph is a magic box of fuzz/filter/synth/envelope tones that the incredibly well-written manual describes as a “primordial harmonic soup.” You’ll need that manual, too, because this pedal is deep and the controls have names like Holometaboly and Gestation. But once you get a grip, you’ll be greeted with excellent synthy fuzz freakouts, singing sustain, talky alien voices, and a “torrent of waveforms battling for evolutionary supremacy.” The Morph function allows you to control the amount of Ecdysis (Drive) with your picking dynamics, for a whole new level of fun. The DM-02 also responds to your guitar’s Volume and Tone knob adjustments as well as any effect I’ve ever tried. I dare you not to write an awesome riff within five minutes of plugging into the Dynamorph. Heck, you could base an entire project on the sounds it cranks out.
FATHOM MULTI-FUNCTION REVERB
This powerful pedal offers four reverb types (Hall, Plate, Lo-Fi, and Sonar), and features a complement of controls that includes Program, Decay, Dampen, Mix, X, and a 3-way Mod switch. I love the rich, expansive effects available in the Hall and Plate settings, both of which have full-time modulation that is variable with the Mod switch, and adjustable predelay via the multi-function X control. The X knob also varies the filter bandwidth on the Lo-Fi setting (cool for funky ’verb effects), and it greatly impacts Sonar, where reverb is fed by low and high octaves. In this mode with X at noon, the low/high octave blend is equal. Turning it to the left or right shifts the octave balance, producing eerie, haunting effects that sound like they’re rising out of the depths of the Mariana Trench—and pressing and holding the Sustain switch keeps the reverb decays trailing on, which adds to the otherworldly fun. You could do a soundtrack using the Sonar function alone, and while we’ve only scratched the surface of what this pedal is capable of, suffice to say Fathom is a great vehicle for expanding your sonic horizons.
PAISLEY DRIVE DELUXE
Add together the Paisley Drive designed for the popular Wampler-endorsing Telemeister and Brad’s beloved, yet obscure, Nobels ODR-S overdrive (once reconceived as the now-discontinued Wampler Underdog) and you’ve got the Paisley Drive Deluxe, a dual-overdrive pedal with some clever possibilities for chain reconfiguration. Independent inputs and outputs and a 3-way switch let you run these as individual pedals, or select 1 into 2, or vice-versa, when internally chained. The pedal takes from 9v to 18v DC input for increased headroom and clarity at the upper range, and Ch1 has a Fat switch on the side, while Ch2 has a Voice switch to go from slightly scooped to more mid-humped. No surprise this thing excels with a Telecaster injected, immediately enabling that thick, rich, driven-tweedlike tone in Ch2 (Paisley Drive)—but I was surprised how much it liked a Les Paul’s humbuckers, too. Add Ch1’s throaty, compressed, slightly softedged overdrive to the brew, and gain-stage them as you please, and there’s a lot of tone crafting to be had here.
SMALLS SERIES BLUE HIPPO CHORUS
This mini version of the Way Huge classic has Depth and Speed controls, a switch on its blue anodized aluminum case to toggle between chorus and vibe, and the option of running on battery or external power. The analog-generated tones are warm and dimensional, and the range of the controls allows for everything from syrupy washes of chorus to faux-rotary speaker effects to more extreme shades of pitch-bending in vibrato mode—and at speeds ranging from sloth-like crawl to fast warbly spin. This is a great pedal, and how cool to see it sized for smaller boards.