THE BLOWUP IN THE STOMPBOX MARKET IN RECENT YEARS HAS SPURRED a contagion of new effect designs that cater to every imaginable need and taste. But as with all things relating to guitar, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Whether we’re talking about fuzz and distortion boxes, delays and modulators, or even some new multi-effects pedals, the déjà vu factor is obvious in the amount of analog technology still being deployed in the form of discrete transistors for distortion duty or “bucket brigade” ICs for time-based effects. But the ways that designers are using such old-school circuit components to create effects for modern players is nothing short of remarkable—and we see it with fuzz pedals that veer into analog synth territory, distortion units that mirror the cascaded tube stages in amplfiers, and delays that perform sonic stunts that go way beyond the runaway feedback effects that wowed listeners in the ’70s.
There’s no doubt that digital processors have opened the door to sounds that wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of the microprocessor’s number-crunching power, but the rich sonic textures and highly interactive and even erratic behavior of analog circuits definitely continue to have an inspirational impact on the creation of effects that guitar players add to their sonic palettes. The fact that a certain percentage of new effects will ultimately be “cloned” in the digital realm only furthers the case that when it comes to stompboxes, anyone with some soldering skills, a zeal for invention, and a well-tuned ear can get in on the action, and possibly even earn his or her “mad scientist” stripes in the process.
The 60 mostly analog pedals covered in this story reflect the bountiful selection of effects that await curious tone tweakers. Testing this many stompboxes always yields a lot of “Eureka!” moments, and we had plenty of them as we played though all these distorters, boosters, delays, tremolos, and other boxes—a number of which will probably wind up on our own pedalboards. The gear used by the editors for testing is detailed in the accompanying sidebar, and many of the pedals were taken out on live gigs to check their real-world performance. All said, this was a ton of work and a lot of fun, and we hope you dig it! —ART THOMPSON
Amptweaker engineer James Brown sweats bullets over his designs. For the TightFuzz, he even convened a “taste test” at Summer NAMM 2012 to get instant feedback about the features, tones, and possible options. But while Brown’s perfectionist-driven angst is probably not good for his blood pressure, it’s a tremendously magnificent thing for pedal lovers. His TightFuzz is a work of aural artistry. It’s not a weirdo buzz blitzkrieg for iconoclasts, but it delivers ’60s/’70s Germanium and silicon fuzz tones to perfection, and offers many ways to tweak the sound—including an effects loop with a Pre/Post switch for creating a fuzz signal chain. From “Satisfaction” to “Spirit in the Sky” to Muse’s “Plug In Baby,” and almost any fuzz concoction in between, the TightFuzz kills it, nails it, and owns it. amptweaker.com —MM
Featuring a 12AX7 dual-triode tube running at 240 volts (stepped up from the included AC supply’s 22 volts), the HT-Metal performs exactly as promised, delivering raging high-gain metal tones that you can EQ to perfection courtesy of Bass, Middle, Treble, and ISF controls. The 2-channel pedal also has independent concentric Gain and Level knobs, a Clean/OD switch for setting Channel 1’s gain structure, and standard and cabinet-simulated outs. At 2.86 lbs, it’s a chunky affair, but the HT-Metal’s ability to throw down blistering stack-style tones with tons of low-end grunt is mighty impressive. blackstaramps.com —AT
BBE Sonic Stomp Sonic Maximizer
The Sonic Stomp packs BBE’s proprietary Sonic Maximizer technology into a stompbox. Designed to increase clarity and definition and enhance frequency response via processes such as tweaking phase relationships, there’s no denying that, when used correctly, the Sonic Stomp adds an appealing sparkle and oomph to your sound—particularly on clean amp settings—and it does it without adding noise or undesirable artifacts. I liked the pedal best for brightening up humbucker-equipped guitars and magically invigorating tone-challenged amps—but many players will likely be so enamored of its maximizing powers that they’ll want to leave it on all the time. —BC
Sssh! Top Secret Preview of Boss’ 100th Pedal!
On January 21, 2013, Boss is offering Guitar Player readers an exclusive look at the company’s 100th effects pedal. It all started with the OD-1 Overdrive in 1977, and through the years, millions of players have stepped on a Boss box. So be sure to click to guitarplayer.com on January 21 to see this mystery pedal unveiled. Until then, you can keep a secret, can’t you?