The 4ms crew are an odd bunch, willing to accept barters and trades for their pedals, as well as providing free layouts, schematics, and selling their pedals as user assembled kits... they were more of an "Open Source" pedal community than any other I know of. More than that, their stuff could border on absolute freakshow: for every phaser, tremolo, or overdrive they offer, there's a random noise, pitch shifting, self oscillating box of lunacy. Personally, I only ever picked up the one pedal, because they can be a bit too much: great for studio experimenting, but difficult to apply in a live situation.
That, and the prices seem to have about doubled since I last bought from them. (though I do have a Phaser Fleur circuitboard hanging out on my workbench. I just need to find some optocouplers)
Never having owned one of their samplers, I know Akai by their odd, double-wide effects. Much like Zoom's foray into single-effect stompboxes, it never really took off, but Akai had some really cool pieces of gear: if you were looking at just the right time, you could buy them dirt cheap, as every store had them in a "blow-out sale!" section.
In 1999 or so, they offered a multi-mode distortion with an expression pedal (cool!), a multi-function wah, a tape-echo simulator and loop recorder (well before emulating tape/analog was in fashion), and dynamically controlled phaser: all in all, inventive, far-out pedals that, by and large, sounded great. They followed that up with a 5-band compressor pedal (what a beast) that was completely mindblowing... and no one bought this stuff.
For me, these things are warm memories-- their echo is still in production (I love mine), they made my favorite synth pedal, and their phaser was the first phaser I ever owned. All in all, these pedals are wonderful gear.
The ModFx line was a find, simply because they were immediately unpopular, discontinued quickly, and sold at a fraction of their list price. Tabletop studio effects couldn't really compete with the rapidly expanding VST plugin market the way stompboxes could, and all-plastic construction with dubious build quality didn't help. Though these effects are billed as modular, with digital connectors on the sides allowing one ModFx to connect to the next (thus eliminating the need for multiple AD/DA conversions), I have never gotten the digital signal path to work.
Then again, I never paid more than $50 for one of these, so I've certainly gotten my money's worth.
Arion... how to put this delicately? If I'm being perfectly honest, I only buy Arion pedals because they are cheap-- they don't cost much, they come in easy-to-drill plastic enclosures, and with my track record of ruining the pedals I modify or circuit-bend, it's usually a bad idea to destroy an expensive pedal.
So, we have Arion. The gear really isn't bad, and it's kind of fun to play with their stuff... but I buy it to tinker with, twist, and possibly ruin.
Still, passive volume pedals are what I use as voltage controllers for my Moog, and I learned from experience that pots eventually get scratchy and Ernie Ball pedals tend to fail, so as long as they're cheaply replaceable, it's best not to invest too much in them. Bespeco fits the bill.
The downside is that these pedals are prohibitively expensive: most of these pedals clock in at about $300, which can mostly be attributed to the flaccid US dollar and the importing of these puppies from Sweden. The one BJF pedal I own was something I shopped for and distinctively needed-- a buffer/booster. Not sexy at all, I know (BJF makes much cooler pedals than this) but shopping around, this is the only booster I could find that had a rock-solid buffer and strong input impendence even when bypassed (there was a ZVex pedal in the running, but the true bypass switching defeated my purpose), and this thing sounds great.
BJF pedals are hand painted boxes, and... well, the finish is a little delicate. I never really cared about things like that. I think it gives a pedal a well loved, lived-in quality.
Blackout Effectors is one of the newer manufacturers I know that has taken a couple traditional effects and applied intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a lot of players' consideration to them. I was searching long and hard for a pedal that could give me the Big Muff style fuzz I wanted, and after I missed a few times (thank god for ToneFactor's return policy), it was Blackout that got the job done... and their approach was inspired: I got not just the version of Muff fuzz I needed, but an amazing number of permutations and colors that are truly inspiring.
A lot of times, when pedal makers add knobs or variations to their pedals, they're perfunctory-- barely useful. Not so with Blackout: this gear sweeps a wide variety of sound, and (this is the clever part) it's all useful. They've recently launched what may be the mother of all phasers to buttress their already impressive line of fuzz/drives, and Blackout's approach is just plain inspiring.
I really try not to kiss too much ass, but Catalinbread is my absolute favorite current effects builder-- not only is everything they make completely fantastic, the range of their gear is really creative. These aren't a handful of overdrives and clean boosts: Catalinbread makes feedbacking distortion pedals that can be controlled and oscillated by their resistive tremolos. They have an "analog bit crusher" that is only described as such because there has never been an effect like it. They were pioneers on the tiny, "bantam box" effects which have since been discontinued because Catalinbread had other innovations to pursue... and so many other builders had taken up the challenge that if the cutting edge had moved on, so would they.
All in all, Catalinbread is the shining star of the pedalbuilding community: inventive, creative, and well-designed. They are wildly creative boundary pushers, but have also released what was arguably the most popular distortion pedal of 2009 (the Dirty Little Secret), and I have one of their extremely naturalistic drives on my board as well... so there isn't anything Catalinbread hasn't proved their hand at: from the complex to the simple, the subtle to to strange, these things always come out well.
I picked up the French Toast on a whim for almost no money and was blown away-- a rich, smooth fuzz with an octave option, it was a copy of the famous (and hard to find) Foxx Tone Machine. For all the ire these mini pedals currently raise, I know of more than one boutique FX forum alight with people re-boxing this effect into metal enclosures, modding a stomp switch to activate the octave, making them true-bypass, etc... I wonder if the current availability of Tone Machine clones in the boutique market isn't due to this little gem.
But that's part of the charm of the mini's-- they cost nothing, so there was no risk in trying them, and no loss in modifying them. If they were a low-cost push by the company, at least Danelectro was willing to get a little crazy with these things, and that's something I always value in an effects company.
For a while, I thought Delta Labs was lost in the annals of history, the only proof I could find of their existence was their used delay units for sale throughout the net. As far as I could tell, they were very productive a while back, and had a long list of Effectron and Echotron units... pretty ubiquitous, and I know a few people that had stumbled upon them in the past and were thrilled to se one in my rack, as much as I was thrilled to find it on sale for cheap in a used/trading music store. These were never high end units, as far as I can tell, and you can still find them for under $100 (although being "vintage" and listed erroneously as "rare," I have run across people trying to sell them for over $1,000)... but there's a lo-fi resurgence in the world, and nothing sounds quite as lo-fi as the digital rack gear from the 80's.
Recently, Delta Labs launched a line of stomp boxes. I haven't heard them. I have no idea what the new Delta Labs is like... or what befell the company between its disappearing in the middle 80's and reemerging in 2009. I can't even be sure if it's actually the same company.
DigiTech seems to have risen, almost entirely, from the ashes of DOD, which was essentially the sub-Boss budget company making stompboxes of varying quality with extremely unreliable switches. It seems like all of the worst qualities of DOD have wandered over to the incredibly crappy Rolls/RFX group, while DigiTech took off after their flagship Whammy Pedal made them a household name.
Now DigiTech seems to have consumed DOD entirely, re-releasing the old DOD pedals in new enclosures (with reliable switches) and are a worthy competitor to the overrated Boss stompboxes. Like every other effects maker at their level, DigiTech is competing in the multi-effects and modeling market and are holding up well: they've put out their fair share of classics, and Michelle is currently using a DigiTech vocal processor on stage as an indispensable part of ubik.s sound.
I hit up Earthquaker for a Muff-style fuzz that just didn't work for me... but it was a damn fine pedal, and it was really hard to send back. Not what I needed for my board, but I liked the pedal a lot.
The range of pedals is pretty wide, and the build quality is top notch. There's a couple more pieces of gear from Earthquaker I'd like to try. What I know of them is that their gear sounds great, and is really well put together. My return was just a "right tool for the job" issue.
I got my Electrix boxes as part of a "blow-out" as they were being discontinued: another factor in the effected/manipulated music explosion was the hardware processor's cheaper competitor, the VST plugin. While Electrix continued to produce a realtime looper for a while, but eventually faded, though they do seem to be launching version 2s of all their effects... something to watch for.
Empress makes incredibly high quality effects that are almost never tackled by independent designers: super high fidelity parametric EQ pedals, tap-tempo tremolos with insane beat subdivisions, and an impressively multi-functional delay.
The thing about Empress is: these aren't pedals for everyone. If you're buying an Empress pedal, it's because you need one: these are specialty items. They are fairly large (and I try to buy the smallest pedals I can), and they're pricey, but I bought Empress because I knew what I needed, and almost no one was offering it. No one but Empress.
Frantone has a following, they're well loved, and there's a couple boxes in the Frantone line I thought warranted further investigation... but not for the price. And they were almost all fuzz pedals. Not a terrible thing, but I never really grasped what made them so expensive, and there really isn't much variety in the line up.
Like I said: maybe my Frantone pedal was defective, but I spent a lot of money on a pedal that seemed to have some severe problems...
As an effects company, they've had some inventive gear (the Flying Pan, though I'll never be able to own one due to its collectors item status, was a very cool effect) and some pedals that were just plain solid (they had a great analog delay in the 80's). Their stuff seems to veer towards the opportunistic, more often than not: they've re-released the Tubescreamer so many times that the Coke/New Coke/Classic Coke switch seems pedestrian. The ultra-budget "Sound Tank" series of pedals (which resembled cheap, black plastic potato bugs) were aimed at the bedroom shredders of the early 90's, and the more recent Tone-Lok series, with their gunmetal grey finish, poor spelling, and flanger that features a "Wack'd" switch, are quick grabs at the nu-metal market. I don't hate Ibanez effects, I just don't respect them much, and I'm still a little wary of them.
Korg are more a maker of synthesizers than effects, but every now and then they release a new handful of processors or pedals. They usually have decent entries, but I don't think they've ever been huge in the effects world. As far as I know, they are the first of the big name music companies to put out a true bypass tuner (which blew up-- that thing's on everyone's board these days. Including mine)
Post-Pod, Line6 offered their effects modelers, giant 4-footswitch pedals that emulated a variety of pedals each... they weren't bad, but they were enormous, and have widely reported reliability problems. Eventually, they offered single-effect stompboxes, and I was initially dubious: having never liked a Line6 product, I did not expect to like these pedals.
To date, the Line6 ToneCore effects are my favorite digital/modeling effects. I normally avoid digital effects, but I cannot deny the quality of every ToneCore pedal I've tried, and the ones I own are utterly fantastic. Their delay has been a staple on my pedalboard since I bought it, and it is exactly the piece of gear I had been searching for.
M.I. Audio is a company that's been embraced by a lot of distortion lovers: they have overdrives, distortions, and fuzzes of every stripe, and they put a lot of thought into the boxes (the fuzzes, for example, have controls for their input impedance). As I know which drive and fuzz sounds are right for me, I never really looked too closely at these pedals until they brought out a pedal that was exactly what I was looking for...
I love my MI box, and the care with the design, the small footprint (any other builder would make these boxes twice as large as they are), the incredibly solid build, and the great sound make this a stand-out company.
As stompboxes and effects units, a number of the original modules from the old Moog modulars were redesigned as MoogerFoogers, originally offering a filter, phaser, and ring modulator, and going on to offer more (and stranger) original fare, including what may be the world's finest analog delay (currently selling for a lot more than I can afford). The Moog effects are characterized by their incredible range and flexibility, both for their hands-on tweakability and the ability to automate or control almost any of their functions via expression pedals or control voltages. The MoogerFoogers are some of the best sounding and well implemented effects I've ever come across, but they tend to be prohibitively expensive. That I was able to afford two of them is still amazing to me.
I first heard of Robot Factory when they launched a clone of Lovetone's expensive (and discontinued) Meatball... a hell of a feat, as it was the most complicated and multi-featured filter pedal I've seen. It was obvious from the start that this wasn't a company that was going to be making a bunch of Tubescreamer clones or treble boosters. Robot Factory makes pedals with lots of knobs and switches.
This is gear with massive functionality: the filters are highly controllable; the delay has lots of filter, mod, and routing options; the pitch/octave effects are intense, layered, and multi-voiced. On top of that, they do custom work, just in case you've got an idea that isn't in production... and I've talked to this guy: anything I could think of was basically not a problem. Even the "stock" pedals are hand built to order (and my box was built and shipped very quickly: the build time wasn't an issue).
And these pedals are power supply only-- no batteries. The Robot Factory FAQ says "I have found that by the time someone gets around to a Robot Factory Pedal Co. purchase, they already have a full blown pedal board / setup and gave upon batteries long ago." He definitely knows his client base... these are boxes for people who've been around the block a few times.
I first knew Visual Sound because of their large, oddly shaped dual pedals: I'm not sure, but their Jeckyll & Hyde dual pedal was on of the first red channel/green channel pdals to rise to popularity... though anything with a Tubescreamer in it obviously wasn't for me. Similarly, their chorus/echo didn't appeal (I don't much care for chorus). That was generally the way this company struck me: they were big pedals, and I usually wasn't interested in one half of them.
Currently, Visual Sound is owned by Dunlop, which may have applied the business sense in offering smaller, single-space units that will actually let you buy only the half of the double pedal you need... but it's also led them to put out thoroughly embarrassing shit like the "Vans™ Warped Distortion," where sneakers, festival ticket prices, and niave kids come together.
The story is this: The Zero-G I ordered arrived non-functional. It was supposed to be a modulated delay, sort of glitchy-sounding, with an LFO sweeping the delay time causing pitch changes, but instead it would sweep a single cycle when I first plugged in and then stop, sounding like a static phase notch. I emailed Zebranalogic and let them know my unit wasn't working.
Their response: that they test these pedals before shipping them. They informed me that "it's not a standard pedal," and that I should work with the controls to get a good sound.
I wrote them back and told them that I knew what I'd ordered, and that the pedal simply wasn't working. No sweep, no echoes, no nothing. I got a very similar response: that the pedal was sort of avant-garde, and if I didn't like it, it was because my tastes were too pedestrian. So I sent them an mp3 of what the pedal was (or wasn't) doing. They couldn't open the mp3. I sent them a wav file, and didn't hear back. I waited a few days and asked about the example I'd sent them...
They said yes, they understood that my pedal wasn't working (finally), and that it must have become "uncalibrated" during shipping. They would fix it if I paid to ship it, round trip, to them... in Peru ($36 each way). So I would have doubled the price of the pedal simply because they had sent me a non-functional unit, as well as run the risk of it becoming uncalibrated again on the return trip. Maybe it's me-- I think my pedal should work when it arrives-- but I refused to ship it back, and they refused to do anything about it.
The breakout effect, the reason I first heard of ZVex pedals, was the Fuzz Factory, a force of nature that not too many people can control with any efficiency; the Fuzz Factory is legend in the fuzz world. Sifting through his catalog, though, there's clean analog octaves and step-sequenced/random wahs and clean boosts based on old recording consoles... Some ZVex pedals are RF controlled, a cross between a theremin and an expression pedal (move your foot closer to and further from the copper plate on the top of that pedal).
Zachary Vex's pedals are hand made, hand painted, and guaranteed for life-- my pedal had a dodgy stomp switch (as advertised on the ZVex webpage, he was aware of a batch of faulty switches), I sent it in to him, he cleared it right up. No problem.
They do tend to run pretty expensive... I would like to have more of these pedals, but I could only afford the one pedal I couldn't live without.