eric's gear page


pedal builders

" How's this for a touch of age: I ordered my Noise Swash from back in the days when 4MS pedals were still 3ms pedals... I still haven't gotten used to the name change (3ms is the brand name for a stationary supplies company-- you probably use their transparent tape). Their logo is slightly cooler now.

 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.

Here's another company with a proud history that I had pretty much totally ignored. Alesis had been making studio effects and performance synths for years, as well as the ubiquitous SR-16 drum machine, but none of these really caught my eye until they offered their ModFx line-- a group of modular, digital effects that tweaked out semi-normal functions and bent a few of the rules I'd always liked bending: sample-and-hold waveshapes as LFO sources, envelope controlled modulation, compression as a special effect, and bit-reduction distortion. Great stuff.

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.

David Barber is one of the big names in the boutique effects world, building hand-crafted, original designs... I don't usually spend a lot of money on distortion pedals, but when I came across a used Tone Pump in a local music store, I had to pick it up. Barber's stuff is built with a lot of care and forethought, with a great deal of attention paid to the quality of sound.

I know, I know... Behringer's entries into the effects pedal market are uniformly cheap plastic knock-offs of Boss and Electro-Harmonix pedals. Yes, they are poorly made, and no, I don't like them (I continually overdrove the input of the phaser I tested out, making it more of a fuzz box than a modulation pedal-- it was awful), but I do own one of their compact mixers (which is a perfectly serviceable piece of gear) and one of their large diaphragm condenser mics (also decent, for the price), and... what can I say, not many people are making voltage controller pedals these days.

As far as I know, Bespeco doesn't make pedals that inspire pride or user loyalty in anyone-- I hate to rag them, but their venture into guitar, bass, and keyboard pedals and effects seems more like a company upping their profit margin than any real interest in what they're producing: Bespeco mainly makes musical accessories (cases, cables, connectors, er... sportswear?), and effects like them are sort of like Pepsi's foray into bottled water.

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.

BJF (and now Mad Professor) pedals are handmade in Stockholm, Sweden by Bjorn Ruhl, leaning towards original and innovative circuits as opposed to copying the cookbook distortions that have been adapted and modified into pedals for the last forty years or so. His "color" distortions and overdrives (Dyna Red, Baby Blue, Emerald Green Distortion Machine, Pink Purple Fuzz, etc) are stunningly good, and there are branches out in the BJF line into EQ-drive-boosters, vibes, compressors; Bjorn is something of a darling in the boutique pedal world

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 have a confusing relationship with Boss-- they're difficult to love, because they're the most widely distributed (and popular) stompboxes in the world, which makes a pedalgeek look at them kind of like a motorhead looks at the Honda Civic. Though I always chafe when someone makes the (very common) claim that Boss is "the best there is!", and I have little love for their tend towards the generic (how many more vanilla distortions are these guys going to churn out?), they have made some classics... or at the very least, some good, solid, well designed pedals. I like all the Boss pedals I own, but the trend is to discontinue the interesting pedals and leave the most uninspiring ones in production (DS-1, anyone?)

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.

Danelectro re-emerged from a decades-long slumber when I was working in a music store (I think that was around 1998 or so), and I never had any use for them: their launch pedals (Cool Cat chorus, Daddy-O overdrive, Dan-Echo, and Fab-Tone distortion) were decent, fairly heavy, but never seemed like anything special to me-- standard entries into the market, with plastic board-mounted jacks and flimsy mini-pots for control. The launch that followed the initial releases was the much-reviled Mini's, completely plastic and usually running between $20 and $30 dollars, they seemed like cheap knock-offs of the Guyatone micro-effects line, but... even if the build quality was worse than their first pedals, the effects themselves were at least memorable.

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.

We're going on complete and total conjecture and personal experience here, because I can't find any data...

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 honestly know very little about Dunlop as a company... as far as I know, they've been making Crybaby Wah's for pretty much ever, and they don't seem to do anything else (though I guess they have plenty of guitar care accessories and products). They acquired and overtook MXR, which is the cause of much internet sniping, and they're now in control of former indie darlings Visual Sound and Way Huge, but I'm not yet ready to equate Jim Dunlop with Hitler... Dunlop makes pedals: so be it.

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.

Electrix jumped out of the gate working on the boon of knob twiddlers and soundfreaks in a world where electronic music could sound like Squarepusher and rock bands could put out albums like OK Computer-- heavy, 2-rack space, aluminum boxes with big, tactile knobs. These boxes were meant to be manipulated and played, geared towards studio musicians and DJs, as well as allowing footswitch, CV, tap tempo, and expression pedal control for live use-- amazing and wonderful gear.

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.

Electro-Harmonix has racked up more cool points than any other major pedal-maker, in my book. There are very few companies that have kept their line well stocked with inventive, odd, and creative pieces, but E-H still makes the weird pedals along with the bread-and-butter stuff, which is pretty ballsy for a company that has been around since the late 60's (most other effects guys, some much younger than E-H, got pretty conservative as they got older). I've actually got my eye on an Octave Multiplexor... but we'll see.

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.

I hate to be overly critical, but I have owned a lot of pedals, and, because of my obsession with voltage controllers and expression pedals, I've gone through a lot of volume pedals... a lot of them have become "scratchy" when their potentiometers got dirty a few have developed quirks, some I never liked the feel or the sweep of... but my Ernie Ball (a staple name in the market, and not a cheap pedal) was the only one that ever actually failed me. As in-- while playing, it quit.

It's possible the Frantone pedal I bought was defective... but it certainly wasn't working well for me. And it was really expensive.

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...

I'll admit up front that I have limited experience with Freakshow. I only got one pedal from them, and I disliked it intensely... it felt like a microwave dinner version of a real meal. For all I know, their other pedals could be great, but my experience with them was "blech."

Frostwave is a cool little Australian company dedicated to making stompboxes based on old synthesizer hardware. Their stuff is built very heavy, with true bypass, and nearly as much CV flexibility as the similarly themed Moog gear. In times when the US Dollar was doing well, ordering from Australia was a fairly cost-effective way of getting solid and interesting effects... but current exchange rates are ensuring that Frostwave gear is as expensive as their American cousins. I've always wanted their filter, based on the Korg MS-20, as an alternative to my Moog, but the true bypass is weighing against it... I need the Moog on my pedalboard because it is directly after my distortion section, and its drive control is an important part of my gainstaging. A true-bypass pedal won't do that.

I can find evidence of Guyatone pedals dating back to the late 70s/early 80s (it's hard to tell), dredging up pedals selling on eBay that look like they were part of the Boss rush (the now-ubiquitous shape of stompboxes). I never actually noticed them until their Micro effects line came out: as someone who had always wanted a Slow Gear, the Guyatone version of that discontinued effect seemed to be the only attack delay on the market... and it was about half the size of most any other effect out there. Unlike the Danelectro Minis, the Guyatone effects were built really well, felt solid, and featured fantastic sound quality-- a dream come true for those of us with packed pedalboards.

On one hand, they say that the finest things are the ones you make yourself, and on the other... I don't make many pedals that sound good or even work, for that matter. I can follow directions as well as the next guy, and have built some successful kits (since disassembled: the PAIA Gator I built got dismantled when I found the Guyatone SV-2), but for the most part, my soldering iron and drill are dedicated to building simple control boxes... things either that aren't manufactured by anybody, or are incredibly simple and sold for a ridiculous mark-up. That said, I have made some solidly functional gear that has served me very well over time.

Ibanez is an hard company to nail down: they were mainly an instrument manufacturer, coming up in the 70's making budget copies of big name guitars (I'm pretty that ended in a lawsuit), and they're still go-to guys for decent-but-cheap instruments, which is why I chose an Ibanez bass to butcher.

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.

I was thrilled when I discovered Jacques-- as a pedal maker, he is one of the guys who started off with hand-made effects in project boxes (which he still makes available), and eventually contracted out to have the boutique gear manufactured. I'm going to assume that Jacques is mostly into blues rock, because his distortions lean in that direction, and there is a holy reverence for the Ibanez Tubescreamer on his site, which means that his drive pedals are generally not my cup of tea. His other effects, however, are creative and beautifully realized: a gorgeous chorus pedal, a versatile analog delay (with modulation!), and one of the most unique wah pedals I've ever come across. Too many pedalmakers have nothing on offer but a variety of distortion pedals... Jacques has an interesting variety of well thought out, great sounding effects.

Keeley has a few pedals on offer: a compressor, a few boosts, a fuzz pedal... pretty much what you expect from a boutique builder. On the other hand... if you want someone to set up your Ibanez analog delay to not only be true bypass but also be realtime controllable with two expression pedals, this is your guy. Want to add some depth to the stock DS-1? Want to trick out one of the myriad Tubescreamer reissues? The list goes on: Robert Keeley has made a real name for himself taking mass produced pedals and using them as the starting point for a quality effect. You can either mail him your stock pedal, or you can order pedal+ directly from Keeley, which usually will cost less than most boutique offerings. I found Keeley because I wanted to improve my Rat, and I'm completely happy with the results.

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)

Line6's Pod was the breakout in realtime, stage and studio "modeling," cementing the company's legacy and making them the go-to guys for amp and instrument simulation even now. Roland had their COSM well before that, but Line6 really took the world by storm. I hated the Pod. Absolutely hated it. I don't like it in headphones, I don't like it direct through the board, and I don't like it through an amp. In a post-Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2 world, I hope everyone who claimed the original Pod was realistic and just like the originals is smacking themselves in the forehead.

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.

Bob Moog is a superhero-- he popularized the synthesizer as an instrument, and his list of "firsts" is pretty stunning. The original Moogs were modular, and Moog developed and implemented the first keyboards as controllers (remember, a synth isn't a funny sound piano... the first synths didn't have piano style interfaces) and standardized voltage control.

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.

Morley's first design was actually the world's first echo pedal, pre bucket brigade analog delay, that used a rotating drum of fluid to generate the effect (I read in Tape Op that David Gilmour was going to use his old "oil can" delay for his new record, but it had leaked...) The Morley pedals were instantly recognizable because they were enormous, chrome affairs with AC cords sticking out of them, but they were in demand because they were optically controlled, and therefore didn't face the mechanical wear of other, potentiometer-based treadle pedals. They're now a little smaller, and black instead of chrome, but the optical control is a big plus in my book.

Before the bottom fell out of the electronics market, when all of America started buying less expensive Japanese gear (up to and including musical equipment) and MXR closed up shop in 1984, this New York based company was the largest effects company in the United States. MXR essentially popularized the stompbox, and their physical design (aluminum housing with the large silver plunger-style stomp switch; you must remove the baseplate to access the battery) was the standard until the Boss-design took over, and is still used by several boutique pedal builders. MXR pedals are now available after being acquired by Dunlop, which a number of snobs and internet trolls would like to elevate to the level of the CBS purchase of Fender, but I'm actually pretty pleased that these pedals are back in production.


I can't even find a logo for Omnifex (how's a larger font, for a stopgap?) These guys seem to have barely existed... there's a couple of old pedals I can find on the net, but no info on who Omnifex are. I actually really liked my Omnifex pedal... but they don't seem to have left a huge stamp on the pedal world.


...and Pefftronix makes it two: I only know of one pedal by these guys, but it's a winner. I can't find anything about Pefftronix as a company... as far as I know, they're long gone and lost... but their singular contribution to the pedalworld is a strange, brilliant adaptation of a chorus/flanger, and it definitely gets points for originality. I don't know if Pefftronix is alive out there somewhere, and will someday re-emerge, but they were making far out pedals in the stagnant Boss/DOD heyday, and that deserves some recognition.

ProCo Sound is a company that was built on, and lives by, the Rat (though they do make a wide variety of accessories: splitters, DI's, snakes, etc). They've made several versions over the years, but it is worth noting that they stopped using a particular character-defining component somewhere around 2001/2001, and newer Rats lack a lot of the dynamics and subtlety of the older ones. Up until 2008 or so, these pedals can be modified by Robert Keeley to include the old core sound, along with several tonal enhancements... but over the last few years, so many low-quality components have made it into the mix, it's not really cost effective for Keeley to remedy all of the mechanical and sonic problems with the newest batch of rats. So let's hope mine lasts.

I have to admit that I know very little about PSK-- their pedals are all plastic, they don't seem to be very good quality, and I've only ever seen them in music stores in Korea (which might seem weird... but, seriously, I've never seen them anywhere else). I can find their pedals for sale online, but the manufacturer doesn't appear to have a website, and I just don't know too much about them. I do like the one pedal of theirs that I own, for what it is.

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.

Here's another company with a wide variety and flavors of fuzzes and drives, but no qualms about putting out a strange octave/synth/filter pedal, a high spec'd phaser, and a high quality digital delay. I've known about them for years, but I never dug in until they smallerized their phaser... all my fuzz/drive needs were already being met, but I was waiting for someone to put out a small, tasty filter that wasn't a Phase 90. Subdecay got the job done.

New York based Tech 21 is the grandfather of the current modeling craze: they introduced the original SansAmp, which was built to emulate the sound of several popular guitar amplifiers and allow a guitarist to plug directly into the mixing desk. Interestingly enough, they have not jumped on the digital modeling bandwagon, and continue to make purely analog distortion circuits (though a few do have digital switching). If one considers that distortion pedals are, by design, meant to emulate an overdriven amplifier (and most are; read your Tubescreamer lore), it could be argued that Tech 21 are at the high end of their art and uncompromising when faced with current trends. You have to respect that.

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.

These guys currently stand as my all-time worst ordering experience. While their website is an engaging tribute to custom synth modules and outside-the-box stompboxes, the actual product is painfully inferior, and poorly implemented... and there will be very little help if your gear arrives defective.

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.

Zoom has long been associated with digital multi-effects, mostly on the consumer and beginner level, and tend not to be highly regarded among the discerning tone freaks and sound purists. Outside of their ubiquitous budget multi-effects, Zoom has made the occasional foray into single-effect stompboxes, including the "-01" series, which were well made, boutique quality, true-bypass distortion pedals that never took off (possibly because of the popular assumption that "Zoom = Crap"), but have become sought after items now that they're discontinued. I have two, and certainly wouldn't mind picking up the UF-01 (a self-oscillating fuzz) and the PL-01 (a Marshall styled lead pedal).

Zachary Vex is one of those truly unique pedal makers: none of his stuff looks, sounds, or acts like any of the other effects on the market. Where a lot of boutique pedal makers have dedicated their entire catalog to different varieties of "amp-like gain" and Tubescreamer wannabe pedals, Vex has just introduced his first amp-emulating distortion (the Marshall-styled Box of Rock) after years upon years of weirdness... and his entry into the field stomps most of his peers into the dirt.

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.


Pedal Builders

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