Premier Guitar

Stomping Grounds: 25 Pedals Reviewed

October 21, 2009
Once a year, Christmas comes a little early at Premier Guitar. That’s what it feels like when our offices are flooded with a heaping pile of pedals in anticipation of our yearly Pedal Roundup. Of course, this year was no different. As we continue to grow our audience, so does every pedal manufacturer’s interest to be included in our yearly pedal extravaganza.

Unfortunately, we can’t possibly include every single pedal we receive. If we did, you’d be holding a Premier Guitar issue three to four times its normal size, with a back brace around your mid-section to help support its weight! We have, however, managed to pick out what we think is a very nice selection of pedals that should please the wide-ranging and ever-changing gear pallet of our diversified readership. You’ll find everything from killer reverb pedals to new phasers and delays to overdrive/distortion stomps to compressors, and much, much more.

We’ve also assembled an industrious bunch of gear junkies (initials are at the end of each review) to pore through these pedals and offer up quality reviews that should definitely help you make an informed decision the next time you hit the web or local music store in search of that next gotta-have-it pedal for your board. There’s something for everyone, and we feel privileged that you’ve chosen us to help you make your next pedal purchase decision. Enjoy!

MODULATION
Fuchs Plush Good Verbrations
Whirlwind Orange Box Phaser
Maxon VJR9 Vintage Jet Riser Flanger
OVERDRIVE
Barber Electronics Half Gainer
T-Rex DGTM
Kasha KA-OOP-A 4-Channel Overdrive
Rockbox Boiling Point
Granville Copper Drive
COMPRESSOR
Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone
Strymon OB.1
Whirlwind Red Box Compressor
DELAY
Maxon AD999 Pro Analog Delay
Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy
Empress Superdelay
ModTone MT-AD Vintage Analog Delay
ENVELOPE FILTER
ModTone Funk Filter Enveloper
Electro-Harmonix Riddle: QBalls
DISTORTION
Barber Electronics Dirty Bomb
Red Witch Famulus
MXR Fullbore Metal
Pedalworx 5 O'Clock Charlie
FUZZ
Mountainking Electronics The Megalith
Pedalworx Hellbilly
WAH
Pedalworx Cool Machine Wah
Mad Professor Snow White Autowah

We also reviewed 10 additional pedals exclusively on the web, here's a guide to those review in our Stomp On: 10 More Pedal Reviews article.
Page One
Boss FRV-1 Fender Reverb
Guyatone Mcm5 Micro Chorus
Granville Procrastinator
Page 2
Way Huge Angry Troll
Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive
Whirlwind Gold Box
Granville Spiney Norman
Page 3
Aguilar Octamizer
Guyatone Svm5 Slow Volume
Seppuku Octave Drone



MODULATION

Fuchs Plush Good Verbrations

Download Audio Sample
One thing I’ve learned from playing live is that you probably shouldn’t rely on soundmen to enhance your guitar tone. Most of the time, you’ll be lucky if they boost up your solos when they’re supposed to! Like most things, if you want something done right (and to sound right) you need to do it yourself, and that includes using sound-enhancing effects such as delay, chorus and reverb.

Good Verbrations, from Fuchs’ Plush line of pedals, is a nice addition to your effects collection. It features the same reverb circuit as Fuchs’ Verbrator pedal, but with a slightly different algorithm. Unlike a lot of other reverb pedals, Good Verbrations allows you to adjust both the level and the decay of the reverb signal. You can have a short tight decay, or a longer lush decay, which is a welcome addition for any guitarist who would like a little more control over their reverb. The pedal is simple: one reverb and two parameters, mix and decay. The reverb circuit is an audiophile grade 16kHz bandwidth digital circuit.

The reverb in Good Verbrations has characteristics between a spring and hall reverb, and being able to control the decay allows you to be more expressive and musical in your playing. You’re not just stuck with a standard reverb sound found on other pedals or amps. With a clean sound, I turned up the decay and found it was great for slow, melodic and mysterious sounding phrases, while a little gain gave it a bit more smoothness and depth, especially for the leads. It also sounded great in the effects loop in my amp. Overall, Good Verbrations has a nice sounding reverb with simple, yet very useful controls. If you liked the reverb in Fuchs’ Plus Verbrator, you’ll like having a dedicated pedal of that same reverb. – GG
Buy if...
you’d like to control the decay of your reverb
Skip if...
you prefer more detailed control of reverb with more parameters
Rating...
5.0 

Street $249 - Fuchs Audio Technology - fuchsaudiotechnology.com


Whirlwind Orange Box Phaser

Download Example 1
Single Notes
Download Example 2
Original MXR Direct Comparison - Speed (Whirlwind, then MXR)
Download Example 3
Original MXR Direct Comparison - Sweep (Whirlwind, then MXR)
Whirlwind has long produced great musical products, and the company’s three newest pedals—each of them featured in our pedal roundup—are no different. All of them were designed by Michael Laiacona, who just happens to be the original designer of the MXR Phase 90, The Distortion Plus and the Dyna Comp pedals. Of course, each of the latter pedals has found their way onto countless recordings spanning many genres, becoming highly collectable units in the process.

The new Orange Box Phaser is one of the new ones, and is fitted with a 9V power jack and an LED On/Off indicator, and bears a resemblance to the original MXR pedal in size, metal box construction and knobs. The single knob on the Whirlwind unit shows the same “waveform” design as on the old phase 100 model, and lets loose a deep, wide sweep that is almost reminiscent of a Uni-Vibe. I got some very cool Robin Trower-type tones with a Strat, and compared to similar phasers of this type, it was clean and had a relatively low noise floor. Also, having more depth makes it great when using it before a distortion pedal, allowing it to cut through with more authority. It was, of course, great for the famous Eddie Van Halen tone associated with the original MXR phaser.

The comparison to the original also showed that the range of the speed controls was a bit different. The original went both slower and faster, where the Whirlwind opened the envelope a bit more by achieving a higher frequency at the top of the sweep. I think Whirlwind set out to capture the original vibe of the old pedal, but with a few upgrades. This one does just that.

The new Whirlwind Orange Box Phaser certainly provides a new alternative to the phase units presently on the market, and is both solidly built and offers a lower noise floor. I got the feeling that I was playing through a pro piece of gear rather than something that would break or fail. It’s not exactly dead-on to the original version, but it does have some upgrades I think are valid in today’s market. We’ve learned a lot since the ’70s … amps, guitars and pickups have changed and so have the requirements for good pedals. – KR

Buy if...
you’re looking for a great phaser with lots of presence that won’t get buried in your distortion
Skip if...
you’re looking for a totally vintage unit and your mind is made up
Rating...
4.0

Street $129 - Whirlwind - whirlwindusa.com


Maxon VJR9 Vintage Jet Riser Flanger

One of my all-time favorite pedals is an old, beat up Ibanez FL-9 Flanger. I still use it, and it’s definitely seen the rigors of the road. I’ve kept it for so long because it has a much understated effect on guitar tone. It never gets overbearing or cheesy-sounding, and it provides a nice, subtle flange that gives the tone extra depth and dimension, making it perfect for clean rhythm work. Maxon, the company that Ibanez originally commissioned to design the effect, has recently released a hoppedup successor to its famous yellow ancestor, dubbed the Vintage Jet Riser Flanger.

With a 2009 G&L ASAT Classic plugged into a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue, my favorite flange tone was preserved in the Jet Riser, and with clearer presence than before. With the FL-9 set to moderate settings, it almost seemed at times that the flange wasn’t even on … just something in the mix that was causing the guitar to exhibit slight traits of modulation. The Jet Riser can demonstrate the same effect, but there’s a more apparent flange affecting the tone. You can hear it moving its way through the frequency spectrum in the background. The Jet knob, which controls the intensity of the effect, works hand in hand with the Width control, and was capable of reproducing some great classic flanging effects from the grunge era, à la the Smashing Pumpkins classic, “Love.” For the players who like to push their effects into newer, stranger sonic territories, the Jet Riser features a Sensitivity control. I recorded myself playing chunky fifths into my Boss RC-2 and ran the loop into the Jet Riser, playing with the Sensitivity control as the playback commenced. As the knob goes up, the effect starts to exhibit a strange “wash out” effect, as if the flanger circuit is distorting. It’s a really neat sound, but one that should be used in moderation, as the highest settings can result in a garbled mess of white noise. From subtle to downright strange, the Maxon Vintage Jet Riser should satisfy any player’s flange cravings. – JW
Buy if...
your quest is for one of the most versatile, compact flangers out there.
Skip if...
you’re in need of a simpler flange effect.
Rating...
4.5

Street $412 - Maxon - maxonfx.com





OVERDRIVE

Barber Electronics Half Gainer

Download Audio Sample
he Half Gainer pedal is a dual version of Barber’s LTD low-gain overdrive. The first thing you notice is the cool Art Deco-style design, which makes it a very classy and attractive looking pedal. But that’s not all. This thing is built like a tank! There’s no lightweight cheap plastic here, it’s a heavy, durable pedal that is definitely roadworthy. The Half Gainer features two channels, with independent adjustments of volume and gain for each channel. The Mid Character control allows you to boost or cut the mids to your liking, and the two internal trim pots for Presence and Bass are also user adjustable. The concept of the Half Gainer is something that works well in the studio, but it excels in a live setting. This one pedal hooked up through one amp delivers three completely different, and quickly accessible, sounds. I started with a clean sound on my amp with the pedal turned off. When I switched on the Half Gainer, the first channel is then set up for a milder overdrive sound—somewhere in the middle between clean and distortion, which basically acts like more like a slight boost. I then set up the second channel for a heavier gain that would be good for heavier rock rhythms or leads, especially when the Half Gainer is turned on.

Tone-wise, I felt that initially I didn’t have enough low end using the pedal’s factory settings. I took advantage of the adjustable bass trim pot, opened up the pedal and was able to easily adjust the bass up. The only other feature I would have liked to see for tone shaping would’ve been separate Middle and Tone controls for each channel. Overall, it’s nice to be able to go from clean to “slightly soiled” to dirty in a few clicks. Barber’s Half Gainer is ideal for those guitarists who like to quickly switch between different sounds without having a lot of pedals on stage or in the studio. – GG

Buy if...
you’d like a progression of sounds that you can easily control with one pedal.
Skip if...
you need more tonal variety when switching to each channel.
Rating...
4.0

Street $169 - Barber Electronics - barberelectronics.com


T-Rex DGTM

Download Audio Sample
You gotta love a pedal that has knob controls named “Gristle” and “Gravy”! In the case of the T-Rex DGTM, it’s quite appropriate for an overdrive pedal that has such meaty tones. Denmark-based T-Rex Engineering’s new DGTM (Diabolical Gristle Tone Manipulator) offers a distinctive overdrive that will please many guitarists looking to beef up their tones. It was inspired by the “Gristle Man” guitarist Greg Koch, and goes between standard overdrive tone and a more compressed gain with the flick of a switch. The pedal has three tone-shaping parameters: Gristle controls the amount of distortion, Gravy controls the volume, and the Tone control can take your guitar from smooth to edgy.

I always like to test a pedal full on at first, especially to hear the extreme between a totally clean sound and the most overdriven tone possible. With my DiMarzio humbucker-equipped Charvel So-Cal, I got a nice thick overdriven tone with the Gristle knob all the way up, and it was nice to switch between standard and compressed modes for a variety of overdrives. I was able to get a nice vintage rock tone by dialing the Gristle about halfway in standard mode with both humbuckers on. With single-coil pickups, my favorite tone was cranking the Gristle knob up all the way with the Tone right at 12 o’clock. While using the neck pickup I was able to coax a bluesy lead tone out of it. The pedal is definitely more on the bright side. Turning the Tone knob more than halfway resulted in overdrive that was harsher and more “sizzly” than I prefer— whether I used single coils or humbuckers, or in the neck or bridge positions.

However, the DGTM works well for both blues and classic rock guitarists. Whether you want a vintage crunch or a more modern overdrive, the Diabolical Gristle Tone Manipulator can give your guitar tone a cool overdrive boost. – GG
Buy if...
you like a little variety in your overdrive.
Skip if...
you’re a metal guitarist searching for high gain distortion
Rating...
4.0

Street $199 - T-Rex Engineering - t-rex-engineering.com


Kasha KA-OOP-A 4-Channel Overdrive

Kasha Amplification was born almost 22 years ago in a small music store in California’s San Fernando Valley, ABK Rocks. It was also one of the most talked-about places amongst gearheads to have their amplifiers modified. Legendary guitarists such as Chris Impellitteri and Jake E. Lee would bring in their Marshall heads to have John Kasha go through them and make modifications. The result of all this modding was the highly praised Rockmod Preamp, one of the very first all-tube preamps, which was originally released as an easier alternative to having an amplifier altered.

As a more convenient and affordable option, Kasha has recently released the KA-ODP-A Overdrive, a four-channel overdrive pedal that was designed to house some of Kasha’s best guitar tones to date. While the pedal can be used as a stand-alone device into a clean amplifier, it was really designed for those players who don’t want to drastically alter their tone, and just want to drive the amp’s internal gain even further. This is why the pedal lacks a tone knob. Each of its four modes—Smooth, Classic, Hot and Melt—are individually voiced with distinct amounts of lows, mids, highs and gain, which have been carefully chosen to preserve the amp’s inherent tone.

When I ran the pedal into a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue with a 2008 Fender American Stratocaster, I could tell what Kasha was going for almost immediately. All of the guitar’s natural attack was very present throughout each mode, with an instantly noticeable addition of sparkle in the highs. I drove the amp slightly by pushing the volume higher, and then engaged the pedal in the Hot setting. The result was impressive, with just the right amount of every frequency, none of which was too harsh. Flipping the tone switch on the top (labeled “Normal/ Turbo”) to Turbo piled on even more gain, yet the amplifier’s tone remained clear and strong, with every note audible in any chord. To call the KA-ODP-A a boost is an understatement; it not only boosted the amp, it enhanced it. For the player with the perfect amplifier setup who’s looking to squeeze a little more juice out of it, this is an excellent place to start. – JW
Buy if...
you want to preserve your amp’s natural tone, but still need more boost versatility.
Skip if...
you really, really need a tone control.
Rating...
4.0

MSRP $200 - Kasha Amplifiers - kashaamplifiers.com


Rockbox Boiling Point

Download Audio Sample
To put it mildly, there are a ton of good overdrive pedals out there. To put it simply, the Rockbox Boiling Point is one of the best I’ve come across. It’s not just the notable elements in its construction, which would take the rest of this review to enumerate, but the fact that it is at once both extraordinarily versatile and intuitively easy to use. There are so many great touches here, it’s hard to mention them all, but at the top of my list are: the detented Gain control, the 3-way mode toggle, and the amount of gain on tap, which is … well, preposterous really. I also like the high-visibility blue LED indicator, and the unique marbled paintjob is pretty cool, too. The 3-way mode toggle changes the response and tone of the pedal considerably: pushing the switch up (“Plexi”) produces a convincing Marshall-like feel; down delivers asymetrical clipping, which is edgier, like an amp on the verge of exploding; middle is a clean boost mode. There’s also a very useful Bass Contour switch that fattens up singlecoil pickups nicely and seems to tame bright humbuckers as well. There’s more, but I need to tell you how it sounds.

My first test was with an Orange Tiny Terror combo set clean. With the Boiling Point on the Plexi setting with the Bass Contour engaged, I set the Gain and Tone at about noon and plugged in a Gibson LP Studio with Burstbuckers. Using just the neck pickup with the Volume almost all the way up and the tone rolled off, I got just about the sweetest, juiciest woman tone you could imagine: sustaining and heavy with overtones, and so creamy and articulate without a trace of bite. That sold me right off the bat, but as I continued to experiment with other combinations— my Nash S63 with Lollar pickups, a Fender Road Worn Tele, a Tweed Deluxe replica and an Xits 15W Sadie combo—I discovered a veritable library of overdrive flavors that took me through several decades of my mental tone catalog. Scooped metal is about the only thing you won’t close in on here. And the pedal is oh-so-sensitive: if you park it in the sweet spot, you can go from clean to raunchy and back just by changing the heaviness of your attack. With so many overdrives to pay attention to these days, it’s nice to meet one that’ll make you wonder how many more you need. – CB

Buy if...
you want huge overdrive versatility in a small box.
Skip if...
if your band nickname is “One Tone” … or “Bloody Deathbringer.”
Rating...
5.0 

Street $389 - Rockbox Electronics - rockboxelectronics.com


Granville Copper Drive

Download Audio Sample
It is a truism that although supporting roles don’t get a lot of glory, without them the stars in leading roles wouldn’t be able to shine as brightly. Granville’s Scott Davis takes the same approach with his Copper Drive pedal—it’s meant to be transparent and supportive, so you can use it like seasoning to enhance your sound without sacrificing the tone of your A-list gear. For experienced players who’ve already put time and money into achieving their sought-after tone, this is a good thing to have. Add in the fact that Granville pedals are hand-built using topnotch materials and hand-selected components by a guy with this much experience, and it’s a great thing.

Once you’ve set the Level control for unity gain, the Tone control, which seems to work much like a high-frequency roll off, will help you get the right amount of bite or smoothness for your particular guitar and pickups, but the Tone and Drive controls are also very interactive. The Copper Drive is so transparent that it makes an ideal clean boost for more volume on leads and solos. Once you hear what it does with a healthy application of Drive, though, you’ll probably forget about that.

I tested it out with an Orange Tiny Terror combo and an Xits 15W Sadie, both set very clean. Whether it was a Gibson LP Studio with Burstbuckers, a Fender Road Worn Tele, a Nash S63 with Lollars, or a Duesenberg MC Signature’s humbucker/P-90 combination, the Copper Drive dirtied up the tone beautifully without coloring or covering over the individual character of the guitars and amps. The single-coil guitars retained all their leanness and sparkle but got raw and vigorous; humbuckers stayed fat without muddying up. The increased harmonic richness was superb. It’s highly sensitive to playing dynamics and it cleans up so well with just the guitar’s volume knob, it’s like it’s not even there. It’s so good with low to moderate gain, you might want to just leave it on, but there’s plenty of fire here, too—turn the Drive all the way up and you’ll get enough crunch and sizzle for pretty much any style except modern metal. If you asked me what could be done to improve it, this is all I’d have to say: Dual Copper Drive. – CB

Buy if...
you want a high-quality overdrive that won’t color your tone.
Skip if...
you want a distortion pedal with its own tonal character.
Rating...
4.5

Street $179 - Granville Guitars - granvilleguitars.com





COMPRESSOR

Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone

Download Audio Sample
The Philosopher’s Tone (PT) packs studio-quality clean compression, sustain and more into a compact 4.4"x2.4"x1" pedal. Rather than running off a typical 9V battery, Pigtronix went the extra mile and powers the PT with the included 15VCD power supply for maximum headroom. Controls include Grit, Sustain, Blend, Treble and Volume, and are surprisingly easy to adjust considering how tightly they are packed into the case. Like most compressor pedals, the Sustain sets the threshold for the compressor, and the more you turn it up the more intense the compression effect becomes. The Volume obviously controls the output level, which can be used as a boost if desired. It’s the other three controls that bring the PT into bonus territory. Rather than settling for the compressed signal only, the Blend control lets you choose how much of the effect is introduced. This is great if you don’t want the immediate hit of the compressor sound, but would like to benefit from its sustain properties. The Treble knob is an active control that cuts or boosts highs, so the noon position is neutral. I found the range to be a big bonus for switching between humbucker and single-coil guitars. Finally, a nice added touch is the Grit control, which adds smooth diode clipping distortion to the signal.

I was blown away with how much clean sustain was on tap. Cranking the Sustain knob provided a near-infinite level of clean sustain—it was staggering. The PT is also incredibly quiet and articulate. You can easily go from long, sustained notes to Chickin’ Pickin’ tone with a twist of the sustain knob. Real fun, however, came in the Grit control which by adding in some distortion made the PT sound like two amps playing at once. Because distortion tone is so personal, it may or may not be the kind you like, but it does play nice with other overdrive pedals. Definitely a must-hear for compression lovers. – SO

Buy if...
you want studio quality compression in a pint-sized pedal.
Skip if...
you like it raw.
Rating...
4.5

Street $169 - Pigtronix - pigtronix.com


Strymon OB.1

Download Audio Sample
In my first years of guitar playing, I didn’t know what a guitar compressor was. It was only after I plugged one in and heard what it could do to my sound that I truly appreciated it. A compressor smoothes out the dynamics of your guitar, limits the amount of variation between soft and loud playing, and can also provide additional sustain. The Strymon OB.1 can do all that, and even adds a little boost. This Optical Compressor and Clean Boost pedal features true bypass and a low-noise, all-analog signal path. Strymon has taken the greatest qualities of high-end, vintage optostudio compressors and made them available in this small package.

This compressor sounded great (and is most noticeable) using a clean sound, especially with fingerstyle playing. It definitely softened the strong attacks and amplified the weak attacks for a more consistent sound overall. You don’t always need compression with distortion since you’re getting it anyway through the distortion itself. However, some metal players use compression to get a more even volume, such as getting tapped notes sounding equal to picked notes. With a dirty sound, the OB.1 definitely gave my signal a boost and added more sustain to my lead playing. The Boost function is a nice feature of the OB.1. It has a separate footswitch, control knob and mini-toggle switch to choose between flat, mid and treble frequencies. Unfortunately, the boost can only by activated when the compressor is on, but if you only want boost you can simply switch the pedal on and turn the Compressor knob all the way down.

The Strymon OB.1 can definitely enhance your guitar tone. You can also save some room on your pedalboard since the OB.1 is a compressor, clean boost and treble boost all in one package. – GG

Buy if...
you play fair and want to treat all your guitar notes equally.
Skip if...
you don’t fully understand compression or don’t need it for your style.
Rating...
4.5

Street $199 - Strymon - strymon.net


Whirlwind Red Box Compressor

Download Example 1
Chords
Download Example 2
Whirlwind Red & Original MXR Comparison (Whirlwind, then MXR)
The new Whirlwind Red Box Compressor is housed in a small, sturdy metal box, just like the original MXR Dyna Comp pedal of many years ago. There are two control knobs: one is the Output knob and the other is the Sensitivity control. The jacks are on the sides of the unit, as are on the original, and two welcome additions to the new model are a 9V battery jack and an LED On/Off status indicator. The control knobs even look the same as they did on the vintage unit.

The first thing I noticed upon firing it up was the full rich sound, and its quiet operation. Additionally, the range of compression went from barely noticeable to a fat, sustaining, completely even tone. Through a clean amp, with the Sustain knob set at about two o’clock I was able to get classic country compression tone. Using it with a little bit of distortion and turning the Sensitivity control down a bit, the notes seemed to sustain extremely well, and using a guitar with humbucking pickups produced some pretty cool B.B. King tones. When using this pedal, you have to be sure the output level is set for unity gain so the front end of your amp is driven properly. Otherwise, you may experience an over-compressed sound. I found that, by comparison, the original MXR Dyna Comps were brighter and also produced a bit more compression in the maximum Sustain setting. It seemed a little harder to dial it in exactly where I needed to be, but the newer Whirlwind unit seemed to produce higher fidelity. – KR
Buy if...
you’re looking for a great, versatile compressor for all types of music.
Skip if...
compression is not an integral part of your sound.
Rating...
4.0

Street $149 - Whirlwind - whirlwindusa.com




DELAY

Maxon AD999 Pro Analog Delay

Maxon has a long history of producing some of the most celebrated effect pedals ever. In the 1970s, they were commissioned by Ibanez to design and build an effects line that eventually resulted in the Fuzz/Wah, the famed TS-808 Tube Screamer, TS-9 Tube Screamer and the AD-9 Analog Delay, amongst others. Several years ago, Maxon shifted gears and decided to market their own line of Maxon-branded effects, utilizing rare NOS (new old stock) components and newer technologies, such as true bypass circuitry. The AD999 Pro Analog Delay, one of the newest entries in their Vintage Series, picks up concepts from their renowned AD-9 and AD999 analog delays and pushes them even further, utilizing a new noise reduction circuit and a “Multi- Head” mode, which simulates older tape delays that used multiple tape heads to create huge, atmospheric sounds.

With a Grosh ElectraJet Standard into a Mesa/Boogie Electra-Dyne half stack, I was easily able to coax out some excellent slapback tones that were some of the warmest and most dynamic I’ve heard in years. The sound definitely took me back to when I had an original Ibanez AD80 (another Maxon design), using it with very small repeat and delay settings to help thicken my rhythm sound. Gradually, I added in each of the three Multi-Head mode switches to create a swashing backdrop of cavernous delay, perfect for wide, ethereal soundscapes. Maxon explains that each switch adds midstream delay signals (which are taken from the middle of the delay circuit), which give the AD999 Pro the ability to emulate fabled tape delays of yore, such as the Roland RE-201 Space Echo. Lovers of digital delay will probably want to look elsewhere, as the AD999 Pro’s high end frequencies are rolled off and the overall delay tone has a very fuzzy, unclear flavor to it. For devotees of vintage analog sounds however, the AD999 Pro is a perfect choice. – JW
Buy if...
you’re fed up with searching high and low for rare, multi-head tape delay units.
Skip if...
pristine delay tones are a must.
Rating...
5.0 

Street $399 - Maxon - maxonfx.com


Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy

The release of the famed Electro-Harmonix Memory Man in the 1970s was a watershed moment in guitar gear history. Previously, players’ options for emulating echo were very limited. Devices such as the Maestro Echoplex utilized magnetic tape to produce the effect, but were prone to problems with jamming, tape breaking and degradation. The Memory Man’s solid-state, analog circuitry provided warm delay in a smaller, lighter package, while at the same time eliminating the need for moving parts that would eventually need replacing. Electro-Harmonix has continued to release various delay, echo and looper pedals throughout the years, and while most have been very good, none has reached the legendary status of the original Memory Man model.

The release of the new Memory Boy, EH’s new analog delay with modulation, aims to set the bar higher than that of its original Memory Man, with the same organic delay tones and a modulation switch (the effects can be processed in either in triangle or square wave forms) in an even smaller enclosure. With a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Electra-Dyne half stack, I was able to dial in classic, dynamic Memory Man tones with ease. While this was very pleasing, I found with a little more tweaking that what the Memory Boy really succeeds at is creating strange, echo-laden textures. Both the chorus and vibrato sections are capable of producing some extremely wild sounds. Coupled with a large backdrop of delay, the chorus section set to square wave yielded one of the creepiest sounding tones that I’ve ever coaxed out of a guitar—perfect for space-age tonal backdrops and atmospheric compositions. With all of its features, along with true-bypass circuitry and a much sturdier enclosure than the original, the Memory Boy is a no-brainer purchase for the player looking for analog tone with personality on a budget. – JW
Buy if...
you want classic analog tones with a versatile effects section on a budget.
Skip if...
you need delay times longer than 550ms.
Rating...
4.5

Street $98 - Electro-Harmonix - ehx.com


Empress Superdelay

Download Example 1
Normal
Download Example 2
Tape
Download Example 3
Reverse

The Empress Super Delay is a 24-bit digital delay/looper designed to deliver excellent clarity without sacrificing tone. Housed in a die-cast aluminum chassis, the boutique style pedal is compact for such a feature-laden devise. The Super Delay provides the user with Mix, D-Time/Ratio, Feedback, 8-Mode Rotary Switcher, and four 3-way toggle switches that include Mix/Feedback, High Pass and Low Pass filters Slow, Fast Modulation, and Mode Specific. There are eight modes including Normal, Tap, Auto, Rev, Rhythm, Tape, Misc and a Looper. Each one of these modes can also be changed with the Modes Specific 3-way toggle switch to open up even more possibilities. Three footswitches are provided— Tap, Preset and Bypass—and there is also a push button for saving to all eight presets provided. Each preset can also be searched without changing the current setting. It is worth mentioning, however, that a preset is not automatically loaded when powering up the pedal, rather it operates with the current settings on the controls.

The Loop feature of the pedal provides 6.8 seconds of recording in 24-bit mode, while the 16-bit mode provides 13.6 seconds of recording time. There is a slightly noticeable drop in quality, but not much. And loops cannot be saved to the presets … when you turn it off, the loop is gone. But overdubbing and reverse looping is available with the looper.

Nonetheless, the Super Delay is a highly versatile unit with loads of features that will have you reading the manual to learn all of its possibilities. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound good right out of the box, especially if the user has previous experience with other delay modelers. That said, the Super Delay gives the Eventide Timefactor and Line 6 DL-4 a run for their money. And analog purists need not be afraid, because this pedal is transparent and will not color your tone. – BB

Buy if...
you want an all-in-one, extremely versatile delay.
Skip if...
something simpler is in order.
Rating...
5.0 

Street $449 - Empress Effects - empresseffects.com


ModTone MT-AD Vintage Analog Delay

Download Example 1
Long Delay
Download Example 2
Slapback

Good tone should be available to anyone, including those with a small budget. ModTone does its share by making boutique-style, true bypass pedals that are affordable for just about all players. The pedals come in an MXR-style, corrosion-free metal chassis, with unique paint jobs to boot. The MT-AD Vintage Analog Delay provides features that are simple to use and can be tweaked on the fly. In a nutshell, the Time knob adjusts length of the wave, Mix adjusts the saturation of effect to the signal, and the Length adjusts the amount the signal repeats. Unlike the feedback feature that comes with other delay units, the Repeat knob will repeat forever when turned all the way clockwise, which in most cases causes the volume to rise and create an uncontrollable feedback loop. The Vintage Analog Delay reminds me most of a tape delay, especially with its dark vintage delays and echoes. This, however, left it a little lackluster when using it in a clean setup. But to be fair, my Sound City is from the 1970s and is not as bright as modern amps.

Starting with the Time knob turned all the way to the left, the Repeat at 10 o’clock, and the Mix at 2 o’clock, the pedal offered up a solid slapback delay. My favorite setting was Time at 11 o’clock, Mix at 1 o’clock, and the Repeat at 2 o’clock, which created the perfect short tape delay. Coupled with a Keeley-modded DS-1, I achieved some soaring echo leads and melodies, and it handled distortion in front of it superbly.

The ModTone Vintage Analog Delay is a well-built little box that offers a few key delay and echo effects that replicate vintage sounds quite well. If you’re looking for the tones of old but don’t want to break the bank, look no further. – BB

Buy if...
you want a simple-to-use analog delay.
Skip if...
you want more versatility from your delay pedal.
Rating...
4.0

Street $99 - ModTone Effects - modtone-effects.com





ENVELOPE FILTER

ModTone Funk Filter Enveloper

Download Example 1
Low Pass
Download Example 2
Mid Pass
Download Example 3
High Pass

Another offering from ModTone is the Funk Filter Enveloper, which features a 3-way switch with High Pass, Mid Pass, Low Pass, F-Factor and Drive to control the filters. First, I plugged in my Fender/Warmoth Barit-Tele, but I was a bit lost because I couldn’t replicate the same sounds twice. The pedal’s F-Factor and Drive controls are very interactive, and each control will react differently depending on the position of the other. The combination of the pickups on my guitar made a huge difference as well. I mainly used my bridge pickup, a Rio Grande Dirty Harry at about 7, and the stock Fender Jumbo Humbucker (Neck) at about 3 while testing this pedal. Starting backwards, I first tried the Low Pass setting with the F-Factor control at 3 o’clock and the Drive at 11 o’clock. This created a punchy auto-wah great for playing various funk leads and rhythms. In Mid Pass with the F-Factor control at 11 o’clock and the drive turned to 2 o’clock, I achieved excellent vocal-sounding leads. Setting the switch to High Pass, Drive at 9 o’clock and the F-Factor at 2 o’clock, I achieved a funky pop sound after each note, with an almost sitar like auto-wah slapback after each note.

The Funk Filter is a very interactive pedal that will make you work at first to find the right sounds, but you’ll probably love every minute of it. The Funk Filter is not too noisy when activated, and does not color your tone when in true bypass mode. As a side note, it also works well with synth and drum machines. – BB

Buy if...
you want a good sounding envelope filter or auto wah at a wallet-friendly price.
Skip if...
funky fresh filtering is not your thing.
Rating...
4.0

Street $129 - ModTone Effects - modtone-effects.com


Electro-Harmonix Riddle: QBalls

Download Audio Sample
The Riddle: Q Balls is an envelope-controlled filter that works almost like a wah, but rather than using a foot pedal you control the intensity of the filter sweep with your playing dynamics. The Riddle is ultra versatile as far as envelope filter pedals are concerned, and offers a wide range of controls for shaping the tone: Blend, Mode, Attack, Decay, Start, Stop, Q, and Sensitivity. Blend lets you choose how much of the effect is mixed into the final signal. Mode sets up the filter as a low-pass, band-pass or high-pass filter. Attack and Decay control the speed in which the effect begins and ends. The Start and Stop controls set the frequency points from wide to tight sweeps.

The Riddle also includes a distortion circuit, mainly to make the effect more pronounced. EH included a trim pot inside the pedal to control the distortion level, in case you’d like a boost or drop in volume when engaging the distortion. The Riddle also has a separate jack for an expression pedal to sweep the filter manually much like a wah.

Due to the unique sonic nature of the Riddle, a little goes a long way. I liked the Riddle very much and found it to be exceptional in its ability to achieve just about any filter effect I threw at it. From wah-like sweeps to ultra-wide funky vocal sounds that far exceeded a typical wah voicing, it’s an addictive effect. Tracking is excellent and it only takes minutes to get used to controlling the sweep with your playing dynamics. Because there is no way to save settings, and the controls are very sensitive, you have to be careful because bumping one knob can quickly change the sound, which is both a blessing and a curse. And you gotta love those EH naming schemes! – SO

Buy if...
you want the funk.
Skip if...
esoteric ain’t your bag.
Rating...
4.0

Street $189 - Electro-Harmonix - ehx.com





DISTORTION

Barber Electronics Dirty Bomb

Download Example 1
Barber’s Dirty Bomb pedal is about as subtle as a jackhammer through Kleenex. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Sure, you could use it as a light overdrive pedal if you want to, but when you have a lot of power, you might as well use it.

The Dirty Bomb from Barber Electronics is a versatile distortion pedal with a wide range of tones. It features a two-band EQ, Gain control and a toggle switch that selects midrange character for three different modes: The Left position is neutral, Center is mid bumped and Right is a middle scooped sound. It also features an internal Bass Boost trim pot that is fully adjustable. The manual for the Dirty Bomb has some useful setting suggestions and is a good starting point for achieving a wide range of sounds, from ’70s rock to a very heavy metal sound, which is where I think this pedal really shines. The distortion is tight and defined and stays that way even when pushed to the limit. The three positions of the EQ midrange switch are all very useable and it’s nice to have a variety of distortion to choose from.

The tonal range of the Treble knob in particular is very good. It can go from a slightly bright sound to full on sizzle. However when cranked up all the way, it thins out the tone a little too much. The sweet spot of the Bass control seems to be between 8 and 10. Anything below 8 didn’t seem beefy enough. After dialing in the parameters to your liking, the Dirty Bomb performs very well. Even though it offers a wide range of distortion for many styles of music, it works best as a hard rock/heavy metal device. So crank this one up and start rockin’! – GG

Buy if...
you want to unleash the fury with high gain distortion.
Skip if...
a massive amount of distortion scares you.
Rating...
4.5

Street $99 - Barber Electronics - barberelectronics.com


Red Witch Famulus

Download Audio Sample
Red Witch understands that you can’t really reinvent the wheel when it comes to distortion. Instead, they’ve conjured up a unique way to take two different distortion tones and blend them together into one pedal. The Red Witch Famulus distortion/overdrive pedal features two distinct circuits that run parallel, and each circuit is uniquely voiced. The two gain channels can be used independently, or can be blended together for an infinite number of options and distorted tones. Gain A offers a more biting distortion while Gain B has a fat midrange punch. Although they both share the same Volume and Tone control, each gain can be controlled separately. The key to blending the tones together is using the Alchemy control. This knob enables you to choose between Gain A and B if you turn it to the extreme left or right. Turning the Alchemy knob anywhere in between allows you to seamlessly blend the two tones together.

I'd be content just with using Gain A of the Famulus pedal. It had plenty of thick, creamy distortion to rock out with. Having Gain B as a whole other distortion option was an added bonus. It was great to be able to blend both gains together. My favorite tone was having Gain A full up with Gain B in a cleaner sound, and then blending the two. I was then able to play more complex chords and have the notes defined more clearly, instead of being lost in distorted mush. It would be great to see a version of this pedal with stereo outputs to expand the concept even further. Having two types of gain to two different amps controlled by one knob would be an excellent distortion combination. But I’m happy with the Red Witch Famulus concept as it is. It uniquely blends two different kinds of distortion for endless combinations of tone. – GG
Buy if...
you don’t mind blending different types of distortion together.
Skip if...
you’d rather have a simple distortion pedal that you can set and forget.
Rating...
4.5

Street $299 - Red Witch - redwitchanalogpedals.com


MXR Fullbore Metal

Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Download Example 3

Being an owner of the famed Distortion+ and a metalhead at heart, I was pretty excited to give the Fullbore Metal pedal a try. For starters, the Fullbore comes with a lot more bells and whistles than your standard MXR pedals of this size. In all, six small knobs and two small switches adorn the front of the unfinished metal chassis. Features include Volume, Frequency, Gain, Low, Mid High, Gate and Scoop. Frequency controls the midrange frequency from 200hz to 5khz, which is then adjusted further by the Mid control. Bass controls the tight low end of this pedal, while the High knob controls the sizzling harmonic tones. The Noise Gate switch is a welcome addition to the Fullbore and is a necessity at high volume and gain settings. Other distortion pedal makers would do well to take note of this. The Noise Gate responded well, and notes were not cut off short, which allowed for plenty of sustain. The Scoop switch boosts the Lows and Highs, which should make this pedal desirable for metalcore players and fans of the Dimebag Darrell sound.

Plugging in my Gibson SG-X, I first tried the Fullbore Metal with the volume at 3, Frequency at 2, Gain at 3, Bass at 4, Mid at 2, High at 3 o’clock, with Noise Gate on and Scoop off. I was treated to the guitar tone reminiscent of Metallica’s …And Justice for All. Turning up the Bass knob made the bass much punchier without the lows falling apart and sounding broken up. The mids and highs provided clear harmonic leads, especially for pinch harmonics which became effortless. At high volumes the Fullbore did not lose its sound, which would make it great for live use. I have also seen plenty of bands in my day who would do well using a noise gate for their setup, something that is left out of many a metal guitarist’s setup ... surprisingly. – BB

Buy if...
you’re looking for a metal distortion or a good noise gate.
Skip if...
blistering metal is not your thing.
Rating...
4.5

Street $99 - Dunlop/MXR - jimdunlop.com


Pedalworx 5 O'Clock Charlie

Pedalworx’s newest distortion pedal, the 5 O’clock Charlie, takes its name from one of the most famous episodes of M*A*S*H. “5 O’clock Charlie” is actually a North Korean bomber pilot with a very punctual personality, who at precisely 5 o’clock each day tries to hit the camp’s ammunition depot with a bomb he throws by hand. (Un)fortunately, his targeting skills aren’t as sharp as his sense of time, and he misses the depot every time. Pedalworx is attempting to hit the target the first time with a finely-tuned Rat circuit that utilizes an original Motorola LM308 chip, a prized component (they offer a very amp-like response and tone) in some of the most sought-after Rat pedals.

Wielding a 2006 Gibson Flying V into a 1973 Marshall Super Bass, I was surprised to hear more Big Muff-like qualities from the 5 O’clock Charlie. The raunchy distortion was very present and powerful, but loose in the lows, which isn’t something that I’ve come across with too many Rat circuits. Even with the Bass control on the amp turned down to 9 o’clock, the Charlie had an immense amount of low-end response. Switching to a Fender Deluxe Reverb helped tame the lows, but the sheer force of the gain, even at moderate settings, was almost too much for the little combo to handle. Considering the difficulty that I had trying to get a tight distortion sound out of the 5 O’clock Charlie, I was still very impressed with it. Why? Because its one of the best sounding Muff-like fuzzes that I’ve come across in a long time. The Charlie screams stoner metal and is perfect for sludgy riffing, à la Weedeater, Boris and Eyehategod. If fat, gravy-soaked Southern Metal tones are your thing, look no further than the 5 O’clock Charlie. – J
Buy if...
you’re completely in love with bottom- heavy, powerful fuzz.
Skip if...
you need tight distortion.
Rating...
4.0

Street $199 - PedalworX - pedalworx.com





FUZZ

Mountainking Electronics The Megalith

Download Example 1
Engage
Download Example 2
More Heavy

Given its namesake and the fact that this pedal was built for Scott Kelly (Neurosis) and Wino (The Hidden Hand) to be used on their project, Shrinebuilder, my expectations were pretty high. Not originally intended for the rest of us, The Megalith is a massive sounding Fuzz/Distortion Pedal that will leave you shaking in the wake of its destructive path. Housed in a slick-looking black powdercoated aluminum chassis, the Megalith has boutique written all over it.

The features are Output, More Heavy, Input, Slope, Notch and a 3-way rotary switch called Notch Shift which just has the markings “1,2,3” above the knob. There are two switches, one labeled Engage, the other is to engage the More Heavy circuit: a booster circuit that increases the low end and volume of the pedal. The more you turn the knob to the right, the more low-end volume you get. Slope adjusts the high/low frequency, and Notch cuts the frequency as you turn the knob to the left, while the Notch Shift changes the frequency of the Notch Control. Two things worth mentioning here are that you need to have the Notch Control turned almost all the way counterclockwise to hear the changes in the Notch Shift. You might also hear some clicks when doing this, but according to the owners manual this is normal.

My favorite setting was the More Heavy at 11, Input at 2, Slope at 2, Notch at 2 and Notch Shift at 2 o’clock. Using both my Fender/Warmoth Bari-Tele and an Gibson SG-X, I was able to get some pretty destructive low-end tones, rattling my speaker cable out of the back of my cab when I was playing at a high volume. Mountainous riffs can be created with the amazing harmonics this pedal can create. It’s definitely the heaviest pedal I have ever had the pleasure of plugging in to, and it worked perfectly for bass as well. The features of the Megalith are very interactive with each other, and depending on which way you turn each knob you can get a variety of different fuzzed-out and meaty tones. The Megalith is a must have for fuzz enthusiasts. – BB
Buy if...
you crave a massively heavy fuzz pedal.
Skip if...
you’re afraid your other fuzz pedals may become useless after playing the Megalith.
Rating...
5.0 

Street $265 - Mountainking Electronics - myspace.com/mountainkingelectronics


Pedalworx Hellbilly

Download Audio Sample
The Hellbilly is a hybrid NPN Germanium/ Silicon drive/fuzz unit. Looking mighty cool in its red mini-box with scary, “down home” white graphics, it sports a total of three controls: Tone, Volume and Gain. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but digging in deeper proves the HellBilly has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. The “Hybrid” part of the design is that it literally uses both a NOS germanium transistor and a silicon diode. By working the Tone control you can sweep between Rangemaster and Fuzz Face tones, and explore all the sonic territories that fall in between to make some surprisingly cool sounds.

I plugged my favorite Les Paul into the Hellbilly and went to town. With the Gain and Volume set around noon and the Tone down around 10 o’clock, it immediately spit out the Rangemasterlike sounds that I’ve become accustomed to hearing. Pulling the Tone down to the off position brought out a lot of bottom and gnarly thick, almost muddy, tones (in a good way!). Sweeping the Tone the opposite direction, I could hear a distinct crossing over to bring in the silicon diode. More gain just makes the Hellbilly angrier and nasty, although never to the point of cutting off, and still giving off a barky and rude vibe that you simply can’t ignore. Believe it or not, it doesn’t all have to be balls-out with this pedal. In fact, with my Strat I easily added a nice slightly overdriven boost to bring more harmonics out of the clean tone, and with added gain rolling back the volume knob on the guitar easily let the clean tones right out.

The Hellbilly is quiet compared to some Rangemaster pedals I’ve used, which is great considering how much gain and fuzz is on tap. Overall, a brilliant design, and while it’s not for everyone you will definitely get noticed with this one. – SO

Buy if...
you want versatile germanium and silicon tones in one box.
Skip if...
you don’t want to be rude.
Rating...
4.5

Street $199 - PedalworX - pedalworx.com





WAH

Pedalworx Cool Machine Wah

Download Audio Sample
The Cool Machine comes in what looks like a Dunlop Cry Baby casing, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s actually a Jack Butler mod wah that adds a Rotovibe-like automatic function using an actual wah circuit rather than an op-amp auto filter. Running on a 9V battery or DC power adapter (not included), the Cool Machine has two toggles on the top underside of the pedal: one is a “Q” setting for deep or vintage voicings, the other engages the auto-wah function. A knob on the right side of the pedal controls the speed of the auto-wah, which can also be viewed by the speed of the flashing red LED. Nice!

I plugged my Strat into the Cool Machine and a ’70s-era Marshall Super Lead. Right away, it knocked me out with sweet, vintage wah tones and super quiet function. The pedal sweep felt just right, and with a flick of the mini-toggle it brought a bigger and bolder “deep” sound out of the pedal that dropped the floor about 10 feet. Obviously, the folks at PedalworX made their “Q” choices after carefully listening to it through many amps because both settings work extremely well on all of the amps I played through.

Another flick of the right mini-toggle moved the CM into auto-wah territory. I was able to pull out slow Uni-Vibe and faster Leslie-like tones with ease—and even some early Jimmy Page-style “Dazed and Confused” sounds without a trip to the foot doctor! One thing I noticed while getting a little overzealous with the CM was that the footswitch was quite sensitive. More than once I shut the effect off by going too far with a foot sweep. Most pedals have too stubborn of a switch on them, so I’ve probably become a little heavyfooted. Nice to know I can relax a bit. This one is clearly a winner. – SO
Buy if...
you want a great wah with the bonus of a true auto-wah.
Skip if...
you’re married to your current favorite.
Rating...
5.0 

Street $250 - PedalworX - pedalworx.com


Mad Professor Snow White Autowah

Download Audio Sample
Made specifically for those who don’t care to be tied to a wah pedal, the Snow White AutoWah (SWAW) might be the perfect alternative. Built in a bud box-sized white case, it offers a choice of 9V battery or DC power supply (sold separately) operation and sports a red LED bypass light and four controls: Sensitivity, Bias, Resonance and Decay. Sensitivity sets the filter trigger level, which allows you to match it to your guitar’s output and your playing touch. Bias controls the filter resonance frequency. Resonance controls the “Q” or sharpness of the filter, and Decay sets the speed of the wah effect. Think of the Decay setting as how fast you would be rocking your foot back and forth on the treadle, where a fast setting would give a full wah for each note and a slow setting would act like a slower sweep over time. An added bonus is that by setting the Bias to the off position you can use the Sensitivity control as a sweepable filter, which is kind of like parking the wah on a specific area of the sweep. Nice!

I found the pedal to sound fantastic with any guitar I threw at it, and was easily able to create badass wah tones with just a little concentration on my right hand technique. Because of the level of control you have over the tone, it’s like having multiple wahs in a package half the size of a traditional pedal, without the need to plant yourself in one place. It took a little time to dial in the right tone, but I quickly found it to be intuitive and more expressive than expected. At first my guess was that it would approximate the tones of a pedal with less control, but upon listening back to my recordings I was hard pressed to tell the difference. – SO
Buy if...
you love wahs but don’t want to be stuck in front of one onstage.
Skip if...
you’re a traditionalist and prefer the known control of a pedal.
Rating...
4.5

Street $350 - Mad Professor - mpamp.com