Though they’ve been part of the electric guitar scene for nearly half a century, stompbox builders have always had something of a reputation for being odd outsiders, maybe even a little romantic—in that garage-entrepreneur kind of way. Luthiers? It’s easy to imagine them as crabby old cobblers and cabinetmakers, clad in overalls, bifocals, and tweed. But pedal makers—they’re a cross between some Manhattan Project dropout and a greaser chopping a ’49 Mercury on the front lawn. A little bit weird, an affront to the status quo, and most certainly up to no good.

Like any legend, it’s partly true (just have a look at some of the oddities among the 30 pedal reviews elsewhere in this issue). But for all its fringe tendencies, the world of independent and boutique stompbox builders is fast transforming into a brave new world of refined craft, high technology, creatively applied engineering, and soundscapes yet unexplored. And, ultimately, the transformation is a boon to us, the players. Because whether a pedal is designed to capture the unholy fuzz of some all-germanium obscurity made for three days in 1967 or help us make wholly original sounds, boutique builders are helping guitarists be more expressive and creative than ever.

The five stompbox builders profiled here are among the most inventive and respected in the trade. They are certainly not the only innovators in the pedal industry, but they represent a cross section of the traditionalists and the tweakers who continue to make our artistic and tonal pursuits an adventure.

Red Witch
Mad Professor
Crowther Audio
Empress Effects