Tuning Up: Pedal Issues
PG’s head honcho gets all teary-eyed about the stomps whose tones have lodged in his head from years of gear reviews.
Every year at this time, Premier Guitar raises a collective toast to the mighty stompbox. Sure, throughout the preceding months we’re still rolling out a steady stream of videos, reviews, sound clips, and news about all sorts of pedals. But our annual Pedal Issue is the one “October surprise” that those on the left, right, middle, and everywhere in between can unabashedly agree flat-out rules. Invariably, it’s a mighty collection of 30+ reviews whose diversity and depth of analysis and testing is never matched. Other outlets try, but if you look closely, it’s always a pale imitation. That’s not so much a knock on them as it is an acknowledgement that putting together something like our Pedal Issue, year in and year out—and doing it with such style and insight—requires a lot more time, effort, and meticulous attention to detail than most places can muster.
I’m not here to boast, though. Mostly, I just want to, first, acknowledge the Herculean efforts put forth by PG gear editor Charles Saufley (as well as our diverse crew of freelance and staff stompbox experts) during the months leading up to the compendium of gluttony we roll out at this time of year. Second, I’d like to pause and celebrate what being part of the process means to me, personally.
It goes without saying that one of the coolest aspects of working in guitar journalism is getting to check out killer new gear from all over the world pretty much as soon as it’s available. Every time the mail arrives, it’s like ol’ St. Nick is tromping through the door with big-ass boxes full of tone toys. You get giddy just thinking about what must-haves might be lurking behind the layers of cardboard and bubble wrap.
But it’s way, way more than just fun self-indulgence. Getting to play through just a fraction of the incomparable variety of obscure-to-mainstream stomps we review has enabled me to assemble a rich, vibrant palette I couldn’t have even dreamed of on my own. It has shaped my evolution as a guitarist, musician, and songwriter, and I’m truly grateful for that.
I’m not one of those players with an air-traffic-control board at my feet, but there are a few stomps that are absolutely indispensible to my repertoire. Many of my longtime go-tos are boxes I never would’ve heard of, let alone gotten the chance to play, if not for my gig here. These pedals are now so integral to my music that I almost can’t imagine playing without them.
Of the seven stomps currently on my board, five are units I reviewed and loved so much that I couldn’t not buy them. My go-to delay, the Ibanez ES-2 Echo Shifter (which I demoed for our 2013 review), is obviously mainstream, but its tweak-friendly format and old-school tones are pretty unusual nonetheless. My pick for most gorgeous vintage-style vibrato is the DryBell Vibe Machine from Croatia, whose simplicity and expression-pedal friendliness I gushed about in a 2016 review.
When it comes to dirt, the J. Rockett Audio Archer that Joe Gore reviewed in 2015 was an always-on part of my board for years, but the op-amp glory and flick-of-a-switch flexibility of the dual-channel DrVa stomp from Sweden’s SoundBrut (which I reviewed early this year) has since replaced it—the MkII version that came out this summer is one of two stomps on my board that’s never off. Meanwhile, the fantastically despicable Jordan Fuzztite I reviewed in 2015 remains my favorite mayhem machine—although I haven’t been able to get the remarkably responsive Toe Bender MkII from Canada’s Toetags Electronics out of my head since I took it for a spin in our 2016 Pedal Issue. I’ll have ordered one of those by the time you read this.
Similarly, my time with Malekko’s delectably demented Charlie Foxtrot in 2016 was an experience I couldn’t forget, and over the ensuing couple of years I kicked myself for not immediately snapping it up. Luckily I finally nabbed one this spring.
Those who know me know that I am, perhaps above all else, a reverb junkie. Charles Saufley and John Bohlinger’s 2016 Pedal Issue take sold me on the MXR Reverb. It’s the other never-off pedal on my board, thanks to its lush, spacey “epic” mode, as well as the fact that it’s so easy to use, compact, and expression-pedal controllable.
The only pedal on my board now that hasn’t seen any PG review action is the delightfully small and shockingly great-sounding Mooer Trelicopter tremolo I picked up four years ago. That said, it’s only a matter of time before I finally send Robert Keeley payment so I can once more thrill to the addictive dynamics of his awesome DynaTrem, which I reviewed in our 2015 Pedal Issue.
Now do you see what I’m talking about when I say this thing we do is pretty effing incredible? This is a tiny fraction of the pedal paradise we’ve covered. No matter what kind of tones you crave, we’ve reviewed all kinds of amazing gear that’ll get you there—and beyond.