The Pedals of the Year are here!
There is no shortage of guitar effects pedals in the world. Every year thousands of pedal builders release countless new stompboxes for guitarists to obsess over. And likewise, there are plenty of guitar magazines and pedal blogs to find info about the latest and greatest, let alone the many enthusiastic voices on Instagram, YouTube, and in forums who seem to present every shiny new pedal they can get their hands on as if it’s the best thing since [insert your favorite pedal here].
But as strong as the hype may be sometimes, it’s important to not let yourself get carried away by the viewpoints of other people. At the end of the day your music will be better by following your ears and instincts and choosing the tools for tone that suit your needs. When researching pedals (or anything for that matter) it’s best to read widely and critically. Find views that are contrary to the norm and try to understand why someone else sees things differently. Keep an open mind, and you’ll often learn something new. Take this approach in pedal land, and you just may discover a whole new approach to making music.
Your Picks & Our Picks
We wanted to broaden everyone’s horizons with this roundup of Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017. We surveyed our readers and cross-referenced their votes with our own perspectives on the pedals released in 2017 to determine which ones are the overall best.
We’ve split our list into two parts. First, you’ll see 9 of the top picks based primarily on reader voting & public opinion. Then we’ll show you 8 BGE Team Picks that showcase some of our other personal favorites. Since this article is a collaborative effort written by 4 members of the BGE team (Jake, Paul, Anda, & Gabe), we’ll each present you 2 pedals in the Team Picks section.
And we’ll wrap things up with a special shout-out to the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. Now here are the Best New Pedals of the Year 2017!
First up is the pedal that received the most votes from our readers…
Empress Effects Echosystem
No one knew for sure that this was coming, but everyone was hoping it was. The Empress Reverb was a strong contender to replace all those big multi-algorithm reverb pedals out there, and many of us were soon looking at our multi-algorithm delays and wondering if our time together was also running out. The very first time I heard that Empress Effects was going to build a delay pedal on the platform of the Empress Reverb I was like, “OMG. This is going to be HUGE!” Not to mention the Echosystem is the successor to beloved Empress Superdelay. I first got to play with the Echosystem at Winter NAMM 2017, in fact, I got to take the NAMM prototype home to begin beta testing. I recall being immediately intrigued by the dual-delay engine. “Wait… you mean this is actually TWO delays and they can work together in perfect unison??” Right away, I knew we had a winner.
The Empress Echosystem is based on nearly the exact same layout of the Empress Reverb. Nearly all the same knobs, switches, and ins and outs are here. If you love the Reverb, adding the Echosystem to your board will be easy as pie. The Echosystem has a dozen different modes/delay types with 36 different sub-modes at the time of this writing. The dual-delay engine allows any two of these sub-modes to be paired together and ran A into B, B into A, or in parallel (split left/right when using the pedal in stereo). That alone is enough reason to stop reading this and just go buy one. If you need more than that, allow me to continue. The EchoSystem has all the usual controls like TIME, MIX, OUTPUT, FEEDBACK, and TONE. Empress adds a couple more exclusive controls with THING 1 and THING 2; these do very interesting and different things in each mode. You also get stereo ins and outs and a Universal Control Port that uses a 1/4″ jack to handle expression, external tap, voltage, and MIDI. Full MIDI implementation (via the Empress Midibox, sold separately) and expression/CV control are at your fingertips with the EchoSystem. A speaker cabinet Simulator keeps things sounding right when you don’t have an amp around and want to just go direct into your DAW. Thankfully, with all of this you will be able to save and recall to 35 preset slots. One of the greatest features of the Echosystem is the fact that you get the latest and greatest of everything for many years to come with the ability to update the firmware. What does this mean? Well, if you want to be involved, you can join the Empress Voting Forum and actually make suggestions and join in on discussions about fixing bugs and adding features to your pedal. If you don’t want to be involved, you can simply go to the Empress website and download the latest firmware at any time. The pedal actually has an SD card slot allowing for the easiest firmware updates in the industry. There is something really cool about not being left out in the cold, and this pedal truly gets better with age.
The Empress Effects Echosystem makes the list because this thing is a game changer, and game changers always move to the front of the line in our book. This pedal also became the main delay for both my live board as well as my studio board. Just everything about it was superior to the other multi-algorithm delay I was using at the time. None of this fancy stuff matters without great tones/sounds, and what I was hearing coming out of the EchoSystem was just the best delay sounds ever. Not only do you get these pristine digital delay tones (they’re all digital, of course), but you also will find some of the best tape and analog emulations in the industry. My preference is for the odd, nasty, lo-fi sounds and, this is where it really shines for me on a personal level. You have a mode called Lo-Fi, but you also have some other very interesting modes that can be tweaked in ways that inspire and take your music in directions that are sure to satisfy your craving for “something different.” The other multi-algorithm delay I was using had too many limitations for me. For starters, I’ve been using that one since 2010b and since that time we have never seen anything new in the way of modes/sub modes. No new sounds. Just the same old, same old since its release. The desire to push things further made it a no-brainer for getting the Echosystem onto my boards. And likewise, a majority of Best Guitar Effects readers voted more for this pedal above all others, crowning the Empress Effects Echosystem as 2017’s Pedal of the Year.
Chase Bliss Audio Brothers
Are you looking for a new and unique way to add gain to your tone? Shut up, of course you are. The only problem is, there are a million different pedals and a million different ways to add gain, so which one do you choose? For your consideration: the Chase Bliss Brothers adds that gain in all the ways. It’s got two complementary, all-analog drive circuits, each with a Boost, Overdrive, and Fuzz voicing, paired in two-way serial or parallel, full midi functionality, presets, expression/CV input, and 16 dip-switches for all sorts of expression goodness. Woof.
I have to make a concerted effort to not get sentimental when I talk about this pedal. We’ve just had so many good memories together; I’ve had it acting as the only gain source on my board since May and it’s only gotten deeper as I’ve grown more attached to it. While Chase Bliss’s signature dipswitch fleet can be intimidating, the Brothers is best grasped by starting at the knobs and getting comfortable with it through the mindset of playing through two very simple drive pedals. On Side A we have a warm JFET circuit, but for the readers to whom that classification makes any difference, “JFET” doesn’t quite do the tone justice. I still can’t get over that the circuit is based on an old projector amplifier, the progeny of Resonant Electronic Design’s Field Effects line of inventive drive pedals. Side B is Joel Korte’s IC design and harkens to a modern-feeling, “updated Screamer” vibe. The tonestacks on both sides focus on different facets of the frequency spectrum; Side A emphasizes transparency, letting more of the inherent tone of your guitar shine through, while Side B boosts the mid-range, further balancing out the mid-high, tight nature of the IC circuit.
Of course, we can’t ignore the more unorthodox features of the Brothers; they’re a big part of why it made the list! Namely, the ability to route the Brothers’ gain stages from A to B, B to A, or simultaneously in parallel, makes for incredible tonal flexibility. Want some ear-blasting riffbait that doesn’t obliterate your notes? Try Side A’s dense fuzz into Side B’s super clean boost. Want to warm up your overdrive tone with a gain that kinda-sorta cleans up? Pop overdrive B into a rolled back fuzz A. Need dirt but want to keep your high-end clarity? Run Side A’s overdrive parallel to Side B’s boost. Couple that with the back-mounted dip-switches that allow for pinpoint selection of which parameters you’d like controlled by your expression pedal; crossfading the tones of the two circuits simultaneously via expression is my favorite thing. It’s no surprise the Brothers was one of the most popular pedals of 2017: it’s a damn masterpiece.
Are there any drawbacks? The only thing I’ve experienced that I know is a deliberate built in feature to the Brothers is that when you engage either circuit when the pedal is fully bypassed there’s a few milliseconds of complete signal loss. This was designed into the Brothers to prevent any sudden voltage-change “pops” when the analog circuits are activated. In a band context you don’t even notice it, and this design choice is more than likely adding to the lifespan of your speaker by sparing it the jarring experience of having to disperse all that extra energy. Of course if it bothers you, you can bypass the mute entirely by just leaving the Brothers on for the rest of your life and adding dirt to taste with the expression in or automating it with your favorite DAW.
Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets
My first impressions of either of the strong offerings from Hologram Electronics hover somewhere between massively impressed and somewhat overwhelmed. I have thought of Hologram as kind of “smart effects for players that are smarter than me.” In other words, I felt they were over my head. I decided to tackle the review of the Infinite Jets last month and decided to just lock myself in a room until I either needed more water or I understood this incredible little box inside and out. The first few times I sat with this pedal I was just amazed at what was coming out of it. I was putting in very minimal effort as far as what I was playing, yet out the other end was just a symphony of incredible awesomeness. And who doesn’t want that?
The Infinite Jets is a dual-channel synth with all the bells and whistles and complete control you’d ever hope for. You will find four effects, Blur, Synth, Glitch, and Swell, with a total of 10 sub modes. There are three ways of sampling: Mono, Poly, and Manual. In Mono mode, the sampling engines work independently of one another and never overlap. This is useful for creating more clarity. Think of dialing back the feedback on a delay – same idea. In Poly mode, the sampling engines will overlap in the most beautiful way, creating a seamless wash of your signal. In Manual mode, you’re in control. You decide when to trigger the sampling engines using the foot switches. Those switches can also be set up in momentary, latching, or toggle. Plenty of “have it your way” is found on this pedal. Thankfully with all of this you have the ability to save a couple of presets. This was super useful when tinkering around. Additional control can be found in the LFO and Envelope controls. You have control over the LFO depth, shape, and frequency. You also have control over the Envelope shape and control over the effects duration with envelope times all the way out to infinity. The Dimension control is the magic knob on this pedal. It allows for interesting manipulations of parameters unique to each effect type. Sometimes it’s a high pass filter, sometimes it’s a sample playback length (which feels like a delay time). It really is the magic. You can also record up to 10 seconds of movement or automation of knobs. This is super handy since twisting that Dimension knob is super fun and musical but kinda hard to do while you’re playing. You also, of course, have the option for full expression control over knob movements. The signal path, including the drive and tone controls, is all analog, but you have digital control over them. This really is the synth pedal you are looking for, and then some.
It was a fairly simple decision to put this on the Pedals of the Year list. There have been so many posts about this pedal having a similar effect on people as it had on me, personally. My friend, Darren Jackson, released an album last week and the Infinite Jets is so obvious on one of his songs that I correctly identified it immediately. That says something when you can do that, when a pedal as a voice all its own. I have a studio of my own and the Infinite Jets is going to have a permanent place there as the “go-to” box for when I am stuck in a creative rut and I just need help finding a better way. Another bonus is the fact that this pedal has a wet/dry blend knob. I have bought and then sold so many pedals over the years that were freaky in a good way and did things that I just LOVED, but without a blend knob to make the effect more subtle, there was often no way for me to use them in a practical band setting. The Glitch mode is probably my personal favorite. Something about chopping up that incoming signal into the most incredible delay/tremolo kinds of sounds is something that I love. Another strong point is the ability to calibrate this pedal to the incoming audio signal. I used it on guitar, bass, and electric piano, and it shines across the entire spectrum. I went from knowing almost nothing about the Infinite Jets to having it as a staple in the studio. Infinite Jets, we easily crown thee, one of the best of 2017.
Keeley Electronics D&M Drive
At a glance the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive may look like just another boost and overdrive combo pedal (with a beautiful sparkly orange finish), but it’s so much more than meets the eye. A collaborative effort between Keeley Electronics and Dan & Mick from That Pedal Show, the D&M Drive boasts 2 separate drive channels: a clean boost/mild overdrive on the right and a mid to high-gain overdrive on the left.
The Boost side is akin to a Keeley Katana boost on steroids, providing plenty of ultra high-headroom clean boost on tap. With the Gain rolled all the way down, the signal remains clean. There’s some subtle added definition to the mid-range, and the top end gains an almost high-definition quality. There’s plenty of output volume on tap as well. You could use this channel to add a little magic to your clean tone or balance your guitar sound when switching between single-coils and humbuckers. But of course, that’s not as fun as using this channel a slam into a preamp on the verge of or just starting to breakup. Use the Tone to mellow out the highs of a Strat or Tele or brighten up a Les Paul. Not to mention as you boost the Gain, the Boost side has a whole range of light to mild overdrive of its own to impart on your sound.
Yes, the Boost side alone is enough to make a very solid pedal, but the Drive side is a whole ‘nother monster that greater extends the D&M Drive’s versatility. Kicking on the Drive engulfs your guitar in a rich, full-bodied (sounds like we’re talking about beer) saturation that harkens back to the thick overdrive sounds on your favorite classic rock records. Now try kicking on the Boost in front of the Drive sound to kick it up into a higher gain lead solo tone. Harmonics practically scream from your speakers, and the raunchy swagger of this ordering is great for an 80’s LA rock ‘n roll vibe. Flip the order to feed the Drive into the Boost, and you’ll got yet another flavor of grit on tap.
The D&M Drive has several other nifty features and design efficiencies going for it. Labeling the order flip-switch positions “Drive First” and “Boost First” ensures first timers know what they’re hearing when experimenting with combinations. The foot-switches are adequately spaced to avoid accidentally stomping on both at once yet close enough so that you can do so when needed. An optional TRS I/O mode lets you route each channel to different loops on an effects switcher, a brilliant addition for professional guitar rigs. Thankfully, Keeley Electronics also uses non-relay bypass switches, so the D&M Drive’s channels can be set to always be active when powered up, another boon for guitarists who rely on an effects switcher. All the jacks are top-mounted as well to ensure that the wider form factor takes up as little ‘board space as possible. The power jack might be a little too close to the audio jacks when using some brands of cable, but it’s worth upgrading your patch cables for a pedal that sounds this good.
EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter
The mad scientists in Akron have done it again. The Data Corrupter is one of the latest offerings from Earthquaker Devices and is one of the best pedals of the year for 2017. We have seen some great offerings from Earthquaker Devices of late, and this is no exception. The Data Corrupter is loosely based on the Electrax Sythax and the “Basic Frequency Synthesizer” by Ray Marston, only with better tracking and sustain. Earthquaker Devices have created their spin on the familiar PLL-style pedal with an incredible fuzz/modulation/octave/oscillator machine that is sure to corrupt everything you feed into it and will destroy everything in its path. If you have a pair of stiff new speakers to break in, this may be the ideal way get that done and have lots of fun at the same time!
According to the manual, The Data Corrupter is an analog PLL harmonizer with modulation that takes your input signal and brutally amplifies it into a crushing square wave fuzz, multiplies it, divides it, then modulates it into a three-voice synthesizer. Need I go on? They pretty much had me at “brutally amplifies”. At the heart of this signal destroyer is the Master Oscillator. The three-position switch on the oscillator control feeds your input into either Unison, -1 Octave, or -2 Octave. Use this to fine tune the tracking response for your preferred instrument. From here, the Data Corrupter will do the science and split off a synthesized frequency. Further controls allow you to select the octave/interval as well as the volume of this voice. The Frequency Modulator applies pitch-bend modulation to the Master Oscillator. A Glide Mode gives you a smooth portamento as each note slides into the next. In Vibrato Mode, the pitch modulates up and down in a retro sci-fi effect. The Subharmonic assimilates the input into one of eight lower octave programs between one and three octaves below the input. The Square Control blends in a great sounding square wave fuzz which I thought sounded great on its own! And all this is barely scratching the surface of all the options this pedal has.
Those not familiar with a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) will be surprised by how interesting and finicky these things can be! A PLL takes your input signal and compares its phase and frequency against an oscillator, generates an output proportional to their difference then feeds it back into the oscillator. This causes the oscillator to lock onto the input signal and generate a synthesized frequency. Serious science going on here. So what does that sound like? Well, it’s a super thick, nasty undertone with funky octaves and harmonics all over the place. Tracking inconsistencies will make things feels pretty loose and random as you noodle around the fretboard. The Data Corrupter is semi-controlled chaos in pedal form and is ready to take your guitar to spontaneously fragmented new places.
Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver
What happens when the legendary Boss teams up with US builder, JHS Pedals? Guitarists get angry. That’s right, we’re talkin’ about the JB-2 Angry Driver.
The JB-2 combines Boss’ classic BD-2 Blues Driver with a variation of JHS Pedals’ own Angry Charlie. The Boss BD-2 first debuted in 1995 and quickly became renowned for its clarity and note definition, an amp-like overdrive character, and a dynamic playability that overdrives your guitar signal in proportion to the strength of your pick attack. The JHS Pedals Angry Charlie has also become popular in recent years due to its ability to produce great high gain British style overdrive and distortion tones. Pair the two in one box and you get a highly formidable rock ‘n roll machine capable of igniting your guitar sound with a wide palette of drive tones.
Each circuit has 3 adjustable controls (Drive, Tone, & Level) spread across a trio of dual-concentric knobs. The far right Mode knob is a 6 position rotary encoder that selects the drive circuit(s) in use, alters the routing when using both at once, and affects the functionality of the onboard foot-switch and any external switch connected via the Remote jack. The 6 Mode options in counter-clockwise order are: JHS Angry Charlie by itself, Boss JB-2 by itself, a Toggle mode that lets you flip back and forth between the circuits by pressing the foot-switch, Series JHS → Boss, Series Boss → JHS, and a Parallel mode for playing through both circuits side-by-side. This feature set gives you a huge amount of flexibility for creating familiar and all-new overdrive and distortion tones along with a few different ways to conveniently access these sounds during a live performance.
As for the sounds in action of this unique collaborative pedal, the BD-2 and Angry Charlie are indeed a rock solid combo that pair well together. The Boss circuit produces an excellent range of lower-gain to moderate drive sounds, accurately reproducing the results that its predecessor is known for. Whether you’re just adding a touch of grit to your clean sound, pushing a slightly overdriven amp over the edge, or saturating your tone for a searing solo, the Boss circuit has it all covered. The JHS ciruit takes it from there and kicks everything up a notch, specializing in “angry” drive tones with a warm growl. Whereas the Boss circuit seems to have a broader spectrum of tonal response, the JHS circuit is darker in character and has a pleasing smoothness across the low-end and midrange, giving it muscle and a menacing aggression. Both circuits are great for creating an amp-like drive response and cross perform well at mid-gain settings, albeit with different colors.
Things get more interesting when you pair the circuits. A recommended setting is running the BD-2 on lower Drive settings into the Angry Charlie, like a drive pedal hitting the front of a roaring Marshall amp. Also, you can’t go wrong with running both circuits in parallel for massive drive tones that retain a surprising amount of definition on the low-end. Boss and JHS Pedals have a winner with the JB-2 Angry Driver, and it’s a solid entry among our Pedals of the Year for 2017.
Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper
The Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper was an early release for 2017, but it remains one of the year’s very best. This affordable compact multi-algorithm delay pedal is packed with features and sounds that offer value well beyond its very reasonable price point. Do not mistake this for a beginner’s throw-away delay. If you haven’t played this pedal yet, put the Canyon at the top of your must-try list.
The Canyon’s big draw are it’s 11 different modes. Echo & Mod give you variations of a digital style delay; Echo is just a simple dry delay while Mod adds some smooth modulation to your wet signal. The Multi mode is a multi-tap delay that adds a series of taps at even spacing and consistent volume level. The Canyon’s Reverse delay is a standout with an “intelligent” reverse echo that tracks your playing to help create optimal reverse delay sounds. The DMM setting is another favorite, emulating the iconic EHX Deluxe Memory Man analog delay pedal. You can even access secondary knob functions to activate DDM style Chorus & Vibrato modulation. When I first played the Canyon, the Tape mode is where I initially spent most of my time. This setting has a nice saturation and modulated sound, and these parameters can also be accessed as secondary knob functions. There’s also a versatile Reverb mode that can put a plate reverb on your delay repeats or be used as a stand-alone reverb when you cut the Feedback all the way down. A secondary low-pass function is very useful for dampening your high-end to suit your guitar sound.
The following trio of “weird” delay modes are all top-tier. The Octave delay does the ascending octave sound better than any other pedal I’ve heard, probably due to EHX’s excellent pitch-shifting as seen in pedals like the Pitch Fork, POG2, & HOG2. The Shimmer mode is yet another strong mode with a modulated octave cloud that floats along with your playing. These rich sounds are achieved by emulating a chain of 4 pedals: compression, pitch-shifter, delay/mod, and another delay/mod. But don’t worry about how it’s happening; just enjoy the beautiful sounds produced. The S/H setting is a Sample-and-hold mode that grabs a note or chord you play and repeats it until you play something else. This mode is a ton of fun for controlled glitchy sounds. Turn the Delay time knob while a held note is repeat to speed it up and slow it back down without changing the pitch.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the Canyon gives you a 62-second Looper as well. Plug in an external tap-switch to tap in your tempo with a choice of ¼ notes, dotted 8ths, or 8th notes. The Canyon has offered a big serving of multi-delay excellence. Until EHX enters the arena of big-box multi-delays, the Canyon will likely remain their best overall delay pedal. The amount of great delay tones the Canyon offers is hard to beat in this price range.
Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall RKM
Here’s another pedal that made the list due to a very high vote count from our readers. The original Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall was one of last year’s best pedals without dispute. CBA engineer, Joel Korte, managed to take reissued MN3005 bucket brigade delay chips and stuff them into a reasonably small enclosure with more features than any other analog delay pedal that came before. 2017’s Tonal Recall Red Knob Mod, or “RKM” for short, doubles the original unit’s 550ms delay time to 1100ms courtesy of 2 extra MN3005 chips.
The Tonal Recall RKM’s massive feature-set also includes an all analog signal path, 2 onboard presets, 122 presets available via MIDI, deep MIDI functionality, tap tempo, hold for oscillation, modulation, CV/EXP input, Ramping for automating parameter movement, buffered & true bypass operation, and 16 dip-switches for further augmenting how the pedal behaves.
Any other differences to note? Well, the original Tonal Recall was one of the quietest analog delays around. The RKM is slightly noisier due to the 2 extra BBDs, but the repeats stay cleaner longer before breakup than the original Tonal Recall. The RKM also has a more musical oscillation than the original. But for many guitarists, the big decision comes down to whether or not you need the extra long delay time afforded by the extra MN3005s and $100 cost difference. More good news: if you’re already an owner of the original tonal recall, you can upgrade it to RKM specs through Chase Bliss Audio. Whether you choose the original or the RKM, BGE readers loved the Tonal Recall in 2016, loved the RKM in 2017, and will likely still love all iterations of this instant classic analog delay pedal in 2018 and beyond.
Always on the hunt for the most interesting and super complicated pedals I can find, I often step back and just make sure I have the basics covered, too. The less exciting things out there like tuners, boosts, and buffers can also be the most important parts of the rig. Sometimes the least complicated effects yield the greatest results. Most players would think “What’s so exciting about a feedbacker?” I mean, it’s not like it does a lot, and how often are you really even going to be using it? I recall jamming a lot in the early days on these high-gain rigs in the basement blowing out my ears and loving the easily conjured natural feedback tones. Throw in that whammy bar and AH!! Guitar heaven! Then reality set in… Maturity and playing shows at “stage volume” pretty much killed the natural feedback. It wasn’t until I borrowed my buddy’s Gretsch hollow body that I found that sweet heaven again, if only for a moment, but I wanted MORE! The DigiTech FreqOut is the answer for instantly summoning natural sounding feedback tones in an unprecedented seven different harmonic tone options. This ensures you will always find the right feedback tone that works perfectly for the moment at hand.
The FreqOut’s control surface is nicely laid out with two knobs, two toggles, and one on/off switch adorning the pedal. It’s a very simple design yet is loaded with plenty of options. The Range knob is a center/ring arrangement with the center knob adjusting the gain. This is more of a “mix” knob controlling how much of the feedback signal is mixed with the dry signal. The ring adjusts the Onset, or rise time of the feedback signal. The Type knob allows you to select one of seven different feedback harmonic types. Options here include Sub (-1 octave), 1st (first harmonic/unison), 2nd (second harmonic), 3rd (third harmonic), 5th (fifth harmonic), NAT LOW (natural lower harmonic), and NAT HIGH (natural lower harmonic). The Momentary toggle lets you toggle between momentary and latching options for the switch. This is handy for using it quickly, activating the effect only a choice note during a solo. Or you can use Latching mode to let the pedal remain on until you manually bypass it. I prefer momentary mode, sneaking it in and out at will. The Dry switch allows you to toggle between having your dry signal off or on while the feedback is enabled. Possibly the coolest part of this pedal is the array of nine LED’s to the left of the pedal that give you real-time feedback of the feedback signal showing the rise time as it comes in. Single input and output jacks are located on the right and left side of the pedal with a top-mount, 9v (235mA) power jack.
Using the FreqOut is fun and simple. The results are exactly the way you would expect them to be with no surprises. For something really interesting set the toggle for momentary off and dry off. Then use an ebow and a slide. You still get the same ebow-type tones, but with interesting results when you select different harmonic tones. I plan to put this into a recording sometime very soon. If you have ever been a fan of feedback tones and you wish to have that on command even at a low-gain, “stage volume” situation, at home, or in the studio, the DigiTech FreqOut is definitely a must-have pedal of 2017.
Pedals of the Year – BGE Team Picks
In addition to the pedals listed above, here are a few of our other personal favorite pedals of 2017. When we polled our readers, the mainstream didn’t vote as highly for some of these pedals, most likely because they simply weren’t aware of them. It’s our job to change that. We think these pedals deserve to be on your radar because they offer new innovations and sounds worth exploring. Best Guitar Effects’ contributing writers, Jake, Paul, Anda, and Gabe, are each covering 2 pedals for the list. And we put our team “pics” on “picks”. Couldn’t resist… Sorry, not sorry.
Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher
When I first heard about the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher coming down the line, I thought, “What a cool idea.” But like a lot of guitar players who are skeptical of multi-effects systems, I also had my doubts. Still, I was VERY curious. I picked up my first MS-3 with some level of skepticism. One of those things where you don’t rip the box, and you don’t remove the plastic film from the display, and you don’t even put any velcro on because you don’t wanna kill the resale value. I plugged in and started poking around. “Wait. What?? That sounds really good.” Still a bit skeptical, I added a bit of velcro to the bottom and built a small mock-up board around this thing. I did my best for the next week or so to try and make it suck in some way. I had already been using the Boss ES-8 for the past year, so much of this was picked up easily and, in fact, I felt like some of the switching and MIDI performance of the MS-3 exceeded that of the ES-8. Then, one day, it hit me. I didn’t really even want to admit this because it meant a LOT of work was headed my way, but I realized that my pedalboard life had just been turned upside down. The next morning I took my very large, beautiful, pedalboard apart. In a matter of minutes it went from absolute perfection to a pile of near-useless cables and wood. As much as I hated to see it go, it was time to build the future with the MS-3 and, man, was I looking forward to that!
The Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher is much like the now very familiar ES-8 in style and general appearance, with a much smaller footprint like the ES-5. It also includes nearly all of the functionality while boasting an incredible collection of 112 different effect types, each having several sub groups of effects. For example, one of the 112 effect types is “OD/Distortion”, and within that effect type you will find 21 different varieties of boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. I’ve never counted each and every single option, but it’s staggering. That alone would put this thing on my board as a multi-effect. But it doesn’t end there. The MS-3 gives you full control over MIDI compatible pedals via its MIDI Out as well as 3 audio loops for patching in standard non-MIDI pedals. I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Only 3 loops??” But I have an MS-3 on two of my pedalboards, and I’m only using one loop in one MS-3 and two in the other. The MS-3 will set you free. You can control up to 8 MIDI devices at a time, a limit I have also not even closely reached. I have one MIDI pedal on one board, and I have four MIDI pedals on the other. The idea is to use the internal effects when and where possible. Boss has included many of its legendary classics in variations of Chorus, Flanger, Compressor, and a slew of Delay and Reverb modes as well as some less common goodies like Slow Gear, Defretter, Feedbacker, and Slicer among others. With all of that at your feet, the MS-3 would actually work well as a stand-alone pedalboard on its own for most of you out there. Where I personally needed a little reinforcement was in the weird kind of Lo-Fi dirt selections and to some degree the delays. The weakest link, for me, is the reverb. With everything the way it comes, the MS-3 would work very well for MOST of us. I just need a little help with the weird sounds that I need for my own personal enjoyment. Each foot-switch on the unit can be programmed to do any multitude of tasks. The intuitive and sophisticated graphics display makes it easy to know where you are at any given moment. The Boss MS-3 really does the job of being a catch-all, do-all for guitar effects. The needs of every player are thoughtfully considered here for sure, and when you include the incredible editing software, it’s just an obvious choice.
When I began playing guitar it was just an old Ibanez Iceman into a pawn shop Peavey Backstage. No pedals. Sadly, it was that way for years. Then around 1999, I picked up a brand new Boss GT-3. I was simply amazed, and I recall playing the first show with that thing and all these older musicians were all looking at it like it was a spaceship or something. For years I stuck with the GT series. It wasn’t until I bought one of the very first Strymon Timelines that the spell was broken. From then on, it was individual pedals all the way, and it stayed that way until this year… until the MS-3. Pedalboard insanity is cool and all, but for the past 7 years, I just kind of felt like I was fixing a problem that never existed in the first place. Many of the effects within the MS-3 are from some of the older GT Series units. Many of them we loved, and many we could do without. I was told by a Boss insider, the engineers at Boss went back into the lab for this one. They re-tooled each and every effect by giving them greater sonic characteristics as well as giving them greater control options to make them easier to dial in. When you give the MS-3 a chance, you’ll likely find something here that really changes things AND is something that you actually love the sound of. After all, what good is any of this tech if it doesn’t sound good? I think we can all agree that we’ve spent years where the tech exceeded the tone. Like anything, these things take time to get right. Well, Boss has gotten it right with the MS-3. If you ask me for my personal Pedal of the Year, this is it, hands down.
Effectrode LA-1A Leveling Amplifier
The Effectrode LA-1A Leveling Amplifier is a guitar compressor pedal inspired by the Teletronix LA-2A, the famous rack unit often regarded as the greatest compressor of all-time. And this isn’t the first time Effectrode has interpreted the optical tube classic; Effectrode’s PC-2A was already one of the best compressor pedals around. So what more could be done?
Well, the PC-2A offers a distinct edge over the LA-2A in terms of potential performance improvements for guitar and other instruments (aside from the obvious benefit of it being a small pedal and not a giant piece of rack gear). Within the PC-2A are dedicated Attack & Knee trimpots that allow you to perfectly calibrate the pedal to your instrument of choice. Eventually, musicians started asking for mods to make these controls external. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is a noteworthy user of a modified PC-2A with external Attack & Knee knobs. And so a big mission of the LA-1A was to put Attack & Knee controls on the surface of the pedal. But that’s not all…
In deciding to initiate the LA-1A project, Effectrode also set out on a new mission: to create the quietest compressor ever built in any format. Low quality compressor pedals are often notorious for adding unwanted background noise, and thus the intent of achieving clean sustain, more volume, and a smoother audio signal is often compromised. To achieve the LA-1A’s incredibly low noise floor, Effectrode equipped the pedal with a parallel tube plate design that uses 4 identical input tube stages to achieve the highest possible signal to noise ratio. Audiophiles familiar with high-end phonograph preamps may be familiar with this technology. It’s an expensive form of noise reduction which has never before been implemented in a stompbox guitar pedal. What does this mean in layman’s terms? For preserving low-noise signal integrity during audio compression, the LA-1A is second to none.
There are a few other features and aspects of the LA-1A worth noting. The pedal also offers a foot-switchable boost section providing up to +6dB of real tube boost. There’s a Dynamic EQ switch that introduces a musical emphasis on the upper frequencies as you increase the compression of your audio signal. An external TRS foot-switch can be used for remote switching of the bypass & boost functions. There’s also a transformer isolated TRS balanced output for connecting to a mixer or audio interface and a gain pad (+6dB, +12dB, or +18dB) for matching output with any line or instrument level signal. And as another performance difference compared to the PC-2A, the LA-1A removes the Compress/Limit switch (a legacy feature from the LA-2A) since the Knee control on the LA-1A provides a more responsive and variable response between compression and limiting performance. In summary, the Effectrode LA-1A is the quietest, most featured packed, and most versatile iteration of this legendary style of photo-optical tube compressor.
Alexander Pedals Syntax Error
Despite its ‘80’s arcade theme, the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error is not your dad’s effect pedal; unless of course your dad is a Galaga cabinet. Those of you who haven’t done much research on this lovely little time machine may see the Sample knob and think, “oh jeez, another bit-crusher,” and you’d be about… seven percent right. Thanks to the 32-bit micro-controller in this bad boy, the Syntax Error is more of a tiny computer than most pedals its size. The power contained in the un-ironically named “Audio Computer System” lends its users four different modes (Stretch, Ring, Cube, and Freq) controlled by six expression-enabled digital pots in a lean, four-knob form factor. Alexander’s cleverly-implemented omni-jack next to the output offers MIDI control and presets, CV, and expression pedal control if that’s your thing. There’s also a USB jack on the back of the pedal, and while there is no editor software up on Alexander’s site as of yet, it’s a pretty safe bet that a long-term goal could be to allow deeper user customization and/or firmware updates.
Let’s talk about the Syntax Error’s different modes. Stretch runs your signal through a variable-speed buffer, warping and repeating the notes played. By dialing the Code knob, you change the speed of the buffer which changes the direction in which the signal is played back. It ranges from normal speed to complete reverse. This creates some seriously glitchy dragging effects that at times seem to operate entirely independently from your playing. Next is Cube which is an algorithmic distortion run through a low-pass filter. If that concept confuses you, just think of it this way: (abs(INPUT^3))^3. That’s math for crazy cubic distortion. Cube is MEAN, and the tones in its wheelhouse range from angry distorted filter to pissed off distorted synth to irate distorted… distortion. Ring is a sample-and-hold/ring-mod combo that can do normal ring modulation sounds and spontaneous, glitchier sounding ring mod with the sample-and-hold kicked in. Finally, Freq is a bode-like frequency shifter with delay, opening up cascading dissonance.
The Syntax Error is a versatile pedal for guitarists wanting to dig in with many shades of weird. Thanks to the additional functionality like presets and MIDI control to make use of its many different sounds in a live performance, Alexander Pedals has ensured that the Syntax Error is more than a mere novelty, it’s one of the year’s best pedals.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb
The TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb expands on its predecessor with addition of the in-demand Shimmer reverb effect, a new Mash expression foot switch, and two more TonePrint slots, for a total of 3.
The onboard Shimmer effect is quite lovely, more choral than sparkling. The Tone knob intuitively opens up the shimmering high end. It was a great move of TC to add this. The onboard Tile, Ambient, and Gate effects have been removed to make room for the Shimmer and additional TonePrint slots. While I suspect those won’t be sorely missed, if you really want those types of sounds, use the TC Electronic TonePrint Editor app to experiment with gating and other adjustable parameters.
Up to three parameters can be assigned to foot-switch’s Mash function. It doesn’t take much pressure to engage Mash, but you have to mash it pretty hard to nudge the effects into their mid and top range. The feel of it could take some getting used to at first. For those who like more hands-on tweakability, up to three parameters can also be assigned to the Decay and Tone knobs in the TonePrint Editor. In the future, it would be great to have a wider Hall of Fame (X2 or X4?) that allows for more knobs and knob assignment, rather than stacking three parameters on top of each other. If the Flashback and Ditto Loopers can get bigger and more feature rich, so can the Hall of Fame.
The TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 is still a great all around reverb pedal due to its combination of onboard classic reverb emulations, stereo chain, compact design, and how adventurous and customizable it is through the TonePrint editor and growing library of artists’ presets. The sound and tone of the Hall of Fame are solid. I’ve use the Hall of Fame on vocals, guitar, synths, and drum machines, and it works well in any situation where quality sounding reverb is called for. With the addition of Shimmer and Mash and more encouragement to use the TonePrint slots, the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 raises the bar over the previous version.
Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal
The Plus Pedal is a new kind of audio processing engine that offers piano-like sustain effects for guitars and other instruments. The distinctive, sophisticated appearance and ergonomic design puts the Plus pedal in a class by itself and is sure to invite stares from all the gearheads. Now, of course, there will be some comparisons to things like the EHX Superego and Freeze, but the Plus is decidedly different. Some things are obvious; the actual “switch” is very different. Instead of a stomp switch, you get a great piano-like sustain pedal. This pedal works similar to an expression pedal in that a “half-press” makes it behave differently than a “full-press.” Can’t do that with a stomp switch. You get real-time feedback of half-press vs. full-press by watching the LED brightness. There are some things that are also different under the hood. The actual technology within the pedal is much different than that of other pedals on the market. The Plus pedal is based on a new method of digital sound processing called Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping (patent pending). Instead of creating tones using an oscillator and filter based synth engine, Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping works by creating a smooth, circular loop out of a source signal that is recorded as you go, sampling only the last segments of your incoming notes or chords. These tiny bits are sampled in real time and looped together to create a seamless, warm and responsive sustained tone. On the surface you have a hand-crafted, solid brass piano-style sustain pedal. There are four knobs on the face with rather self explanatory controls for Blend, Sustain, Rise, and Tail. There are several useful ins and outs on the pedal. These include top-mounted input and dual output jacks and a 9v power jack. On the right side, you have options for a separate effects loop as well as two switches that allow for additional control. One switch allows for Group or Single mode. In Group mode, the pedal will collect whole groups of audio layers. In Single mode, it will focus on the most recent note. A second switch allows for Mix or Split on the output. In Mix mode, the more common mode, your wet and dry signals are mixed together on the output. In Split mode, only the isolated wet signal is generated by the Plus Pedal. There is even an option for the Clean Out/FSW output to harness your unaffected dry signal at all times. I can see this being extremely useful in a recording studio setting. A note regarding the size of the Plus. It’s about 2/3 the size of a standard volume or wah pedal. In my efforts to keep my pedalboards really small these days, I was struggling to figure out where to put the Plus. I then learned that it’s best to put it first in your chain. Therefore, I don’t put it on a board. I just carry it with me and plug it in between my guitar and my board. It draws 130mA so it can’t use a battery, which would have been convenient, so I just keep a longer power lead available on the board and plug it in that way. I like it next to my board like that. There’s also an option to split your wet and dry signal output. This is great for recording, and it makes it very handy that it’s first in your chain, splitting off that signal before it goes through anything at all. I usually do that with a DI box anyway.
This little guy is an easy choice to be among the Pedals of the Year for 2017. The very first time I used the Plus pedal, I realized something had changed in my life. I struggle to even refer to it as a “pedal.” it’s more like a piece of musical equipment. I’ll get right down to it. The meat and potatoes of what makes the Plus so great is a two-fold answer. First, the most obvious thing is the actual pedal/switch/damper. The big brass thing that you step on. It’s just brilliant. This would not be a Pedal of the Year pick for me without that. The operation and the feel of using it… There is no other way to say this; it’s simply PERFECT. The most intuitive thing ever. Everyone knows what a piano sustain pedal is and what it does. The way the pedal is constructed, and the shape of the enclosure makes it very easy to use. I was up and running exactly the way I wanted to be in less than a minute. The second point that makes this a Pedal of the Year is the sound. I have used other “similar” pedals, and the Plus just has more of an organic, warm sound. Just the way it naturally rises and falls, it just sounds exactly like what it does to a piano. As you’re playing, you get this nice washy sustained sound. The first time I plugged it in, I ran a Les Paul into the Plus into a crappy little amp with a 2.5” speaker. Point is, nothing good in the line to make it sound nice, however, it sounded incredible! I always like to have a reverb in my chain no matter what and using the Plus Pedal kind of had that sound. It was like a reverb, and not like a reverb at the same time. It was as if I’d just bought a new kind of a reverb pedal. Something fresh and cool sounding. Using it this way was kind of fun and inspiring. One of my favorite ways of using it is to set the sustain and tail for infinite sustain. You get this beautiful drone sound and you can control the level of that drone with the Blend knob.
It’s easy to understand why the Plus Pedal is one of my top picks for Pedals of the Year. It’s a completely new concept, well executed, with beautiful sounding results. After all, in the end, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. I don’t plan to ever part with my Plus Pedal, and I have a feeling that I am just brushing the surface with all that I can do with this thing. I’m fairly certain that it will continue to inspire new ways of making my speakers dance.
Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi
The original Warped Vinyl MKI was Chase Bliss’s first innovative take on chorus and vibrato, featuring waveform “ModuShape” toggles, expansive parameter expression via CBA’s signature dip-switches, and a musical Ramp knob, which in an industry saturated with modulation, truly pushed the Warped Vinyl to the top of the hill. The Warped Vinyl MKII was a respectable improvement on the original with the addition of its Tone knob, expanded MIDI control & preset bank, and upgraded cleaner tone. Both were not just well received but indeed have become coveted artifacts that had every show-going gear nerd pointing ‘boardward mid-song, mouthing “yes!” whenever those glorious warbles spilled out eldritch into the world.
So, why remake the Warped Vinyl yet again in this new, burnt orange enclosure? For starters, we should recognize that the HiFi isn’t exactly a reissue. The new Hold switch, the once-Volume-now-Lag knob, and new dip-switch parameters set the HiFi far enough away from the previous iterations to be considered a piece all its own. On the subject of those dip-switches, CBA has dropped the Lo-Fi dip-switch to accommodate a switch that expands the function of the inarguably more interactive Tap/Hold switch, and obviously the volume dip-switches have been repurposed to now control the Lag. The HiFi also sports a cleaner signal path, allowing for much more transparent tones than its Warped kin, limiting it’s spook factor but increasing it’s usability across genres. Fans of the previous iterations of the Warped Vinyl might be missing the tremolo vibes that MKI & MKII were capable of when ramping the Volume knob, but don’t fret dear readers. What we lose in trem prowess we gain in much more direct control over the delay time which means a much broader spectrum of chorus/vibrato tones. Still, some owners of Warped Vinyl MKI and/or MKII who have grown attached to the volume control may not find enough reason to make the switch, which is understandable, but I have to put this out there: the ideological split between the darker black and white WVs and the newer, brighter model is palpable enough that, if I were to play Devil’s Advocate, I might suggest making the switch and making up the difference with a Gravitas or some other specialized tremolo. At any rate, I for one plan living on that Hi life for as long as possible.
Keeley Electronics Caverns V2
The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 is a combination delay and reverb pedal. It’s updated from the V1 with better laid out controls, wider foot-switch spacing, an optional buffer for delay/reverb spillover, and a Mod selection switch. It’s also now a much prettier pedal; the design is clean, modern, and airy with abstract triangle art that serves as a metaphor for the complex sound possibilities and interactions between the delay and reverb. The Caverns V2 encourages you to turn knobs and get creative as the delay and reverb work well together, creating lush and complex sounds.
The tape style delay is a monster. The trails are very warm and analog sounding with a bit of lo-fi grit. At a relatively high Blend with high Repeats, turning the Time knob gives a sense of how much this delay can feedback and mangle into new and intense drone-like sounds. The Rate switch controls whether the modulation is off, deep, or light. When switched on, the Rate knob dials in the speed of the modulation. It adds more to a retro analog vibe and wobbly feel. The longest delay time is 650 milliseconds for deep cavernous echoes. The shortest delay times provide a quick slap-back echo and can go into self-oscillation territory with higher settings of the Repeats knob. It doesn’t have tap tempo, but I think it’s meant for those with a ‘set and forget’ approach or to be tweaked by sound explorers. A small warning that out of the box, the delay and reverb are in trails mode, so there could be some unintended sound artifacts when switching it back on if you’re not careful. Open the back-plate and switch it to True Bypass if that’s your preference.
The reverb exalts the sound coming into it. It doesn’t tend to muddy, dull, or completely wash out the tone even at full blend. Only in Shimmer mode, at higher knob settings, do the subsequent reverb tones and harmonics potentially blend into an ambient choir that masks your original signal. Shimmer mode is a lovely rendering. It has a ‘particles ascending and spreading out’ pattern to it. The Warmth and Rate knobs act together to dial in the strength and tone of the shimmer. Spring mode is emulated well and is reasonably convincing. Dialing in the Warmth and Rate adds a more pronounced spring modulation. With a continuous tone, the effect is more like a small wobble of pitch modulation. Modulation mode adds a choral effect and can achieve reverb closer to room, hall, and church by dialing the Warmth and Rate up or down.
Overall, I was really impressed with the sound of the Caverns V2. It’s expressive and can veer between peaceful ambience to potentially unruly soundscapes. I recommend it for guitar, bass, and monosynth. For what this pedal can do and the current $179 price, it’s a top pedal and deal for 2017.
The Neunaber Iconoclast is a bit of an outlier among the rest of the pedals on this list. It seems like more of a utility tool or jam companion at first glance than something that will revolutionize your pedalboard, but it has been quite an essential addition to my personal setup in 2017, being one of the most viable options available that facilitates the transition to an “amp-less” guitar rig.
I was initially intrigued by the fact that the Iconoclast is a high-definition “stereo parametric speaker emulator” that was designed to exceed the level of sonic detail and articulation found in traditional loudspeakers. The engineer who designs Neunaber’s acclaimed effects algorithms, Mr. Brian Neunaber, previously worked with a company developing high-fidelity loudspeakers. This experience gives him a unique expertise in the area of speaker acoustics. Combining a distinct knowledge about speaker design with the renowned DSP programming seen in pedals like the Immerse, Neunaber created a tool that offers arguably superior results in many ways over what can be achieved from miking traditional guitar speaker cabinets.
Guitar speakers are essentially analog filters. Their jagged, unbalanced frequency characteristics give them their distinct sounds. But even though your ears may not notice it at first, the various dips and troughs of a speaker’s response are removing frequency content from your audio. The Iconoclast uses a smoother parametric equalization to simulate a speaker with a more balanced response. An Iconoclast app for Mac & PC provides immense flexibility by giving you deep control over the EQ curve of the simulated speaker effect. You can even load a favorite speaker impulse response file into the app to see the filter curve and use the EQ to create an approximation of the IR but with a much smoother response. The pedal’s Low, Mid, and High knobs then let you make further adjustments to the EQ as needed; they’re not simple amp-style tone controls, instead shifting the cab resonance, response, and high-end attenuation to simulate different cabinet types with ease.
The Iconoclast also has a dedicated Gate which is useful since it’ll most likely be at the end of your signal chain. (I like to use the Iconoclast before my delay and reverb pedals which is similar to adding those effects in post production after you record a miked amp and speaker cab.) There’s a stereo headphone jack with level control for silent jamming or warming up before a gig. The stereo I/O features balanced outputs which are ideal for running directly into front-of-house, a mixing console, or recording interface. The Dynamic Power Compression parameters found within the Iconoclast app help create a realistic speaker-like sag response that helps the Iconoclast pair with preamps and “amp-in-a-box” drive pedals for a convincing amp-style playability. Latency is well under half a millisecond, so there is no noticeable sacrifice in feel. You can also trade speaker presets in the Neunaber forums. The Iconoclast is not to be missed if you’re looking for quality speaker simulation, and/or if you’re considering leaving the amp at home when gigging.
Now there’s just one more thing before we go…
Many new pedal builders come on the scene every year, and sometimes a few of them bring innovative new perspectives and inspiring new pedals. This year we wanted to give a special shout-out to a promising new builder, and we invited “aBunchOfPedals” to write a feature piece on a new builder that we also think deserves your attention.
While the aforementioned pedals are the ones that made our list, there was no shortage of great pedals released this year. A few other fan favorites and interesting looking pedals of the year were the Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, EHX Green Russian & Op-Amp Big Muff reissues, EHX Synth9, Wampler Tumnus Deluxe, Dwarfcraft Grazer, Strymon Sunset, and Source Audio Ventris Reverb.
Did we leave out your favorite pedal of the year? Let us know in the comments!
And that concludes our Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017. Thanks for reading!