The NAMM Show 2019 came and went, leaving musicians with plenty of new gear and epic pedals to get excited about. I also brought home a case of “NAMMthrax” that I’m still recovering from, but since I made it out alive and have lived to tell the tale, I’m bringing you a roundup of the 22 best new pedals shown at Winter NAMM 2019.
No wasting time. I’m gonna dive right in, so here we go. These were the show’s very best new guitar pedals…
Chase Bliss & Benson Amps Preamp MKII
In 2018 Benson Amps released the Preamp pedal, an unassuming 4-knob box that contains a circuit based on their Chimera 30-watt amplifier. Guitarists raved out the lively tones and rich harmonic complexity that this no-frills pedal added to their sound, but while the Preamp was a big hit with those guitarists who are endlessly chasing the perfect guitar tone, the pedal’s basic format was arguably less exciting for guitarists who demand more from their pedals in the way of presets, MIDI functionality, and new sound design possibilities. Enter the Preamp MKII.
The Preamp MKII is the latest Chase Bliss Audio & Benson Amps team-up project (their previous collaboration being the 2018 reveal of Benson’s The Sorcerer amplifier that includes effects designed by Chase Bliss Audio engineer, Joel Korte). The Preamp MKII is housed in an all-new Chase Bliss Audio pedal format sporting a wider enclosure that has wooden sides akin to the discontinued Moog Moogerfooger pedals. The most striking aspect of this new pedal format is its proprietary “Automatone” designation and the impressive adoption of motorized faders with custom machined fader knobs for parameter control akin to those on mixing consoles like those found in the world’s most renowned recording studios.
The Preamp MKII has all the Chase Bliss Audio bells & whistles you’d expect: digital control of analog parameters, MIDI functionality (with dedicated 5-din MIDI Input & Thru jacks), presets, and expression control. But there’s a lot more going on here besides the standard CBA fare. All of the I/O jacks are now top-mounted, adhering to a standard that facilitates ideal pedalboard space management. There are also dedicated Bypass and Preset selection foot-switches, so you don’t need external hardware just to change sounds on the fly. But that’s not all…
The pedal also has 5 classy looking surface buttons that allow convenient selection of various options. The Scroll button gives you 3 options for how many presets the Preset foot-switch will scroll through: 0-1, 0-3, & 0-9. For example, with the 0-1 option you could just switch between a rhythm sound and a lead sound. The faders will also move in real-time as your sound switches to the new settings, showing you see exactly where your parameters are set. The Mids button turns the Mids section on & off while allowing placement in Pre or Post positions in your audio path. Turning it off leaves you with a basic Bass & Treble configuration like the original Benson Preamp. The Q button adjusts the width of the mid-EQ band. The right 2 buttons are for Diode and Fuzz, respectively, giving you options for adding in some gnarly Open or Gated fuzz tones while also being able to adjust the unit’s optional clipping between Silicon and Germanium flavors.
With the Preamp MKII upgrading from the standard CBA pedal format in areas of functionality, ease of use, premium build quality, and aesthetics, it seems that Chase Bliss Audio has reinvented the boutique pedal game yet again as they did when the original Warped Vinyl hit the scene back in 2013. This will be one of the must-have pedals of 2019 without a doubt.
Empress Effects Zoia
The Empress Effects Zoia looks similar on the surface to the pedal that wowed the world at Winter NAMM 2018, but a lot has changed since the pedal was first revealed publicly. I’ve also been helping beta test the unit since after last year’s show, so I’ve been keenly aware of most of the major changes happening behind the scenes. The biggest changes since last NAMM are the added “effects modules” which will give guitarists more starting points for making great sounds more quickly, but modular fans fear not, Empress has always been working hard to fine-tune and expand the functionality of all its modules to create a massive suite of versatile creative tools.
The Zoia is essentially a suite of modular building blocks that will allow musicians to build their own effects and patches of sounds from the ground up. If you’re familiar with VCAs, LFOs, Oscillators, ADSRs, Control Voltage, Clock Dividers, etc., and all the ways to utilize such tools, you’ll have a major head-start building wild new creations, free from a modular Eurorack full of gear. If you’re a guitarist looking for a plug ‘n play multi-effects box, you might have to put in a bit of work to learn how to navigate the massive set of tools the Zoia provides, but fortunately, a big insistent push among some of the beta users (myself included) has been to add in more “effects” modules that will give modular novices (re: typical guitarists) some solid places to start while still being able to wade into the modular waters more easily. For me this may be the most important pedal I’ve played since the Red Panda Tensor, and it’s not even finished yet.
If you’re a modular synth power user, you’ll likely find the Zoia to be a powerful toolbox for building dream synths. The pedal has dedicated MIDI I/O (via included 1/8” to 5-pin MIDI adapter cables and the EXT jack), so you can connect a MIDI Keyboard or other MIDI controller.
If you’re the kind of effects user who dreams up effects you wish existed, the Zoia may be the platform you’ve been waiting on to bring your ideas to life.
The Strymon Volante was unveiled before the show, but it was still one of the most impressive products on hand. It’s essentially like an El Capistan on steroids. Actually, it’s much, much more than that as the Volante encapsulates Strymon’s history making vintage inspired delay effects.
The Magneto algorithm on the BigSky was a surprising addition to that pedal in that it offered a taste of multi-head delay. It was a fantastic delay algorithm that didn’t make it into the TimeLine. And then Strymon began going deeper into tape style effects with the Deco Tape Saturation & Doubletracker pedal. Then they revisited the multi-head echo concept with the full-fledged Magneto Eurorack device. Now they’ve gone beyond that concept and have drawn upon all of their experience and expertise in digital emulation of vintage hardware–the result of all this work and the ultimate evolution of Strymon’s tape and drum head inspired delay is the Volante.
The big draws of this pedal for me are the independently pannable playback heads, the low cut (for keeping the bottom end clean and tight), and the divisions selector knob that lets you morph the rhythmic placement of the repeats to change the feel. Then there’s a solid spring reverb, tap tempo, sound on sound looper, presets, MIDI, and more. This is arguably one of Strymon’s most impressive releases to date, and while some fans are still dreaming of a TimeLine 2, I think the devoted effort put into the Volante goes above and beyond the effort many builders put into their “tape” and “Echorec” inspired emulations.
I got to play the prototype of this pedal (called “XD-1”) at last year’s NAMM Show, and what a difference a year makes. The Neuron is a full fledged gain sculpting device that could become your dedicated amp-sim in pedal form or your one-stop distortion device. It covers a range of tones spanning genres and play styles, but it’s particularly impressive in the arena of high-gain distortion, yielding impressive sounds that are akin to a cranked amp. An Iconoclast style cab filter is included should you really wish to forgo using an amp, and there are deep tone editing parameters included as well as a built-in noise gate. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Neuron is that it allows you save and recall presets via an onboard foot-switch or MIDI. You’ll definitely be hearing more about this pedal in 2019.
Red Panda Particle V2
The original Particle is an all-time favorite delay pedal of mine, capable all of kinds of granulated and pitch-shifted delay insanity. The Red Panda Particle V2 brings the Particle concept into a new realm of functionality thanks to being ported over to the platform that the amazing Red Panda Tensor exists on. Expect full stereo, presets, MIDI, tap tempo, and more as the Particle V2 continues to show why Red Panda is a leader in creating unconventional boutique guitar effects pedals. On a side note, during the time the Tensor has been available, Red Panda has added exciting new features via firmware updates, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Red Panda continuing to add more features and value to this pedal as time progresses. Either way, the Particle V2 is shaping up to be one of the year’s best releases.
Poly Effects Digit (& Morph)
Poly Effects is working on two nearly incomprehensibly next-gen effects pedals–Digit & Morph. The Digit is a quad-channel Delay & Reverb pedal, and the Morph is a digitally controlled analog multi-effect with Drive, Compression, Filter, and Sequencing possibilities. I’m currently more excited about the staggering possibilities of the Digit, but I think the Morph will also be a compelling unit, particularly when used in tandem with the Digit via CV or through the pedals’ dedicated ethernet interfacing jacks. Control of these units is handled through a massive (and very responsive) LCD touch-screen along with a sweet pair of Telecaster style knobs. Both pedals are still in-progress, so various planned aspects are still in the works, but if these pedals come even remotely close to meeting expectations, they’ll still likely be mind-blowing, particularly the Digit since innovative hybrid delay/reverb pedals seem to be a prevalent wish-list item for many musicians.
Free The Tone Future Factory
I’m a big fan of the Flight Time digital delay, arguably one of the best rack-inspired digital delay pedals ever released. The Future Factory goes in a few new directions and offers several unique performance aspects that look promising. The Future Factory is now capable of stereo operation with independent delays assigned to the left and right channels; the delay lines can be auditioned separately with individual delay times and basic parameters being set for each. There’s also a 3-band EQ section for sculpting your overall tone as well as stereo panning and modulation functionality. The new optional RF Phase Modulation function adds a random aspect to the modulation that randomly re-triggers the modulation as your signal passes a certain threshold. If you prefer using your delays in mono, you’ll likely appreciate the Series operation option that lets you stack the two delays in series and the Soft Clipping that adds a smooth saturation to one side of the pedal’s signal path, ideal for use in a mono guitar rig.
GFI System Synesthesia
When the makers of the Specular Tempus (one of the world’s best delay pedals and best reverb pedals) unveil a modulation pedal with a dual-effects engine, it’s probably worth taking notice of. The GFI System Synesthesia wasn’t the only modulation multi-effects pedal unveiled at NAMM, but this pedal easily surpassed the competition thanks to being able to run any two (of 32 at launch!) modulation effects simultaneously. And that’s not to mention that the pedal boasts user presets, full MIDI functionality, a dedicated editor application, and even simple design conveniences like a bright display screen and player preferred top-mounted I/O jacks. If you’re in the market for a modulation pedal, the conveniences and wide range of sound design possibilities offered by the Synesthesia make this pedal one that’ll be worth waiting for.
Alexander Pedals Radical Delay DX
It’s been 3 years since Alexander unveiled the Super Radical Delay back at Winter NAMM 2016, and after a few evolutions of the concept, the ultimate version has arrived–the Radical Delay DX. This Neo Series iteration of Alexander’s 80’s inspired delay features 6 delay modes spanning Modulated, Pitch-Shifted, Dual Delay, Reverse, Arpeggiated, & Dynamic types. The pedal has tap-tempo and 3 selectable divisions. All 4 knobs have clearly labeled alt-parameters, offering plenty of extra functionality for deeper sculpting of your delay sound. Four presets can be selected from the right foot-switch, and 16 can be recalled via MIDI. Sounds can also be “morphed”, changing to different settings in real-time. Just about anything can be controlled with MIDI via ¼” input or USB. And there’s more, but if you’re really not sold yet, I have 3 words for you–laser bird noises. Does anything else really even matter?
Rainger FX The Drone Rainger
Rainger FX makes some of the coolest pedals out there. No joke. And The Drone Rainger is no exception. Rainger FX took the core of their Echo-X digital delay pedal and expanded it, adding some “cinematic” aspects to it that deliver a new level of interactive performance possibilities. The pedal has 2 distinct Drone pitches that can be dialed in for a pad-like drone that persists beneath your playing. The 2 pitches can be blended together or activated in tandem for a two-toned sequence of notes triggered by the left foot-switch. You can also opt to have the foot-switch trigger a crash of white noise that echoes down the empty streets of a post apocalyptic cityscape. This Drone Rainger looks like a ton of fun and just might be the most creative pedal from Rainger FX to date.
The Eventide Rose is the builder’s first all-new pedal since the H9 Harmonizer, and it’s an interesting departure from the builder’s previous releases, offering a more stripped down experience that may be better suited for musicians who don’t want to deal with menus and option screens. The Rose is a hybrid digital/analog device, with a digital delay line that is manipulated digitally and via analog filter and mix circuitry. The pedal has a wealth of modulated, reversed, and pitched delay sounds. The Hotswitch can be set for tap tempo or to induce infinite feedback. Parameters can be adjusted via CV or expression pedal, and the pedal even supports MIDI control via its ¼” expression input. This is one pedal I’m looking forward to spending more time with as Eventide have been known for their impressive delays since first inventing the digital delay rack effect.
Chase Bliss Blooper
Chase Bliss Audio, Knobs, and 3 Degrees Audio are working on a looper pedal. It’s called Blooper. It’s going to be a big deal for a mono looper pedal. It’ll be capable of high-resolution looping with up to 8 levels of undo/redo. You’ll be able to affect your loops with “Modifiers” that add interesting effects to the loops. And you’ll be able to Ramp in quantized time, locked in with your loops. Some functionality is subject to change, and details with be forthcoming. Just keep an eye on Chase Bliss and Knobs for the full scoop as details are confirmed and announced. This one should be well worth the wait.
Source Audio Spectrum Intelligent Filter
The Spectrum Intelligent Filter may appear to be a basic envelope filter style pedal on the surface, but when connected to the Neuro editor it offers so much more. Yes, the standard envelope filter style sounds should be on point, but the synth features open up a new level of sound design possibilities. You can have up to 4 different voices (including synth voices) that can be individually mixed, detuned, and panned. You can then add drive to the sound and apply the filtering (among other effects). I’m really wanting to hear more from this pedal, and if you’re into synths and filters at all, you’ll also want to keep watch for when the Spectrum drops this Spring.
Caroline Guitar Company Megabyte
Caroline Guitar Company showed off the Megabyte Lo-Fi Delay Computer, the long-awaited successor to their fan-favorite Kilobyte Lo-Fi Delay pedal. The Megabyte will feature two smaller knobs on the surface, one to control modulation and the other to select tap divisions. Yes, that’s right–tap divisions for a much requested tap tempo function. Caroline is working hard to retain the beloved sound and functionality of the original Kilobyte while added some cool upgrades. Also, I was intrigued to discover that the Megabyte will feature 2 PT2399 chips used in tandem to achieve a cleaner repeat texture at longer delay times than what is typically available from a single PT2399 chip. This pedal will be released to much fanfare when it drops later in the year.
SolidGoldFX “new Formula 76”
SolidGoldFX had two rad new prototypes on display at NAMM, and while the other one seemed to be a bolder take on something new, I’m a sucker for the classic Formula 76, so this new iteration caught my attention the most. The new Texture knob will add some versatile tone-sculpting for even more control over the “76” style fuzz sound. Clip & Color options further adjust the sound. And SolidGoldFX is working on adding some foot-switchable Filter modulation that can also be controlled with an expression pedal. I really liked the filter sound and also hope there will options for a “parked” filter sound and direct control of the sweep via the exp pedal input. This series of pedals offers some of my all-time favorite fuzz sounds, so this’ll likely be something that fuzz fans should check out.
Seymour Duncan Dark Sun
I sat down with Mark Holcomb from Periphery and talked about his new collaborative pedal with Seymour Duncan–the Dark Sun Digital Delay + Reverb. Mark noticed that he almost always uses delay and reverb together, so the Dark Sun’s goal was to provide a platform that produces inspiring delay and reverb sounds quickly and easily. After all, when you’re ready to create and write music, you want to get inspiring sounds quickly, rather than be lulled into endless knob twiddling. The Reverb controls are simple; Size and Mix adjust how big the reverb space is and how much of it is in your signal path. The Delay gets much more involved with a full suite of controls and options that are comparable to Seymour Duncan’s Andromeda Dynamic Digital Delay. They even managed to add in modulation, saturation, filtering, and their “Dynamic Expression” functionality. The routing options are another big draw of the Dark Sun. You can run the delay and reverb in series in either order or pan them left and right on either side of the stereo field. Very cool. This actually looks like it’ll be quite a delay & reverb powerhouse when it ships soon.
The Beetronics Swarm is the SoCal builder’s take on a phase-locked loop (PLL) fuzz pedal. Several builders have attempted this concept, but the Swarm seems to be one of the more approachable and functional PLLs out there. It lets you mix together 3 total voices (including your normal guitar sound) and lets you easily shift the octave/harmony voicing with the dedicated center knob. You can also easily adjust the diving pitch glides while a side-mounted knob sets you set the output level. This thing sound killer and seems like one of the more straight-forward and fun takes on this quirky effect
Origin Effects RevivalDRIVE Compact
If you haven’t heard yet, Origin Effects released a pedal last year (in two variations) called the RevivalDRIVE. It’s essentially Origin Effects’ take on the be-all end-all amp-style drive pedal, essentially a platform that lets you sculpt the ultimate drive tone with virtually any amp. It was a lofty ambition, but many players seem to feel that it delivers the goods in a big way. However, the RevivalDRIVE is quite hefty in size with a sizeable price tag that may its great tones out of reach for many musicians. But in the tradition of how Origin Effects shrunk down its legendary big-box Cali76 pedals into more pedalboard friendly “Compact” units, the RevivalDRIVE is also receiving the Compact treatment. The RevivalDRIVE Compact with offer guitarists a healthy portion of the tones of larger siblings with several of the most essential tone-shaping controls from the full-sized variations–Gain, Blend, Output, Highs, Lows, and “More Pres”, the last knob being a presence and “negative feedback” control. There’s also a toggle-switch and smaller pot that offer some Post Drive EQ Controls for helping fine tune the pedal to your amp setup. While some players (myself included) often enjoy the endless tweaking that can be had with pedals like the full-sized units, the RevivalDRIVE Compact looks like the ideal variation of this concept for players who prefer saving pedalboard space while being able to plug in and get great tones fast. Definitely keep an eye on Origin Effects for when this one is going to hit the scene. (Thanks to Origin Effects for the photo!)
Spaceman Mission Control
The Spaceman Mission Control is probably the most unique offering yet from the Portland-based builder. It’s centered around an analog VCA that can be manipulated by a powerful envelope generator. It can be used for auto-fading effects, tremolo, and signal blending among other possibilities. Control voltage I/O opens the pedal up to even more sonic exploration. Essentially, the Mission Control is an interactive performance instrument that offers users extended possibilities for how they interact with their amplitude (volume) and other effects. The Mission Control seems like it’s a great utility pedal and supplement to the creative guitarist’s effects arsenal.
EarthQuaker Devices Swiss Things
This pedal is more of a utility pedal than an effect, but the EarthQuaker Devices Swiss Things offers some compelling options for interfacing with your other effects pedals. The Swiss Things has 2 effects loops, A/B/Y splitting (with phase compensation), a dedicated foot-switchable boost, a tuner out, and a volume expression control input. If you’ve used foot-switchable effects loops, you already know how convenient it can be to be able to activate entire chains of effects from a single foot-switch. And being able to route your signal to multiple destinations can also be very handy. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a full-on MIDI effects switcher, the Swiss Things may the central control hub you’ve been waiting for.
Anasounds Elements Spring Reverb
The new Elements Spring Reverb from Anasounds might be the most ambitious and brilliant attempt at providing real analog spring reverb that guitarists can use on their pedalboards. The core of the setup is the Elements Spring Reverb pedal, a slick compact pedal with 4 control knobs, a dedicated relay true-bypass foot-switch, and pedalboard friendly top-mounted jack routing. You connect the pedal to one of 3 spring reverb modules–Le Bon (small), La Brute (medium), or Le Truand (large). These units can be mounted elsewhere on your pedalboard or underneath the board depending on its size. Expect this to be a sleeper hit of 2019 for any guitarists looking for real spring reverb. (I didn’t snap a pic at NAMM, so the one above is from Anasounds’ website.)
Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner
Finally, the most impressive “guitar tuner/volume pedal” since Paul Uhl famously put a Boss TU-3 inside a compact EV-30 has arrived. The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner puts a vibrant touch-screen display into their classic VPJR chassis. The first thing I did when I saw this at NAMM was to peek beneath the treadle to see if they used the cheap, breakable string of the old pedals, but thankfully, they’ve replaced it with a more reliable PVC coated Kevlar cord. The screen gives you a large readout of your string tuning, and it can show your volume level (although you can’t see it when your foot is on the pedal, of course). In any case guitarists who love the Ernie Ball VPJR already and who wish they could save some precious pedalboard real estate finally have an option for getting a new tuner/volume pedal hybrid pedal in an all-in-one package. (I forgot to take a pic of this one; the above pic is from EB’s website.)
There were plenty of other amazing pedals not mentioned here, but these are the very best of the show overall. If there’s a new pedal from NAMM that you’re excited about, let me know below!
See you next time!