Top 22 Best Pedals of The NAMM Show 2019


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.


Strymon Volante


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.


Neunaber Neuron


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.


Eventide Rose


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.


Beetronics Swarm


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!


Top 5 Pedals of the Year 2018


I decided to do something different this year, something very hard to do.

While there were hundreds of new pedals that came out in 2018 and at least a few dozen great releases, I’ve narrowed my attention with this year’s roundup to focus on just 5 of the very best pedals.

I could argue in favor of longer lists, particularly if my goal was to pick the best pedal of the year in each category of effect (delay, reverb, fuzz, etc.). But there may not always be a truly revolutionary or essential product released in a given year for each effect type. For example, I’d still argue that the best tuner pedal this year is the Sonic Research ST-300, a pedal that’s a few years old now. And besides, the more you add to a list, the more you dilute its relevance. It’s especially important to be concise when picking the very best of the year.

By constraining myself to picking only 5 pedals, I’ve forced myself to scrutinize pedals even more closely. I’ve tested and re-tested the pedals on my short-list, trying to uncover all the benefits and drawbacks of each one. In the end I’ve chosen 5 pedals that are leading in innovation and offering guitarists new sounds and new ways of approaching their instruments. If you’re just looking for your next 3-knob overdrive pedal, look elsewhere. If you want to push the limits of the sounds you can coax from your guitar, read on.

The main purpose of this article isn’t to generate more hype for builders’ latest releases; it’s simply to showcase the very best releases of the year. I want to shine a spotlight on a few builders and products that are pushing boundaries and giving musicians innovative new tools for making music. My commentaries on each pedal summarize what you can expect if you’re not already familiar with each release. And along the way I’ll provide relevant constructive criticism that may help companies improve their offerings.

If you’re looking for bold new pedals, these are my uncompromising top picks.

Here are the Top 5 Best Pedals of the Year 2018

Red Panda Tensor

Builder: Red Panda, Pedal: Tensor, Effect Type: Pitch-Shifter/Looper

The Red Panda Tensor is essentially a pitch-shifter and looping pedal with the ability to compress and stretch the duration of audio to warp your sound in various ways. Think forwards and backwards looping, tape-stop effects, and rapid-fire stuttering glitchiness. Plug in an expression pedal and you can do old-school Whammy style pitch bends and dive bombs (as well as control any combination of knob parameters thanks to a recent firmware update). Also, with the newly released Remote 4 controller, you can save and recall multiple presets or gain access to the Tensor’s newly expanded looper functionality. (Disclaimer: the Remote 4 just came out, and I haven’t tried it yet; I fell in love with this pedal long before and didn’t know about Red Panda’s intentions to release this expanded functionality. Strangely, a few months ago I was thinking that more looper control options would improve the pedal, so it’s great to see this implemented.)

Regarding the Tensor’s pitch-shifting, this was an aspect of the pedal I was highly anticipating after first playing a prototype nearly two years ago at Winter NAMM 2017, yet the finished pedal somehow surpassed my expectations. I’m a huge fan of pedals like the DigiTech Whammy V and the Electro Harmonix HOG2, and while those pedals may win against the Tensor when it comes to polyphonic pitch tracking accuracy, the Tensor takes the overall crown for a more subtle reason. When you play through either of the former pedals with a fully-wet blend, intending to quickly shift from your fretted note pitch to a pitch-shifted interval, those pedals have more of a tonal coloration and latency, even if these aspects are arguably negligible. The Tensor on the other hand is amazingly transparent and more responsive than both of the aforementioned pedals; you can leave the Tensor activated with the Blend maxed and may not even notice it’s on until you sweep the expression pedal to shift your pitch up or hit the Hold foot-switch to trigger a loop or glitch effect. Any noticeable coloration is surprisingly subtle. And while the Tensor’s monophonic pitch-shifting is incredibly smooth when you’re not applying vibrato or hitting two or more notes in unison, when you do play in a way that induces a glitchier sound, it still has an endearing quality akin to that of the earlier Whammy pedals.

The Tensor’s Hold function makes it easy to trigger short loops (up to 4.8 seconds) for quick bursts of stuttering repeats. For example, in Record mode with the Hold foot-switch set to Momentary, you create a loop by simply pressing Hold to record it and releasing the foot-switch to play it back. You could then use an expression pedal to “tape stop” the loop and flip it in reverse. Or you could just quickly tap the Hold foot-switch with each new note or chord to create cascading bursts of stuttering loop fragments. The Time knob can speed up or slow down the loop, and the Pitch knob shifts the pitch of the loop up or down. Both of Tensor’s foot-switches can be easily assigned to Momentary or Latching to suit how you want the pedal to respond during performance.

Another unique draw of the Tensor is its deep MIDI functionality. The Tensor’s MIDI implementation for parameter control is perhaps the most well executed and strictly MIDI compliant implementation I’ve seen in a pedal; other pedal builders should take note of Red Panda’s flawless implementation of MIDI CC functions. With MIDI CC messages you can control all of the Tensor’s surface parameters and “secret” functions like semi-tonal pitch-shifting, pitch glide, and the extended looper controls. With a cheap USB/MIDI adapter you can get all this running on your pedalboard with a MIDI compatible effects switcher.

While MIDI-over-USB in a guitar pedal may not be as pedalboard friendly or standardized as 5-pin MIDI or ¼” TRS MIDI (meaning I probably wouldn’t want to see USB MIDI as standard on every MIDI compatible pedal), this aspect of Tensor opens up a world of possibilities for laptop musicians and DAW users. When I first connected the Tensor to an iMac via USB, the pedal was instantly recognized by the computer’s Audio MIDI Setup utility. You can then select it as a MIDI output destination from Ableton Live 10, Logic Pro X, or your DAW of choice and achieve the fastest possible MIDI communication with the pedal through its direct connection to your computer. This makes MIDI automation incredibly responsive and facilitates some inspiring possibilities. But one downside of this is that I’ve experienced added signal noise every time I’ve connected the Tensor to my iMac. I don’t have this issue with other pedals. (For example, the HX Stomp’s MIDI-over-USB is noise-free.) While you can do some cool things by sequencing the Tensor from your computer, these possibilities might be limited to one-time studio tricks unless the pedal’s receptivity to noise interference is alleviated. I’ll update this section if I confirm that this issue has been addressed as this inherent flaw is the only glaring strike against what is otherwise a perfect pedal.

It’s worth emphasizing that even without all the mind-boggling MIDI possibilities or the expanded functionality offered by the Remote 4, the Tensor is a bold and creative pedal that fulfills Red Panda’s vision of helping musicians create new sounds. The Tensor is a tour de force. Now can the Red Panda Particle V2 come out already?

Visit Red Panda for more info about the Tensor

See the lowest price on eBay


Line 6 HX Stomp

Builder: Line 6, Pedal: HX Stomp, Effect Types: Multi-Effects/Amp Sim

With the Line 6 HX Stomp, the DSP modeling pioneer sought to take their acclaimed Helix amp & effects modeling and contain it within a pedalboard friendly stompbox for guitarists and bassists. They’ve definitely succeeded there, but the totality of what they’ve accomplished with the HX Stomp has greatly exceeded even my demanding expectations in many ways.

The Line 6 HX Stomp was a late-2018 release, yet I’ve already seen it find an essential place in my guitar pedal rig. As a matter of fact, the HX Stomp is easily the most important pedal in my signal chain right now. It has replaced 3 other pedals, and I’m finding myself feeling committed to making this pedal my dedicated “amp-in-a-box” for all my current and upcoming musical endeavors. With 60 detailed Helix guitar amp models (and tons of cabs, mics, & bass amps), the HX Stomp may make you forget all about miking cabinets in the studio and lugging heavy amps to gigs. And why do either when you could get all your live tones from the same piece of gear you used to record your music in the studio? And that’s not even taking into consideration the plethora of effects in this thing. The HX Stomp may be the pedal of the year for many musicians based simply on the far-reaching ground that it covers and the impeccable quality with which it delivers in nearly all areas.

The HX Stomp’s bright and spacious LCD display gives users 6 blocks for selecting effects and amp/cab/mic models. You can even load impulse responses if you have some go-to favorite speaker emulations you prefer using. I was skeptical that the 6 blocks might be limiting, but I’ve only reached the pedal’s DSP limit on a few rare occasions like when attempting to run 2 amp/cab/mic blocks in parallel with some other stereo effects. If you’re really trying to get a dual amp sound, try using a mono amp block and a stereo cab block with different combinations of cabs, mics, and mic placement. But the HX Stomp can handle some pretty powerful signal chains of DSP hungry Helix quality effects. For example, 6 blocks consisting of a pitch, overdrive, amp/cab/mic, stereo modulation, stereo delay, & stereo reverb could all be run with ease. The HX Stomp is by no means skimping on processing power, and no other pedal this size can do anything close to what the HX Stomp can manage in terms of DSP multi-effects processing.

And about the effects – the HX Stomp has a formidable collection of modeled effects spanning the history of Line 6 all the way back to sounds from the DL4, FM4, and M series pedals (among others). It should come as no surprise that the modern Helix effects grab the most attention, particularly Line 6’s detailed delay and reverb algorithms which sound absolutely gorgeous in stereo. And the Helix quality pitch and harmony effects sound pristine. Also, while the HX Stomp brings back those early digital drive sounds from the DM4 Distortion Modeler (The Edge is a notable user of those algorithms), the revamped Helix quality overdrive, distortion, and fuzz effects come closer to rivaling many of their real-world counterparts. I’d argue that some of these modeled effects even surpass the pedals they were inspired by.

The HX Stomp is very versatile in terms of how you can implement the pedal in your rig. It could be a compact multi-effects unit to compliment your existing amp; the “4-cable method” will even let you apply some HX Stomp effects in front of your amp and some in your amp’s effects loop. And if you’re tired of lugging a heavy amp to your gigs, it can’t be emphasized enough that the HX Stomp’s amp and cab models are more than worthy enough to make this single pedal your all-in-one amp+effects unit for stage and studio. The HX Stomp is a more than capable virtual amp for your pedalboard, allowing you to easily run your signal direct from the pedal (with Unbalanced or TRS Balanced cables) to an audio recording interface or the FOH mixing board.

Navigating the HX Stomp is pretty simple and intuitive once you learn the basic functions of its few knobs and buttons. Foot control is easy, too, thanks to the pedal’s trio of assignable foot-switches (and optional expression pedal and/or external foot-switch control). The HX Stomp forgoes the “Command Center” functionality that made the HX Effects more of a pedalboard control hub. You can either control HX Stomp directly, or you can control it from a MIDI effects switcher. In my testing the HX Stomp performs very well when used with an effects switcher. You can easily control its functions with CC commands, activating and bypassing individual blocks as well as the entire pedal. There are options for Analog Bypass (true bypass via switching relays) or DSP bypass. You can also use your switcher to activate the Tuner. Presets can be easily recalled by program changes, but be advised that there isn’t currently an option to have preset labeling start from “001”. This means preset recall will be off by one digit (PC1 = 000, PC2 = 001, etc.) when using some professional MIDI effects switchers and certain other MIDI gear. I’ve suggested the 001 preset numbering option to Line 6 to ensure maximum ease of use with all MIDI gear and will update this section if that’s rolled out in a future firmware update.

I can’t overstate how astounded I am by the HX Stomp as an all-in-one pedalboard solution. It’s easily the most powerful and sonically versatile pedal to come along since the Eventide H9, and I’d be quick to recommend the HX Stomp to anyone as a top pick for a desert island pedal. My only real concerns with the entire package are some performance issues I’ve encountered when testing the pedal as an audio & MIDI interface. The unit froze once when using several audio/MIDI features simultaneously, and choppy audio playback coming from my DAW had me reaching back for my Focusrite interface and just running HX Stomp’s audio outputs into that unit. I’ve already brought my findings to the attention of Line 6, and I expect that with a few little firmware tweaks, the HX Stomp will be firing on all cylinders very soon as a worthy audio & MIDI interface for the recording guitarist. Fortunately, the pedal’s standalone performance as a smaller sized multi-effects unit are unmatched, and I’ve experienced no notable performance issues in that area.

Line 6 has long been one of the biggest names in digital modeling, essentially pioneering the concept. Their expertise has made the HX Stomp a very formidable multi-effects pedal that could compliment any pedalboard or become your whole rig if only a handful of effects are needed. And of course the most powerful weapon in the HX Stomp’s arsenal is its amp & cab modeling. It’s definitely the biggest draw for me and what cements the HX Stomp’s place as a next generation pedal that could take over your pedalboard and make you leave your amp at home when heading to the studio or playing out live. Line 6 is entering 2019 with a market leading multi-effects pedal, and I expect that a few other builders will be scrambling to catch up to Line 6’s commanding dominance in this area.

Visit Line 6 for more info about the HX Stomp

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WMD Geiger Counter Pro

Builder: WMDevices, Pedal: Gieger Counter Pro, Effect Types: Wavetable Distortion/Bit-Crusher/Filter

I’d been looking forward to the WMD Geiger Counter Pro since first playing a prototype way back at The NAMM Show 2015. After patiently waiting for years, the GC Pro finally arrived, and as expected, it’s a monster.

The Geiger Counter Pro is a distortion device that uses digital wavetables to saturate and distort your input signal, re-shaping the harmonic content to generate new textures and tones. There are 512 wavetables spanning 32 banks, yielding an incredibly wide range of sounds to explore. You can set a static wavetable or adjust the Table parameter to change the character in real-time. A Morph function smoothens the transition between wavetables, adding an expressive way to contour your sound via CV, expression pedal, MIDI, or by just grabbing the Table knob and turning it. The sounds can range from subtle drive tones to extreme distortion and splatty fuzz, even just straight-up chaotic noise. I’ll be quick to admit that most of the fun this pedal is found in conjuring up the extreme tones that easily spew from this pedal, but also, some of the less experimental wavetables evoke many shades of more mild overdrive flavors.

The Geiger Counter Pro is also a bit-crusher that lets you reduce Bit Depth & Sample Rate to crunch up your guitar (or other instrument), but this pedal is unique in how these aspects were thoughtfully implemented by WMD. The Samples knob reduces the sample rate in the signal path before it goes into the wavetable generator and bit reduction sections. Reducing the sample rate beforehand adds aliasing artifacts to the signal before it’s processed further. As you begin cutting the Samples knob, you’ll hear the upper frequencies change and seem to fold in on themselves. Then you can change the wavetable and hear those characteristics be affected in a different way. Lowering the Bits will square the sound and distort the signal, and raising the Gain will also add more distortion. The Bit Depth section can also be placed before or after the Wavetable, adding further flexibility to the sounds you can create.

While the Geiger Counter Pro’s wavetables offer a way to change the tonality of the pedal in terms of which frequencies are heard and accentuated, there are a couple other parameters that lend to shaping your tone in a more obvious way. The Tone knob can brighten or darken the wet signal before it’s fed into the digital processor. The Tone circuit is optional, so while some audio material (namely guitars) may benefit from some tone shaping, other sounds (drum machines, full audio stem mixes, etc.) may benefit from being mangled by the full-range onslaught of wavetable destruction. There are no rules. And in any scenario there’s still an excellent Low Pass Filter with a slightly resonant peak that can be used to roll off any harsh frequencies that may result from the pedal’s more extreme settings.

One of the best aspects of the pedal’s larger foot-print (which still manages to be pedalboard friendly thanks to the pedal’s top mounted I/O) is that it has 2 additional foot-switches that give users easy onboard access to the pedal’s 16 available presets. It can be annoying when builders make you buy extra gear to access basic features, but the Geiger Counter Pro was designed to give you quick access to all of its functions. Another case in point is the clever CV/EXP control routing of parameters. Two obvious LED strips have dedicated push-buttons for selecting which parameters you want to assign to the pedal’s pair of CV/EXP jacks. I’d imagine that a big part of why this pedal took so long to finish was that WMD were striving to ensure that this complex seeming beast would be as easy to use as possible.

The connectivity is a big aspect of what makes this a definitive wavetable distortion machine in any hardware format. Not only can you connect it to a Eurorack modular setup thanks to its dual CV inputs, the MIDI In allows you to control the pedal from external MIDI gear as well. Sadly, the Geiger Counter Pro VST was out of commission for the two Macs I tried to load it on, but I managed to easily set up a Max for Live device chain in Ableton Live 10 to test out the pedal’s MIDI functionality from my computer. Parameter control was immediate and responsive, and the pedal seems to work well with MIDI overall.

The Geiger Counter Pro is arguably an acquired taste, one for musicians who love finding new ways to manipulate and obliterate their instruments. While its greatest strengths are in its punishing extreme distortion and bit-crushing sounds, you can apply the Geiger Counter Pro in more subtle ways, too. I’ve been using it to filter other pedals, and you can stumble into plenty of wavetable settings that seem to bring out interesting frequencies and tones that you can’t really get from simply turning a tone knob alone. Few pedals come close to offering such a wide range of sounds, and the Geiger Counter Pro will give users an endless palette of sonic destruction for years to come.

Visit WMD for more info about the Geiger Counter Pro

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Meris Enzo

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Enzo, Effect Types: Guitar Synth/Delay/Pitch-Shifter

In 2017 Meris entered the pedal game with 3 incredible offerings: the Ottobit Jr., Mercury7 Reverb, and Polymoon. We even gave special mention to Meris as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. Going into 2018 no one knew what to expect next from the SoCal based trio (yes, the company is currently comprised of only 3 magical people), but jaws dropped again when the Meris Enzo was unveiled.

The Enzo is a remarkably unique guitar synth pedal and pitch-shifter that also has a deep filter section, a 2 tap delay, and some ring modulation thrown in. You can even apply compression or chorus-like modulation to your dry signal in Dry mode. While the Polymoon pushed boundaries by being a delay with several other effects that could be applied to it at once, the Enzo differs in that while it’s primarily a guitar synth, it can function like a few different pedals depending on what you feel inspired by in the moment. You can also split your wet & dry signals to dedicated outputs for processing the synth sounds separately from your guitar.

The core of the Enzo and arguably its biggest attention grabbing aspect are the amazing guitar synth tones the pedal offers. The Mono and Poly modes in particular are shining examples of some of the best tracking and most sonically pleasing guitar synth textures I’ve ever heard in a pedal that relies on a standard guitar pickup. The Mono mode is incredibly responsive and feels more instantaneous than any other digital mono-synth I’ve played. Equally impressive is how well Mono mode handles string bending and vibrato. It’s exceptionally playable for monophonic synth leads or synth bass. The Poly mode is noteworthy for how well it processes dyads and triads to generate smooth chordal synth sounds; it’s great for lush pads, especially when you add in some Modulation, Delay, and Filter Envelope movement. The Arpeggiated mode is intriguing in that it uses your source audio material and the Tap Tempo rate to generate synthesized arpeggios based on the harmonic content and dynamics of your playing. While it can seem to produce somewhat unpredictable results at first, when you get it locked in just right with your playing, the results are mesmerizing and unlike anything I’ve heard from a standalone guitar pedal. All of these amazing synth sounds can be further tweaked with either Sawtooth or Square Waveshape voices, Modulation for detuned synth sounds, optional Delay (in mono & stereo), Sustain for longer note release times, Ring Modulation, and deep filtering. Speaking of the filtering…

It’s worth pointing out how incredible the Enzo’s Filter is before I mention the Dry mode. I really enjoyed the smooth feel of the Ottobit Jr.’s slightly resonant Low-Pass Filter, and the Polymoon has a great sounding Filter applied to its delays, but the Enzo’s Filter is much more in-depth than the filtering aspects in either of those pedals. This is fitting for the Enzo considering how synonymous filtering is with synthesis. Enzo’s Filter section has 6 options for Ladder & State Variable Lowpass, Bandpass, and Highpass filtering which deliver a lot of versatility. There’s even a Filter Bandwidth alt parameter for dialing in resonance ranging from a shallow rolloff to very “peaky” filtering like you’d find on a real hardware synth. I also like that the Enzo’s LPF options seem to sweep down closer to silence than the Ottobit Jr.’s Filter. The optional Attack & Decay Filter Envelopes can also be set to Triggered Envelope or Envelope Follower to respond to your audio signal in dynamic ways. The Filter quality is one of the more surprising aspects of the Enzo and can be used to affect your synthesized sounds or be applied to your dry guitar in Dry mode. It may also be tempting to plug a hardware keyboard synth into the Enzo just to try the different Filter modes – filter junkies from any musical background should take note.

The Dry mode’s immediate benefit is that it lets you pitch-shift your guitar in the range of -2 octaves to +2 octaves. And the Enzo happens to be on par with the Red Panda Tensor for the fastest and smoothest pitch-shifting I’ve heard in a compact pedal. Musicians with access to both pedals might find it a worthwhile experiment to A/B them to draw their own conclusions. I will say that when it comes to using the pitch-shifting from either of these pedals to drop-tune your guitar a few semi-tones, the Enzo performs better with polyphonic playing and can better handle complex chords, vibrato, and pinch harmonics without inducing as much glitchiness. As a small point of constructive criticism, while the lag of the Enzo’s pitch-shifting makes it great for longer pitch sweeps, I wish there was an option for more instantaneous interval changing when controlling the pitch with the Pitch knob or via MIDI CC. As it is the Enzo is better suited for re-tuning and more gradual pitch-shifting than immediate note changing via pitch-shift. But in any case, if Meris takes their expertise further into the realm of pitch-shifting and real-time harmonizing, expect unexpected results that could contend with and possibly overtake Eventide, the company that invented the digital Harmonizer.

In Dry mode you can also apply compression to your audio signal with the Sustain knob. This is useful for helping achieve the smoothest possible pitch tracking, but be advised that it does raise the perceived output level, and the Enzo doesn’t have a master volume control. Perhaps an automatic volume output attenuation aspect would have been helpful to make the compression more useful on higher settings without increasing output volume. You can also add a hint of Modulation for a chorus-like sound (which also increases perceived volume slightly) or add in some fun Ring Modulation for metallic and dissonant guitar tones. And you can apply the sweet Filter and Filter Envelopes to your guitar (with the Portamento being used here to create ascending & descending pitch effects). And of course you can use the solid double-tap (or single-tap) Delay on your dry guitar tone and apply Modulation to the delays if desired. Using the Polymoon for a simple ¼ note ping-pong delay in stereo has become one of my go-to sounds, and the Enzo can also give you a taste of that as well.

From the perspective of viewing the Enzo as a standalone pedal, it’s a remarkable instrument considering that it has incredible synth sounds, an excellent filter, and some solid extra delay functionality among other things. I’ll admit though that I’d happily have traded the delay functionality for more waveshapes and/or synth tweaking parameters. The synth sounds are really that impressive to have me wishing for more, and I’d rather keep the Enzo near the front of my signal path with the Polymoon or other delay pedal handling delay duties near the end of my effects chain. And be aware that you’ll probably want to grab Meris’ Preset Switch or use the pedal with MIDI to gain access to saving and recalling multiple presets of the Enzo’s amazing sounds. Yes, it’s a drawback to not have easier access to multiple presets from the pedal itself, but it’ll be worthwhile to overcome for musicians who are enticed by what this pedal offers. The Enzo’s synth sounds are so inspiring that it makes me wonder if Meris will ever expand upon their synth framework in the future; with Enzo they’ve definitely solidified themselves as a builder at the forefront of guitar synthesis. Considering how far ahead of the game Enzo is, I’d love to hear where else Meris could take guitar synthesis in the not-too-distant future if they reapproach this concept in a future release. Now back to the present…

The Enzo does a lot and can be used in a variety of different ways despite appearing on the surface as primarily a guitar synth pedal. Perhaps the most profound aspect of the Enzo is that it shows Meris’ continued devotion to pushing the envelope (sorry, sorry, I had to), defying expectations, and creating some of the most inspiring and unique professional grade effects for discerning musicians who seek previously unimaginable new sounds from their pedals.

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Dr. Scientist The Atmosphere

Builder: Dr. Scientist, Pedal: The Atmosphere, Effect Type: Multi-Reverb

Okay, there were a few really great reverb pedals released this year, and I have a firm opinion about what I’d argue are the top 3 best reverb pedals of 2018. But in the end I decided that Dr. Scientist’s The Atmosphere wins as my overall pick to be included among the best pedals of the year. While it was still a difficult decision to settle on, I have several reasons for coming to this conclusion and crowning The Atmosphere with the highest accolades. It really comes down to several things that this pedal just does a little differently, things that add extra uniqueness and utility to this pedal that may give it wider appeal.

First, The Atmosphere features 16 different reverb modes built-in… Yes, sixteen different patches in a compact stompbox with top-mounted I/O jacks. There are a lot of cool sounds in this small pedal. The reverb patches are easily selected with the clearly labeled white Patch knob. The Atmosphere’s bold and bright LED screen shows which patch is selected. The parameters are all readily available and easy to access.

The sounds of the pedal cover a lot of ground, too. Classic flavored reverbs like Room, Hall, Spring, and Plate are included. While it seems like most of the patches already have some inherent modulation present in the reverb, there are several patches that modulate the reverb in various ways; these include Rotary, Vibro, and the Mod FX patch which has options for flanger, chorus, tremolo, and ring mod. The Oct patch produces octave up and down tones, useful for shimmer effects and/or deep droning reverbs. The Pitch mode adds dizzying pitch rising and descending effects; you can even set the pitch manually which is extra fun with EXP control. The Smear, React, Swell, and Aether provide unique sounds for ambient reverbs. The Aether’s reverse delay & reverb sounds are particularly inspiring as are the diffused sounds of the Smear patch. There’s a Gated reverb that cuts the reverb when you’re not playing, a cool Filter reverb with high-pass and low-pass filters, and an Alias patch that applies sample rate reduction to the reverb.

All of the patches have a unique pair of parameters (with their names displayed on the screen for each patch) and several shared parameters including Decay, Mix, Vol, and Tone. Kudos to Dr. Scientist for including the essential Volume parameter that is savable per preset and ensures that your Wet/Dry reverb Mix can be easily set to the perfect output level. The Res parameter is perhaps the most interesting as it adjusts the resolution of the DSP, warping the pitch and reverb audio quality. It reminds me of the Afterneath’s “Drag” knob or the Whateverb’s “Warp” knob, only The Atmosphere’s Res can be controlled via expression pedal or MIDI. Yes, it’s as awesome as you should already be thinking it is. You can even assign The Atmosphere’s internal LFO to modulate the Resolution. Speaking of that…

The Atmosphere has an internal LFO that allows you to modulate any of the pedal’s six parameters (not including the analog Tone control which acts as more of a global tone shaping control). The LFO is accessed by double-clicking the Patch knob to enter the pedal’s Main Menu Screen. From there you simply select the parameter(s) you’d like to assign to the LFO (or assign to EXP/CV). You can also select whether the LFO is on or off, set its waveform shape, and dial in its Rate & Depth. The LFO provides some compelling possibilities for adding more movement to your reverbs. Just assign parameters you want to modulate to the LFO and use the surface knobs to dial in the max range of sweep; parameter movement is also interactive with the LFO’s Depth. The Multi switch can be set to Tap Tempo if you want access to controlling the Tempo in real-time, or you could use MIDI Clock or send Taps via MIDI as well.

Another big reason The Atmosphere won as my overall top reverb pick this year is that seems to be a very performance friendly unit with the gigging guitarist in mind. Yes, I love stereo reverbs, but most guitarists are running mono rigs, and The Atmosphere is a straight-forward mono verb. I like that the Multi switch can be set to scroll through the pedal’s presets, so if you don’t have a MIDI effects switcher, you can still access your presets without buying an external piece of gear. I mentioned that the Tone control is more of a global tone parameter. Performance spaces all have their own unique room sound and might be brighter or darker depending on various factors from the space’s construction materials to the density of people in your audience. The Atmosphere’s active treble Tone control can brighten your reverb’s tonality in darker rooms and dampen the reverb if the room is already bright. And this master Tone setting will apply to all of your presets used during a gig. It doesn’t have a sweet spot; it sounds smooth and musical throughout its range and is arguably a secret weapon for quickly dialing in the tone for your entire array of patches.

The MIDI possibilities open up a lot of The Atmosphere’s potential, and Dr. Scientist put in a lot of effort in this area. Of course I had to dig in and push the pedal to its limits with MIDI control. I did find a threshold by sending lots of MIDI data where the pedal can behave strangely, but for 99.9% of MIDI users, this won’t be an issue. Still, I sent The Atmosphere a steady stream of moderate MIDI automation for 2 straight hours, and the pedal kept on working just fine. And by spending so much time down the MIDI rabbit hole with this pedal, I stumbled into some really cool sounds. I sent the pedal some random Filter stepping automation that made it sound like an old Maestro Filter Sample/Hold was being applied to the reverb. And I was able to use the Resolution’s MIDI CC to jump between 32kHz & 16hHz for some cool octave warping; it sounded extra wild alternating that with the Pitch verb’s octave changes. And yes, the pedal worked reliably when testing more commonly used MIDI functions like preset selecting and activating/bypassing from a MIDI effects switcher; those are features that most MIDI users will be accessing, and The Atmosphere seems solid here. My only little gripe is that Presets 1-16 are selected by Program Changes labeled 18-33 on professional MIDI effects switchers from Boss, Free The Tone, etc. I’d love to see the pedal reverse the Default/Preset selection order and make the common end user consideration for offset PC numbering so that PCs 0-15 (typically labeled as 1-16 on most pro MIDI gear) select the pedal’s 16 user Presets with Defaults selected by PCs 16-31 (commonly labeled 17-32). The current configuration isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, simply a small consideration that could facilitate even greater ease of use.

There’s a lot of GAS and hype surrounding nearly every new boutique pedal that comes out these days, but thankfully, The Atmosphere is a pedal that lives up to the stratospheric expectations surrounding it. Dr. Scientist did a commendable job putting so much functionality in such a small pedal while making it inspiring and fairly easy to use thanks to knobs for all of its main parameters and screen labeling for each patch’s CTRL 1 & 2 functions. Definitely give this one some play time if you’re considering your next reverb pedal. You’ll likely find several sounds in it that inspire you, too.

Visit Dr. Scientist for more info about The Atmosphere

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Runners Up?

I fought myself over this list for weeks. And I kept trying to squeeze in just one more pedal. But I knew if I did that, it would become a Top 6, then maybe a Top 10, or some other random number. If I had to pick one more pedal, maybe as a runner up, it would be the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae as I feel it’s another innovative release that offers some inspiring sounds. Other considerations included the Source Audio Ventris, an incredible sounding dual reverb pedal with massive customization potential when connected to the Neuro app. I also loved the Free The Tone PA-1QG, an excellent 10-band analog graphic EQ pedal with presets and MIDI. And several other crowd pleasing pedals were contenders for my extended list. Weighing out all factors, in the end I feel that the forward-thinking design, effects quality, and inspiration found in the 5 pedals on this list make this a definitive assessment of this year’s best and most innovative new pedal offerings.


The NAMM Show 2019 and Beyond…

While 2018 has been a stellar year for pedals, The NAMM Show 2019 is just around the corner. I’m already aware of a few exciting things that will be at the show and am sure that there will be many new surprises as well. You can expect to see a chronicle on this site of a select few pedals that will be worth keeping an eye on in 2019.

That concludes our Top 5 Pedals of the Year 2018. Thanks for reading.

Top 20 Best Delay Pedals of 2018

Best Guitar Effects is back with a round-up of the 20 Best Delay Pedals available in 2018. The market is filled delays, and we wanted to narrow things down to the pedals that stand out the most. We’ll start with a short guide to delay pedals and the types available before we jump right into our list.


What Is Delay?

Delay is an effect that records audio and plays it back after a period of time. The sound may be played back once or multiple times or played into the recording again to create the sound of repeating, decaying echoes.


Do I Need A Delay Pedal?

Delay is typically used to add more texture to a soundscape by filling in the spaces between your playing with more sound. Delay can be used to create the impression that multiple instruments are playing at the same time or used to add more rhythmic interest to your guitar parts. Being able to create additional layers of instrumentation by delaying your playing offers inspiring new possibilities that go beyond what can be achieved with a dry guitar alone.


Delay Vs Reverb

While a reverb pedal produces ambient reflections of your playing, a delay pedal produces repeats of your playing. These effects are similarly used to manipulate the time and space where your playing occurs, and they’re both often used at the end of the signal chain. Some newer hybrid delay/reverb pedals even combine both effects in one pedal for greater creative flexibility.


Using Delay With Reverb

It’s common to place a delay before a reverb, but sometimes it can be worth experimenting with reversing the order of these effects. Putting a reverb after a delay can create a space for your delayed signal to sit in, but putting a delay after a reverb can make the reverb sound even bigger and longer by adding more texture to a reverb and extending its decay. Experiment to find the best result for your music!


Types of Delay

There are many types of delay and ways to achieve such effects, but these are some of the most common styles of pedal you’ll find in modern guitar pedals.


Tape – Tape delay is an early delay effect used in audio recordings originally achieved by creating tape loops on reel-to-reel recording systems. Commercially available tape delay units included the Echoplex and Roland Space Echo. (The sounds of the Binson Echorec can be argued to fall into this category sonically although it used an analog magnetic drum recorder instead of tape to achieve its echoes.) Some pedal builders have attempted to create tape delay sounds using actual tape, but you’ll most commonly find modern tape delay sounds using DSP to recreate convincingly authentic tape echo sounds.
Best for: vintage tonality, spacious echoes, characterful delays


Analog – Analog delay pedals typically use BBD (Bucket-Brigade Device) chips to achieve delay effects. Such pedals are usually characterized by a warmer, darker, and more “colored” sound. They’re also typically noisier than digital delays; however, some builders have made great strides towards minimizing the noise and other drawbacks inherent in older analog delay pedals. A few classic examples of analog delays are the Boss DM-2 and Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man which originally used Panasonic MN3005 BBD chips.
Best for: warmer tones, classic delay pedal sounds, old-school mojo


Digital – “Digital delay” as a style of delay is typically known for achieving more authentic repeats of your playing, reproducing the sound and nuances of your original audio signal. They’re cleaner, quieter, and brighter sounding than analog delays although many digital delays seek to emulate the sound of analog pedals. While earlier digital delays often simply used digital IC chips (the Princeton PT2399 is still a popular choice in some modern delays), many modern pedals push the limits of DSP to go beyond what “digital” delays were previously known for. The TC Electronic TC 2290 is a famous digital delay rack unit.
Best for: accurate repeats of source material, clean and bright tones


Reverse – Reverse delay simulates the sound of recording audio and playing it backwards. Original reverse tape delay effects can be heard in songs like Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Tomorrow Never Knows from The Beatles’ Revolver album. Delay pedals achieve reverse effects by digital means, playing the digitally recorded audio backwards. Use a fully wet (or “Kill Dry”) setting to simulate classic reverse delay sounds.
Best for: mid/late-60’s reverse guitar sounds, experimental textures


Modulated – Most modern delay pedals offer some kind of modulation to apply to your repeats. You’ll see such options on many analog and digital delay pedals, and tape delays often have “wow & flutter” parameters to simulate the warbling of old tape. Essentially, modulation is a separate effect applied to various types of delay, but some guitarists (like The Edge) have made this such an integral part of their sound that it’s worth mentioning as a specific type of delay. It’s typically an optional effect, so you can either reduce “Depth” or deactivate modulation if you prefer a dry delay tone.
Best for: delays with movement and more presence


Other Types of Delay – There are many other less common types of delay. Dynamic Delay ducks the volume of the delayed signal when you play. Pitch-Shifted Delay is becoming more common with many pedals offering various types of pitch effects on the repeats. Multi-Tap Delay (or Pattern Delay) offers multiple delay taps, often with various rhythmic placement and positioning in the stereo field. Some pedals offer a Hold or Stutter Delay functionality where repeats can be generated at length for glitchy, stuttering effects. Granular Delay, while more common in VST software plugins than in pedal form, is a style of delay that chops up your signal into pieces and delays them. Most of these obscure delay effects are found in DSP based digital delay pedals, arguably the most flexible type of delay for a wide variety of uses.


The pedals that made our list aren’t in order from best to worst, but as the author of this article, I thought it would be fun to list the first few pedals that have become recent favorites of mine. Regardless of your personal tastes, there should be a pedal here that’s right for you.

Here are the Top 20 Best Delay Pedals of 2018!


Meris Polymoon

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Polymoon, Delay Type: DSP / Modulated

This year’s list of the best delay pedals is kicking off with the Meris Polymoon. Meris is a relatively new brand on the pedal scene, but with a series of 3 epic pedals released last year, Best Guitar Effects lauded the fledgling 3-person company as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. In short, Meris is doing awesome things, and the Polymoon is one of the boldest delay pedal releases in recent years. So what does it do? Well…

The Polymoon’s sounds range from simple digital delays to a whole signal chain of rack-quality effects stacked in series (with parallel signal processing if you use the pedal in stereo). If you turn the bottom 3 knobs of the pedal all the way to the left, you can use the top 3 knobs to dial in a simple delay sound. It’s solid and usable, and thanks to the Tap Tempo with quarter & dotted eighth note options, it’ll handle most basic delay duties with ease. By pushing the Alt button and turning the Feedback knob, you can use the pedal’s Filter to cut the lows for bright “dubby” delays or roll off the high end for darker, analog flavored repeats.

The bottom 3 knobs make things more interesting. Multiply adds in more delay taps in various patterns. You can use it to achieve ping-pong delays in stereo or patterns that bounce across the stereo field. It still sounds killer in mono, but the Polymoon is a must-try in stereo if your rig can accommodate it. The Dimension knob smears the repeats. At higher settings it can turn your delays into a reverb-like wash; small amounts provide a nice subtle diffusion that gives your delays a more ambient character. The Dynamics knob activates a pair of dual-flangers that can either respond dynamically to your playing or move via LFO. (Tip: With the delay Mix turned down, the flangers can still be applied to your dry signal.)

The dual-flangers are just one of the many modulation options the Polymoon has. The button on the lower right will add dual-barberpole phasers to your signal. You can have them locked in time with your tap tempo or churning along at a slow 0.1 Hz speed. The phasers make it sound as if your guitar is traveling through a wormhole in space. The Alt parameters of the two left knobs are Early and Late Modulation options, each being able to be either bypassed or set to 15 different active modulation options. There are options for standard chorus-like modulation, FM modulation, and Pitch modulation. Yes, you can select any of these options in the either Early or Late positions.

You can control every effect parameter of the Polymoon via MIDI. There are even a few surprise MIDI CC controlled parameters like Half Speed & Tempo (in addition to Time). The pedal also has 16 preset slots, but you’ll need to either use MIDI or the Meris Preset Switch (sold separately) to access them. The pedal can accommodate instrument and line levels, useful with synths or in the studio, and are several other global options for configuring the pedal to your needs.

The Polymoon has quickly become my personal most-used delay, and if you’re the kind of musician who can appreciate the myriad sound design possibilities this pedal offers, this forward-thinking instrument from Meris will like find a home in your rig as well.

Read the Meris Polymoon Review

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Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall (original & RKM)

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Tonal Recall & RKM, Delay Type: Analog Delay

The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall and Tonal Recall Red Knob Mod are at the head of the pack when it comes to classic analog delay tones for modern guitarists. Utilizing reissued MN3005 chips, the Tonal Recalls revisit and refine the sounds made legendary by pedals like the Boss DM-2 and Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. While these pedals offer a slew of features, perhaps the most commendable aspect of these pedals is how Chase Bliss Audio engineer, Joel Korte, has been able to achieve an impressively clean, low-noise analog delay signal that can be contoured to taste with their respective Tone knobs. This lets you dial in classic analog delay tones similar to your favored vintage unit but with less noise and grit than the rustic pedals of old.

While the specs of both pedals are similar, the RKM is notable for containing 4 MN3005 chips (this original Tonal Recall has 2). This doubles the possible delay times up from 550ms to 1100ms. The additional circuitry raises the noise floor slightly, but most users won’t mind. The oscillation of the Tonal Recall RKM is also improved to be “smoother” to accommodate the longer delay times with higher Regen (feedback) settings. The RKM can also be slightly brighter than the original Tonal Recall, but both pedals can still be darkened for similarly murky delay sounds.

The modulation section is noteworthy for guitarists who appreciate the subtle movement of certain vintage delays. In addition to Rate & Depth controls, there’s a waveform selection switch that provides Triangle, Sine, and Square options. Crank the modulation knobs and flip this toggle for some weird sounds. Keep ’em low with Triangle or Sine waveforms for classic modulation.

The pedals also feature presets (2 onboard, 122 via MIDI), tap tempo with 6 selectable divisions, True Bypass or Buffered Trails modes, exp/CV control of knob parameters, MIDI control of parameters & other functionality, and much more. The pedals’ “Ramping” options will let you automate the movement of knob parameters for evolving delay sounds and unique performance possibilities.

The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall and RKM variation are among this builder’s most loved and universally praised releases, and fans of classic analog delay tones will find much to love in either version.

Read the Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall Review

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Free The Tone Flight Time FT-2Y

Builder: Free The Tone, Pedal: FT-2Y, Delay Type: Digital Delay

When it comes to straight up digital delays, Free The Tone’s Flight Time is arguably the new king of mono digital delay pedals. With a knob-less interface that recalls both the TC 2290 and the time travel input panel on the DeLorean from Back To The Future, the Flight Time FT-2Y is at once a tribute to the past and testament of the future.

The Flight Time FT-2Y succeeds the FT-1Y by adding Line/Instrument level options, a convenient Preset Swapping functionality, and a MIDI Out/Thru jack for saving presets externally or connecting other pedals. Perhaps more notable are the internal changes. Free The Tone has refined FT-2Y’s analog circuitry, power supply section, and digital circuits and firmware to dramatically improve the pedal’s sound quality. The FT-1Y already sounded fantastic (with a notable user being David Gilmour who has been known to use two Flight Time units in his rig), but the FT-2Y produces an even more high fidelity sound.

The Flight Time gives you plenty of options for crafting the perfect digital delay sound. You can set Delay level, Feedback, and overall Output level. Delay Time can me manually set in milliseconds or BPM or by using Tap Tempo and selecting from one of 10 subdivision options. You can set Modulation Rate & Depth for classic digital delay modulation effects. There are even dedicated Low Pass and High Pass Filters for creating a perfect delay tone to place in the mix. The unique Offset parameter lets you move the delay placement ahead or behind or a rushed feel or a behind the groove sound; this parameter is a subtle but very special aspect of the Flight Time that can enhance the feel of your delays and help place the repeats in your mix better. You can even flip the phase of the delays if needed.

There are some cool auxiliary features as well including a Trail function and the BPM Analyzer which activates an onboard microphone that will detect ambient rhythm sources and shift the BPM slightly to keep your delays locked in time. When I tested this function by playing along to recorded music and increasing or slowing the speed slightly, I was impressed that the BPM Analyzer actually worked as stated. This could be very useful when playing with a drummer who isn’t playing to a click track.

You can meticulously set the levels of all parameters and store them to 99 presets. You can also take control of most functions via MIDI. A novel Rec & Repeat function allows you to plug in an external foot-switch to gain use of very basic looping style functionality. I’m a big fan of the Hold function; while most of the Flight Time’s sounds are in a more traditional vein, the Hold could be used to trigger stuttering repeats at will. The only real drawback to the whole package is the fact that the Flight Time is mono only, but that’s perfectly fine if you’re running a conventional rig with one amp. And for live use it’s best to set up your presets and levels beforehand as you can’t quickly grab knobs for fine-tuning while on stage. But the precision with which you can craft your digital delays is second to none, and the Flight Time FT-2Y sounds flawless.

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Dr. No Effects Moon Canyon

Builder: Dr. No Effects, Pedal: Moon Canyon, Effect Types: Delay/Reverb/Overdrive

The Moon Canyon from Dr. No Effects was made in collaboration with Sarah Lipstate of Noveller and represents a bold artistic statement that goes beyond its aesthetic presentation. Just look at it – this is one of the most beautiful looking and artfully crafted pedals ever made and was clearly designed to inspire before you even plug in your instrument. Most importantly the Moon Canyon provides some unique sound design possibilities that warrant its inclusion on this list.

The Moon Canyon is actually a multi-effects pedal with delay being the final effect in the pedal’s signal chain. The delay circuit is based around a PT2399 digital delay chip, and the sound has been tuned to have a warm analog style character with a max delay time clocking in at a little over 500mS. The delay controls are simple enough with knobs for Repeats, Time, and Mix. The delays dissipate smoothly as you increase the Repeats, and as you push the knob past noon towards about 2 o’clock, the pedal will begin to oscillate for that runaway trails effect.

The Moon Canyon’s Reverb is placed before the Delay which goes against the convention of using delays before reverbs. But while this signal flow is less common and many guitarists seem to default to the standard “delay before reverb” pedal order, this aspect of the Moon Canyon is what contributes to its most unique sounds. The Reverb itself is a beautifully cavernous long reverb that also has a subtle modulation (which is more noticeable when you crank the Reverb knob and solo the effect). If you activate the Reverb & Delay together, you’ll feed the reverb into the delay, extending its ambience in a rhythmic pulse set by the Delay’s Time knob. In addition to the Delay’s ability to extend the Reverb decay, the Reverb will affect the sound of the Delay by imparting a diffused quality to the repeats which becomes more prominent as you increase the Reverb knob. Since the effects can be individually activated, you have performance flexibility to add Delay to extend the Reverb on a whim or play with a standard Delay before adding in Reverb to change the Delay sound; the foot-switches are also close enough together to quickly switch between both effects with a single stomp.

There are three other noteworthy features the Moon Canyon offers. The far right foot-switch activates a Drive section that brings in a very respectable 3-knob overdrive (with Tone switch) that is based around a JRC4558D chip, a revered IC that’s been used in the TS-808 and other noteworthy overdrive pedals. The Loop foot-switch activates an external effects loop that is placed between the Drive & Reverb, handy for adding in other effects. (I personally like to use the Moon Canyon’s Loop I/O to route the Drive and Reverb/Delay sections to two separate send & return loops on an effects switcher; this allows remote access to both the Drive and a Reverb/Delay combo setting.) The Moon Canyon also boasts two mono outputs for splitting the signal to feed two amps or separate effects chains. The Moon Canyon can satisfy your basic delay needs while adding some creative potential to your pedalboard.

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GFI System Specular Tempus

Builder: GFI System, Pedal: Specular Tempus, Effect Types: DSP Delay & Reverb (Multi)

The Indonesian builder, GFI System, has been impressing guitarists for the past few years with their ultra compact and powerful Clockwork Delay & Specular Reverb, each currently updated to V3 revisions. The Specular Tempus combines all of the algorithms from both of these pedals into one powerful hybrid delay/reverb combo.

The Specular Tempus gives you 13 reverbs, 13 delays, 3 delay & reverb combos, and 3 diffused delay hybrids for a total of 32 unique algorithms. You can save and recall up to 32 presets, configure the pedal for on-board tap tempo, send the pedal’s tempo to other pedals, and even use a 3-button foot-switch to control bank scrolling and tap tempo externally. There’s already a Send/Return loop, and of course, MIDI. The free SpecLab app for Mac & PC lets you access more functionality as well.

A trio of “Classic” delay modes includes Digital, Analog, and Echoes. The “Hybrid” delays take those 3 delay algorithms and diffuse the repeats for a reverberated delay sound.

There are 10 “Esoteric” delay options with many of them offering entirely unique sounds. The Spectral, Filter, and Formant modes provide coloration and texture to your delays; I particularly like the envelope-controlled Filter algorithm. The Spectral mode sounds almost flanger-like while the Formant mode adds a throbbing, vowel-like effect to your repeats. The Transposer & Ambiental modes add pitch-shifting to your repeats. The Transposer lets you choose from intervals including Unison, Sub-Octave, Minor 3rd, Perfect 4th, Tritone, Perfect 5th, and Octave. The Ambiental mode, possibly my personal favorite delay mode, is a stereo algorithm that lets you use a “Glitter” parameter to gradually color the repeats with either a Perfect 5th or Octave voicing for a shimmer like effect; the first couple repeats will ping-pong across the stereo field before resuming straight through the middle channel. It’s a very unique algorithm. The Dual Stereo, Dual Dotted, and Dual Gold algorithms make further use of the stereo possibilities, and the MultiTap 3 & MultiTap 4 modes each provide 4 multi-tap delay variations to round out the pedal’s delay offerings.

Among the host of Reverb modes you’ll find 3 more “Hybrid” delay options: Reverb+Digital Dly, Reverb+Analog Dly, and Reverb+Echoes. There are many excellent reverb modes available as well with a few standouts being GFI System’s signature Spatium algorithm, their beautiful 70’s Plate mode, and an excellent Shimmer that’s among the best around. The Voices and Swell modes are great Shimmer variations, too, and the Anti-Shimmer in “Doppler” mode produces some interesting vertigo-inducing pitch descension.

The best thing about the GFI System Specular Tempus is the fact that if you’re not sure whether to get a delay or reverb next, this pedal can fill the duties of either very well with some solid options for use delay & reverb together. It’s also a great choice for a positioning between the delay and reverb you already have on your board for expanded ambient possibilities. And if you just want the excellent delays without the reverb, the GFI System Clockwork Delay V3 is also well worth considering.

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Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe

Builder: Catalinbread, Pedal: Belle Epoch Deluxe, Delay Type: Digital Tape

The Echoplex EP-3 needs no introduction among tape delay connoisseurs. The legendary sounds of this machine’s smooth delay echoes, runaway oscillation, and sought-after pre-amp coloration give the EP-3 a reputation that has long spoken for itself. Catalinbread already found success with their Echoplex inspired Belle Epoch (Eric Johnson is a noteworthy fan and user). But Mr. Howard Gee sought to go further than any other pedal builder before and create the most accurate sonic reproduction of the iconic EP-3 in pedal form. His swan song of Echoplex emulation is the Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, the final word in attaining true EP-3 tone from a stompbox.

All the expected EP-3 amenities are here, from the juiced up 22-volt power rail and (late spec) JFET preamp to the articulate delay section that emulates the sound and feel of the Echoplex without the tape and associated maintenance. How does it sound? In a word: beautiful.

The Belle Epoch Deluxe’s primary controls for the delay are Echo Delay (delay time), Echo Sustain (feedback/regen), Echo Volume, and Record Level which sets the input signal level for when it hits the record amplifier. This unique control ranges from complete silence all the way up to a hot overdriven sound. It’s great for saturating the sound as it hits the delay; once it starts repeating, the delay signal will smoothly dissipate in a pleasing diminuendo to silence. The Echo Sustain can be set higher (around 1-2 o’clock before it starts oscillating) to really get those nice long decay times. The controls are highly interactive, particularly how the Record Level affects the Echo Level and likewise the decay from the Echo Sustain. As you refine the setting of one parameter, you’ll want to play with the others to get things just right. Luckily, it sounds pretty epic no matter where things are set; it’s just a matter of managing your levels and oscillation. And speaking of oscillation, there’s a dedicated foot-switch to kick on spires of oscillating repeats at will.

The left two knobs warrant some brief explanation. The far left knob selects one of six programs from the Echo Program Matrix. The Depth knob controls the depth of the accompanying unique modulation for each selected program. The Echo Programs include the Classic EP-3 tape voicing, a Dark “analog” voicing inspired by BBD analog delay pedals, a Roto-swirl setting that sounds like an EP-3 running through a Leslie, a Manually Sweeping Resonant Filter voicing that can produce wah-like sounds and other filtered tones, and two Deluxe Memory Man inspired modes, one for chorus and one for vibrato. An expression pedal is a must if you want to make the most of the sweeping filter mode or control the speed of the Roto-swirl’s rotating speaker effect. And a pedal is generally useful for adjusting volume on some settings or controlling the delay time, especially in combination with runaway oscillation.

This isn’t to be misconstrued as a review verdict or to heap more hype onto an already GAS-inducing pedal, but if you love tape delay, you need to try this pedal for yourself. And if you’re an EP-3 fan in any way, you likely need this pedal.

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Empress Effects Echosystem

Builder: Empress Effects, Pedal: Echosystem, Delay Type: DSP (Multi)

The Empress Effects Echosystem is the successor to the Canadian builder’s famed Superdelay pedal. And rather than simply add stereo and a few other improvements to its mono-only predecessor, the Echosystem lets you use one delay or two at once in dual parallel, dual serial, or panned left/right in stereo. Not only that, but the pedal gives you dozens of delay algorithms categorized into various types, and any combination of two (even two of the same) can be used together. Needless to say, this pedal is deep.

Forgoing the deep menu-diving of some other multi-algorithm delay pedals, the Echosystem gives you knobs for the units tweak-able parameters all on the surface. The Thing 1 & Thing 2 knobs control unique parameters that are unique to each algorithm. Other than that you get standard delay controls for Mix, Feedback, Delay Time/Tap Ratio, Tone (which may also vary per algorithm), and an Output control to set your overall volume level.

The Echosystem gives users 35 presets for saving your complex multi-algorithm delay creations. You can assign an expression pedal to control multiple parameters at one. It even lets you use MIDI to take control over nearly every function. Empress Effects recently updated the pedal with a Looper that can be used with the delays, greatly expanding on the Echosystem’s creative potential.

This pedal has so much going on for it that it was crowned the best guitar pedal of 2017. If you prefer to keep things simple the Echosystem may not be for you, but all the options it has and with Empress Effects continually adding new algorithms by user popular vote, for many guitarists this may be the last delay pedal you ever need.

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EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run V2

Builder: EarthQuaker Devices, Pedal: Avalanche Run V2, Delay Type: DSP Delay + Reverb

The idea behind the Avalanche Run V1 delay & reverb was to take the simplicity and sweet sounds of the best-selling Dispatch Master and expand on the options and usability (w/ Tap Tempo, Tap Divisions, etc.) while still maintaining ease of use (no Menus!). The Avalanche Run V1 was a big hit upon its release, quickly becoming what could arguably be considered the pinnacle representation of an EarthQuaker Devices pedal. The Avalanche Run V2 Stereo Reverb & Delay refines their flagship pedal with several notable improvements.

While the V1 had similar delay & reverb sounds, the Avalanche Run V2 now features a true stereo reverb which creates a bigger expanse of sound when running the pedal in stereo. The V2 also features EQD’s new “Flexi-Switch” functionality on the Activate foot-switch; this lets you press and hold the foot-switch for momentary operation so that you can use the delay/reverb on very short segments of your playing. Try this with the Tails Mode to apply repeats to certain notes that will then cascade over your dry playing. As with the V1, you choose between True Bypass mode and 5 different Tails Mode options.

An interesting V2 update change has been the increase of enclosure width to be slightly wider than the V1. While some pedalboard space obsessed guitarists might initially glare at this, I think it’s a refreshing contrast to pedals that squeeze foot-switches so close together and so close to the edge of pedals. If you’re not using a MIDI effects switcher and actually plan to step on the foot-switches of your pedals during live performance, you need a reasonable amount of space between foot-switches to be able to activate effects without accidentally stepping on others. (This enclosure width with additional foot-switch spacing has also been implemented on the new EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids pedal, so expect this to be the norm on EQD’s dual foot-switch DSP effects pedals.)

But aside from the Avalanche Run V1 vs V2 changes, what really makes this pedal such an inspiration machine are its killer delay modes with the optional reverb for incredibly lush ambience. The pedal gives you Normal, Reverse, & Swell modes. The Normal is a standard hi-fi digital delay; you can use the Tone to roll off the high-end if you want a darker, more “analog” sound. The Reverse is a killer backwards delay; it’s a must-try with expression control for switching between normal and reverse delays at will. The Swell is a great ambient digital delay that swells in your repeats while you play; shoegaze fans will dig this one. My favorite mode is the Reverse, particularly for using like a standard delay but with the different textural sound of the backwards echoes. It’s killer with the reverb for floating, cloud-like ambience. The reverb itself is like a large room or hall for a nice, full sound, and you can use the reverb’s Decay & Mix to dial in something subtle or massive.

The Avalanche Run V2 is one of EarthQuaker Devices’ best pedals and still one of the best delay pedals available.

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Strymon TimeLine

Builder: Strymon, Pedal: TimeLine, Delay Type: DSP (Multi)

While many builders have encroached on Strymon’s commanding lead in the area of multi-algorithm delay pedals, make no mistake, the Strymon TimeLine is still the boss when it comes to immaculate delays in a single self-contained pedal.

The Strymon TimeLine felt like a second coming in the world of digital delay and DSP processing. With a hulking colossus of a processor and an engineering team who knows how to make the most of it, Strymon dropped a bomb on the pedal world when they released the TimeLine. With 12 of the best delay machines the world has ever heard (and an excellent 30-second Looper) there is a breadth of delay sounds on tap that few pedals can even hope to contend with. The TimeLine is also a standout delay pedal in terms of MIDI implementation; it allows you to control any parameter or function (including all Looper functions) from any MIDI-compatible controller, pedal switcher, or sequencer/DAW such as Ableton Live. Whether you just want to drop it on your pedalboard and play or integrate it into your mad scientist MIDI guitar rig, the Strymon TimeLine covers all grounds with ease and efficiency and still holds its own in a sea of formidable competitors.

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Chase Bliss Audio Thermae

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Thermae, Delay Type: Analog / Pitch-Shifting

Chase Bliss Audio already pushed analog delay farther than any other builder with the universally acclaimed Tonal Recall and Tonal Recall RKM, and they’ve somehow managed to do it again. The Chase Bliss Audio Thermae is an analog delay and pitch shifter that utilizes 4 MN3005 chips to achieve some unbelievably amazing delay sounds unlike any that have been heard before.

The Thermae is a complex pedal that may initially seem overwhelming not only for delay pedal novices but even those already familiar with Chase Bliss Audio’s other master-crafted pedal designs. But after you wrap your head around the basics, you’ll be in for some of the most original and beautiful sounds you’ll ever hear from a delay pedal… even if you still don’t quite understand exactly how you’re achieving the sounds you’re hearing.

Here’s brief explanation of what the Thermae does and how it works…

With the Int 1 & Int 2 knobs pointed up at noon, you’ll essentially have a standard analog style delay. Instead of setting tempo with a “Delay Time” knob, you tap in your tempo with the left foot-switch. Standard stuff, but it sounds killer. You can use the resonant LPF to sweep the tone all the way down to silence, and pressing and holding the left foot-switch induces self oscillation.

Flipping the Modulation dip-switch on the top of the pedal allows access to the killer mod section. You get controls for mod Speed & Depth, a flip-switch for selecting triangle, sine, and square shapes, and a middle toggle control at adds glitchy warbling anomalies to the modulation for some extra bubbly textures. This is a unique difference from Tonal Recall and Chase Bliss Audio pedals that feature “ModuShape”, and it’s a really fitting addition to the weird sounds Thermae can make.

With the Modulation dip-switch in its normal “Off” position, the Int 1 & Int 2 knobs and their adjacent toggle-switches offer some wild sound design possibilities. The two knobs control a pair of pitch-shifting intervals that range from -2 to +2 octaves. The row of 3 flip-switches will set the tap-division of the delay and 2 sequenced pitch-shifting intervals. The sequence repeats at the tempo set by the Tap Tempo foot-switch (or MIDI Clock/MIDI Taps). The real complexity is in trying to wrap your head around intentionally creating sounds you think you want to hear, but I’d recommend not thinking about it too much and just enjoying the endless happy accidents you’ve stumble into. Just remember to save those discoveries as presets!

The Thermae is without a doubt the most original and innovative release from Chase Bliss Audio and definitely one of the most inspiring pedals to consider if you’re looking for something different than your run-of-the-mill delay pedal.

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DOD Rubberneck

Builder: DOD, Pedal: Rubberneck, Delay Type: Analog Delay

DOD is a beloved classic pedal brand that has been on a big upswing in the past few years thanks to the efforts of Tom Cram and a team of talented individuals. DOD pretty much rose from the dead with its moniker appearing on several solid pedals in recent years, the greatest of which is arguably the DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay. Not only is it the best pedal in the DOD renaissance lineup, but it’s arguably the best analog delay pedal in the $200-300 price range.

The Rubberneck is loaded to the brim with features including some you won’t find in any other pedal. The most unique aspect of the pedal is its namesake “Rubberneck” feature that lets you stretch and compress the delay time to shift the pitch of your delayed signal up or down an octave, fitting for a pedal from a sister brand of DigiTech, the brand responsible for the Whammy.

The 3 large knobs provide controls for Time, Repeats, and Level. The smaller dual-concentric knobs give you control over modulation Rate & Depth and Tone & Gain, the latter parameters being particular useful for coaxing the best delay tonality and saturation out of this pedal. There’s also a tap division flip-switch and another switch that lets you activate delay spillover Tails and mute the dry signal. Pressing and holding the Tempo/Regen foot-switch activates oscillation, and a small mini-knob next to the foot-switch sets the onset for the regeneration. The Rubberneck effect is initiated as a momentary function of the Effect On foot-switch with the Rubberneck Rate mini-knob adjusted whether delay time is stretched or compressed and how quickly it happens.

Aside from all that surface control, there’s a Send/Return jack on the back that allows you to use a TRS cable to insert other effects in the delay chain. Another jack allows connection of the DigiTech FS3X Footswitch to remotely control Rubbernecking, Modulation on/off, and Tap Tempo/Regen.

The DOD Rubberneck is one of the most feature-packed and versatile performance analog delay pedals ever seen and an exceptional product that showcases the dedicated passion of Tom and the talented team who spared no attention to every detail when bringing this pedal to life.

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Electro Harmonix Canyon

Builder: Electro Harmonix, Pedal: Canyon, Delay Type: DSP (Multi)

The Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper is an incredibly versatile and value-packed multi-algorithm delay pedal. It gives you 10 excellent delay modes and a capable Looper. It also gives you tap tempo with selectable sub-divisions.

While the pedal has many modes, it’s the quality (not the quantity) of them that makes the EHX Canyon a standout value. It has modes that emulate the venerable EHX Deluxe Memory Man, a great Tape setting, Echo for a straight digital delay, Mod for rack-style modulated digital delay, Multi for multi tap delay effects, a solid Reverse delay that intelligently detects your playing to generate its repeats, a Delay + “Verb” mode that applies a plate reverb to your repeats, a killer Pitch Fork inspired Octave delay mode, a Shimmer mode that also draws on EHX’s killer pitch algorithms, and a great Sample and Hold mode that can achieve some awesome stuttering delay effects. Add to that a 62 second (!) Looper, and you’ve got a sure-fire hit pedal.

The Tap In jack that allows users to tap in a tempo via an external foot-switch may be the selling point that tips the scale in favor of this pedal over other single-stomp delay pedals. As great as the Canyon’s modes are, it begs us to wonder what a flagship EHX multi-algorithm delay with presets, MIDI, and a cooler name with less cringe-inducing artwork would be like. (Please, EHX, don’t call it the “Grand” Canyon. Ugh.) But the Canyon shows that EHX is more than capable of creating plenty of world-class delay algorithms. The Canyon has one of the best pedal releases of 2017 and is easily among the best affordable delay pedals you’ll find in 2018.

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Source Audio Nemesis

Builder: Source Audio, Pedal: Nemesis, Delay Type: DSP (Multi)

The Source Audio Nemesis Delay is a pedal I’ve been looking forward to for quite a long time (…since Winter NAMM 2015, Summer NAMM 2015, & Winter NAMM 2016). It’s a powerhouse digital delay pedal in a reasonably compact format that features 24 delay engines (12 onboard, 12 accessed via Neuro app). That’s a pretty big deal already. Then there’s Stereo I/O, Tap Tempo, Hold a.k.a “Freeze” control, and complete MIDI functionality with up to 128 presets recallable via MIDI. And that’s just scratching the surface really.

The Neuro Mobile app offers incredibly deep control and preset management along with access to the 12 additional delay engines. Any of those delay engines can be downloaded and “burned” to any slot on the rotary encoder knob. The extra delay engines are definitely worth exploring as you’ll find a dark and warbly Oil Can delay, a Complex Rhythmic delay that offers more multi-tap variations, a high-passed Dub delay, and much more.

The real genius of the Nemesis Delay is in the sheer amount power it offers from its simple-to-use surface knob layout. No menu diving needed. Couple that with world-class delay sounds, and the Nemesis Delay is a winner if flexibility, impeccable sound quality, and ease of use are paramount to you. And should you want to explore everything this pedal has to offer, the MIDI functionality and Neuro Mobile app possibilities are a huge bonus when you want to get adventurous and want to dig deeper.

Be sure to explore the Intensity knob with each delay type as it functions differently in each mode. For example, in Analog Delay mode, the Intensity will act as a tone style control, giving you range of Dark, Warm, & Bright sounds. In the Shifter Delay the knob will select from pitch shift options including -1 Octave, +Minor 3rd, +Major 3rd, +4th, +5th, & +1 Octave. This gives you deeper control from the surface of the pedal without the need for menus.

Source Audio have been doing great things for about a decade now, but the Nemesis Delay will no doubt be the pedal that takes this ambitious builder to new levels of success. It was a long time coming, but the Nemesis Delay was well worth the wait.

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Eventide H9 Harmonizer

Builder: Eventide, Pedal: H9, Delay Type: DSP (Multi-Effects)

Yes, the Eventide H9 Harmonizer is much more than a delay pedal. It’s the ultimate multi-effects stompbox. But if you were to use the H9 on your pedalboard for just its delay sounds alone, it’s still an exceptional value and may replace any other delay pedal you currently use.
A standard H9 comes preloaded with the Vintage Delay and Tape Echo delays. Additional delays can be purchased from the H9 Control app. An H9 Max comes loaded will all algorithms gives you all 9 acclaimed delays from the Eventide TimeFactor… and then some. The H9 exclusive Ultratap algorithm is a one-of-a-kind multi-tap delay that’s inspiring to behold. Then there’s also the recently released SpaceTime algorithm with fuses the TimeFactor’s Vintage Delay with a huge plate reverb and some modulation for good measure to create an outstanding all-in-one algorithm that’s an excellent last effect in your signal chain.

And let’s talk about the Eventide TimeFactor. I still remember when the pedal was first announced. Yes, I joined the many guitarists whose jaws collectively hit the floor when first hearing that Eventide would be bringing their acclaimed studio effects expertise to stompbox pedals. The TimeFactor was one of their first guitar pedals and is still going strong today. The biggest draw of this pedal is its use of twin delay lines across all 9 of its cutting edge delay algorithms, allowing rhythmically complex and tonally diverse delays that no other pedal can match (except the H9, of course). Its brilliant knob layout makes dialing in syncopated twin delays a synch, too. There’s also a dedicated (and recently refined) Looper, and I personally like “hacking” the pedal for series operation by cascading one delay into the other and using it in my amp’s effects loop. But if you don’t need the looper and want the amazing algorithms of the TimeFactor plus a whole lot more, the Eventide H9 Harmonizer might be the way to go.

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Strymon DIG

Builder: Strymon, Pedal: DIG, Delay Type: Dual Digital Delay

Simply put, the Strymon DIG is an immaculate sounding digital delay pedal. It’s one of the easiest to use twin delay pedals out there and has plenty of options for creating complex or subtle rhythmic delays. It has 3 modes – adm, 24/96, 12 bit – that each offer a difference in character, adapting this pedal to different styles of playing. Tap tempo, expression control, and stereo outputs (and optional stereo ins via TRS cable) add extra utility. Be sure to try the secondary functions as you can further tweak the tone, change the delays from series to parallel, and even activate a ping pong delay mode when using it in stereo among a few other things. The DIG is Strymon’s magnum opus in the realm of 80’s rack delay emulation.

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SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII

Builder: SolidGoldFX, Pedal: Electroman MKII, Delay Type: Modulated Digital Delay

The SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII is a modulated digital delay that has a unique sound and character quite unlike any other digital or analog delay. Using a pair of PT2399 digital delay chips the Electroman MKII utilizes these chips in tandem with a unique modulation section and “Color” control to produce a refreshing flavor of delay is hard to classify yet is incredibly musical and pleasing to hear. This pedal may be the best use of the PT2399 chips from a perspective of rating the tonality of the delays produced.

The Electroman MKII excels by giving you plenty of control over dialing in your delay voicing. In addition to the typical Repeats (feedback), Time, and Level controls, the aforementioned Color knob gives you a wide range of control over the voicing of your delay and seems to be highly interactive with the Flutter knob which dials in the depth of a beautiful modulation that falls somewhere between the sounds of a classic analog delay pedal and a warbly tape echo.

The flip-switches bring even more options. The Mode switch selects between a standard delay and a Dual Mode with a 2nd delay at half speed to affect the rhythmic feel of your repeats. The Warp switch adjusts the onset intensity of the Warp function (activated via momentary foot-switch). Speed gives you 3 choices of modulation speed. The Tails switch gives you optional delay spillover.

The Warp function is a big draw, having its own dedicated foot-switch for kicking in the self-oscillation at will for as long as you hold the foot-switch. This gives you great musical control over the effect. If you still want more varied delay sounds, use the TRS Send & Return jack to add other effects into the wet signal path for unlimited tonal possibilities. Until SolidGoldFX strikes again with an MKIII, the Electroman MKII will like remain one of the best and more original PT2399 delay pedals.

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Strymon El Capistan

Builder: Strymon, Pedal: El Capistan, Delay Type: Tape (DSP)

There are lots of delay pedals that try to emulate the sounds of a classic tape echo, many of which do a pretty solid job, but the Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo is without a doubt the final word in authentic sounding tape echo delay in a compact pedal. With 3 different tape machines, each with 3 different modes of operation, there’s a huge foundation available for building the ultimate tape echo sound. While the 5 surface knobs make it easy to dial in your tone, there are 5 more “hidden” knob functions (including reverb!) for 10 total adjustable parameters. And while it certainly sounds amazing, it’s the tap tempo that really pushes this pedal over the top for me. Once you’ve dialed in the ultimate tape echo sound, you’ll always be able to sync it right along to the music via tap tempo without fiddling with sliding heads or tape speed. The El Capistan is a marvel of modern technology and the ultimate tribute to the tape echo machines of old.

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Rainger FX Echo-X

Builder: Rainger FX, Pedal: Echo-X, Delay Type: Digital

What happens when the mad genius behind the Dr. Freakenstein fuzz pedal decides to make a delay? Apparently, you get the Rainger FX Echo-X Digital Delay. This little monster is one of the more original and adventurous interpretations of a digital delay pedal I’ve come across. The Echo-X is an ambient digital delay that smears your repeats into long cascading trails of atmospheric bliss. You can use the included Igor foot controller to modulate the Rate or Feedback or even use it in Send mode to have only certain portions of your playing feed into the delay effect. Very fun. You can also adjust the input signal going into the pedal and overall output volume in addition to the standard 3-knob delay controls of Rate, Feedback, & Level. It’s also worth noting that the Echo-X’s compact form-factor has top-mounted jacks for super convenient placement on any tightly packed pedalboard. A killer design from one of the true punk outliers in the pedal game. Rainger FX nailed it.

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Red Panda Particle

Builder: Red Panda, Pedal: Particle, Delay Type: Granular Delay

The Red Panda Particle is the ultimate wildcard on our list. With so many delay pedals remaining grounded in the past, this pedal blasts forward into uncharted territory. Using granular synthesis, the Particle chops your playing into tiny samples and warps your signal, often beyond recognition, in wondrously magical ways. This pedal is for those truly adventurous guitarists who want radical new ways to manipulate their sound. The Particle packs all kinds of otherworldly, ambient delay effects, wild machine-like glitch delay sounds, a great reverse mode, and plenty of sounds that cross pitch-shifting with delay for a playground of twisted delay phantasmagoria. It’s been around for a few years, and while we’d love to see an update with tap tempo, presets, and MIDI functionality, the Particle remains one of the more original and inspiring delay pedals around.

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TC Electronic Flashback 2 Delay

Builder: TC Electronic, Pedal: Flashback 2, Delay Type: DSP (Multi)

TC Electronic has been at the forefront of delay innovation for decades. From the legendary TC 2290 to pedals like the Flashback X4 Delay & Looper, Flashback Mini Delay, and Flashback Triple Delay, this builder’s delay algorithms have long been held in high regard.

The Flashback 2 Delay takes their standard-sized stereo delay & looper pedal to some interesting new places that warrant a closer look even if you’re already familiar with TC Electronic’s previous delay releases.

Let’s start with the delay modes available on the surface of the pedal. The lower right knob starts with the classic 2290 mode, recreating the sound of one of the most renowned digital delays ever made. The ANA mode delivers a pretty convincing analog delay sound complete with some subtle modulation. The TAPE mode is another classic delay variation with subtle modulation movement for a sound similar to the wow and flutter of aged tape. DYN is a dynamic delay that ducks the repeats while you play; as you play more softly or rest, the delays swell up in loudness. The MOD mode adds modulation to the classic 2290 sound; select the ¼ note + dotted 8th subdivision and you’ll have a convincing setting for The Edge’s Where the Streets have No Name sound. The CRYS setting features the excellent octave sounds from the Sub’n’Up, resulting in one of the best shimmering octave delays I’ve heard. RVS achieves an excellent reverse delay sound; use a Reverse TonePrint with “Kill Dry” On for classic psychedelic solos. The LOOP setting turns the pedal into a Ditto Looper style looping device. The last 3 options have default TonePrints already stored, but you have easily save and recall artist TonePrints or use the TC Electronic TonePrint Editor to make your own sounds.

The TonePrint Editor is huge draw here, and I applaud TC Electronic’s decision to make space on the surface selector knob to store 3 TonePrints. The app gives you immense control over tweaking the sound of your delays, even offering multiple modulation options, various stereo options with some templates, the ability to overwrite and set up to 3 parameters to be control from the pedal’s knobs, and more. There are over 50 delay templates to choose from with some recalling the sounds of other classic delays. Templates including BinsonEchorec, Echoplex, MemoryMan, RE101, CapstanDelay, and many, many others provide great starting points for tweaking your own sounds. I recommend the many “Dual” and “PingPong” variations if you’re into stereo delays.

Perhaps the coolest new selling point of the Flashback 2 is TC Electronic’s new MASH functionality which lets you press down on the foot-switch to activate real-time expression control over various parameters. The various onboard modes and TonePrints already have some default MASH options to give you a taste, and you use the TonePrint Editor to assign up to 3 parameters to be controlled by MASH. It’s a killer performance function that is not to be overlooked or underestimated. Try creating your own “Space Echo” inspired TonePrint and use MASH to crank the Feedback and Delay Time to send your delays out of orbit.

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That concludes our Top 20 Best Delay Pedals of 2018. Thanks for reading!


Tell us your favorite delay pedal in the comments!

Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018

The NAMM Show 2018 will likely be remembered as one of the best in recent years for new pedals as the sheer quality and quantity of standout releases made this year’s show really something special. Several well-known and up-and-coming builders are pushing the limits of what musicians previously thought was possible from boxes of components, knobs, switches, and… buttons.

While all of us at BGE have respect for all the great builders in this industry and the great work they do, the aim of this article is to shine a light on the few pedals that stand out above the rest with special attention paid to pedals offering new sounds and innovations to guitarists and other effects loving musicians.

If we covered all the updates of older pedals and the swathes of tweaked overdrives and other solid but not quite as innovative releases from all the builders we know and love, this article would at least double in size. You can find more comprehensive lists of full NAMM coverage elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for the very best of what’s new, this is the place you should start. And with that…

These are the Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018…


Empress Effects Zoia

One knob, 44 buttons, a display screen, and the truth…

Zoia Horn was a librarian and intellectual freedom fighter who believed that the right to privacy and freedom of thought should take precedence over big government motions to spy on citizens and strip away freedoms. She was once jailed for refusing to testify in court as a matter of conscience. Zoia encouraged non-compliance with the heinously named Patriot Act and even opposed library fees, citing them as “barriers to information access”. Zoia Horn was a revolutionary, an Empress whose life’s work was to herald the advent of a world where human potential could flourish without the sin of restriction.

The Empress Effects Zoia pedal is a bastion of creative freedom that (when released) will contain a treasure trove of well over 50 effects modules that can be linked together in simple or complex combinations. It’s like the equivalent of a massive modular pedalboard or DIY multi-effect in a single pedal. It brings the myriad sound design possibilities of software like Pure Data or Max/MSP to guitarists in a pedal format, unrestrained by keyboard, mouse, and desktop computer. Those unfamiliar with such platforms may find it difficult to fully grasp what the Zoia is without experiencing it firsthand, but the idea is to give musicians the power to create any effect(s) they can dream up.

The Zoia is at once a sandbox and universe of creative potential. Imagine stringing together a whole chain of different effects and recalling an entire signal chain at will. Now imagine tempo-synced LFOs, ADSR envelopes, and/or envelope followers routed to modulate various parameters throughout your signal chain. Imagine sending LFOs as MIDI CCs to control other pedals. Imagine re-wiring the inputs and outputs for stereo I/O or pre/post signal routing. Imagine custom granular synthesis, FM synths, all kinds of other obscure effects, Empress Echosystem/Reverb style delay/reverb combinations, and more effect combo possibilities than you could possibly imagine until you start digging in. The Zoia undoubtedly represents one of the boldest leaps forward in guitar pedals in recent years.

The Zoia is for musicians who want to venture into uncharted territories by becoming the sound designers of their own effects. Start with a drive type. Then add a Tone or EQ section. Maybe go back and link a compressor on the front end. What about an octaver effect? Maybe have an envelope follower modulate the drive amount in real-time as you play. I had a crazy idea for a reverb with both high-pass and low-pass filters on the wet signal. In a couple minutes I was hearing these sounds at NAMM. Then for fun, assigning an envelope follower to have the input signal modulate the filters created a sound with some strange sitar-like resonance. Lots of calculated sound creation and happy accidents will be found in the Zoia.

Users will be able to share and trade their complex preset creations, and Empress will be continuously expanding the Zoia with more modules and features. The version of Zoia at NAMM offered only a hint of what kinds of possibilities will be in store. When the Zoia is released, musicians will be liberated from the closed-ended guitar effects pedals that came before. If you just want to plug-in and play, the Zoia may not be for you. But if you want to create all-new sounds or the obscure effects you’ve been dreaming of for years, the Zoia may be the last pedal you ever need.


WMD Geiger Counter Pro

In development since 2011, the WMD Geiger Counter Pro was unveiled way back at Winter NAMM 2015, then shown again at Winter NAMM 2016… and Winter NAMM 2017. This is the 4th year Best Guitar Effects has featured this pedal in our Best Pedals of NAMM roundup. But guess what? They’re being built now, and it’s finally coming out in February 2018.

The GC Pro is a digital wavetable bit-crushing distortion pedal that packs in 512 wavetables for an incredibly wide range of distortion textures. It contains all of the 256 wavetables from the original Geiger Counter with an additional 256 all new wavetables. A new “Morph” mode allows you to smoothly blend wavetables for further texture sculpting, perhaps my favorite tonal feature of the new pedal.

The GC Pro also has 16 onboard presets which can be selected from the pedal or via MIDI. There are 2 CV inputs which can be assigned to various parameters. All parameters are MIDI controllable. WMD is also releasing the Geiger Counter Pro VST which you can load in your DAW of choice as a plugin to take full control of the pedal from the pedal. I’m already imagining the possibilities of what could be done pairing this pedal with Ableton Live 10. The Geiger Counter Pro will be one of the most original and unique distortion pedals to be released in years.

One more thing… There will also be 50 limited edition black units sold directly through the WMD website, so you might want to get in on that if you vibe with the alternate paint-job.


Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter

Guitar effects have come a long way since reel-to-reel tape decks were first used in creative ways to produce slapback echoes, double-tracking, and flanging among other effects, and the introduction of bucket brigade device (BBD) delay chips ushered in a new wave of effects, replicating the delay, chorus, and flanging effects previously achievable only through far more cumbersome and costly means. While everything from mechanical springs to light-bulbs has been employed to create new analog effects and sounds, there really haven’t been many breakthroughs in recent years that have yielded new types of analog effects using existing or new technologies. Well, the Thermae was one of the surprise pedals at NAMM with new tricks up its sleeve.

Chase Bliss Audio has become one of the leading innovators in analog effects, using digital means to precisely control all parameters affecting 100% all-analog signal paths. This approach has brought guitarists presets, MIDI, and among other features, parameter “Ramping”, that add to the uniqueness of the builder’s interpretation of classic analog effects. Now the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter is bringing something new to the world of analog guitar effects pedals: pitch-shifting delay.

Pitch-shifting to specific intervals was first pioneered over 4 decades ago in the Eventide H910 Harmonizer and lives on today in their H9 Harmonizer. Other companies brought the concept to pedals first as seen in the early Boss PS-2 & PS-3. But these effects are all digital. While BBD based analog delay pedals can do pitch-shifty sounds by adjusting tempo and/or tap intervals, the Thermae has been engineered to shift pitch to precise intervals from -2 octaves to +2 octaves with various 4ths & 5ths in between.

It’s fascinating to note which pitches that engineer, Joel Korte, chose to make available. My initial assumption was that octaves and perfect 4ths & 5ths might have simply been a matter of mathematical convenience when implementing digital control over the analog components. But really it was a matter of practical selection of the most musical note intervals that would sound pleasing in more free-form jam scenarios. After all, had the Thermae included major and minor 3rds, using these intervals would require a bit more thought rather than just letting the pedal create harmonies to your playing in more serendipitously musical ways.

One last point of note is that the Thermae shouldn’t be considered a 1:1 replacement to the Tonal Recall RKM despite its super long delay times and normal delay mode. The modulation is a bit different, and the Thermae’s LPF provides a more resonant filtering compared to the Tonal Recall’s smoother high-end roll-off. The Thermae is more of a novel and exploratory effect for guitarists looking for something a little different, but it certainly offers an experience unlike anything else that’s come before.


Red Panda Tensor

The Red Panda Tensor was first revealed at Winter NAMM 2017, and then I said that it looks like “the most exciting Red Panda pedal since the Particle”. Red Panda is known for making wild sound-mangling pedals, and the Tensor is arguably their most insane release yet. The Tensor can stretch your playing up to 4:1, pitch-shift from -2 to +2 octaves, do tape stop effects, and all kinds of weird forwards, backwards, and alternating looping craziness with time compression from 1:4 to 4:1. A secret I heard a year ago was that the Tensor might even add MIDI for taking full control of the pedal’s functions, and the Tensor does offer MIDI over USB. Parameters can also be assigned to the expression/CV port for further control. The Tensor is again one of the best pedals of NAMM and looks like it’ll be yet another excellent release from Red Panda.


Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory

Electro Harmonix pretty much invented the concept of the looping pedal back in 1982 with their 16-Second Digital Delay, and they’ve maintained a looping presence over the years with with a reissue of the classic unit along with the more recent 360, 720, and 22500 pedals and their flagship 45000 Multi-Track Looping Recorder. Even the smash-hit Canyon Delay & Looper draws on EHX’s legacy in looping with a dedicated Looper mode. But the Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory is arguably the most ambitious looping pedal ever conceived.

Optimized for table-top and floor usage, the 95000 boasts a massive 6 pannable mono tracks and a stereo mixdown track, a number which you can double by connecting another unit with a standard MIDI cable for the ultimate loop laboratory. The connectivity possibilities are vast with stereo I/O, Mic Inputs with phantom power, MIDI I/O, USB jack, memory card slot, and more. The tempo can be adjusted in ½ step intervals or smoothly for pitch-warping and tape-stop effects.

The 95000 also boasts full MIDI implementation over its functions meaning you could customize an external MIDI controller to take over full operation of the unit. You can also synchronize the 95000 to MIDI Clock, and its looping functions can quantize to the beat for precision looping which is a pretty dig deal if you plan to synchronize the 95000 to external hardware.

This barely scratches the surface of what the EHX 95000 offers, but looping artists will be doing some incredible things with this unit in the years to come.


Free The Tone Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ PA-1QG (& PA-1QB)

I never thought I would be excited about a graphic EQ pedal, but I got to spend some time with both of Free The Tone’s new Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ pedals, the PA-1QG (for guitar) and the PA-1QB (for bass) before The NAMM Show, and my expectations were greatly exceeded. I expected that they would sound excellent given Free The Tone’s reputation for crafting pro gear for discerning musicians, and sure enough they do.

With a flat response, they’re incredibly transparent when active or bypassed thanks to Free The Tone’s refined HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuitry. The EQ frequency bands chosen on the guitar version (PA-1QG) have been excellent so far for sculpting tones. I haven’t had a chance to plug in my bass yet (because NAMM and NAMMthrax), but the PA-1QB also may be well-suited to extended range guitars if my initial impressions are any indication. The pedals are incredibly easy to use, and I was tweaking, saving, and recalling presets before I even read the manual.

The biggest draw of these pedals may be the MIDI implementation for recalling presets; when using the pedal(s) with an effects switcher, you can recall a preset that perfectly contours your tone for any combination of other effects you’re using. Pending our in-depth review, these are likely the best dedicated pedal based EQ pedals guitarists and bassists are likely to find.


Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer

The Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer is another forward thinking pedal that offers musicians new sounds and ways to approach using guitar pedals. It’s essentially an 8-step sequencer that has 6 modes: Pitch, Mod, Filter, Tremolo, Oscillator, & PWM (synthesized octave). You can tap in a tempo for the sequencer or alternate between manual scrolling through taps. The 4 parameters for each mode can be sequenced, and you can also use an external app like TouchOSC for easier programming and creation of up to 16 onboard presets. The Colour Theory also has full MIDI implementation for external control from an effects switcher or other MIDI source (again, like the TouchOSC app). You can also use the Colour Theory as a sequencer to control parameters on other pedals via their EXP/CV ports. Very cool. Lots of inspiration abounds in this little box.

But… the sounds, the sounds! When I heard about the Colour Theory before NAMM, Alexander Pedals was originally going to have only 4 modes, and they were considering scrapping one for another mode. But instead they decided to go all-in, keeping the 5 modes and adding a 6th mode: the PWM setting which does some pretty killer monophonic squared synth sounds. While all the sweet sequencing fun is what the Colour Theory is centered around, the option to manually step through a sequence makes things even more interesting. You could have one preset containing 8 different sounds, easily accessible by scrolling with the Tap foot-switch or by selecting sounds directly from a MIDI effects switcher. This is going to be one incredibly versatile pedal and a sign that Alexander Pedals is really pushing the Neo Series into uncharted territories.


Chase Bliss Audio Condor Analog EQ / Pre / Filter

Chase Bliss Audio delivered a one-two punch at NAMM with the showing of two epic new pedals. The Condor is the builder’s take on an all-in-one EQ/Preamp/Filter pedal that offers many unique possibilities outside of what those individual types of effects may have achieved separately. There’s a low-end sculpting Bass control with a dedicated switch that adjusts its shelving range. Then there’s a Mids section that can boost or cut mids across a wide frequency spectrum (150Hz – 5kHz) dialed in with a dedicated Frequency control; the Q can also be adjusted for more precise or broad mids contouring. Then there’s a LPF control that can roll off the highs or be used for filter sweeps with 3 settings for the cutoff resonance. There are also clean and overdrive modes in case you’d like to use the Condor as a dedicated overdrive pedal.

The Condor initially seems like more of a creative tonal sculpting tool than a master of EQ or dedicated filtering pedal. While I would love to have seen the Condor released as two birds: an “EQ version” with Bass & Treble shelving/boosting/cutting and a “Filter version” with LPF and HPF (with both versions retaining similar Mids filtering & boost/cut functionality), the single pedal released looks like it will yield some solid general low/mid EQ-ing with high end roll-off and some cool creative filtering and tonal coloring effects along with some really funky filter modulation thanks to Chase Bliss Audio’s signature ramping effects. (High shelving can still be achieve through subtractive EQing by lowering the Bass & Mids and raising the output volume.) I will say that as far as going in a different direction from other dedicated EQ and Filter pedals, the current configuration of the Condor does still seem like a pretty standout candidate for shaping the sound of other pedals (particularly dirt) from a position later in your signal chain. Typically, a bit high-end rolloff and bass boost or cut is all that’s needed. The super flexible Mids section is another huge bonus. The Condor can also do tremolo sounds, phasing-like modulation, and auto-filtering. Having MIDI, presets, expression control, and all the usual CBA bells and whistles makes this bird even more enticing.


Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal

The Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal already commanded our attention before NAMM with its flux capacitor meets Tesla coil inspired light show courtesy of a xenon-filled tube, but it turns out that the prototype pedals at NAMM sounded pretty good, too. Pushing up the Blend control mixes in a unique style of distortion that is rich in harmonic coloration and fuzzy texture. The Voltage controls the intensity of the distortion. At lower settings it’ll starve out the signal, making it very responsive to staccato playing, and at higher settings the electrified distortion is more prominent. The xenon-filled tube always provides a visual indication of the distortion for a synesthetic effect. There are also familiar tone controls and a Drive parameter, but the pedal may undergo a few more tweaks and design revisions before its release later this year. In any case the Plasma Pedal is another strong showing from Gamechanger Audio and is certainly a pedal to keep your eyes on.


Rainger FX Reverb-X

The new Rainger FX Reverb-X is a digital reverb in a similar format to their previously released Echo-X delay (which was also back at NAMM with a new graphic look). The Reverb-X is a digital reverb with up to 6 seconds of decay time. Optional distortion lets you make it dirty for shoegaze style reverb excursions. There’s also an awesome Gate function that lets the huge reverb be heard while you’re playing; the Igor foot-controller comes in handy for activating the effect at will. The pedal is ultra-compact with all the jacks top-mounted on its tiny enclosure, so it’ll be an easy fit on any pedalboard. And seriously, it can’t be stated enough how cool this pedal sounds. Mr. David Rainger managed to put a lot of mojo in this thing. Killer all-around vibe presented at NAMM, so creative guitarists will want to check it out.


Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype

First off, the Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype is not a pedal that will be released in its current form. As stated by Neunaber, it is a “proof of concept submitted for your evaluation”. It’s essentially an example of the direction Neunaber may head in with the release of their inevitable drive pedal. The goal was to create a drive pedal that could respond well on any setting in a musical, amp-like manner while not sounding overly compressed.

I spent some time with it at NAMM and was wowed by the Red channel. It had a nice big heavy sound and was incredibly responsive, arguably some of the best heavy tones I’ve heard from a pedal. The Tone control on the unit was a tilt EQ that lowers the bass as the treble is boosted and vice versa. It’s not my personal favorite style of EQ, but it worked well enough for the prototype unit, and the Mid knob did a solid job of cutting and boosting the midrange. But most impressive was the amp-like sound of the distortion, a quality which may also be due to the unit being paired with the Iconoclast, a speaker emulator that already has a nice speaker cabinet style “sag” which contributes to the amp-like feel. But the distortion was simply awesome throughout the range of the Red Gain knob. The Blue channel was a decent low to mid gain affair, but I’d like to see it spruced up for the actual release. The upper range of the Blue Gain could use a little refinement as the channel transitions from clean to breakup. It was confirmed by Mr. Brian Neunaber that more development time had been put into the Red channel before NAMM. It’s likely that a release version of this concept will be up to full Neunaber spec and be even more impressive than the iteration show at NAMM. But I’d happily enjoy the Red channel as-is, a testament to how good it was in the prototype unit.


Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2

This pedal is one update that deserves mentioning because it solves the main issue of its previous iteration. The original Waveformer Destroyer is a badass monster of a fuzz & distortion unit with 4 foot-swiches to select various sounds and a Master volume control. 8 internal dip-switches let you customize the various distortion sounds available. This is a solid approach for creating a set of preset sounds to use when performing, but it isn’t as conducive to spontaneous creativity since you can’t easily access all the available sounds.

The Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2 takes the 8 internal dip-switch functions and assigns them to external flip-switches. This makes the pedal extra huge, which may not be cool if you’re using a small board, but this makes the pedal super fun for easily trying out new sounds. As a studio tool, the Waveformer Destroyer MK2 could provide a ton of flexibility for layering different textures quickly. Or if you’re using a modular setup, you could run beats and synths into the pedal and more easily find rad distortion sounds to mangle your audio signals.

This pedal will also be a limited run as they’re pretty complicated to assemble, so you might want to keep an eye on the Death By Audio website to pre-order.


Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb

The Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb was on display at Summer NAMM 2017 and was one of the best pedals of the show. It was back again at Winter NAMM 2018 in anticipation of a Spring release and is still one of the most hotly anticipated pedals we’re looking forward to. The Ascension Reverb has 3 modes: Hall, Modulated Hall (with tremolo), and Shimmer. There’s also a droning self-generated pad that can be tuned to any of the 12 keys of western music. A side-mounted knob allows the Pad to be faded in and out. There’s also a Send and Return loop for adding other pedals into the wash of reverb. This heavenly reverb pedal will likely be very popular among fans of ambient guitar textures and pretty much a hit with anyone who appreciates beautiful reverb tones.


Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive

Keeley Electronics is a legend when it comes to guitar compressor pedals, and their consistently stellar overdrive releases and drive mods over the years show proven expertise in that area as well. Now hot on the heels of the success of their D&M Drive pedal comes the Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive. In a similar combo enclosure to the D&M Drive and Caverns V2, the Aria gives guitarists a Keeley Compressor Plus and an all-new Keeley take on the Tube Screamer style circuit with Low and High gain modes. While TS mods are a dime a dozen, Keeley has found more ways to reinvent this circuit than any other esteemed builder, so the Aria will definitely we worth looking into if you’re a fan of TS flavors of drive. Also, the Compressor Plus side retains a full parameter set from the original pedal including an internal Single Coil / Humbucker switch. The TRS signal routing from the D&M Drive is also present for pro guitarists who want to route the 2 circuits to different loops on an effects switcher. The Aria will definitely be worth a look when it drops and will likely be yet another sleeper hit from Keeley Electronics.


Beetronics Royal Jelly Fuzz/Overdrive

The Beetronics Royal Jelly is a blendable fuzz/overdrive pedal made in collaboration with veteran pedal designer, Howard Davis. The Royal Jelly lets select between 2 preset settings of fuzz and overdrive. You can set either preset (labeled Queen & King) to be only fuzz or overdrive or any ratio of each. The Buzz foot-switch lets you add a stinging bite to the fuzz for a more aggressive sound akin to some vintage fuzz pedals. There are Hi and Lo tone controls as well as a Blend which lets you mix in your dry signal, particularly useful for refining bass tones or when stacking the pedal with other distortion pedals or a hot amp. Beetronics had a neat demo station at NAMM which let you adjust knob settings while a pre-recorded guitar track was fed into the pedal, but considering all the mojo in this thing, the Royal Jelly is a pedal best experienced and played firsthand.

(Forgot to snap of a pic of this one. Thanks to Filipe for sending over a photo for our article.)


JHS Pedals Bonsai

In the vein of their hit Muffuletta that offered a plethora of cloned Big Muff circuits, the JHS Pedals Bonsai replicates 9 different variations of Tube Screamer style overdrive sounds. JHS went to great lengths to recreate the sounds of several classic pedals as well as offering a few other variants. The modes include sounds of the Boss OD-1 Over Drive, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer from 1979, an Ibanez TS9 from 1982, an Ibanez Metal Screamer from 1985, an Ibanez TS-10 from 1986, an Exar OD1 Overdrive from 1989, the Hot mode of an Ibanez TS7 from 1999, the Keeley Mod Plus TS-808 mod from 2002, and JHS’s TS9 Strong Mod. The Bonsai looks like a Swiss Army Knife of great Tube Screamer tones that will satisfy any guitarist who can’t get enough of those classic sounds.


Malekko Downer

The Malekko Downer is another rad looking pedal released on the same DSP platform as the Charlie Foxtrot and Scrutator. It’s a wave-folding, saturating, octave filtering noise machine. It can do pretty basic distortion stuff if you want it to, but blending in the other effects is where things get really interesting. It can do cool warped pitch effects and general octave stuff as well as high/low pass filtering, trem-like effects, and almost ring-mod like sounds. This is another cool and edgy pedal from Malekko that will appeal to guitarists looking for less traditional sounds and more inspiring textures.


Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier

The original Pigtronix Mothership Analog Guitar Synthesizer was noteworthy for its crazy 100% analog synth sounds and also for having a ring mod section that tracked the pitch of the input signal. When Pigtronix dropped the long-awaited Mothership 2 Analog Synthesizer, they focused on shrinking all the synth functions, but the ring mod effects were notably absent. Well, they’re back and expanded upon in the new Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier.

The Ringmaster is essentially a ring modulator that is also capable of producing tremolo effects. The big draw of the pedal and what separates it from other analog ring mod pedals is its ability to track your input signal to maintain consistency of the ring mod effect while you play. If you’re going for tremolo effects, you can also change the speed of the trem in relation to the frequency of the notes you play; higher pitches yield faster speeds while lower pitches produce slower speeds. You can also do random Sample + Hold effects. For modular gear fans, the Ringmaster also has a Modulation CV output as well as External Carrier Input and Internal Carrier Output options. The Ringmaster looks like it would make an excellent companion to the Mothership 2, and I know fans of that pedal are already giving the Ringmaster a good hard look. Time to get F.A.T.’er.


Death By Audio Deep Animation

There were a few awesome envelope filter pedals at NAMM, but the Death By Audio Deep Animation was the one that stood out the most for me. The Deep Animation is one of the thicker and heavier envelope filters I’ve heard. It’ll do all that quacky, funky, auto-wah guitar stuff you’re used to, but it has a lot more potential than that. The 6-position Frequency Selector, Sensitivity, and Intensity knobs control the tonality and response of the pedal with an output Vol knob to match or boost your signal. A dedicated Up/Down foot-switch lets you change the direction of the filter sweep. And it can sound seriously massive with bass heavy audio content.

But the coolest part of the Deep Animation is the Trig (Trigger) input jack. Similar to how you’d use sidechain compression or gating, the Trig input lets you use an external sound source to trigger the effect. You could use a kick from a drum machine, maybe another band member’s instrument, or even your own signal from earlier in your signal chain. Envelope filters typically respond best to your clean guitar signal, but you can get some cool sounds by filtering later in your audio path, particularly after distortion. If you were to split to your guitar signal to feed the Trig input while simultaneously running it into a gnarly distortion pedal before it hits the Deep Animation’s main Input, you could achieve the absolute tightest auto-filtering of a distorted/effected guitar signal. Some seriously cool possibilities await to be discovered with this pedal.


Crazy Tube Circuits Echotopia

Crazy Tube Circuits had a lot of cool new pedals on display, but the Echotopia was the biggest standout showing for me. It’s a tape echo style delay with 4 heads, each with their own individual panning knob for discreet placement across the stereo field. The Crazy Tube Circuits booth had the Echotopia feeding two amps spread apart, and the stereo image created by this pedal was inspiring to behold. Thankfully, the Echotopia also has tap tempo and 3 selectable tap divisions for easily setting a precise tempo for the 4 synchronized delay heads. Modulation is present with dedicated Rate & Depth controls. A Mood knob further augments the delay sound, and the Tap foot-switch can be pressed to induce oscillating repeats. An expression pedal can control either the delay mix or Feedback. The Echotopia can be run in mono, but it looks like more of an enticing consideration for guitarists who run a stereo rig.


Totally Wycked Audio MM-01 Mini Morph

Totally Wycked Audio had several prototypes of promising new pedals at NAMM, but the Mini Morph was surprisingly my favorite. It’s actually a shrunken down version of the TWA Dynamorph, so you can look up that pedal to get a better feel for what the Mini Morph is all about. Essentially, it’s a fuzz that responds to your playing dynamics to alter the tonality and harmonic content of the distortion while you play. It’s particularly noticeable when chords are ringing out and during your initial pick attach as an audible sweep of frequency articulation can be heard. The Mini Morph is simply fun to play and warrants a closer look if you’re looking for some fuzz tones that have a unique flavor.


Ohmless Pedals Multitool

While not really an effect (unless you count the preamp boosts), the Ohmless Pedals Multitool is a junction box utility pedal that provides several vital functions for performing guitarists. The Multitool has 2 inputs, each with a switchable preamp boost providing up to 25dB of clean headroom. This comes in handy for matching signals when switching between guitars with differing output levels or for running hotter signals. On the right side is a passive Send & Return with optional buffer. This is useful for things like compressors (buffered) or fuzz pedals (unbuffered) that you want to be shared between both guitars. Then there’s an OpAmp buffer with a separate Tuner Out followed by another Send with Stereo Returns. This is where you’d put the rest of your effects. There’s also an optional Phase inversion switch on the Right output and a Ground Lift on the isolated Left output. The Outputs each have their own dedicated Mute switches and can be summed from Stereo to Dual Mono. The Multitool is one of the most versatile compact junction boxes, and there’s also a version for switching between acoustic and electric guitars if that’s what you need.


In Closing…

This list doesn’t encompass all of the great pedals shown at NAMM, and this has been the most difficult list to curate since I started covering the pedals of NAMM several years ago. Still, I feel confident in the assessment of these being the standout pedals of the show. Many other builders are doing great things, so do your best to consider all factors when buying new gear and not just the hype and excitement surrounding a few pedals.

If you’re in a band, hopefully some of these pedals can help invigorate your music with new sounds. If you’re a hobbyist, that’s great, too, but maybe consider recording some of those awesome sounds you’re making in your bedroom and showcasing them on YouTube, Instagram, or elsewhere. The main goal of this article is to inspire you. If something you found here does that, find a way to share that inspiration with others.

Until Summer NAMM 2018…



Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of 2017

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

Builder: Empress Effects, Pedal: Echosystem, Effect Type: Delay

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

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Brothers, Effect Type: Overdrive/Boost/Fuzz

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.

Read the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers review


Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets

Builder: Hologram Electronics, Pedal: Infinite Jets, Effect Type: Guitar Synthesizer

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.

Read the Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets review


Keeley Electronics D&M Drive

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedal: D&M Drive, Effect Type: Boost/Overdrive

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.

Read the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive review


EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter

Builder: EarthQuaker Devices, Pedal: Data Corrupter, Effect Type: PLL/Fuzz

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

Builder: Boss/JHS, Pedal: JB-2, Effect Type: Overdrive/Distortion

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

Builder: EHX, Pedal: Canyon, Effect Type: 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

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Tonal Recall RKM, Effect Type: Analog Delay

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.


DigiTech FreqOut

Builder: DigiTech, Pedal: FreqOut, Effect Type: Feedbacker

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

Builder: Boss, Pedal: MS-3, Effect Type: Multi-Effects/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

Builder: Effectrode, Pedal: LA-1A, Effect Type: Guitar Compressor

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

Builder: Alexander Pedals, Pedal: Syntax Error, Effect Type: distortion/ring mod/frequency shifter

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.

Read the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error review


TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb

Builder: TC Electronic, Pedal: Hall of Fame 2, Effect Type: 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

Builder: Gamechanger Audio, Pedal: Plus Pedal, Effect Type: Sustainer

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

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Warped Vinyl HiFi, Effect Type: Chorus/Vibrato

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

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedal: Caverns V2, Effect Type: Delay/Reverb

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.


Neunaber Iconoclast

Builder: Neunaber, Pedal: Iconoclast, Effect Type: Speaker Emulator

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…


Best New Pedal Builder of 2017: Meris

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.

Read about the Best New Builder of 2017: Meris


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!

Best New Pedal Builder of 2017: Meris

If you’re familiar with rack-mount gear and high end audio equipment, chances are you’ve already come across Meris. They’ve made a name for themselves in the past few years with their 440 Mic Preamp, Mercury7, and Ottobit 500 series rack modules. Huge sounds are coming from a team consisting of three core people. Terry Burton (founder) is an engineer who has been working in the industry since 2000. He was a senior design engineer at Line 6 for over 6 years. After that, he was the founder of acclaimed SoCal-based effects pedal builder, Strymon, and worked as an engineer there for almost 5 years. When he founded Meris in 2014, Terry already had a ton of experience in pro audio, so it’s no wonder they’ve come up with so many cool pieces of gear. Next up on the team is Jinna Kim. She’s the creative director at Meris and is basically responsible for making the brand look so slick. She’s worked for a bunch of big name companies like Disney, Sony Pictures, and Lexus. All you have to do is visit their website to see her hard work pay off. It has a very clean, yet futuristic look to it, and that’s all her. Finally, we’ve got Angelo Mazzocco, DSP Designer and Engineer. Angelo also worked at line 6 and has made a name for himself by creating DSP coding and one-off instruments for some serious musicians like Eddie Van Halen, Dweezil Zapa, and The Edge. He’s also a pretty sweet guitar player who does all of the in-house demoes.

So, you have a mini dream team of people with more than 30 years of combined engineering experience and a killer brand manager. How could it get any better? Lucky for us, in Jan 2017 they decided to start making effect pedals and released one of the most impressive pedal lineups I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. They released all of this over the last year. I’m talking about the Ottobit Jr., Mercury 7, and Polymoon. They managed to take the massive sounds of their rack gear and squeeze it into a pedal-friendly format, all while keeping important features intact. Each of their pedals is packed with features like MIDI implementation, expression pedal control, presets, instrument/line level choices, stereo in/out, buffered & relay bypass, kill dry, and more crazy sounds than you can shake a pick at. The pedals are easy to use, and the manuals are written perfectly. Let’s take a look at what I personally believe to be some of the best pedals to come out in 2017.


Meris Ottobit Jr.

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Ottobit Jr., Effect Type: Bit Crusher

First off, I just want to say that this pedal has the best bit crusher and low pass filter I’ve ever heard in a pedal. It’s so much more though. With a built in, programmable sequencer, you can easily get some crazy synth-like sounds and maybe even a touch of Dark Side of the Moon action. You can set the 6 step sequencer to control pitch, filter, or sample rate. Again, this is where the manual comes in quite useful. The sample rate reduction can be set from 48Hz to 48kHz, giving you a wide range of lofi sweetness. On top of all that, over 20 stutter modes makes glitching out easy. It’s especially useful with the tap tempo which makes the effect a lot more musical and easy to digest. Timing can also be set via external tap switch or external MIDI beat clock source. Ever wanted to sync up to 23.4 BPM? Well, now you can. Have you ever wanted to go full blast at 6,000 BPM? Say no more, – the Ottobit Jr. has got your back. Hook up a drum machine to this thing and have at it. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had with pedals involved this little guy.

Read the Meris Ottobit Jr. Review


Meris Mercury7 Reverb

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Mercury7, Effect Type: Reverb

As soon as you plug it in and start turning knobs, you know this is not your typical reverb pedal. Inspired by their 500 series module, the Meris Mercury7 Reverb has two modes: Ultraplate and Cathedra. The first one is modeled after a plate reverb with a fast build up; the second has more of a super lush build up with a slower swell (my personal favorite). There are some really nice tone shaping controls with low and high frequency filters to help you dial in that sweetness. Not only does the Mercury7 have in depth modulation controls, it also has vibrato and pitch shifting capabilities. The swell is just icing on the cake. Meris designed this reverb in hopes of capturing the sounds of the Blade Runner soundtrack, and I think they did it well. This is definitely some type of other worldly reverb. Go from subtle to spaceverb in a heart beat. It’s no wonder you don’t see many of these pop up on the used market.

Read the Meris Mercury7 Reverb review


Meris Polymoon

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Polymoon, Effect Types: Delay/Modulation

They said this was a delay pedal… I’m not so sure that’s all there is to it. Built to resemble the rack delays of the 80’s, the Polymoon can hang with some of the best modulated digital delays out there. Of course it can do conventional delay sounds, but where it really shines is with the addition of the “Dimension” feature. It basically smears your delay repeats and sustains them, giving you some of the coolest pad sounds in a pedal. It gets to a point where it heads into synth territory, and you can’t really even tell it’s processing a guitar. If that’s not enough, there’s also a built in phaser and flanger with variable speed and depth options. Still want more modulation? There are 16 (yes 16!) further modulation modes that can be set to affect the signal in early modulation and late modulation positions. This isn’t your average modulation though; you can go anywhere from a familiar slow and shallow mod, to octave modulation, FM modulation, and tremolo to name just a few. Check out their website for an extremely in depth manual. If I had to choose, this would be my favorite out of the Meris pedals simply because it produces sounds I didn’t think were possible with a guitar.

Read the Meris Polymoon review

All of these pedals are unique in their own way, and it’s pretty impressive to see them all come out within a year. So where does Meris go from here? One thing we know for certain is that they are gearing up to release their own MIDI I/O box and a 4 Preset Switcher. I’ve been using an early prototype of the Switcher for the last couple of months and can honestly say that it’s easy to use and looks cool, too. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what’s next for their growing lineup. Meris should be a builder on everyone’s radar at this point. Beautiful sounds, wonderful designs, and excellent customer service have all been common place so far when dealing with Meris. Here’s to 2018!


Thanks to aBunchOfPedals for contributing this article! Be sure to visit the aBunchOfPedals YouTube channel!

Top 28 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2017

SNAMM 2017 or Feedback: 3 Days of Delay

Once more, Summer NAMM has come and gone, inspiring us at Best Guitar Effects to start pulling things off our boards in preparation for the vast influx of new units on their way to the marketplace. The energy was sentient across the span of the show floor, drawing us attendees this way and that in a 100dB haze of riffs and excited conversation. Pitches were thrown, legends were born, and I found my people. This was my first NAMM ever, and I could not have been more pleased to be a part of the action. I learned a few things about guitar pedals while I was walking proud on the show floor, first and foremost that the earnest builders behind them are kind and amazing in a way you can’t know from this side of your computer monitor or smart phone screen. The readiness with which they answered my questions and befriended me was something that, as a confessed industry amateur, I’d never experienced. I also learned that Nashville is f*cking crowded and hot!

But seriously, the Summer NAMM 2017 show floor was packed with not just human mass, but a glut of unique and incredible devices, all ready to be played and picked apart by critics and enthusiastic pedal fans. There was a hilarious amount of new delay pedals at the show this year, some of which were truly mind-blowing, others just so-so. Even though I love delay, I’m not including all of them. Not because I don’t want to do right by the builders who put their hearts and souls into building quality effects, but because this is a subjective summary of the best pedals shown at SNAMM 2017. What you’re seeing were easily the most intriguing and most innovative devices I came into contact with, and for some, after the tone requirement had been surpassed, that threshold was met by a clever feature implemented in way to make musicians’ lives easier. For other pedals included, it’s all about tone.

Without further ado, here are… The Top 28 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2017!


Pigtronix Mothership 2 Analog Guitar Synthesizer


There’s two obvious reasons that this bad mothership is at the top of the pile. Number one on the list: the pure range of synth tones in this pedal is insane. A triangle wave, square wave VCO, and sub-octave sine can be blended at any level with your clean tone to produce a palette from which a cadre of textures can be drawn. Second is the sheer thought and engineering prowess that had to have gone into the Mothership2: TRS expression, TS CV control, sub-octave output and ten parameters (made possible by five dual-concentric knobs) on an MXR-sized enclosure! Yes, that’s ⅓ the size of the original Pigtronix Mothership.

A glide knob controls the portamento between notes, while a dynamics knob determines how responsive the Mothership2 is to the transients in your playing. The choice to include a sub-octave out was smart; too much harmonic content in your low-end often produces mud when we run through guitar amplifiers that aren’t made to amplify bass frequencies. Knocking out those frequencies right off the bat and sending them to a bass amp helps to clean up the outgoing signal when it hits your amp. Plus it would probably sound massive. I have to emphasize to the uninitiated out there that despite the size, this is NOT a filter or a synth “effect.” It is a direct sequel to the original Mothership: a true analog synthesizer controlled by your instrument. In my short time listening to it, the Mothership2 produced sci-fi soundtracks, fat basslines, organic swells, and death-rays, and I have a feeling that that’s just scratching the surface.


Old Blood Noise Endeavors Whitecap Tremolo

When I entered the noisy SNAMM 2017 showroom, I made a beeline for the OBNE booth to acclimate to the environment with some folks that seemed like my kind of people from afar. I was not disappointed by Brady, Dan, or Seth, who readily smiled and shook my hand with offers to run me through their latest. Mounted to their demo board with their already full line-up was the yet-unreleased Whitecap tap-tremolo. The OBNE Whitecap is a tap-tempo enabled tremolo pedal with 5 different waveform variations, low and high tonestacks, volume and rate control, and an internal trimpot that controls the gain for fine-tuning the way the modulations in volume push the circuits. I didn’t work up the courage to ask to open a Whitecap up to play with the gain, but I love that it has tone pots. If you dial more high than low or vise-versa so that you can hear the effect bloom and disappear completely as you play up and down the neck. By maxing the Low EQ and cutting the high completely on the square wave voicing, I got the Whitecap to add a percussive chop to my root notes while my higher notes rang out over them. Super sweet.


Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb (Prototype)

First of all, this is hands down the prettiest prototype I’ve ever laid eyes on, but looks aren’t everything; even if it instantly caught my eye, I couldn’t have expected what came out of it. Man, was I glad I’m so shallow. First off, we have three modes: a Hall, a Modulated Hall, and a Shimmer. The Height knob controls the decay time, the Mix controls the tone. Alright cool, but that’s not all: The Ascension drones a wavery, self-generated Pad, the key of which is determined by a center footswitch that cycles through the 12 chromatic notes. The level of this drone is controlled by a 2-inch side-mounted pot. There’s an effects loop and, by extension, for adding any effect you want to the wet signal of the Ascension. This is easily one of the coolest pedals at the 2017 Summer NAMM show. If I were to be so bold as to suggest any improvement to the Ascension, it would be to include some sort of means to quickly cycle through the drone’s base note in a more musical way, but this is a prototype, and even if nothing like that materializes for the Ascension, I’m still pumped for its release.


Neunaber Inspire Chorus

I love Neunaber. Every time I think I can’t possibly like Brian’s work any more than what’s come before, he surprises me. While I normally wouldn’t call a chorus “surprising,” nor should anyone be surprised that Nenauber added a new standalone product in the vein of the long-heralded Immerse Reverb, Neunaber’s Inspire is looking to match the Immerse’s success and set a new standard in chorus modulation. With 8 Stereo Chorus Voices based on Neunaber’s proprietary Tritone chorus found on the Expanse platform, Rate, Depth, & Mix (with full wet!) controls, and the overall quality we’ve come to expect from Neunaber, the Inspire will no doubt be one to look out for.


Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal

Gamechanger Audio is a brand new Latvian company with a refreshing piece of ambient hardware: The Plus Pedal, a “sustain” pedal built to look and feel like a piano’s sustain pedal. In terms of software, it’s similar to a sampler in that it samples up to 1.5 seconds of your raw signal and plays back a slice, and it’s similar to a freeze in that it can be set to hold momentarily or infinitely. The closest comparison I can make is to the EHX Superego, but that doesn’t quite match the feel and intuitive play of the PlusPedal. There is a dual-function dry out 1/4” jack that also serves as an input for a proprietary “Wet” peripheral, which allows for 100% wet soundscape building. The Wet toggle wisely includes a dry out, so you don’t lose the capability to split your wet/dry signal if you opt for the toggle. The Plus Pedal also features a group/single toggle; put plainly, you can set it to sustain only the last notes played, or stack your slices to make a chordal drone. The left side panel sports an effects loop as well. I’m so stoked that I got the chance to meet these guys and test out their product which is very close to being ready for distribution. At the time of my writing this, there’s a Plus Pedal sitting at East Side Music Supply, slowly imbuing the Nashville community and soon the world with its fresh energy.


Dwarfcraft The Curse Modulated Delay

The Curse maintains Dwarcraft’s legacy of weird, powerful tone machines. It’s a modulated delay with all your basic delay parameters (feedback, time, mix, tap tempo and division toggle) and extensive controls for the modulation (modulation rate, skew/duty, depth and your choice of three shapes.) That’s enough, right? Our ol’ pal Aen said: “Nope!” It wouldn’t be a Dwarfcraft Device without some more Dwarfcraft-ish features, and we’re blessed with a single-port TRS effects loop, ⅛” CV I/O for tap tempo and modulation, and an expression input for the modulation. Unsurprisingly, this thing is outrageous fun synced up to the rest of Dwarfcraft’s stuff. There’s a kind of buggy, gritty aspect to almost everything Ben Hinz’s team does, and the clicks and crazy weird sounds this thing will make (particularly with aggressive use of the modulations) while still remaining in the realm of “musical” confirms Dwarfcraft’s self-aware design pathos.


Alexander Pedals Syntax Error

I spent a good amount of time hanging out with the tremendous Matt of the tremendous Alexander effects, and boy do they have a goodie coming up. Fans of glitchy, weird pedals will truly appreciate – nay, worship – the Syntax Error, the first in Alexander’s Neo series of digital effects. I’m not even sure what to call it! The closest approximation that comes to mind is half a joke: Error Generator. Okay but really, the Syntax Error is everything the Super Radical Delay and Oblivion are and more in terms of awesome weirdness, tilting that inspiration further toward the realm of filtery, bitcrushy bliss. Alexander developed a new proprietary DSP to allow for deeper customization and control to an insane degree while also managing to cram it all into a far cheaper, tiny enclosure to not just save space on your board but help you keep space filled in your wallet. On the NAMM floor, the Syntax Error offered me 3 voicings: Cube, a digital fuzz w/ rezo lo-pass filter; Ring, a ring-mod with a sample rate reducer and sample and hold capabilities; and the universal favorite, Stretch mode, which runs the raw signal of your guitar through an adjustable-length buffer and allows you to “stretch” the signal, accelerating to breakneck speed, slowing it down to a crawl or reversing it entirely. There was also a “Sample” knob which crushes the sample rate of the signal to produce squashed-out, 8-bit splats. Physically the Syntax Error features 8 total presets (4 stored directly in the enclosure, 4 recalled via an iOS editor) 8 controllable parameters in any given preset, and a dual-purpose input that yields both CV expression/footswitch control of any combination of those presets and in-depth MIDI control. I mean, you can even control the brightness on the damn LED. As if those wacky/badass voices and insane customizability weren’t enough, Matthew Farrow of Alexander opted to add a fourth voice to the Syntax Error, a “Bode-style frequency shifter with feedback and a time delay for all sorts of weird throbby flangery goodness.” Only time will tell what that means for the final product, but we’ll keep you abreast. I can already tell that Alexander will do everything in their power to max out the capabilities of that 32-bit micro-controller. I can predict with a clairvoyant degree of confidence that the Neo Series is gonna be amazing.


Alexander Pedals Radiacmeter

Of course, before I can catch my breath from the marathon that is the Syntax Error and its Neo ilk, we have to talk a little bit about the Radiacmeter Dist-O-Drive, Matt’s crack at a certain rare, late-70’s Japanese Distortion. The Radiacmeter actually has a lot of history entwined in the origins of Alexander. I won’t reiterate word-for-word the tale told on Alexander’s own website, but to make a long story short, the inspiration was the first pedal Matt ever pieced together and sold, circa 1995. The circuit in question was a distortion mounted inside of a piece of Cold War era military hardware, not coincidentally a device used to detect radiation called a Radiac Meter. The resulting invention was a monster piece of gear that would only fly on the most masochistic guitarists’ boards by modern standards. It is… insultingly massive.

After a few years of estrangement after the device’s sale, it was returned to the loving arms of Mr. Farrow and the Alexander crew to be disassembled and repurposed for the greater good. Out of context, why should you care? Well, while the seed of Radiacmeter shares a lot with Papa Radiacmeter, Alexander updated the circuit with nicer components and new elements, reinterpreting the pivotal distortion circuit to create a much more flexible unit. Our Radiacmeter benefits from two passive High and Low frequency tone pots that interact with each other in a dynamic way to curve the gain pattern to your liking. You have to hear it. The “Sensitivity” knob adjusts the gain on a gradient from smooth drive to atomic hellfire. Level has no surprises for us. Hearing the Radiacmeter gave me some perspective on the versatility of the new circuit. Chalk up another win for Alexander.


Wampler The Doctor Lo-Fi Delay

Wampler’s The Doctor is a modulated Lo-Fi Delay full of all sorts of wibbly wobbly timey wimey tones. Your dry signal stays 100% analog while the parallel blended wet delay signal is loaded into a TARDIS and propelled through time and space, courtesy of some DSP wizardry from the Time Lords at Wampler.  As a contrasting answer to the Ethereal Delay/Reverb, The Doctor is a perfect companion, squashed and angry where the Ethereal is spacey and angelic. Still, oscillation comes pretty naturally to it, giving it a kind of reverby vibe at times, and the Modulation is super lush and organic sounding, adding a warble to the repeats that balances out the grit of the repeats. A tap tempo footswitch and ¼” tap tempo I/O means syncing this with the rest of your timed effects is a piece of cake.


Source Audio Ventris Reverb

As we are all aware, Source Audio has followed up on the raucous success of the Nemesis delay with the Award-winning Ventris Reverb. To recap, the Ventris is the result of well over a year of exhaustive research into the world of reverb; an expression and MIDI-enabled stereo reverb with 24 factory voices and banks for 8 onboard user-defined presets (128 with MIDI,) editable with Source Audio’s proprietary Neuro Android and iOS software. Source Audio is ever closer to perfecting the Ventris’s algorithms, and the unit they brought to Nashville was evidence of their steady progress toward a fast-approaching release. As far as I could hear, all of the classic voicings were super clean simulacrum, approximating their inspirations faithfully. What makes the Ventris a truly strong follow-up to the Nemesis (and a logical contender when compared to a few obvious high-end reverbs recently released) are its dual-processors, allowing for insanely detailed and nuanced reverb voices. Not only that, but the Ventris is so powerful, running two reverbs simultaneously is a piece of cake, allowing for unique and life-alteringly beautiful textures. The team had set up a neat little preset they affectionately called the “Laser Reverb,” which is kinda sorta like running the wet tail of a long reverb into a sample and hold filter. Listening to the frequency peaks jump around sporadically was magic, and I definitely spent way longer listening to this effect than I should have.


Walrus Audio ARP-87 Multi-Function Delay

Designed to be a travel-friendly cousin to the Bellwether, the ARP-87 delay dominated the Walrus booth. The closeness with which the ARP-87’s analog tones related to the Bellwether’s was an impressive exhibit of the work Walrus put into the little guy, and I spent a little bit of time A/B’ing the two on the Walrus board to get a really good feel for where the two were most strongly correlated. The ARP-87 is a mono pedal, which is a continuation of the obvious consideration made for those with a travel-sized setup. The ARP-87 also doesn’t have a time knob on it. Rather, the tempo of the repeats is decided by the Tap Tempo footswitch (or CV tap tempo input jack) and division toggle, a fact which really made me consider whether any delay needs a time knob. Jury’s still out on that one. At any rate, you still also hold the Tap footswitch to max the feedback of the delay. Hold bypass to max the X knob’s modulation on the Digital, Analog and Slap Back voices, and the filter range on the Lo Fi. My only qualm with the ARP-87 is that the voices don’t retain your set tap-tempo when cycling between the four voices, so you have to retap after you switch. Small gripe I know, but it’s worth mentioning; in the face of the external tap jack, it becomes irrelevant if you’re running a board-wide clock. It seems that Walrus has a really good grasp on the target demographic for the ARP-87, and went all-in to accommodate their simpler needs without relinquishing compatibility.


Chase-Bliss Audio Tonal Recall Red Knob Mod

In a move thematically linked to the spirit of Summer NAMM 2017, Chase Bliss has opted to improve upon the Tonal Recall’s already near-perfect system by doubling the amount of reissued MN3005 BBD chips packed into it to increase the max delay time to 1100ms. They’ve also rounded out the oscillation for a more musical breakup and have tweaked the pedal for brighter delay tones. Chase Bliss also added a few nice companders (compressor/expander) and improved some other pieces of hardware to increase the headroom, which means more delay trails before your repeats start to cannibalize, and there’s a longer countdown-to-squeal when the hold function is active. CBA didn’t have a Blue-Knob there so I didn’t get the chance to do any A/B comparison but based on my experience with the Tonal Recall, what I did hear on the noisy SNAMM 2017 show floor and then later at the Coffee and Riffs Circle of Two filming was glorious. As advertised, the oscillations were kind to the ear and the repeats downright reflective in tone. All add to the nuanced appeal of the Tonal Recall, so if you have one, go to CBA’s web store and upgrade immediately! If you don’t, you may want to correct that.


Yellowcake Lida Machine

Yellowcake’s Lida Machine, named for a government mind control device known only in conspiracy circles, is a crazy cool resonant filter with 2 LFOs in series. The main LFO, when active alone, is a simple VC filter, affected by rate and depth knobs as well as a fast/slow toggle, while the second LFO can add a further arrhythmic effect with the same parameters as well as a toggle for triangle, square, or sawtooth waveforms. A clean blend is also included to allow your signal to play over the top of all the wubs and dubs you’ll be making. If you want to use a CV enabled pedal or a synth module, the Lida Machine also has a CV input. The expression is linked to the resonant frequency, allowing musical sweeps across the frequency spectrum. I get the sense that I didn’t get to push the Lida Machine to its fullest potential, but what I heard was most definitely dope. Or maybe I’ve been brainwashed?


Positive Grid BIAS Twin Pedals


Never in my life have I heard the phrase, “future of the industry” uttered more than standing at the Positive Grid booth, and I certainly never believed it with such veracity. But armed with one of the most impressive track records in the industry and an extensive repertoire of lauded VSTs and amp/effects modelers, Positive Grid may, at the very least, imply the future. This year they were showing their BIAS Twin pedal series, which are feature rich, compact versions of the BIAS effect line. Six knobs, two switches. They are all MIDI-enabled and compatible with Positive Grid’s bluetooth-augmented BIAS iOS software, which basically makes them physical, pro VSTs. As if the depth of the software weren’t enough, Positive Grid’s ToneCloud is an invaluable community tool, much like the Empress Effects user voting forum or Source Audio preset sharing community, and the commons-style format will most definitely inspire some truly creative takes. Also, with Positive Grid’s current buzz and reputation as a premier gear company, you can expect a ton of professionals flooding the scene with voices, so teasing apart how they pull it off should be a super fun exercise.

BIAS Twin Delay is a digital delay modeler with dedicated modulation and reverb engines. Voicings include digital, tape, analog, reverse, stereo and ducking, which all can play back up to 3000ms (!!!!) of delay time. In an electric blue is the BIAS Twin Modulation, a master of all mods; chorus, vibrato, phaser, flanger, rotary, tremolo, panning, chopping, ring mod… nearly everything is possible with this. Throw in a waveform toggle (sine, square, sawtooth) and a tap tempo just for kicks. The BIAS Twin Distortion, meanwhile, takes advantage of BIAS’s hyper-detailed Tone Match tech. Tube, germanium, silicon, JFET and MOSFET clipping diodes all reside inside of its wheelhouse and can be paired in any combination. A built-in compressor and noise gate make it an easy choice.


Way Huge DoubleLand Special

Designed for Joe Bonamassa, The DoubleLand Special is basically two Way Huge Overrated Special circuits in one enclosure. The tone parameters are high-cuts while separate 500Hz knobs allow for mid-range cut/boost at pretty relatively subtle Q. The LED sliders are the same controls as those available in the pots, an aesthetic choice made by Joe himself for at least visual purposes. One could argue that there may be a slight difference in the tweakability but thanks to the atmospheric decibels on the SNAMM floor there’s no way that I could speak to that with any real authority, and so help me if I tried. Tonewise, the DoubleLand special struck me like a mid-focused 808 made for blues. Setting the center toggle to series will let you run one circuit into another for gain-staging/mid-high gain purposes, but I think I preferred the functionality of toggling between variation of the two circuits by leaving the series option inactive. Dialing in two polarized, relatively mellow drives and keeping them mutually exclusive is an excellent way to add balance to your drive tone, especially if you’ve already got a few gain pedals on your ‘board. These are going to be limited to 1000-1500 units so make sure you snap one up ASAP if you’re interested.


DigiTech SDRUM Strummable Drum Pedal

It seems that DigiTech is on a roll, releasing conceptually groundbreaking and affordable products at a semi-annual pace. At SNAMM 2017, the team was showing the SDRUM, an “intelligent drum machine” with learning technology similar to their Trio Band generator. While other drum machines have a pre-established performance set you have to program in offboard software, the SDRUM’s groove is programmed by tapping the kick and snare pads on the pedal itself, or, most interestingly, strumming the muted strings on your guitar. The kick is programmed by strumming the low strings and the snare by the high strings. Once the pattern has been learned, one of 12 cymbal patterns will be added via a Hats/Rides knob on the right, the division of which can be chosen from a quarter, eighth, or sixteenth note pace via a soft-touch button. You can save up to 36 custom songs, each with 3 parts (Verse, Chorus, and Bridge) of increasing intensity. As you progress through the song, tapping the footswitch will move on to the next section, and holding the switch will stop it completely. You can also connect it to a separate Digitech footswitch or JamSync-enabled pedal for expanded control. It only does 3/4 and 4/4 time, so prog metal players won’t be using it that often, but it’s definitely going to make an incredible songwriting and practice tool, if not a cornerstone of a performance board.


Keeley Electronics Caverns II Delay/Reverb

The team at Robert Keeley Electronics have been in full swing the last few years, supplementing their already massive repertoire of workstations and staple units with new and innovative pedals, and this year is no different. The original Caverns was discontinued in 2015 due to some design flaws that Robert and his team deemed too glaring to let stand, but a young upstart is ready to take up the subterranean mantle. Circuit-wise, the new Caverns is made up of the Magnetic echo (which sports 650mS of delay), two mod types affecting the delay repeats (light and deep, as well as an option to bypass the modulation completely), and three reverb options (shimmer, spring, and modulated.) There are knobs to control the mix, the feedback, time & rate of modulation, decay, blend, and warmth on the reverb, as well as a rate knob for the modulation on the mod ‘verb that becomes a tremolo on the spring and a shimmer blend on the shimmer. The Caverns II doesn’t have momentary footswitch oscillation or expression control or even a tap tempo, things that some of us have come to expect from modern delays, but it would seem this is meant to be less of a super-clean delay and more of an ambient pedal. Fine by me. The only thing that pains my heart about this latest addition is that it’s not stereo, but it’s feasible that the enclosure is just so jam-packed with circuitry and potentiometers that two more jacks and more innards would have been impossible to accommodate.


Keeley Electronics Neutrino Deluxe Envelope Filter

Keeley has also improved upon the original Neutrino circuit by adding a blend knob and a filter direction footswitch on the left-hand side of the pedal. Being able to switch between the directions on the fly adds a whole new performance element that is so very often absent from envelope filters. According to The master cook himself, the blend knob was added as a gift to bassists who popped on the Neutrino going for that Bootsy vibe and lost all of their low-end in the sweep of the filter. Everyone has a bassist back home, so grab two when they come out!


MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe Analog Delay

An iconic mainstay on ‘boards everywhere, the MXR Carbon Copy finally gets a long awaited and well deserved update in the Carbon Copy Deluxe, which thoughtfully combines the circuits of the original Carbon Copy and the Carbon Copy Bright with eight BBD chips and throws in the expected chorus-y mod (now with rate and depth knobs to tweak it) into the mix. It features a tap tempo and a neat little LED display that indicates the time division of the repeats in a bright green you’d be pressed to miss from space, much less the top of your neck. Two saveable presets complete the package to this an essential upgrade if you’ve been running a Carbon Copy.


Adventure Audio Power Couple Boost

Christian Terjesen’s latest Adventure is a 2-stage boost with only 2 parameters: Gain and More (Gain.) You get about 25db of clean headroom in the first gainstage, controlled by the massive knob toward the top. When I say clean I do mean clean, acting as simply the means to push whatever you’re running next, be it the next drive on your board or the front of your amp. Then, by holding the sole soft-touch footswitch down for 200mS, you run the first gainstage into the “More” circuit, which does what it sounds like. It will girth up your tone to the point of complete saturation as you dial back on the teensy More knob, likely a function of the decreased headroom in the outgoing signal path. The inclusion of only one footswitch to engage both stages is a clever and space-saving way to change circuits without making the action of going from fat to fatter less of a choice. This way, you have to deliberately choose to pop on the second gainstage, hold the switch, and live with those tasty consequences.


Adventure Audio Whateverb V2

In case you need a refresher, the Whateverb is a Shimmer/Hall/Chorus-Flange Reverb pedal with 2 variable knobs, a blend and a “Warp” knob, which actually controls the ADAC of the wet signal, or the rate at which your signal is sampled and converted from analog to digital and back to analog again. That glissando effect is actually a smooth glide down in sample rate. When I reviewed the Whateverb a few months back, I said that it needed an expression input for the Warp knob. Well, in the new upgrade, Adventure improved the Warp’s range and added an expression input as well more solid I/O jacks! With the V2 update we can control one of the best parts of the Whateverb’s reverb engine in real-time to create full-spectrum musical pitch shifts and never have to worry about the ports breaking.


Fuzzrocious lunaReclipse Utility Clipping Platform Pedal

Fuzzrocious’s lunaReclipse is, in my opinion, a dark horse. A dead simple 2-knob pedal, the lunaReclipse secretly sports a veritable smorgasbord of clipping diode pairs (12 total!) in its hard rotary knob in the center in addition to being a regular old volume attenuator. The rotary knob locks when you crank it clockwise at 12 and counter-clockwise at 1. Why is this particularly important to me? At 12 o’clock, there’s a transparent boost, and for performance purposes, deftly cranking all the way in one direction between songs (extra performance points if you can nail it between measures) is easier than fumbling around the dial trying to to find the right diode pair. If one wanted to use it like a drive pedal, you could totally call it a day there and no one would judge you. From what I gleaned spending time with it and Ryan & Shannon Ratajski of Fuzzrocious, however, its real niche is to add flavor, like a water infuser full of all sorts of dirt. I wouldn’t go so far as to quite call it strictly a utility pedal, but I’m excited to hear the way it makes other effects shine. Have a sweet reverb with an effects loop like the Epigaze Ascension? Pop the lunaReclipse in there. Want a new and exciting texture over your Adventure Audio Power Couple? Run it through this motherlover. Furthermore, for those of us eager to jump into DIY pedal building, the lunaReclipse could potentially make a good reference tool for finding clipping patterns to explore.

HA! luna-Re-Clipse. Clips. I just got that.


Daredevil Cocked & Fearless Fixed Wah / Distortion

The brave gentlemen in Daredevil paired the circuits of their Atomic Cock fixed wah pedal and their Fearless Distortion to make a true bypass 2 channel op-amp distortion with a fixed band-pass wah. The resulting amalgamation is an aggressively gainy distortion with a set wah, The Distortion circuit is great for girthy, aggressive rhythm. Stomp on the Cock (sorry) and rip into a solo. An added clean blend helps to restore the harmonic content you lose with the wah active and helps the Cocked & Fearless feel more like your distortion than a one-trick-pony.


Hungry Robot Monastery, Stargazer V2, & Moby Dick V2

Last but certainly not least is the Hungry Robot Monastery, a polyphonic octave pedal named for the holy buildings in which organs/organ noises reside and bearing Hungry Robot’s quirky branding. Each horizontal row of knobs is a preset voicing; the left knobs on the Monastery are blend knobs and the right knobs control the ratio of up/down octaves. The two footswitches are the obvious bypass switch and a preset cycle switch. Playing the Monastery rewarded my earholes with well-lubricated tracking no matter where on the neck I was, already making it superior to quite a few shifters in my circle of awareness. Stupid easy, gorgeous as hell, made to be stomped. What else could you want?

I should also mention, Hungry Robot was showing off updated versions of some older pedals, namely the Moby Dick and the Stargazer, which have been fit into much smaller enclosures and slightly improved. The Moby Dick Tap Delay now features a smaller saturation control and deeper modulation than the larger Whale, while the Stargazer Reverb drops the voicing toggles that used to sit in the center and now opts for a cycling footswitch. The Red channel is the base voicing for the Stargazer, while the Blue channel is “Sparkle, the treble-boosted iteration of it, and the two can be run simultaneously in summed mono.



There were a couple companies willing to part with info on what they were working on that wasn’t at NAMM. For example, Mojo Hand FX, acquired by Cusack in 2016, is working on a Bass pedal (or bass-oriented pedal) with 8 knobs, 2 stomps and active EQs. To quote the folks at the Cusack/Mojo Hand table, “It is huge, but it’s definitely not a fuzz.” Well, with that ruled out there’s only infinity-1 things it could be! Also really rad news: Tom Kogut of Tom Kat is working on a granular synth pedal. Based on what I heard from his board at the Big Ear N.Y.C. booth, it’s probably gonna be the last thing I see before I starve to death in the first room I plug it into. Dwarfcraft also had literature for a forthcoming sampler that they’re calling the Grazer, but it wasn’t ready for SNAMM. Take your time, boys & girls.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I’m not able to include everything I wanted to get to at this year’s SNAMM. There was an enormous amount of really cool things peppered throughout the conference, some of which I deeply regret missing, like NUX Audio’s Loop Core Looper and Cerberus Multi-Effects Engine/Loop or The Gulf, a Swindler Effects Chorus Prototype that was kicking around. There’s a good chance there’s more, too. The point of Best Guitar Effects is pedal discovery, so if you can think of anything I didn’t cover that you feel deserves attention, feel free to comment below for the benefit of those reading!

And that was Summer NAMM 2017 for me. May you someday have a first NAMM as well if you haven’t already.




This article is not a review of the elusive and mysterious Ayahuasca pedal from Abracadabra Audio. It’s more of a backstory of how this pedal came to be.


What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a fuzz pedal. And it’s a tremolo pedal. You can use the fuzz independently or together with the tremolo. If you cut down the pedal’s Input knob a bit, you can sort of clean up the sound to use the tremolo semi-independently as well, but it’s still quite lo-fi sounding and dirty. The pedal can also produce ring-mod-like oscillation at high Rate speeds and vibe-like sounds when the tremolo is set to Harmonic mode.

Ayahuasca is an acquired taste which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Here’s a small dose of Ayahuasca to whet your palate courtesy of Knobs:



And here’s a longer clip that shows a few of the unique sounds this pedal can produce:



Ayahuasca’s tremolo isn’t super clean like the Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas. Speaking of Gravitas, maybe that’s where we should begin Ayahuasca’s origin story…

Mr. Joel Korte at Chase Bliss Audio once made me a special Gravitas pedal that had a choppier square wave and very fast Rate speeds. The talented Mr. Jack Nelson over at Dropping Acid Pedal Etching contributed a beautiful acid-etched enclosure to make the pedal extra special.


The original “Ayahuasca” modded Gravitas


This one-off Gravitas variant (similar to other choppy modded versions specially made for some Chase Bliss Audio customers but with faster Rate speeds) was essentially a blueprint for the tremolo sound heard in the Ayahuasca pedal made for Abracadabra Audio.


Ayahuasca’s Tremolo

The key difference of the tremolo in Ayahuasca vs Gravitas is that the Ayahuasca’s circuit uses 2 NOS vactrols in tandem for an ultra choppy analog tremolo sound when the waveform is set to Square. The idea was to make the trem as choppy as possible while retaining a 100% analog signal path, a hallmark of Chase Bliss Audio pedal designs.

The vactrol based Ayahuasca can produce a very aggressive square wave tremolo that excels at chopping up a distorted guitar signal. That inspiration led to a fuzz circuit being added to the pedal. After all, while the Gravitas is known for its pristine clean sound and subtle vintage warmth, Ayahuasca is inspired by the jungle, an often dangerous and harsh environment that warrants an equally precarious sound.


Ayahuasca’s Fuzz

Here’s a brief backstory on Ayahuasca’s fuzz circuit that was leaked on Reddit:

“The short version of the long story of its fuzz circuit origins goes something like this: We’re all familiar with the late 60’s fuzzes, particularly the Fuzz Face. A guy named Cláudio César Dias Baptista made a Fuzz Face inspired pedal for his brother Sergio of the Brazilian band Os Mutantes. It was called the Regulus VIII aka the “Mutantes Fuzz” and became a signature part of the band’s sound. Another builder re-interpreted that circuit and added a Big Muff Pi style tone stack that was heavily modified. Then a certain modern builder re-interpreted that circuit, further modifying it and pushing it to its usable limits and beyond to create what can be found in Ayahuasca. A main focus was to create a very wide range of usability from a 3-knob fuzz. The more I play it, the more I feel we succeeded in doing so.”

So who was the builder that re-interpreted the Regulus VIII fuzz?

It was the late Mr. Chris Bradford of El Músico Loco. The Wee Beaver Fuzz was his interpretation, and it’s one of my all-time favorite fuzz pedals. While that pedal made it onto my pedalboard on a few occasions, I often felt it was a bit limiting in that the fuzz was always full-on with the only option to cut the input gain being to reduce your guitar’s onboard volume control. This works pretty well if you like controlling your fuzz from your guitar, but I generally like being able to establish my gain level from the pedal first and adjust further from the guitar as desired. Also, when stacking a fuzz pedal with other overdrive and distortion pedals, it helps to have full control over the amount of saturation coming from the fuzz in the chain. Sadly, I was never able to discuss possible improvements with Chris as he passed away unexpectedly.

Mr. Joel Korte is the modern builder who re-interpreted the circuit from a pedal that Chris personally gave to me. Ayahuasca’s fuzz isn’t really a clone as Joel ended up putting his own unique spin on the whole thing. The input gain could also now be adjusted from its own knob for a wider range of fuzz saturation. Joel & I listened to a few circuit variations and decided on an iteration we were both happy with.

The former pedal’s unique tone control was also further modified. The tone-stack in Ayahuasca is quite possibly the most special thing about the pedal’s fuzz circuit, and we opted to label the tone knob “Color” in reference to the wide palette of textures available from this single knob.


The Art of Ayahuasca

So we had an insane Gravitas inspired tremolo that could get crazy fast and extremely choppy, and we had one of the best fuzz pedal sounds I’ve ever heard. We just needed the all-important art component to bring Ayahuasca to life. One person was up to the task: Hannah M. Haugberg.

Hannah is one of the most widely known pedal-painting artists. She’s painted somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 pedals during her time working with ZVex Effects. That’s not to mention commissions for other builders.

Hannah painted the first 3 batches of Ayahuasca pedals. She and other artists may paint more to come.


Ayahuasca Batch History

Here’s a brief batch history of the Ayahuasca pedals released so far.


Ayahuasca “Jungle” (serials #1-10)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the first hand painted limited batch with art inspired by the Amazon jungle.


Ayahuasca “Shipibo” (serials #11-20)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the second hand painted limited batch with a design inspired by the visionary art of Shipibo women.


Ayahuasca “Cielo” (serials #21-30)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the third hand painted limited batch with art inspired by the jungle and the cielo ayahuasca vine also known as “sky ayahuasca”.


Ayahuasca “Ceremony” (serials #31-40)
Painted by: Andy Dolan


This was the 4th hand painted limited batch with original art by Aindriais Dolan that was inspired by his own connection with Ayahuasca.


Ayahuasca “Acid Etched” (serials #41-50)
Etched by: Dropping Acid Pedal Etching


The 5th batch was the first to deviate from hand painting in favor of a straight-forward acid-etched design by Dropping Acid Pedal Etching. While the hand-painted versions have abbreviated dip-switch labels, the etch versions have full text dip-switch labeling.


Ayahuasca “Spirit Molecule” (serials #51-60)
Art by: Carl Sandusky, Etched by: Dropping Acid Pedal Etching


This beautiful acid-etched batch was conceived by Mr. Carl Sandusky and etched by Dropping Acid Pedal Etching. The design features an original “Ayahuasca” logo, a new font for surface parameter labels, and a dimethyltryptamine molecule between the foot-switches. Also, Carl’s idea for a two-toned etch was beautifully executed by DAPE.


Ayahuasca Prototypes & Other Pedals

Some other Ayahuasca pedals exist. Here are a few of the noteworthy pedals.


Ayahuasca “Jungle” Prototype

This pedal (also seen at the top of this page) was the 1st Ayahuasca enclosure painted by Hannah M. Haugberg. It has different labeling as final parameter names had yet to be decided upon. Interestingly, this pedal was brought by SWIM to a medicine woman to form a conduit with the spirit of Ayahuasca and receive blessings for the project… whatever that means. SWIM says it went well. This pedal is currently in the possession of Mr. Joel Korte.


Ayahuasca “Jungle” #00000

This pedal was painted by Hannah M. Haugberg. It features the final parameter labeling and was made specially for Knobs. It was also photographed for product imagery seen on Abracadabra Audio.


Ayahuasca “Jungle”, “Shipibo”, & “Cielo” (Unnumbered)

One extra unnumbered pedal was commissioned with each of the first 3 batches. They were painted by Hannah M. Haugberg and were originally made for archival purposes. It was later decided to give these pedals away so that they might be played instead of sitting in boxes. A giveaway for these pedals was held at in celebration of the site’s 4-year anniversary.

(This section may be updated with relevant information regarding future Ayahuasca batches.)


So that pretty much sums up the Ayahuasca story so far minus the weird synchronicity stuff that no one really wants to know. Speaking of weird stuff, what the heck is Abracadabra Audio? And what’s happening next over there?


The Future of Abracadabra Audio

Here’s some news and candid info. There might be some more limited batches of Ayahuasca appearing soon. The best way to stay informed is to get on Abracadabra Audio’s mailing list. There’s usually an email sign up box at the bottom of the site.

As for other new AA pedals, some things have been said between industry people and some ideas have been shared. I may continue being involved, but it’s not entirely up to me how AA progresses if it does continue to exist. If there’s something interesting you’d like to see from AA, reach out via the site’s contact page and share your idea(s).


Going Forth

Participating in the Ayahuasca project has been super amazing. I feel very lucky and fortunate to have had a part in helping manifest this unique pedal.

Thanks to Joel Korte & Chase Bliss Audio, Hannah M. Haugberg, Knobs, Andy Dolan, Jack Nelson, Carl Sandusky, Chris Bradford, Abracadabra Audio, anyone who likes this pedal as much as I do, the readers of Best Guitar Effects, and everyone who’s doing the Great Work and making awesome things happen.



Top 17 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2017


Here we are. Another year of NAMM. Another roundup of the best guitar pedals of this year’s show.

After covering The NAMM Show for several years, I’ve noticed that it takes more to impress me than it once did. I’m not a brand loyalist, and I don’t really get excited about a pedal just because it’s a new release from a fan favorite builder. I maintain a healthy skepticism towards the builders that have innovated in the past, looking for any indication that they’re resting on their past successes or running out of ideas. Ultimately, I seek out pedals and gear that may inspire new perspectives on creating music with guitar, the “best guitar effects” that will produce the sounds in music yet to be heard.

There were several pedals at the show that are pushing boundaries (and not just musically as I’ll discuss more near the end of this article). While there were many more pedals at this year’s NAMM Show than listed here, this article will focus on the very best pedals, narrowed down even further than previous Best Pedals of Winter NAMM lists to place greater emphasis on the innovative guitar pedals that are most deserving of your attention.

As always these initial impressions do not constitute a final review verdict in any way. The busy NAMM Show floor isn’t an ideal listening environment, and many of these products are still in development and may change and evolve before their actual release. But overall I feel positive about this assessment, and it should give you a great starting point for researching the best guitar pedals from Winter NAMM 2017 for any new additions to your pedalboard.

Now here are the Top 17 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2017!


Empress Effects Echosystem


I’d been waiting on this announcement for quite a while: a successor to the Empress Effects Vintage Modified Superdelay. But what Empress Effects unveiled at Winter NAMM 2017 is something on a whole different level warranting a new name for a new generation of delay tones. This isn’t a novel update to the Superdelay. It’s the Echosystem Dual Engine Delay, and it’s shaping up to be a game changer.

What sets the Echosystem apart from the multi-algorithm delay pedal pack? Well, let’s start with the fact that it’ll give you 25+ delays modes out of the box. You can use these modes individually or use 2 delays at once in dual parallel, dual serial, or left/right. The possibilities for stacking delays are staggering.

Let’s get back to the Superdelay (and VMSD) to contrast and elaborate on the known improvements made. While I was a huge advocate for the merits of the Vintage Modified Superdelay, it was mono only. The Echosystem has stereo I/O. The VMSD wasn’t MIDI enabled. The Echosystem will support extensive MIDI implementation. And if you’re a fan of the classic Superdelay sounds, you can expect to see plenty of them here. The user generated multi tap possibilities will return as will my personal favorite algorithm, the reverse octave up (it wasn’t in the NAMM units, but Empress Effects assured me it’s on the way). Expect to see some of the builder’s renowned tape delay sounds making a return.

The Echosystem sports a similar design to the company’s hit Empress Reverb. You can expect to find the pedal’s 25+ delay modes indicated by the RGB LEDs next to the 12 mode types. All the expected classic delay types are covered: Digital, Analog, Tape, Reverse, and many more. There will be Delay + Reverb types as well. Whisky (similar to the Reverb’s “Beer” mode) is where the more outlandish and bizarre delays will reside (like the must hear “stutter” delay). Kudos to Empress Effects for a dedicated Lo-Fi section as the sounds at NAMM are already promising. And yes, there will be a dedicated Looper function to come. Expect to see more forum voting for new modes as well.

Not even scratching the surface here, but let me make a closing statement. As excited as I was about the Empress Reverb, my expectations for the Echosystem are above and beyond, and this may be the new digital delay to beat when it drops this Spring.


WMD Geiger Counter Pro


So what happens when you take an analog distortion engine and feed it into a computer to be filtered, bit-crushed, and mangled by 700 or so wave tables? I’ll tell you what happens. Faces melt. Heads explode. Old worlds are destroyed, and new ones are formed form the ashes. The WMD Geiger Counter Pro is the sound of armageddon and sonic revolution happening simultaneously.

Been waiting on this pedal… for… ev… er. But fear not as the delivery of its payload is imminent. The Geiger Counter Pro is your post-rock, post-apocalyptic survival tool-kit. So many options here. You’ll be tweaking this one for a long time to come.

Dedicated “Samples” & “Bits” knobs induce bit-crushing. Crank the Bits clockwise for a Gate, sure to come in handy when dropping megatons of gain on your audience. The Bank & Table knobs dial in the wave tables for mathematic destruction – or deconstruction – of your audio signal. This will decimate your sound beautifully, resulting in harmonically complex textures. There’s also a dedicated Filter for some some classic synth-style low-pass filtering. This’ll tame the extremities and maybe get you jonesing for the epic WMD Protostar. There’s also a dedicated knob for the optional Tone circuit and a Mix control.

You can save and recall a host of presets from the pedal itself. With deep MIDI implementation you can take even deeper control on the pedal. Got a modular synth rig? There are 2 assignable CV ports (that are also expression pedal compatible) for crazy external control possibilities. WMD is about to drop a bomb on the pedal world. Brave guitar players will dare to detonate the Geiger Counter Pro; those who can’t handle it: take cover.

On a side note, as my expectations for this pedal are very high, it’s important that I mention the one area of pre-release constructive criticism I have. The Samples knob has a huge range of great ring-mod style tones to be dialed in. The Fine button near the knob jumps the range to a smaller area in the upper register. Since it sounds so great using the Samples knob to tune the pitch to a note that’s in key with what you’re playing, it might be interesting if the Fine button allowed “fine tuning” in the range where the knob is currently set instead of jumping to a different register with a limited tuning range. Just a curiosity of mine that might allow more flexibility.


Red Panda Tensor


The Tensor is the most exciting Red Panda pedal since the Particle. Yeah, I just said that. When I heard that this pedal could do “tape stop” effects, I was excited and had to check it out. When I discovered that it could “stretch” your playing, I was more deeply intrigued. When I heard the smooth expression pedal controlled pitch-shifting in selectable intervals spanning -2 to +2 octaves, I was blown away. When I sampled and played audio via the Hold function and had it loop, play in reverse, and bounce back in forth, well, I was already communing with the clockwork elves, so I can’t really explain how beyond stoked I was. But when I returned from this all too brief journey and heard about something else that might make it into the production version, I imagined musical possibilities that could make the Tensor one of the most creative and inspiring pedals released for years to come. As it stands, the Tensor will be amazing. But if you’re really intrigued, cross your fingers with me in hoping it becomes a perpetual bridge to the fractal universe.


Source Audio Ventris Reverb


So you’re familiar with the Nemesis Delay, right? It’s one of the best delay pedals to come along in recent years. Well, Source Audio are about to release the similarly awe inspiring Ventris Reverb. This is another example of a pedal that looks very promising and may further exceed expectations before its release.

The biggest wow factor of this compact treasure trove of reverb is that it boasts an extra processor from the Nemesis Delay. This gives you true reverb spillover when changing from one preset to the next, a dream come true for guitarists who use multiple reverb sounds within a single song. While the Ventris looks like it may allow users to run two reverbs in parallel (and in stereo), I’m hoping Source Audio can crack the code to allow stacking reverbs in series (and in stereo, of course).

Like the Nemesis, the Ventris has presets, MIDI implementation, Neuro App connectivity, and a host of onboard parameter knobs that negate the need for menus. In addition to the Neuro App, a desktop compatible app is on the way for arguably more convenient preset editing.

Expect the reverbs onboard (and the ones to come via the Neuro App) to be stellar. It won’t be a question of whether or not this pedal is any good. I’m expecting greatness. But if I find a worthy excuse to forgo stacking the Eventide H9 & Strymon BigSky for series reverb, the Ventris may greatly exceed my loftiest expectations.


Chase Bliss Audio Brothers


For those of you waiting for Chase Bliss Audio to stop innovating, don’t hold your breath. Brothers is a veritable playground of analog dirt/boost circuits that can be run separately, in series, and/or in parallel. The pedal has 2 sides, a JFET side & an IC side, each providing Boost, Drive, & Fuzz modes that were conceived by different minds. Mr. Joel Korte of CBA tackled the IC side (B), giving us a nice vanilla boost, a Tube Screamer inspired overdrive, and a ’77 IC Muff style fuzz. The JFET side (A) was designed by Wes Kuhnley and Peter Bregman of Resonant Electronic Design. Essentially, side A provides interpretations of the company’s Graviton Boost, Manifold Drive, and Acceleron Fuzz. That’s a whole lotta dirt in a single pedal that could potentially wipe a whole slew of pedals off your pedalboard. Will all the routing possibilities considered, that’s like 33 different dirt options from a single pedal.

As Chase Bliss Audio did with the Tonal Recall at Winter NAMM 2016 before its Spring release, Brothers was shown at this year’s NAMM to get more feedback. I’m personally enjoying the sounds of the circuits when combined in series or parallel. (Disclaimer: I’m also helping CBA beta test it before release.) The trajectory is looking solid for yet another hit as Brothers is certainly unlike any dirt pedal to become before it and will likely be much greater than the sum of its parts.


Neunaber Iconoclast


Neunaber is known for making some of the best reverb pedals you’ll hear, the Immerse being their most recent and notable offering. The Iconoclast looks to further extend Neunaber’s hold on the end of your signal chain by boasting what is arguably the most advanced speaker emulation technology in a dedicated compact pedal to date.

With overdrive, pre-amp, and amp-in-a-box pedals achieving increasingly spectacular sounds in recent years, sounds that are more than sufficient for recording with or running live in an amp-less direct to mixing board guitar rig, an advanced speaker simulation pedal of this quality is long overdue.

You’ll notice that there’s no foot-switch as the Iconoclast is an “always on” sort of effect. The pedal’s 3 middle knobs labeled Low, Mid, & High provide dead simple contouring of the frequency response of your virtual stereo speaker cabinet. The Gate knob lets you cut noise from your signal chain. A Headphone knob sets the volume for the dedicated headphone output, useful for late-night bedroom jamming or running an extra stereo signal to some other destination.

That’s only the tip of this immense iceberg. Connect the Iconoclast to your computer via USB, fire up the Iconoclast Software, and take complete control over the tonal sculpting that this innovative pedal offers. I experienced this at NAMM and got a taste of the dynamic interaction between audio signal and the Iconoclast thanks to its real-time on-screen feedback. While our ears have grown accustomed to flawed and irregular frequency responses from actual speakers, it was intriguing to see a grotesque, jagged speaker impulse response juxtaposed with the smoother and tonally balanced EQ curves from the Iconoclast. You can use the editor to sculpt a smoother, more balanced version of your favorite IR. You can also tweak the many Gate and Output parameters for ideal response and integration with your guitar setup.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Brian Neunaber has taken such a hi-fi approach and displays great expertise in this area considering his background developing professional speakers for QSC Audio. The sounds produced by the Iconoclast are beautiful and yet another compelling reason for leaving the amp at home when gigging.


Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe


The Belle Epoch pedal was Catalinbread’s compact digital emulation of the legendary Echoplex EP-3. That pedal is dead now. Catalinbread just killed it. Long live the Belle Epoch Deluxe Echo Unit CB-3.

Okay, the story isn’t that simple. And many folks will undoubtedly still love and appreciate the original Belle Epoch just as countless music fans still love the classic recordings that contain sounds made with an Echoplex.

The Echoplex is famous for two reasons: beautiful delay echos & equally beautiful tonal coloration when used as a preamp. Catalinbread has attempted to distill the essence of both in two distinct products.

Mr. Howard Gee spent months studying the circuitry of the iconic EP-3, painstakingly attempting to reproduce a component accurate recreation of the famed unit heard of countless iconic recordings. In the Belle Epoch Deluxe, you’ll get a static EP-3 preamp sound along with a glorious emulation of the kinds of delay echos heard from a vintage Echoplex along with some DMM style modulation thrown in. Howard had only to follow his muse and trust in the many loved records and tones that have become part of his DNA. I don’t think he was led astray as the sounds at NAMM were killer.

I know there are guitarists who will gripe about there not being tap tempo. Did Jimmy Page have tap tempo? No. If you want glorious runaway echo oscillation, it’s here. If you want expression pedal control over delay time or feedback, the CB-3 has it. If you want a mojo that’s been lovingly crafted and unattainable from your typical multi-algorithm delay with digital tape echo mode, you’ve gotta hear this. And if you just want a killer Echoplex preamp sound and don’t need the delay, then keep reading…


Catalinbread Epoch Pre Preamp/Buffer


Catalinbread went the extra mile and made a little something extra during pursuit of the EP-3 holy grail. The Epoch Pre is meant to be the ultimate pedal solution for any guitarist who wants the distilled sonic elixir of EP-3 preamp tone on their pedalboard.

Just as guitarists would set an Echoplex on their amp to run directly into it when pre-amping, the Epoch Pre is meant to add that final tonal touch to your guitar signal before it hits your amp.

The Epoch Pre uses the same large components and up-converted voltage as the Belle Epoch Deluxe, hence its seemingly larger size for a “boost” pedal. And while this pedal boasts the same Echoplex flavor as the Deluxe, the Epoch Pre takes the EP-3 preamp concept a bit further.

The Early/Later button lets you get early EP-3 sounds with that characteristic mid-range bump or later sounds with a broader frequency response. The Bias lets you go from the classic EP-3 sound to a hotter, wider sound. The Boost foot-switch gives you a second preset amount of boost. The optional Buffer lets you drive long cables back to your amp. The Balance controls volume from minimum to noon settings and creates subtle frequency and phase shifts at higher settings. You even get two outputs.

Catalinbread may have just released the ultimate EP-3 inspired booster pedal.


Atomic Ampli-Firebox


Atomic & Studio Devil previously teamed up to release the Atomic AmpliFire, a powerful DSP based amp & speaker simulator that put plenty of quality sounding emulations on your pedalboard. While the AmpliFire is an excellent solution for leaving your amp at home in favor of a unit that’ll fit on your pedalboard, it was still a bit larger than some guitarists would prefer. If size was your most notable gripe with the AmpliFire, the Ampli-Firebox may be the solution for you.

Essentially, this pedal trims all the fat, cutting out the onboard effects (except for an amp-style Reverb) while maintaining a full set of of amp-style controls. Guitar pedal junkies are increasingly ditching multi-channel amplifiers in favor of a single great clean amp foundation and using pedals for overdrive and distortion tones. If that’s all you need, the Ampli-Firebox can give you that clean amp with speaker cabinet sound and run the signal to the FOH (front of house) mixing board via the ¼” output or XLR output. If you need a Boost, there’s also a dedicated foot-switch and Level for that as well.

The AmpliFire provided several amp options, many of which are very, very good. The Ampli-Firebox can accommodate up to 9 amp models accessible via onboard flip-switches. A Cab switch also lets you select from 3 different speaker cabinet impulse responses. (Amp and speaker sounds can be selected/changed via USB connectivity.) While this pedal will let you play through a gig-worthy single amp option (with boost), I wish Atomic included a MIDI input for allowing easier selection of the 9 amp models from a switcher when gigging. I’m sold on the idea of having one excellent amp sound at my feet, but I’d rather not do “the bend” and mess with knobs/switches when playing a gig. This will be an excellent product. A 1.5 hardware update with a MIDI in will be even better.


Fox Pedal Novaplex Delay & Quiver


Been waiting on the Novaplex Delay for a while. And now Fox Pedal have another interesting looking pedal to watch for: the Quiver Harmonic Tremolo.

Essentially, these are two digitally controlled effects pedals with some deeper functionality. The Novaplex is a digital delay; the Quiver is an analog harmonic tremolo. Both pedals feature tap tempo, plenty of parameter controls, tap divisions, and Modulation on the Novaplex and Waveform options on the Quiver, respectively.

Back at Summer NAMM 2016, when Fox Pedal first teased the Novaplex Delay, there was an intriguing external control pedal (the Storehouse) that was intended to allow preset selection on upcoming pedals. Now, if you look carefully near the bottom right knobs of each pedal, you’ll see “MIDI”. There’s a dedicated full-size MIDI input jack on both of these pedals. I was shocked to see this at Winter NAMM 2017. So many builders claim they simply don’t have room for a full-size MIDI jack on compact pedals, but Fox Pedal is attempting the task. Effects loving guitarists who want ultra-compact MIDI enabled pedals, these will definitely be worth watching out for. And, yes, they look gorgeous as always. (Note: forgot to snap photos of these while at The NAMM Show. This photo is from the Fox Pedal Instagram account.)


Amptweaker PressuRizer


I love guitar compressor pedals. It became an area of study for me to discover the nuanced differences that various types of compressors can have on the sound of a guitar and understand how compression changes my approach to playing guitar. While there are relatively few compressor pedals that push the creative boundaries of how compression is applied, the Amptweaker PressuRizer is definitely one such pedal that offers a few noteworthy deviations from the norm.

The PressuRizer boasts a compression chip from THAT Corp, the company known for the kind of high grade VCA compression whose lineage can be traced back to the legendary dbx 160 compressor units. The key parameter controls are the Sustain & Volume knobs, similar to the basic approach of an old OTA style comp like the MXR Dyna Comp or Ross Compressor. Then there’s a Wet/Dry Blend knob that blends in your compressed signal with your dry signal for New York style parallel compression. The Tone knob has a greater range of usability than most with the unique ability to apply a subtle mid scoop to the compressed signal for a less cluttered, more transparent mid-range.

There are a few other surprises that offer even more performance flexibility. The Limit section lets you activate an optional Soft or Hard limiter-like effect that further tames dynamics. The Bloom section lets the wet signal increase from silence at a Fast or Slow speed; with a blended wet/dry signal, this helps retain a natural pick attack with increased sustain. For guitarists who like to leave their compressor “always on”, you’ll appreciate that you can hold the foot-switch to activate an “always on” mode that lets the foot-switch be used for an optional clean boost when needed. The pedal even has a smart relay bypass that recalls previous bypass status, a very convenient consideration for guitarists who use effects switchers. This pedal will surely be gold.


DigiTech FreqOut


The DigiTech FreqOut sounded awesome at NAMM. If you’ve ever tried inducing singing harmonic feedback onstage, you’ll know of the few challenges involved. First, it helps to have deafening volumes, far louder than what may be allowed in a smaller club venue or that would be preferred for ideal cabinet miking. Heaps of gain helps. And if you can soundcheck early, you’d also want to make tape lines on stage of where to stand to induce the exact feedback notes you want to hear. Forget all of that. The FreqOut can induce controlled feedback at any volume or gain level in any of its 7 available harmonic pitch intervals.

Essentially, the FreqOut looks at your signal and hones in on those preferred harmonics to create its singing feedback pitches. It’s ideal to use in momentary mode where you step on the foot-switch at those precise moments to add a majestic beauty to sustaining notes. If you kill the dry signal you can induce ebow-like sounds as well. Gain & Onset knobs control how much feedback is blended in and how long it takes for the feedback to increase to full intensity, respectively.

The FreqOut isn’t the first feedback inducing pedal to hit the market, but DigiTech has certainly created what will likely be the best feedback pedal released to date.


Rainger FX Deep Space Pulsar


The Rainger FX Deep Space Pulsar reminds me of years past, driving to band practice while listening to Daft Punk’s Discovery. That record and Homework were the precursors to my growing interest in electronic dance music over the years and sparked my interest in applying studio effects and sound design techniques to live guitar. Sidechain compression is one such effect that has long been a staple of dance records, and this pedal does one thing: pumping, throbbing volume attenuation similar to the effect of using side-chain compression.

The pedal includes a kick drum mic for integrating this pedal into a live setting with an acoustic drummer. Just plug the mic into the pedal and place it into the sound hole of the kick drum to let the drummer’s kick hits induce the pedal’s pumping effect. A Pad switch lets you increase the sensitivity to pick up softer kick hits.

If you don’t have a kick signal to feed into the Deep Space Pulsar, you can use the included Igor foot-pad to tap in a tempo. It’ll even allow corrective taps to keep the pulsing on the beat if you’re manually syncing along to a rhythm source.

What I’m most excited about is the possibility feeding the pedal a kick drum from a DAW (like Ableton Live) or a drum machine. Lately I’ve been using an Empress Effects Compressor in my signal chain to get that side-chain compression effect by feeding a kick drum from my laptop through the audio interface to the pedal. My one wish is for the Dip to have a dynamic sensitivity option so that you could feed it a quieter or louder kick drum for gentle or hard driving pumping.

The Deep Space Pulsar is the first pedal since Rainger FX’s own Minor Concussion sidechainer that focuses solely on this effect. You can also invert the ramping effect for a trem-like sound that some musicians may find use for. The Deep Space Pulsar is a compelling little pedal to consider if you’re a sidechain compression enthusiast.


DigiTech CabDryVR


The DigiTech CabDryVR is a dual cabinet simulator that has some noteworthy features to make it worth considering for an end-of-signal-chain replacement to using a real speaker cab. It features a selection of 14 guitar and bass cab impulse responses, 7 for guitar & 7 for bass. Cab A & B are output via 2 separate outputs. This allows you to match cabinets on both outputs or use 2 different cabs for your stereo setup; pair with 2 different preamp or amp-in-a-box pedals for a sound similar to miking 2 separate amps for a stereo spread. I’d also imagine that a band with 2 guitarists could run into each signal path for 2 distinct sounds from the same pedal. Or maybe feed a bass and keyboard into the bass cabinets, also.

On Cab B the Small Combo 1×8” speaker is replaced with a Dry option for a direct through sound if running one side into an amp and the other to a different destination with cab emulation. Both Cabs also have individual Level & Size knobs for adjusting volume and perceived size of the cabs. It sounded pretty nice in DigiTech’s amp-less demo rig at NAMM. I’m expecting it to live up in actual use as well.


Dwarfcraft Super Wizard


On the wild west coast where Winter NAMM 2017 took place, this mysteriously shrouded pedal beckoned me to plug in and make some bizarre sounds. Unfortunately, the harsh NAMM conditions (i.e. noise levels from nearby booths) can make it difficult to really hear the nuances of the gear you’re trying to listen to. But from what my ears struggled to hear on the chaotic NAMM show floor, the Dwarfcraft Super Wizard made enough of an impression to be included here.

The Super Wizard comes from a pedigree of the builder’s previous releases that should give you an idea of what to expect that’s probably better than what I can explain. Dwarfcraft previously took their insane Pitchgrinder and transformed it into the calamitous Wizard of Pitch, a pitch mangling sonic assault weapon. They stuffed the Wizard of Pitch into the Super Wizard and combined it with their Minivan Echo, a lo-fi digital delay with oscillation and mangled delay sounds. The result is a chaotic instrument that warps your guitar into ambient, soundscapey new textures. A couple momentary foot-switches give you real-time performance control over the insanity that ensues when you activate the pedal.


Electro Harmonix Blurst


I’m a big fan of synth style filtering, particularly low-pass filters. The Electro Harmonix Blurst Modulated Filter brings you an analog low-pass filter with adjustable resonance. Instead of being envelope controlled (like an auto-wah or auto-filter), the Blurst is LFO controlled for automated rhythmic filtering. Tap tempo and 3 Tap Divide options provide flexibility for live syncing. The 3 Shape options let you choose from triangle, rising saw-tooth, or fall saw-tooth waveforms.

Perhaps the most exciting aspects of the pedal are the expression pedal modes. These give you the option of controlling either the Range, Rate, or Filter. Controlling the Filter via exp pedal disengages the Rate & Range knobs for a manual sweeping through the entire frequency range. This sounded killer at NAMM. While the Blurst definitely supports CV input for control over the selected exp pedal parameter, I’m hoping to get confirmation that CV control also allows control over the full filter sweep. If so, this pedal will be a force to be reckoned with if hybrid modular/CV rigs are your thing.


So those are the 17 best all-new guitar pedals shown at Winter NAMM 2017.

But there’s one more pedal I’d like to tell you about that wasn’t exactly new for NAMM but still worth mentioning…


Rabbit Hole FX A ‘Merkin Fuzz


This rad little stars ‘n stripes themed fuzz pedal wasn’t new for Winter NAMM 2017. It actually came out this past October. But while looking for pedals that push boundaries in some way, the A ‘Merkin (or just ‘Merkin for short) caught my attention. Here’s why…

Rabbit Hole FX is a pedal builder from Durham, North Carolina. You may have heard in 2016 that NC passed something called HB2, the “bathroom bill” that sparked a statewide civil liberties uproar primarily because many viewed it as a “deeply discriminatory” attack against LGBTQ citizens. This led to boycotts of the state by businesses and performers which resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue. Pro-equality voters made their voices heard in the gubernatorial election this past November, ousting seated governor Pat McCrory, a vocal supporter of the bill. Organizations like EqualityNC are still working diligently to repeal HB2 and promote equality in the state of North Carolina. Rabbit Hole FX is currently donating 100% of profits from sales of the A ‘Merkin Fuzz to EqualityNC. Not “a portion of” or some small percentage – ALL profits.

This is a big deal for several reasons. First, overturning and preventing discriminatory legislation seems like a pretty good idea. I’m sure patriotic Americans and anyone who respects civil liberties will agree. But the gesture represents something else worth talking about.

Rabbit Hole FX is a small boutique pedal builder. The A ‘Merkin Fuzz is only their second pedal offering. Newer businesses generally place a big focus on profits and expansion, but Rabbit Hole FX saw an opportunity to make a difference in their local community and took action. With only 2 products currently available*, one of their two income streams is being donated to this cause in its entirety.

Big companies sometimes donate small percentages of profits to charitable institutions. For companies with large capital reserves, such contributions may be quite sizable. While a greater monetary sum donated to a worthy cause can have a larger impact and significantly contribute to positive change, I’d argue that a smaller contributor who’s given a greater percentage of their available resources is more committed to making a difference and is likewise more deserving of any bestowed recognition. Imagine the impact it would have if more companies contributed a greater portion of their resources to making a tangible difference in the world.

Today there is no shortage of issues that need attention. One person can only do so much. A single small business can only do so much. Many people working towards common goals can do a lot more.

Big props to Rabbit Hole FX. I hope their dedication to the fight against injustice inspires other companies to take a stand for issues they believe in.

*The Chaosmic Fuzz is the builder’s first release. The A ‘Merkin Fuzz is the second. The upcoming Rabbit Hole FX Phaser was shown at Winter NAMM 2017 and will be the builder’s third release.

Best wishes to everyone in 2017. May your musical journey be one of progress.




Now check out the Top 15 Best “Pedals of the Year” 2016!

Top 15 Best “Pedals of the Year” 2016


While we frequently update lists of the best guitar pedals (fuzz pedals, delay pedals, reverb pedals, etc.) and even keep an updated list of the best guitar pedals currently available, we haven’t previously done a “Pedal of the Year” award or anything like that. Gonna do something like that, only better….

We’re rounding up the Top 15 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2016.

What prompted this article was a bit surprising. It reminds me of when we first launched the “Top Fuzz Pedals” roundup. A rad pedal caught my attention: the Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh. Discovering that pedal made me want to round up the best fuzz pedals on market and create a definitive “best of” list. These lists are always a work in progress as new pedals are always being released; there’s a lot to keep up with. But similar to our static Best Pedals of NAMM articles, we’re going to look back at the year 2016 and showcase the best pedals released during the year.

Of all the great pedals that arrived in 2016 (and there were plenty!), it was the Hologram Electronics Dream Sequence that surprised me the most. I got word of this pedal in January before The NAMM Show 2016. I was intrigued but skeptical of this debut offering from an unknown pedal builder, but the Dream Sequence certainly seemed like a promising pedal concept. When I finally got to spend of time with it near the end of 2016, it exceeded my expectations in a big way for being one of the few new guitar pedals to come out this year that points in exciting new musical directions. The Dream Sequence solidified Hologram Electronics as a builder to keep an eye on in 2017 and beyond.

This list is going to focus on pedals that are exceptional in many different ways, and each of these commendable pedals are a “Pedal of the Year” for making it into this list. But instead of trying to compare all the different factors possible for ranking them (tones, versatility, etc.), the ordering listed below focuses on pedals that inspire new approaches to making music with guitar. As the pedal market and media outlets become cluttered with “me too” releases and pedals that retread the same ground to death, Best Guitar Effects will make further efforts in this list and in our coverage in 2017 to focus on innovation as the most important criteria for judging the merits of new guitar pedals.

If you’re looking for new effects to take your guitar playing into new realms of creativity, surely some of these pedals will be worth further consideration.

Here are the Top 15 Pedals of the Year 2016!


Hologram Electronics Dream Sequence

Builder: Hologram Electronics, Pedal: Dream SequenceEffect Type: Pitch-Shifter/Octave Pedal

The Hologram Electronics Dream Sequence is one of the more exciting guitar pedals to be released in the past several years and probably the most exciting debut pedal since the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl. While the Dream Sequence is a bit hard to categorize, it’s essentially a digital octave pedal that lets you sequence the octaves heard. It lets you blend your dry signal with 3 digital voices: octave down, middle octave (same as dry tone), & octave up.

Now there are plenty of octave pedals out there, but what makes the Dream Sequence so unique is that you can create and store presets that contain dynamic volume automation patterns for each digital octave voice. Imagine having a tremolo on each octave, but the movement can be any kind of rhythmic or polyrhythmic sequence you can come up with over 4 bars. You can even automate the various knob parameters to be saved with your presets. 12 onboard Factory presets give you a taste of the kinds of extreme pitch-shifting automation the Dream Sequence has in store for the lucid guitarists who awaken to its surrealism.

Now before you’re led on too much, it’s important to understand how you create the octave automation patterns. You create sequences of MIDI information using an external MIDI sequencer or DAW (digital audio workstation). Ableton Live works great, but Logic or any other DAW with MIDI works, too. If you’re going the DAW route, you’ll also need either a MIDI interface (you can find a cheap one for about $35) or dedicated audio interface with MIDI output.

I’ve written extensively about using Ableton Live with Guitar, and the Dream Sequence seems like it was made for this. While I prefer to run an automated effects rig and have used the Electro Harmonix HOG2 for similar functionality, only the Dream Sequence allows you to save patterns to the pedal for standalone use. You can create patterns in an Ableton Live set file, save them to the pedal, and still have a backup file of your favorite sounds for editing later. If you’re automating your rig like I do, you can just send the MIDI sequencing to the pedal in real-time and create extended automation for your music. For very complex automation patterns (or if you’re sending MIDI to other pedals, also, saving and recalling your sequenced patterns from the pedal may be ideal.

This pedal is a dream come true, and if it’s any sign of what’s to come, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Hologram Electronics.


Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive

Builder: Strymon, Pedal: Riverside, Effect Type: Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

The Strymon Riverside is a late pedal release for 2016, but there’s no doubt it’s one of the year’s very best. As an all-in-one overdrive & distortion pedal that combines analog and digital wizardry into an all-new beast, this pedal is far too versatile to pigeon-hole as a simple dirt pedal as it covers an incredibly wide range of tones from mild, responsive overdrives to heavily saturated, amp-like distortion. While these sound like “buzz” words we’ve all heard again and again, it’s when you put the Riverside next to your preferred dirt of choice that you realize just how supremely versatile it is. It wasn’t meant to emulate a particular amp, overdrive, or distortion sound; it was engineered to surpass the range of usable tones found in any single drive pedal that came before it.

The Riverside is a simple enough pedal to use; anyone familiar with their amp’s control panel will know what to do here. In addition to the 5 amp-style parameter controls you’ll notice a couple switches. The Gain switch’s 2 settings – High & Low – completely transform the pedal into 2 different styles of dirt. The Gain switch along with the Drive knob are used to access a wide range of drive tones; the character and response varies depending on where the knob is set. While Strymon hasn’t gone into great detail about the magic taking place to achieve these varying tones, it’s at least obvious that the magic happening in the digital realm allows greater flexibility in articulating how the pedal responds at different knob settings. There’s an incredibly smooth range of sweet-spot tonality throughout the Drive knob’s range. It also cleans up remarkably well with your guitar’s volume knob; the pedal varies its response to your audio input level to retain musical dynamics. The Push switch gives you an aggressive kick in the mid-range and further adds to the great sounds available.

The Favorite switch gives you quick access to a preset sound. Use it for a boost setting or have a whole different sound available for quick recall. I’m a fan of the built in gate, a sub parameter that’s great for neutralizing noise with higher gain settings.

On a side note, big kudos to Strymon for implementing a smart relay bypass so that the pedal remembers its last bypass state when powering up. This is super handy when using an effects switcher as the Riverside will always remember to power on (like 3PDT pedals) when powering up your pedalboard at a gig. If there was just some kind of MIDI implementation for accessing more of the great sounds or at least the possibility of using a TRS dual foot-switch controller for remotely accessing both of the onboard foot-switch functions. Aside from all that, the tones are flawless and far ahead of the curve compared to digital drive pedals of the past.


WMD Protostar

Builder: WMD, Pedal: Protostar, Effect Type: Analog Filter Pedal

Here’s a long anticipated pedal that finally dropped in 2016. When the WMD Protostar was first unveiled back at Winter NAMM 2015, it was shown under the moniker Super Fatman, the latest successor to WMD’s earlier Fatman and Super Fatman analog filter pedals. The new (and way cooler) name arrived when the Protostar was shown at Winter NAMM 2016 before its release a few months after.

The Protostar is a big deal for a several reasons. First off, it’s an incredibly deep analog filter pedal that would be at home in a Eurorack modular synthesizer rig. And in keeping with its modular roots (while taking the modular aspect of guitar pedals to the next level), the Protostar has a 9 jack CV patch-bay for connecting to other CV pedals or integrating into a hybrid pedal/eurorack setup.

The Protostar offers a potentially overwhelming amount of possibilities at first glance. At the very least you can use it as an envelope filter to get those funky, quacky auto-wah effects. Or maybe try using the envelope to control other pedals via their CV or expression pedal inputs? What about adding another pedal into the Protostar’s effects loop? How about sending that LFO to control another pedal? Maybe control the Protostar’s LFO from a different pedal? This pedal does things you’ve never fathomed until you start plugging things in and experimenting with it.

Now, if the inevitable WMD Geiger Counter Pro will finally come out already. Maybe after Winter NAMM 2017.


Electro Harmonix Mel9


Builder: EHX, Pedal: Mel9, Effect Type: Mellotron Emulator/Guitar Synth Pedal

I’ve sung the praises of the Electro Harmonix HOG2 & EHX POG2 countless times. Now EHX’s innovative polyphonic guitar synthesizer technology is on prime display in the Mel9, a guitar synth pedal that mimics some of the most popular sounds of the iconic Mellotron keyboard instrument.

Sporting a similar footprint and layout as Electro Harmonix’s other “9 series” pedals (B9, C9, Key9), the Mel9 gives you 9 presets that create sounds far removed from your typical electric guitar tones. It’ll take you from The Court of the Crimson King to Strawberry Fields Forever and even sing you the Moody Blues. Some standout modes include the first several presets: Orchestra, Cello, Strings, & Flute. But all of the presets offer an interesting range of unique textures to add to your music that you’ll only find in this pedal.

Attack & Sustain knobs set the response of the wet voicing, letting you adjust how quickly the synth textures ascend to maximum amplitude and decay after a note or chord is silenced. Dry & Effect levels let you set a perfect balance between your guitar sound and the effected signal, respectively. The Effect & Dry outputs let you sum the wet & dry signals to one output (used in a standard mono effects chain) or send the two signals to separate destinations for individual processing. I highly recommend getting creative with signal processing on your wet & dry voices.

The most adventurous guitarists use guitar effects pedals to transcend the range of sounds that can be produced by a guitar and amp alone, and the Mel9 offers a palette that will surely inspire. I’ve got nothing but love for guitarists who just stick with just a guitar and amp (although they’re probably not reading this anyway), but those of you who love effects are either imagining the soundscapes you’ll create with this pedal or have already added the Mel9 on your pedalboard.


Source Audio Nemesis


Builder: Source Audio, Pedal: Nemesis, Effect Type: Delay Pedal

I had my eyes on the Source Audio Nemesis for the longest time. The company had shown this pedal at Winter NAMM 2015, Summer NAMM 2015, & Winter NAMM 2016 before it finally hit store shelves this past Spring. The Nemesis was well worth the wait, and it quickly became regarded as one of the best delay pedals among the many guitarists who’ve added it to their pedalboards.

It’s not even fair to make the Strymon, Eventide, & Boss references anymore as the Nemesis has shown that Source Audio stands on their own in terms of achieving an exceptional and diverse set of delay algorithms that are among the best you’ll find in any pedal. Still, the most noteworthy aspect of the Nemesis is that for a multi-algorithm delay pedal filled with so many great sounds, it forgoes any clumsy menus in favor of tactile, hands-on control. The convenient interface and compact size make this a stellar delay pedal for cramped pedalboards or smaller travel boards.

All the expected “big gun” features are here: 12 onboard delay types, MIDI functionality, presets, tap tempo, stereo I/O. I really like the optional effects loop. If you’re running a mono rig, this’ll let you add other effects to your delays.

If you do need more control, you can dive into Source Audio’s Neuro App for deeper editing. You can create and store presets and access 12+ other delay algorithms which you can “burn” onto the onboard types if there’s something you’d like to replace. You’ve gotta hear that Double Helix engine – wild sounds! And if you already love the Nemesis and want more, there’s apparently a Source Audio reverb pedal coming soon!


Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Tonal Recall, Effect Type: Analog Delay

Okay, I knew this pedal was going to be good. You knew this pedal was going to be good. It’s good, really good. Better than good. The Tonal Recall is epicness in pedal form.

The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall is the most notable recent analog delay pedal that utilizes the reissued Xvive MN3005 bucket brigade chips, inspired by the ones used in the most sought after vintage EHX Deluxe Memory Man & Boss DM-2 pedals. Rather than just attempt to emulate (recall?) the sounds of those classic analog delay pedals, the Tonal Recall nods to these icons of tone while exceeding the usability of the older generation of analog delay pedals in nearly every conceivable way.

The Tonal Recall sports a smaller footprint than your typical tap tempo analog delay pedal with a built in tap foot-switch. It gives you a host of tap divisions, short & long delay times, and an interesting “both” mode that utilizes both BBD chips for a weird “BBD Reverb” style ambience. You can also save & recall presets and utilize MIDI for parameter control and external control of most functions. Chase Bliss Audio’s unique “Ramping” is on great display here as you can modulate various parameters for interesting delay movement.

The biggest draws for me are probably the Tone control and the low noise floor of the pedal. The Tonal Recall offers a wider range of tones than any vintage unit, from reasonably bright to very dark, and is quieter than those once great designs. “Purists” may still argue in favor of the dusty old pedal they paid more for on the secondhand market, but there’s no denying that the Tonal Recall is a landmark release of the modern guitar pedal era and one of the best delay pedals available today.


Empress Effects Reverb


Builder: Empress Effects, Pedal: Reverb, Effect Type: Reverb Pedal

When I first heard the Empress Effects Reverb back at Winter NAMM 2016, I knew it was going to be something special. The big draw of this multi-algorithm reverb powerhouse is that its 12 selectable reverb types contain way more reverb algorithms you’d guess at a passing glance. There are currently over two dozen reverb modes available with more being voting on in the Empress Reverb New Features Voting Forum. Essentially, this lets you, the reverb loving end-user help design and create the sounds to come from the Empress Reverb in the future. In addition to reverb, forum voters and Empress have been collaborating on an upcoming Looper function that should add even more versatility to this unique pedal.

Back to the features at hand, everything you’d expect from stereo I/O to presets (35 total) are here. There’s even cab filtering for running the pedal without an amp, optional expression pedal control, and even MIDI functionality when used with the Empress Midibox.

As far as the sounds go, the Empress Reverb really shines with its otherworldly offerings. The Ghost mode is a very cool take on a resonant reverb. The forum voted “Destroyer” reverb is a cool pitch-shifting/bit-crusher ‘verb. This pedal has perhaps my favorite gated reverb. The Sparkle bank now has a +1/-1 octave shimmer ‘verb (“Glummer”), also forum voted. There are many creative alternatives here to just simply creating a space for your guitar to sit in.


TC Electronic Sub’N’Up

Builder: TC Electronic, Pedal: Sub’N’Up, Effect Type: Octaver/Modulation

As far as simple octave pedals go, the TC Electronic Sub’N’Up is one of the best I’ve ever played. And as far as polyphonic octave pedals so, it’s also right up there with the best I’ve ever played. Tracking is impeccable. Latency is non-existent. It sounds beautiful. But that’s just scratching the surface.

While the Poly & Classic modes give you a taste of the clean polyphonic tracking and grittier octaver sounds the Sub’N’Up is capable of, the TonePrint mode teases other possibilities with its mesmerizing organ-like modulated octaves.

Digging in with the TonePrint Editor lets you sculpt incredibly deep sounds flavored with modulation and saturation. You can even tweak the EQ of the various voicings for deep and articulate octave sounds. If you love octaves, you must try this pedal; it goes far beyond any other compact octave pedal in terms of the amount of great sounds it’s capable of.

Now if TC would just release a Sub’N’Up X2 version with more onboard TonePrints, an Up 2 voice, and exp control (& MIDI while we’re at it), you’d have a contender for the best octave pedal ever made. The Sub’N’Up surpassed my expectations in a big way thanks to a sound quality that’s far beyond its measly asking price.


Neunaber Immerse Reverberator

Builder: Neunaber, Pedal: Immerse, Effect Type: Reverb

Let me just say that Neunaber makes arguably the best sounding shimmer reverb algorithms available in a compact stompbox enclosure. The Neunaber Expanse series was notable for their many cutting edge algorithms (The “Wet” reverb is another winner). The Expanse pedals could be configured to any other single algorithm with Neunaber’s Expanse software. The Neunaber Immerse foregoes this software connectivity in favor of providing an onboard Effect Select knob that gives you quick access to 8 different reverb settings. The sounds include Wet, Hall, Plate, Spring, Shimmer A & B, +Echo, and + Detune. The sounds are all impeccable with a breathtaking sonic detail that exudes quality much greater than its compact size.

Yes, you can run this pedal in a mono guitar rig and get stunning reverb sounds, but the Immerse sounds majestic in stereo and must be heard. The I/O jacks are fully independent, letting you feed the pedal a mono signal, a stereo input on input jacks 1 & 2, or a stereo TRS signal via input 2. Likewise, you can sum the output to mono via output 1, or output stereo via both outputs or a stereo TRS cable on output 2.

Additional useful features include a Trails switch for reverb spillover and a Kill Dry Switch for outputting only a wet reverb signal. While Neunaber pedals typically had a 3-knob layout for dead simple ease of use, I greatly appreciate the extra parameter knob found in the Immerse. Dedicated Tone and setting-specific controls are a nice touch. Some guitarists will lament the loss of presets via the ExP Controller which isn’t compatible with the Immerse. While I also mourn the exclusion of presets, the ease of use the Immerse offers particularly if you just need one great reverb sound is hard to contend with in a pedal this size. And yes, MIDI compatible version with recallable presets would be amazing.


EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run

Builder: EarthQuaker Devices, Pedal: Avalanche Run, Effect Type: Reverb/Delay Pedal

EarthQuaker Devices has a long history of releasing pedals that span the bounds of pretty much any notable effect type you could think of. Sometimes they merge different effects to create new hybrid effects. The Dispatch Master is a classic example of this approach, combining delay & reverb in a single, simple to use pedal. The EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run is the builder’s boldest release yet, born from a new high-powered DSP platform that’s a harbinger of the sonic adventures EQD will take us on in the future.

The Delay section has 3 modes: Normal, Reverse, & Swell. Normal is your standard delay. Reverse does it backwards. Swell lets your picking dynamics influence the amplitude of your audio signal as you play for a lush, atmospheric ambience.

There’s a slew of Tap Tempo Ratio options and a dedicated onboard Tap foot-switch. An EXP knob lets you assign parameters for expression pedal control. Try using Reverse mode with exp pedal control of Normal/Reverse. This lets you retain the Tap oscillation when pressing & holding the Tap foot-swich. It sounds truly epic.

The Avalanched Run is one of the “shoegaziest” pedals around and arguably the best EarthQuaker Devices pedal released to date.


Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive Deluxe


Builder: Mad Professor, Pedal: SHOD DLX, Effect Type: Overdrive Pedal

The Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive Deluxe was the most unexpected surprise of 2016 for me. “But isn’t it just an overdrive pedal? Well, yes, and that’s kind of the point. I don’t often get excited about overdrive pedals. Frankly, there are just too many overdrives out there, and relatively few offer something that stands out among the heap. But among relatively simple medium gain drives, this one impressed me.

The SHOD DLX forgoes a generic tone knob in favor of dedicated Bass & Treble controls. They’ve been cleverly implemented by Mad Professor with the Bass being pre-distortion to shape your tone going into the clipping section; the Treble comes after the dirt to shape your high-end and round off any harshness, useful with higher gain settings and/or brighter single coil pickups. While many overdrives promise to add an extra channel to your amp, this is one of the best pedals I’ve played for exactly that purpose. It excels at taking a clean amp into crunch territory or a crunch channel into a ripping lead. Insert your own reference to the tones being sweet as honey.

The Focus knob is perhaps the star here as it changes the character and response of the pedal significantly. Lower Focus settings are warmer and less distorted. Pushing the knob to higher settings invokes a hotter sound with a slightly more aggressive treble bite. These sounds are relative and highly interactive with your guitar and amp. This makes the Focus knob more essential as you can tweak it for an excellent response with humbuckers or single coils.

While the Sweet Honey Overdrive Deluxe does fall into that category of medium gain overdrive pedals, it’s noticeably more versatile than most one-trick-pony drive pedals. With the Drive turned down and the other knobs dialed in just right, you’ll notice that it’s surprisingly transparent (as worn out as that word is when trying to describe tonally neutral drive pedals). If you’re the kind of guitarist that uses 3 (or more) overdrive pedals to cover all bases, well, add this to your list of must-try pedals. The Sweet Honey Overdrive Deluxe is definitely worth checking out and just might make you replace one of your lesser overdrive pedals.


Keeley Electronics Dark Side & Loomer

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedals: Dark Side/Loomer, Effect Types: Fuzz/Delay/Reverb/Modulation

Keeley Electronics had a big hit with their Monterey Fuzz/Vibe/Wah Workstation. The Jimi Hendrix inspired tribute pedal apparently inspired another famed guitarist tribute that nods to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Deriving its name from the iconic Floyd record, Dark Side of the Moon, the Keeley Electronics Dark Side combines a muff inspired fuzz with some of the other classic effects Mr. Gilmour notably used in his career.

The Fuzz side has a killer Muff section. In addition to the expected 3-knob controls, a 3-position flip-switch provides options for Scoop, Full, & Flat for defining your response.

The Mod side gives you an excellent multi-head delay with the 12 head patterns of a certain legendary echo machine. If that isn’t enough to sell most guitarists (and it’s all I thought I’d need), there’s also 4 modulation effects (phase, u-vibe, flange, rotary), any of which can be selected instead of delay. You’ll noticed that the flip-switch groups Phase & U-Vibe on the right and Flange & Rotary on the left. The Blend knob is used to select which of the 2 effects you’re using, but you can adjust the blend to create a hybrid sound between the 2 effects. For example, you can create a unique phaser/vibe sound which sounds very cool considering those 2 effects have similar origins.

If the Dark Side wasn’t enough, Keeley snuck out another guitarist inspired workstation pedal, the Loomer, inspired by Kevin Shields’ guitar work with My Bloody Valentine. The Loomer takes that same great fuzz from the Dark Side and pairs it with 3 reverb modes to get characteristically “shoegaze” sounds. It’s hard to pick a favorite of the two as they’ll both appeal to fuzz lovers and fans of the guitar heroes they were inspired by.

Dark Side V2 & Loomer V2: It’s important to note that these pedals originally launched with a TRS I/O jack that was later replaced with an order switch. The TRS option allowed you to patch the fuzz before an amp while routing the Mod effect to the effects loop or elsewhere in your signal chain. The V2s’ Order switch allows “on-the-fly” position reversal between the Fuzz and the various Mod effects. This is particularly beneficial with the Loomer as it allows you to experiment with “reverb before fuzz” sounds without having to re-cable your guitar rig. This is certainly a fun and welcome change that casual pedal enthusiasts will appreciate.


DryBell Vibe Machine V-2

Builder: DryBell, Pedal: Vibe Machine V-2, Effect Type: Vibe Pedal

This is one is short and easy. DryBell took what was arguably the world’s best compact vibe pedal (the Vibe Machine V-1) and made it better. The Vibe Machine V-2 has a few subtle but essential improvements. The new Custom setting on the impedance switch adds a 3rd option to accompany the Bright & Original settings carried over from the V-1. The Original is dark like the old Shin-Ei Uni Vibe. The Bright setting gives you a more modern sound. The Custom setting is user adjustable to any setting within the range of the other two settings. Use this mode for a setting that’s perfectly suited to your “A” guitar. You can use the other 2 settings when they’re a better fit for your “other” guitar(s).

Perhaps the best surprise is that the V-2 offers tap tempo. You might have a standard single stomp foot-switch hanging around. If not, pick up a DryBell F-1L; it has a snazzy matching paint job, too. Plug it in to unlock tap tempo (or slow/fast ramping!). DryBell provides more info about this and the host of other features on their website.

Still hoping to see DryBell’s take on another effect type. In the meantime the Croatian builder’s pursuit of the ultimate compact vibe pedal has yielded an improvement that elevates the Vibe Machine to greater heights.


Dwarfcraft Devices Happiness

Builder: Dwarfcraft Devices, Pedal: Happiness, Effect Type: Analog Filter

Okay, okay, I’ve gotta sneak in one more. The Dwarfcraft Happiness is just too cool. In the mold of the crafty builder’s Twin Stags dual tremolo pedal, the Happiness is a filter pedal that has high pass, low pass, and band pass modes. While you generally use the effect with the pedal’s own internal LFO (modified with the Depth & Shape knobs, LFO speed controlled by Rate), I really like being able to manually control the FREQ parameter with an expression pedal. You can take a low pass filter from fully open in the toe down position through a darkening of your sound to silence at the heel position. My one gripe is that the Filter CV In doesn’t seem to share the same full sweep range achieved from the Filter XP Input. Still, a big draw of the Happiness is the CV I/O routing as you can connect the Happiness to your modular synth rig or other CV pedals like the Twin Stags or WMD Protostar. Input a synced LFO from another source or route the Happiness’ LFO to another destination.

Two other cool things worth mentioning. Crank the Rez (with the Master set very low!), and you can create crazy drones and squeals from the pedal itself to fuel your noise rock freak outs. And flip the Scramble switch and use the Speed knob to control the speed of a “sample and hold” style filter shifting. Dwarfcraft has a cool thing going with their CV lineup, and I hope we see more.

Hope you enjoyed our Top 15 Pedals of the Year 2016 roundup. Just might have to do this again if Winter NAMM 2017 is any indication of how good a year 2017 is going to be for guitar pedals.


Check out the Top 17 Best Pedals of Winter NAMM 2017!