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.


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.


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.

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!


See the Top 17 Best New Guitar Pedals of 2017!

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!

Top 10 Best EarthQuaker Devices Pedals


Welcome to our roundup of the Top 10 Best EarthQuaker Devices Pedals!

I’ve been wanting to do builder roundups for a while on Best Guitar Effects, and it’s finally happening! We’re featuring EarthQuaker Devices for our first one. It may or may not become a regular thing. We’ll see. But what you really might be wondering is…


Why Start With EarthQuaker Devices?

You could simply assess the merits of a company’s products based on features and how well they meet your needs. But if you look deeper as a responsible modern consumer, it’s becoming increasingly important to look at the people behind companies & products and understand the values and practices of the businesses you buy from. I’ll spare you the long argument about why value isn’t only about price and convenience, but the people behind EarthQuaker Devices were just as inspiring as their guitar pedals in choosing to showcase this builder in a dedicated “best pedals” list.


A Different Kind Of Builder

Among the handful of modern boutique builders that have an expansive lineup of great guitar pedals, EarthQuaker Devices is unique not only for their eclectic range of rad stompboxes but as a forward thinking company that fosters a community environment among their customers, fans, employees, and fellow pedal builders that’s more akin to the bonds of family than a business. From proudly celebrating EarthQuaker Day in their hometown of Akron, Ohio, to welcoming rival pedal companies to their Pedal Builders Summit events during The NAMM Show, EarthQuaker Devices has long displayed a reputation for inclusion, respect for diversity, and cooperation before competition with other builders.

EarthQuaker Devices is a role model example of a company with values, yet they don’t really seem to make a big deal about who they are which makes what they represent all the more genuine. Rather than step on other small builders on their way to success, EarthQuaker Devices have shown on more than one occasion that they won’t hesitate to reach out to another builder during a time of need or tragic loss. Their consideration for their peers and efforts to raise up others reveals a comradery and compassion that you’ll rarely find in any industry. I’d even go as far as saying that EQD founders and husband & wife duo, Jamie Stillman & Julie Robbins, are like the symbolic parental figures of the modern pedal industry. Sounds corny, but I’m serious. And I’m probably not the only industry observer who would agree with these sentiments. I wholeheartedly believe that the EQD family are more than deserving of the respect and admiration they’ve earned from their peers, fans, and the industry as a whole.

If you’re unfamiliar with the people behind this company, here’s a great EarthQuaker Devices // mini movie from Knobs Demos that provides a glimpse into their world and the team behind the pedals.


A Different Kind Of Device

EarthQuaker Devices is an outlier builder in the pedal world. From that now unmistakeable font and those quirky graphics to the sometimes traditional, sometimes unheard of sounds contained within, each attractively styled and sonically adventurous EQD pedal belies wondrous sights and sounds to behold.

Their pedals aren’t necessarily for everyone and many of their noteworthy releases induce polarized opinions among guitarists. But the emotive responses to their pedals are a sign of EarthQuaker Devices’ bold, risk-taking attitude and the fact that they must be doing something right to have won over so many fans with their fearless designs. If you like an EQD pedal, chances are you really love it.

I really appreciate that EarthQuaker Devices has taken some hard-to-find circuits and revamped/re-released them for the masses. Pedals like the Terminal fuzz (modeled after Jamie’s JAX fuzz), Fuzz Master General (EQD’s take on the vintage Ace Tone Fuzz Master FM-2 Professional fuzz), and Spires (green channel inspired by the Rosac Electronic Nu-Fuzz) give modern guitarists access to fuzz sounds that would have remained hard to find or long forgotten if it were not for EarthQuaker Devices reviving these sounds. Even if EarthQuaker Devices releases a re-interpretation of a somewhat more common circuit (like the DOD OD-250 inspired Gray Channel or Tube Screamer relative, the Palisades), they’re up front about these pedals’ backstories and origins of inspiration. I wish this went without saying, but EarthQuaker Devices displays an honesty and integrity in this regard that some successful builders of dubious reputation should take note of.

I don’t have issues with pedals made overseas. And I don’t have a strong opinion about whether using surface-mount technology is any better or worse than hand-soldered, through-hole design. It’s all circumstantial. But I do think it’s commendable that while businesses always find ways to lower costs through less expensive production and assembly methods, EarthQuaker Devices still places focus on their pedals being hand-assembled and mostly hand-soldered in Akron, Ohio. Until the day everything is made by robots and we’re all receiving universal basic income, you’ve gotta give EQD props for employing folks while maintaining quality production standards. But again, this seems more like the byproduct of a company being genuinely aware of their place in a community rather than an attempt to make a show out of their products’ “Made In USA” origins.

EarthQuaker Devices has always had a reputation for doing their own thing and basically giving the finger to people’s expectations. Even I have a love/hate relationship with some of their design choices. The most recent issue I’ve taken with EQD is the most glaring: the company’s switch to “lazy relay bypass” for all 2016 pedal releases. This is a deal-breaker for me, and I won’t use any such pedals in my live rig or recommend them to other guitarists who use effects switchers. This only affects a small amount of musicians, most notably those of us using effects switchers and/or a rack rig and who don’t want the extra pre-show checklist item of remembering to activate lazy relay bypass pedals. (Forgetting to activate those one or two lazy relay pedals can be a nightmare when you’re in the middle of a song, hit the switcher or trigger it remotely, and your pedal is still bypassed. Why EQD, Why!?) I was obviously heartbroken when I realized EQD went this route, essentially preventing me from considering their new pedals for my personal use (that’s why this list is being published nearly a year after I first thought about writing it… much sadness), but for this list I’ll present pedals based on sounds and usability for guitarists who don’t use effects switchers. (On a side note, your pal Gabe talked to about a dozen companies at Summer NAMM 2016 to present the merits of “smart relay bypass”; the majority of builders seem understanding of its virtues.)

tl;dr …EQD rocks. You get it. That’s why you’re here, right? So let’s get to it!

Here are the Top 10 Best EarthQuaker Devices Pedals!


1. Avalanche Run


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

The Avalanche Run is one of the builder’s newer pedals and arguably the best EarthQuaker Devices pedal released to date. It combines delay & reverb in a dual-foot-switch enclosure, expanding the concept of their classic Dispatch Master with tap tempo and other surprises.

The Avalanche Run gives you 3 delay modes: Normal, Reverse, & Swell. Normal is the pedal’s regular delay mode. Reverse plays back the delay line in reverse. Swell responds to your picking dynamics to increase the volume of the entire signal path as you play. In addition to Time, Repeats, & Mix, there’s a Tone control for rolling offer either the highs or lows or setting a flat response.

In all 3 delay modes you have access to a pleasant reverb that that’s accessible via its own dedicated Decay & Mix knobs. (In Swell mode, the reverb’s Mix knob controls the length of the swell.) The reverb is what really pushes the Avalanche Run over the top as one of the best end-of-signal-chain pedals that’s also easy to use.

There are some handy auxiliary features. There’s a dedicated Ratio knob that lets you choose from 6 different tap division settings including quarter note, dotted 8th, quarter note triplet, 8th note, 8th note triplet, & 16th note. That should nearly any guitarist’s tap tempo division requirements. You can also press and hold the Tap foot-switch in Normal or Swell mode to induce oscillation; in Reverse mode this will switch between backwards to forwards delays while the foot-switch is held. There’s also a dedicated Exp knob that lets you set expression pedal control over any parameter (minus Tone) or toggle from Normal to Reverse delay mode. The last option is very useful as it lets you switch modes and regain access to Tap foot-switch oscillation while in Reverse mode.

This pedal is extra special in that it utilizes EarthQuaker Devices’ new proprietary DSP platform. This is an interesting sign things to come as this builder is known for their sometimes outlandish effects, and this new found power will surely yield some interesting new surprises in the years to come.

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2. Palisades


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Palisades, Effect Type: Overdrive

When is a Tube Screamer not a Tube Screamer? When it’s the EarthQuaker Devices Palisades. EQD surveyed the land of TS808 inspired overdrive pedals and took notes Then they shredded them and rebuilt the a pedal from the ground up that took the iconic style of overdrive into all new territory.

The Palisades gives you 6 different clipping options via the Voice knob: No Diodes, LED clipping, MOSFET clipping, Asymmetrical Silicon clipping, Symmetrical clipping, & Schottky Diode clipping. This produces a range of ways to set the response of this super versatile overdrive pedal to your liking.

The other very unique feature of the Palisades is its Bandwidth knob. This sets the overall frequency response of the pedal and can produce thin and brittle tones or make your guitar sound really thick and heavy. This is the most important knob for dialing in your overall sound.

In addition to the pedal’s Volume, Tone, & Gain A knobs, there’s a foot-switchable 2nd channel with its own Gain B knob, and a foot-switchable Boost function with a dedicated knob as well. Rounding it all out is a Normal/Bright switch and an optional Buffer switch. If you’re looking for a gnarly rock ‘n roll overdrive machine, the Palisades kicks ass. If you think the Palisades looks awesome but want something a bit smaller, try the shrunken down EarthQuaker Devices Dunes.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Palisades review.

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3. Afterneath


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Afterneath, Effect Type: Reverb

The EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath is another hybrid pedal featuring delay and reverb, but it’s more of an infernal reverb from the underworld with a glitchy little multi-tap delay on the front. The Drag knob adjusts the spacing between the delay taps and warps the pitch of the reverb if you turn the knob while sound is decaying. The Diffuse knob smears the delayed taps for a less obvious delay sound. The Reflect & Length increase reflections and extend the reverb decay, respectively, working together to form the Afterneath’s cavernous ambience. The Dampen knobs adjusts the tonal character, and the Mix dials in the amount of reverb in the mix.

The Afterneath was an instant classic when it was released, and likely rank among the very best EarthQuaker Devices until they somehow improve upon it. I’m still crossing my fingers that EQD one day solves the supposedly impossible feat of making the Drag knob expression pedal controllable.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath review.

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4. Bit Commander


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Bit Commander, Effect Type: Analog Octave/Guitar Synthesizer

The EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander is an unmistakeable pedal. If you ever hear someone kick this thing on out of nowhere, you’ll always notice that this pedal commands attention. Jamie stumbled upon created this awesome analog guitar synthesizer while testing out possibilities while working towards the Organizer. I’m glad this deviation happened, as the Bit Commander simply rocks.

It gives you separate level controls for an octave down (Down 1) and a -2 octave sub voice (Sub). Bringing in these massive low-end tones unleashes what you might say is the company’s signature “EarthQuaking Device”.

The Up 1 knob brings in a ripping analog octave up, similar to what you’ll find in EQD’s Hoof Reaper and Tentacle pedals. You can also use it by itself or with the Base (a squared version of your dry tone) for awesome drive and splatty tones that stack very well with other pedals. Seriously, it’s awesome and adds extra versatility when you’re not using it for monophonic sub synth tones.

Also, the Bit Commander is my personal favorite EarthQuaker Devices pedal if that means anything to you. ;)

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander review.

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5. Rainbow Machine


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Rainbow Machine, Effect Type: Pitch-Shifter/Modulation

The EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine is the release that solidified EQD’s reputation as a builder of weird and crazy pedals. It’s a pitch-shifting modulation machine that takes your guitar to bizarre, kaleidoscopic realms inhabited by clockwork elves. The Pitch knob sets the amount of shift from a 4th down to a 3rd up. The Primary & Secondary knobs dial in the level of the pitch shifted signal and its additional octave up or down voicing. The Tracking knob delays the pitch shift and is particularly interactive with the Magic knob when that function is activated via the Magic foot-switch. You can induce dizzying, spiraling fractal ascents with pitch shifts above the root sound or fall into a rabbit hole of vertigo when detuning the pitch shift. Trippy as hell. Not for everyone. But the Rainbow Machine is definitely one of the best EarthQuaker Devices pedals for psychonautic guitarists who swallow the pink pill.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine review.

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6. Hoof Reaper


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Hoof Reaper, Effect Type: Fuzz

The Hoof is the original EarthQuaker Device, a fuzz pedal based on the classic green Russian Big Muff. The Tone Reaper is EQD’s take on the classic 3-knob Tone Bender. Put ’em together, throw in a killer octave up, and you’ve got the EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Reaper.

This pedal is a gnarly beast of fuzz awesomeness. It’s hard to go wrong with 3 styles of vintage fuzz goodness, but EQD pulled off the Hoof Reaper exceptionally well. You can use the 3 circuits individually or in combination for a wide range of fuzz sounds. The order of the effects is preset to Octave → Tone Reaper → Hoof which is arguably the most effective signal flow. This lets you apply the Octave up front when needed or feed the Octave and/or Tone Reaper into the Hoof which can apply final fuzz shaping and EQing. Probably the simplest and most versatile multi circuit fuzz pedal out there.

Also, while the original Hoof Reaper has a germanium flavored Hoof section, there’s also a Cloven Hoof Reaper that uses silicon transistors instead. It’s a matter of personal taste really as both sounds are great.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Reaper review.

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7. Disaster Transport SR


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Disaster Transport SR, Effect Type: Delay/Reverb/Modulation

The EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport SR is a lo-fi dual delay, reverb, and modulation workstation. It gives you two delay lines which you can run in series or parallel. One of the delay lines has optional modulation. The other has optional reverb. Expression pedal control unlocks the Bleed option messing with the series/parallel signal path to juxtapose between interesting rhythmic variations. Its complex signal path may seem like a lot to take in at first, but the Disaster Transport SR rewards guitarists who take a ride on this rollercoaster of interesting sounds and textures. This is possibly your signature delay pedal right here.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport SR review.

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8. Spires


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Spires, Effect Type: Fuzz

The EarthQuaker Devices Spires takes a silicon version of EQD’s discontinued Dream Crusher fuzz and pairs it with their take on the Rosac Electronic Nu-Fuzz, a pedal I would probably never have heard of if Jamie Stillman didn’t reimagine it for this pedal. The Spires is a simple dual fuzz box that’s full of radness.

The Green channel brings in the Nu-Fuzz, a full-on vintage flavored beast with a level (labeled Green) and Tone knobs. The Red channel has its own level control (labeled Red) and a Fuzz knob instead of Tone. The Red side is smoother. The Green side is more aggressive. The Red’s fuzz knob has a useful range of fuzz sounds as you cut back the fuzz, but you can also get similar sounds by cutting back your guitar’s volume knob. The Green channel also cleans up well in this manner, and it’s harshness can be tamed for a warmer, woollier fuzz tone. The Spires is a rockin’ dual fuzz pedal that reveals more versatility when used in conjunction with your guitar and amp settings.

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9. Spatial Delivery


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Spatial Delivery, Effect Type: Envelope Filter/Auto Wah

The EarthQuaker Devices Spatial Delivery is a voltage controlled envelope filter. It’s all about funk filter sweeps and auto-wah. If that’s your bag, you’ve gotta try this pedal. When I first saw it, I speculated that it might be EarthQuaker Devices’ version of the Maestro FSH-1 Filter Sample/Hold, a favorite of Mr. Stillman. But the Spatial Delivery is an original digital creation that to my surprise is incredibly smooth and pleasing to listen to.

In addition to Up Sweep and Down Sweep modes, the Spatial Delivery has a Sample and Hold function for random voltage controlled filtering, the speed of which is set by the Range knob. This reminds me of the random pitch shifting of the Arpanoid and is a lot of fun for making weird sci-fi noises.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Spatial Delivery review.

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10. Transmisser


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Transmisser, Effect Type: Reverb

The EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser is “a modulated reverb with extra-long decay fed to a highly resonant filter”. That sums it up nicely in a way that’s easy to understand. This pedal is sort of a variation of the Afterneath… only it’s nothing like the Afterneath really except for being a reverb and having a reverb mangling Warp knob that’s sort of similar to the Afterneath’s Drag control. I’d say that while the Afterneath captures the enclosed sound of a massive subterranean cavern, the Transmisser is a more open reverb that traverses outer space after being blasted through a wormhole.

The big fun here is the Freq knob that sets the frequency of the resonant filter. You can use an expression pedal to manually control it for extra fun. The Rate sets the speed of an always present modulation. The modulation has a slightly jagged feel for an asymmetrical movement. It’s a quirky touch that may or may not appeal to everyone. Just remember that this pedal is for those who like it weird. The Warp knob changes the feel of the entire pedal and essentially gives it a looser, deeper, & warmer sound or a tighter, more focused sound. Decay and Mix set reverb length and wet signal amount, respectively. The Darkness knob is your tone control. It’s a strange pedal from a strange land, ready to team up with the Spatial Delivery for 70’s space prog excursions.

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Runner Up: Gray Channel


EarthQuaker Devices Pedal Page: Gray Channel, Effect Type: Overdrive

Screw it. Let’s throw in one more classic inspired pedal to finish the list. The DOD OD-250 Overdrive Preamp in its various iterations is regarded as a classic, hard-clipped dirt pedal. The EarthQuaker Devices Gray Channel is a tribute to the sought after “gray box” version. It expands on the old 2-knob pedal with 2 channels, each having their own Gain and level controls (labeled Green & Red). Each channel also has different clipping options. The Green side gives you Silicon, None, & Germanium; the Red side has LED, None, & FET. This adds up to a well-rounded range of drive tones that’ll take you from your clean sound to mild drive and heavier saturation with one or two stomps.

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That concludes our Top 10 Best EarthQuaker Devices Pedals! Tell us your favorite EQD pedal in the comments!

Top 20 Best Reverb Pedals of 2017


Welcome to Best Guitar Effects’ long awaited Top 20 Best Reverb Pedals. The purpose of this article is to explain what reverb is, what it’s for, and help you decide if you need a reverb pedal in your guitar effects arsenal. (Spoiler: you probably do.) We’ve also rounded up the 20 best reverb pedals and will provide some insights to help you decide which one is best for you.


What Is Reverb?

Reverb is the persistence of a sound after it occurs as it reflects off of surfaces in the environment until its amplitude (audio volume) reaches zero. Think of it as the sound that lingers in the air after it originally occurs. I like to say that Reverb is the sound of space.


Do I Need A Reverb Pedal?

Reverb is an essential tool for creating a “space” for your guitar to exist within a mix, live or in the studio. While stereo panning moves your guitar placement on a horizontal field of left and right, reverb creates a sense of depth by moving your guitar closer or further away in a mix. A dry guitar sound will be up close and have an “in your face” presence; adding reverb will create an ambient atmosphere and a sense of your guitar being pushed to the back of the mix.


Reverb Vs Delay

A delay pedal produces repeats of your guitar playing. A reverb pedal produces ambient reflections of your guitar playing. These effects are similar in application as they’re both typically used at the end of a signal chain or in an effects loop to create an ambient guitar sound that has more presence in a mix.


Using Reverb With Delay

It’s common to use reverb & delay pedals together, typically with delay coming first and being fed into the reverb. This combo will create repeats of your playing while the reverb creates a space for it all. However, interesting results can be achieved by reversing the order to reverb then delay. Try a digital delay pedal after a reverb pedal to delay your reverb trails and extend the reverb decay even further. Or use an analog delay pedal with modulation to add warmth and movement to the reverberated delay trails. You could even place a reverb before a fuzz pedal and bath your guitar in noise. There are no rules, so experiment!


Types of Reverb

There are many different types of reverb, each having different applications. These are some of the common reverb types found in guitar pedals.

  • Spring – Spring reverb is created naturally by a mechanical system that uses a transducer and pickup at opposite ends of a spring to create and capture vibrations within the spring. Many guitar amps have included spring reverb, most notably the Fender Twin Reverb, and cumbersome amp-top spring reverb units are also available. There are many reverb pedals offering digital emulations of spring reverb, and a few companies have even released real analog spring reverb pedals.
    Best for: surf/rockabilly tones, vintage amp style reverb, “boingy” sounds
  • Room – Room reverbs are used to simulate the natural sound of an acoustic space, typically a small room. These reverbs generally have short reflections that dissipate quickly. Room reverb can be used as a substitute for a slap-back echo type sound or in conjunction with a slap-back delay to further enhance the effect.
    Best for: short/moderate reverb, slap-back echoes
  • Hall – Hall reverb is used to simulate the kind of reverberation found in large concert halls (not the hallway in your home). Hall reverbs are generally much bigger sounding than room reverbs with more reflections and much longer decay times. You’ll sometimes find variations of hall style reverbs with names like “cathedral”.
    Best for: long/very long decay, complex reflections, large sounding reverb
  • Plate Reverb – Plate reverb units were huge machines that fed audio into large hanging sheets of metal to produce a reverb sound that is more focused than a hall reverb while still capable of very long decay times. The EMT 140, a 600lb monstrosity, is the most famous plate reverb. As plate reverb was primarily a studio effect, engineers could apply a delay before the reverb for a pre-delay effect as well as fine-tuning its frequencies with EQ.
    Best for: short to long reverbs, focused reverb
  • Pitch-Shifted aka Shimmer – Shimmer, or pitch-shifted, reverb effects have become very common in guitar pedals in recent years. These reverbs add harmonies to the reverb for otherworldly sounds. Octave up intervals (1 and/or 2) on the wet guitar signal are commonly used to produce an ethereal, halo-like aura in the upper frequencies of the reverberated signal. Other musical intervals including an octave down are also common.
    Best for: “heavenly” reverbs, unnatural ambience, pitch-shifted reverb
  • Other Types of Reverb – There are many less common types of reverb that are worth mentioning. Reverse Reverb was created in the studio by recording the reverb trails and reversing them so that they lead into the sound source; some pedals create interesting variations of this with simulated reversed trails. A Gated Reverb will silence or reduce the level of the reverb when your guitar’s volume drops below a certain threshold; this creates a bigger sound while you’re playing but doesn’t muddy up the mix with reverb between your playing. Convolution Reverb uses audio samples and complex algorithms to simulate real acoustic spaces. I’m aware of one pedal that’s attempted this (with limited options); there’s certainly room for a pedal builder to innovate here. Other reverbs may add bit-crushing, modulation, delay, and other effects for unique hybrid reverb sounds.

The reverb pedals on this list aren’t necessarily in order from best to worst, but we’ve put a few standout pedals towards the top of the list that are pushing the boundaries of what a dedicated reverb pedal is capable of. Each of the pedals listed will cater to guitarists with different needs, and there should be something here that will be right for you.

Now here are the Top 20 Best Reverb Pedals of 2017!


Eventide Space & H9


Builder: Eventide, Pedals: Space/H9, Reverb Type: Multi

Space… the final frontier… of reverb. We’ve gotta talk about the Eventide Space and give a shoutout to the H9 Harmonizer as well. Everyone knows that Eventide has been in the business for decades making highly regarding rack effects processors. The company made a big splash in the guitar pedal game with their “Factor” series stompboxes. Eventide’s Space evolved from those pedals, expanding the digital display with a huge panel that can show 12 characters, handy when using presets. This pedal also marked a release of such high quality reverb effects that Space may arguably be considered the best pre-H9 pedal from Eventide.

What makes Space such a landmark release? In a word: BlackHole. This algorithm alone be may worth the price of admission for the endless amount of inspiration it brings. It’s a vast wormhole of tone, a hall blasted to infinity. When you’re ready to come back from your voyage to the stars and gaze at them from our terrestrial domain, try the Shimmer algorithm. It’s probably the best I’ve heard, not surprising considering Eventide’s long-held dominance in the pitch-shifting arena with their Harmonizer products. Space’s Reverse reverb is also one of the best of that reverb type I’ve heard, delivering backwards and forwards reverb and delay-like repeats. The Spring algorithm is surprisingly good and has plenty of parameters for constructing a pretty convincing digital spring reverb. The classic Room, Hall, and Plate modes are all great with Plate being a personal favorite. ModEchoVerb combines chorus or flange with reverb and echo; feed it some distortion drenched guitar and go nuts. DualVerb gives you 2 independently controllable reverbs. MangledVerb is an overdriven/distorted reverb with detuning. And TremoloVerb takes a massive reverb and applies tremolo to the trails; plenty of waveform options (and dynamic control!) make this one a lot of fun. DynaVerb applies a model of Eventide’s Omnipressor for an adaptable, dynamically processed reverb with gating qualities.

Space has stereo I/O (and sounds amazing in stereo), an Amp/Line Output Level switch and Guitar/Line Input Level switch, MIDI I/O, Expression Pedal & Aux Switch inputs, a programmable HotSwitch for onboard expression, true analog bypass, 100 presets (nameable with 16 characters), and tap tempo with MIDI Clock Sync/Generate.

The Eventide H9 Harmonizer features all of Space’s algorithms plus the H9 exclusive SpaceTime which combines chorus-like modulation with twin delays based on TimeFactor’s Vintage Delay algorithm and a reverb inspired by Space’s Plate algorithm and Eventide’s UltraReverb native plugin. It sounds awesome, and you’ll find a demo of SpaceTime in our Eventide H9 Review. While Space is still a particularly formidable pedal thanks to its tactile knob control, guitarists who want a diverse array of Eventide’s effects, the SpaceTime algorithm, and the smaller form-factor of the H9 may find that pedal to be an even better fit for their setup.

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Empress Effects Reverb


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

The Empress Effects Reverb is a different kind of multi-algorithm reverb pedal. It looks deceptively standard with its type selector knob and 12 algorithms, but the RGB LEDs next to each type will light up in different colors to select from multiple variations under each reverb type. At the time of this writing there are at least 29 different reverb algorithms available in the Empress Reverb.

What’s more interesting is that while Empress Effects launched the Reverb with over 20 reverb effects, many of the new reverbs are being created in collaboration with users of the Empress Reverb pedal via the Empress Reverb New Features Voting Forum. Empress is also working on an integrated Looper (yes, a looper in a reverb pedal) that’s being developed with feedback from the community being taken into consideration. Basically, this pedal offers a lot of room for expansion, so if you own the pedal and have an interesting idea you’d like to see implemented in the pedal, share your idea and be part of the collaborative process of expanding this pedal.

When I first hear the Empress Reverb at Winter NAMM 2016, it was the Ghost mode that really stood out for me. It’s a resonant reverb that creates haunting ambience. The new “Glummer” reverb under the Sparkle type adds +1 and -2 octave voices and is a standout mode. The Gate mode under the Beer type is front runner for the best gated reverb I’ve found in a pedal. I also fell in love with the Glitch reverb Beer mode. Plenty of strange sounds in here for guitarists looking for something a little… different.

There’s also an array of more traditional Hall, Plate, Spring, and Room reverbs and several Modulation reverb types with the flange reverb and tremolo reverb being a couple of my favorites. The Delay + Reverb modes are all worth exploring. Ambient Swell is excellent. The Reverse sounds are great. And the Lo-Fi settings offer expectedly brittle, filtered reverbs. Stereo I/O, 35 presets, and the expression/MIDI input round out this exceptionally versatile reverb pedal.

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Strymon BigSky

Builder: Strymon, Pedal: BigSky, Reverb Type: Multi

Rounding out the “big 3” of dedicated multi-algorithm reverb pedals is the Strymon BigSky. Aside from the stunning sounds (which we’ll discuss in a moment), this pedal is a big winner if you have a MIDI based rig or used a MIDI effects switcher. It’s the easiest MIDI enabled reverb pedal to integrate in your rig and Strymon has a full list of MIDI functionality and commands in their BigSky reference manual.

But even if you have no interest in MIDI and just need a multi-algorithm reverb pedal to use “as is”, the BigSky has more than enough sounds and options available to make it a worthwhile investment. The 12 included reverb machines span the history of reverb with Spring, Hall, Room, & Plate modes. The BigSky has become arguably the most popular modern ambient reverb pedal thanks to its Swell, Bloom, & Cloud reverb machines. The Chorale reverb adds resonant vocal-like qualities to the ‘verb. The BigSky’s Shimmer has 2 voices each tunable to intervals ranging from -1 octave to +2 octaves. The Magneto machine is an exciting Delay/Reverb that could have been found in the Strymon TimeLine; it uses 3, 4, or 6 simulated playback heads to create its rhythmic echoes. The Nonlinear machine features a few distinct reverb types including reverse reverb sounds and gated reverbs. The Reflections machine is a “psycho-acoustically accurate small-space reverb” according to Strymon. It lets you position your amp anywhere within its virtual space and creates its reverb sounds in accordance with the reflections within that space. You’ve gotta hear this in stereo to fully appreciate it. Actually, every single one of these reverbs sounds amazing in stereo.

The pedal’s 300 presets are easy to select via the foot-switches. You can also name your original reverb creations. Even if you don’t dive into the menus, the surface controls make it easy to get usable sounds or search for a usable preset on the fly. It’s extremely low noise. The dry signal stays 100% analog. It’s got buffered or true bypass. There’s also a Cab Filter switch for simulating the sound of playing through a guitar speaker cabinet (I’ve personally used it for gigs with satisfactory results). And there’s an expression pedal input for controlling parameters in real-time. The Strymon BigSky will be a staple on this list until the day Strymon releases its successor.

Read the Strymon BigSky review.

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Spaceman Orion

Builder: Spaceman Effects, Pedal: Orion, Reverb Type: Analog Spring

I got to hear the Spaceman Orion when it was unveiled back at Summer NAMM 2015. Even through a little custom made headphone amp, I knew this 100% analog spring reverb pedal was going to be something very special. A few builders have attempted putting real spring reverb into a pedal, but the Orion stands out for several reasons.

The Orion is much smaller than your old amp-top spring reverb unit. That’s due to the reverb coming from an Accutronics Blue Reverb 2-spring module. The spring reverb is suspended inside the pedal (by springs of course) so that it doesn’t create jarring noise artifacts when engaging and disengaging the pedal. Also, the soft-touch foot-switch is relay controlled for quiet switching. Essentially, this design is optimized for stage performance, and even loud rumbling and stage noise will have minimal impact on the spring unit. Very cool. Still want a spring reverb pan crash? Give the pedal a mild kick. But if kicking your pedalboard is too risky for you, put the Orion in your amp’s effects loop and have your guitar tech give it a light bump against a hard surface to rattle those springs.

A simple and usable control setup includes a wet/dry Blend, Tone for brightening and darkening the reverb, and Dwell for expending the decay time of the reverb. The Volume knob sets your makeup gain for ensuring a consistent output level (or providing a little boost), handy when dialing in a lot of reverb.

It’s worth noting that being a real analog spring reverb pedal, the Spaceman Orion isn’t as pristinely quiet as modern digital reverb emulations. However, if real analog tone and mojo is what you’re going for, this pedal has plenty of it. The Orion shouldn’t be mistaken for a clone of a particular vintage spring reverb unit. Instead, it offers an all new spring reverb sound in a stage friendly pedal that spring reverb fans and analog gear lovers will find pleasing and musical.

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Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2

Builder: Old Blood Noise, Pedal: Dark Star V2, Reverb Type: Pitch-Shifting/Other

The Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2 takes their cult hit reverb pedal and adds expression pedal control. The awesome sounds of this pedal make it one of the more interesting experimental reverbs out there. OBNE calls it a “pad reverb”, meaning it’s meant for big atmospheric, textural effects, the kind that invoke emotions from the soundscapes you weave with it.

There are 3 reverb modes in the Dark Star V2: Pitch, Delay, & Crush. The Pitch setting gives you dual pitch-shifted voices each of which can be manually dialed in to any interval from -1 octave to +1 octave. The Delay mode brings in a delay line after the reverb to extend the ambience into the empty void of space. The Crush reverb adds a single pitch-shifted voice from the Pitch mode along with a sample rate reduction control that reduces your signal to bits.

The Dark Star V2 does bring back the handy Hold function which will spike the CTRL 1 parameter to its maximum, great for wild pitch jumps, but plugging in an expression pedal is where things really get fun as you can shift the pitch through its range for surreal reverb sounds. Everything about this pedal from its sounds to its beautiful artwork make it a modern masterpiece of experimental reverb greatness.

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Free The Tone Ambi Space


Builder: Free The Tone, Pedal: AS-1R, Reverb Type: Multi

The Free The Tone Ambi Space was destined to be a solid reverb pedal considering the impeccable sound quality of the company’s Flight Time Digital Delay & Tri Avatar Stereo Chorus, but the Ambi Space surpassed my expectations for several reasons. First, it’s definitely the easiest to use multi-algorithm reverb pedal with presets. The interface is simple, making it a dream for performing guitarists who need only a few (up to 4) different reverb sounds but don’t want to spend all day tweaking to find the perfect setting.

The 6 available reverb modes all sound great. I actually love the Spring mode which is rare. I rarely use the Spring settings of any multi-algorithm reverb pedal, but I really like the feel of this one even though it’s more of a pristine hybrid spring reverb sound as opposed to a 100% accurate emulation of a real spring reverb tank. The Plate, Room, & Hall settings are all function workhorse reverbs that perform their duties well. The Cave & Serene are unique takes on a hall-style reverb that have unique reflection patterns and density. Cave has a dynamic sound in its reflections that I really like, and Serene is my favorite Ambi Space reverb for lingering atmospheric sounds.

The Ambi Space’s surprisingly small size makes it a great travel board ‘verb for gigging guitarists who need great sounds, a few presets, and yes, stereo ins & outs. The Ambi Space is excellent in stereo. There’s even a Kill-Dry switch for wet/dry guitar rigs and an Input Level switch for line or instrument sources. Kudos to Free The Tone for the MIDI in jack that allows preset selection, activating/bypassing the pedal, and CC control of parameters. Also, the absolutely silent switching ensures zero noise when activating/bypassing the pedal. It’s no surprise that the Ambi Space is such a great performance reverb pedal considering Free The Tone’s background in building systems for professional musicians. This one is highly recommended for performing guitarists who just want a few reverb sounds while still keeping their compact pedalboard setup as simple as possible.

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Catalinbread Talisman

Builder: Catalinbread, Pedal: Talisman, Reverb Type: Plate

The Catalinbread Talisman might be this builder’s best kept secret, and more guitarists need to experience this awesome plate reverb. Why does this pedal rock? While hall reverbs are great for big ambience and long decays, their complexity often clutters up a mix and takes over the frequency spectrum. Plate reverbs have a more focused and refined sound; they’re more dense for a reverb that’s more like an extension of the sound(s) they’re applied to. The Talisman creates a focused extension of your guitar sound as well as a long sustaining ambience.

If you’re using a plate reverb in the studio, you might want to roll-off the low frequencies to keep the low-end from getting muddy. The Talisman’s High Pass knob does this very well, keeping the low end in a band mix very clean. You might also apply some delay on a mixer’s aux send to stagger the reverb’s timing. The Pre Delay knob functions in a similar way, providing up to around 100mS of delay before the reverb is heard.

The Mix, Time, & Vol knobs round out the Talisman’s parameter set. Mix is your wet/dry blend. The Talisman can extend the reverb decay to infinity via the Time knob. In the default buffered bypass mode (true bypass is an internal option), the trails spillover when you disengage the pedal. You can let huge trails sustain while you play over them. The Vol knob controls an analog preamp that can give a substantial amount of volume boost. This remains active in buffered mode and can add to your overall sound and push your amp harder if you crank it. It cleans up with your guitar’s volume knob, too. Don’t let the Talisman being just a plate reverb fool you into thinking it’s a one-trick-pony. There’s a powerful amount of versatility housed in this amulet of great reverb tone.

Read the Catalinbread Talisman review.

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Red Panda Context

Builder: Red Panda, Pedal: Context, Reverb Type: Multi

The Red Panda Context is arguably the most conventional pedal released from this builder, yet no other compact reverb pedal sounds quite like it. While Red Panda pedals like the Particle & Bitmap venture into bizarre sonic frontiers, the Context contains reverb effects that will appeal to a wider audience of guitarists. But don’t assume that the Context is a run of the mill reverb pedal. The 6 reverb algorithms included are each bold and musical in their own ways and can still venture into uncharted spatial territories.

The Room effect has the typical shallow reflections and snappy reverb you’d expect to find, but as you push up the Decay the walls of this room collapse, leaving you floating in space. The Hall mode is similar to the Room with a bigger cluster of early reflections. You can get shorter room-like sounds and send your guitar out the airlock when you max the Decay. The Cathedral setting is like a bigger, brighter hall. The Cathedral’s decay also seems to have a mild modulation on the trails. It’s a great variation of a hall-like theme, and if it’s a bit bright at first, Damping the sound helps. The Gated reverb seems more like a variation of a Room reverb in it sounds and how it’s controlled. The Decay controls the Gate Time, to cut off the reverb after you’d quite playing, but the smaller sound of the reverb is dissimilar to how it would sound to gate a hall reverb, for example. The Plate is another great reverb for long washes of trails. This one sounds greatly fully wet with long decay (controlled by Delay on this mode). The Delay knob combines a standard digital delay (the most “normal” delay Red Panda’s ever created) and reverb, an essential combination and adds extra utility to the Context. Yes, you can control the reverb length and delay feedback separately for shallow or huge sounds. This pedal is massive far beyond its humble size.

Read the Red Panda Context review.

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EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath/Transmisser

Builder: EarthQuaker Devices, Pedals: Afterneath/Transmisser, Reverb Type: Other

I have to mention the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath & Transmisser at the same time as they’re both similarly messed up pedals although they produce quite different sonic results. It’s important to point out their similarities and differences to help you get an idea of which one might be suited for your reverb explorations.

The Afterneath takes your guitar signal and multiplies it like a multi-tap delay-ish effect, replicating your playing with a ping-pong like series of delay taps. This is fed into a huge, cavernous reverb that can linger for eternity if you crank the Length knob. The Drag knob sets the spacing of those delay taps and can warp the pitch of the reverb trails by turning it in either direction while the reverb is sustaining. This pedal is one of the best EarthQuaker Devices pedals and is quite unlike anything else out there. Well, except maybe the Transmisser…

The Transmisser may seem like the new Afterneath at first, but you’ll see that it’s actually its own unique flavor of reverb once you look closer and have a listen. The Transmisser does big reverb, too, but it’s not quite as over the top huge sounding as the Afterneath. But where it does go off the rails is with the Freq knob that controls the frequency peak of a resonant filter placed after the reverb. This is also expression pedal controllable for extra sweepy fun. There’s a strange modulation that’s always present, the speed of which is controlled by the Rate knob. It’s slightly modulating the reverb and the Freq & Darkness parameters depending on where the Warp knob is set. Sound confusing? It’s easier to get the hang of when using it. The Warp knob can also mangle the pitch of the reverb in a somewhat similar way to the Afterneath’s Drag control. While the Afterneath is still my personal favorite of the two, you gotta hand it to EarthQuaker Devices for again pushing reverb into new outlandish territories.

Read the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath review.

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Mr. Black SuperMoon

Builder: Mr. Black, Pedal: SuperMoon, Reverb Type: Modulated

One look at the Mr. Black SuperMoon and its artwork should give you an idea of what to expect: big expansive reverb with a modulated ebb and flow that pulls like the Moon on the tides. See that guy on the pedal? Put a guitar in his hands, and that’ll be you when you plug into this thing.

The SuperMoon is a pedal for guitarists who like their reverb pedals dead simple yet full of lively sounds. The Reverb knob brings in your level of reverb up to a 50/50% mix. The Decay extends the reverb trails from 300mS to over 30 seconds. The Sway knob brings in the modulation which adds a slow moving detuning effect that warps the pitch of the reverberated signal. It’s a mesmerizing sound that’s executed flawlessly. Despite the numerous attempts from other builders to create similar modulated reverb sounds, Mr. Black’s SuperMoon is still something very special. On a side note, I love that it’s not soft touch bypass and still switches silently for no loud pops as you engage/disengage the pedal.

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Adventure Audio Whateverb

Builder: Adventure Audio, Pedal: Whateverb, Reverb Type: Shimmer/Room/Other

When the Adventure Audio Whateverb was first unveiled on a breadboard back at Summer NAMM 2015, it was apparent that this would be a pedal worth keeping an eye on. The pedal finally materialized in a nice, sparkly enclosure with an appearance that evokes the sounds you’ll find in this pedal. The 3 modes – This, That, & Otherb – offer some unique choices for guitarists who want something a little different in a reverb. “This” mode features a flanger on the reverb for a metallic modulation. The Warp knob seems to affect the delay time to alter the character of the flanging. “That” mode is a room reverb with High Tide & Low Tide controls to change the tonality of the room sound. I like to crank the Decay for a big hall-like ambience. The Warp knob seems to affect the density of the reflections for a compounded or sparse sound. It’ll also warp the pitch of your trails. The “Otherb” mode is where the Whateverb’s shimmer is housed, giving you an octave up sheen to your reverb. The Warp increases or decreases the offset of the shimmer effect as well as warping the pitch if you turn it while trails are sustaining. Speaking of trails the pedal also has a buffered bypass for spillover trails, but, you know, Whateverb.

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Digitech Polara

Builder: Digitech, Pedal: Polara, Reverb Type: Multi

A few years ago Digitech came back swinging with a stream of new releases that have redefined the company for the modern era of guitar pedals. The Digitech Polara is one such pedal that has garnered attention for being an affordable multi-algorithm stereo reverb machine filled with great Lexicon quality sounds.

The Room & Hall modes are great go-to ‘verbs for creating the ambience of real space. The Spring mode is solid, particularly at lower Liveliness (aka Tone) settings and nails a surfy springy-ness better than a lot of spring emulations. The Plate mode is awesome and sounds great no matter where you set the knobs. Try maxing everything out with this one for some big ambience that doesn’t overwhelm with infinite decay although some of you might wish it could. The Reverse mode is another standout, taking your guitar into a 100% wet reversed ‘verb ambience. This one’s fun for experimental and shoegazy sounds. The Modulated mode evokes the big ambience of the Hall & Plate modes but with a swirling movement that adds interest to your reverb trails. And finally, the Halo verb adds some shimmering octave up brilliance to your playing. It’s a really great sounding and stable shimmer. While I wish there was greater control to bring out the octave voice a little more, you can still get a great sound by cranking the Liveliness and adjusting the Level to taste. All these reverbs sound excellent in stereo, and the optional spillover trails option is icing on the cake for one of the best bargains you’ll find in a multi-algorithm reverb pedal.

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Catalinbread Topanga


Builder: Catalinbread, Pedal: Topanga, Reverb Type: Digital Spring

The idea was to take a bulky Fender 6G15 spring reverb unit that utilizes tubes, springs, and a resonating metal pan and stuff it into a tiny pedal utilizing ones & zeros, resistors, and capacitors. Sounds easy, right? I doubt it was, but the brave pedal builders in Portland, Oregon, were up to the task. The Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb is the result.

The familiar Dwell, Tone, & Mix controls are here, giving you control over the length of the reverb, the overall brightness or darkness of the ‘verb, and adjustment of the mix from dry to fully wet. The Vol knob lets you boost your signal output which is useful for compensating for any loss in volume when cranking the Mix.

The vintage style reverb tones are some of the best you’ll find without using real springs. If you just want the smallest and best sounding spring reverb, the Catalinbread Topanga is probably your pedal. There’s also a “secret” modulation mode if you want something a little more modern.

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Neunaber Immerse Reverberator

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

The Neunaber Immerse takes the high quality reverb algorithms from the builder’s Expanse line of pedals and makes them all readily available via a dedicated selector knob. Neunaber has garnered much praise for their detailed reverb algorithms, and the Immerse is the easiest way to access them all without needing an app. Their shimmer reverb algorithms are legendary and are right up there among the best you’ll find in pedals costing much more. The Immerse’s 2 shimmer ‘verbs will make this pedal worth the price of entry for some guitarists. Neunaber’s signature Wet algorithm is also here along with a variation with detuning and one with echo for solid reverb + delay sounds. And there are great sounding Hall, Plate, & Spring modes worth exploring. Switchable options for trails and kill dry round out the feature set. And let’s not forget the stereo I/O as the Neunaber Immerse is most impressive in a dedicated stereo setup. The Immerse may arguably be the best stereo reverb pedal in an enclosure this small. It’s certainly the best stereo shimmer reverb in a pedal this size.

Read the Neunaber Immerse review.

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Keeley Electronics Loomer

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedal: Loomer, Reverb Type: Multi/Fuzz

The Keeley Electronics Loomer is a landmark release from Robert & Co. for several reasons. Essentially, the pedal’s goal was to capture the sounds of early 90’s “shoegaze” alternative rock, particularly the reverb laden guitar sounds of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.

The Loomer has 3 reverb modes. Focus emulates the sound of the Soft Focus patch from the Yamaha FX500 multi effects processor from the late 80’s. This mode cascades a dense reverb, 2 delays (250mS & 380mS), and a 4-voice chorus to create a lush, mesmerizing reverb. The Reverse mode emulates similar reverse reverb effects from the period and has a couple interesting additions. It includes an optional envelope triggered vibrato that detunes your guitar when you strum, and the Warmth (Tone) knob is in the style of a Fender Jazzmaster’s rhythm pickup tone control for getting your ‘gaze on. The Hall mode includes an optional shimmer effect controlled via the Depth knob that blends in a “halo-esque” ascending octave up feedback loop.

Aside from the great reverb modes in the Loomer, there’s a dedicated Muff inspired fuzz section that’s excellent in and of itself. Try feeding the reverb into the fuzz for more shoegazy fun. The Loomer is one of the more exciting pedals from Keeley Electronics and definitely worth looking into if you want more versatility from a reverb pedal.

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Walrus Audio Descent

Builder: Walrus Audio, Pedal: Descent, Reverb Type: Multi

You’ve gotta love the Walrus Audio Descent. It’s got a killer style like all Walrus Audio pedals, and this might be best reverb pedal sporting a trio of algorithms. It’s got a huge Hall sound that’ll cover smaller to absolutely cavernous sounding reverbs. There’s a Reverse mode that is one of my personal favorite reverse reverb algorithms in any pedal. And then there’s a dedicated Shimmer mode with the expected octave up plus an octave down that contribute to the Descent’s absolutely huge reverb sounds. And guess what? The shimmering octave up and booming octave down and be applied to the Hall & Reverse settings as well. Game changer right there. The pedal also gives you 3 foot-switchable presets, expression pedal control, and dual outputs. Probably still Walrus Audio’s best pedal to date.

Read the Walrus Audio Descent review.

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Caroline Guitar Company Météore


Builder: Caroline Guitar Company, Pedal: Météore, Reverb Type: Other

When I first saw this pedal I mistook for a lo-fi reverb in the vein of the company’s Kilobyte Lo-Fi Delay. But the Caroline Guitar Company Météore (pronounced “May-Tay-Or”) was inspired by a tiled train tunnel in France. Weird, right? Wait till you hear how it sounds. It has a bright, crashy tonality with jagged reflections that somehow manage to blossom into a beautiful mess of wonderful noise. I mean that in the best possible way. There’s also an integrated drive circuit that further trashes up the sound in amazing ways. Even at full on settings, it doesn’t get overwhelming and remains remarkably playable. The Havoc foot-switch creates infinite decay when pressed and held, further fueling this pedal’s desire to be on your live pedalboard. Bedroom guitarists will still dig the Météore, but this pedal is begging to be played on stage. But fear not… if you’re not shopping for a reverb for your live ‘board. Get out there. Start a band. Get a Météore. And rock out like you mean it. \m/

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That concludes our Top 20 Reverb Pedals of 2017. Thanks for reading.

“But wait,” you say, “I only counted 19 pedals!”

We’re leaving a spot open to fill with an exceptional reverb pedal yet to be decided upon. If you have a suggestion, let us know in the comments.

Top 16 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2016


The golden age of guitar pedals has brought great success to dozens of small boutique pedal builders. While many of these builders have found fame with an original design or two, catapulting a handful of builders to even greater heights, there always comes a point when markets reach over-saturation. And sometimes the risk-taking ethos that once drove creativity diminishes, leaving a trail of “me, too” offerings that exist merely to fill out companies’ product lineups. It isn’t always clear when this is happening, and while I’d like to think that most of the time pedal builders mean well, sometimes less inspired pedals do make their way to market.

It’s easy to get swayed by trendy pedal builders and/or those with an interesting style or visual appeal. This article (and this site for that matter) is for guitarists who never sacrifice due diligence for familiarity or the assumed infallibility of any particular builder’s reputation. The whole idea behind using guitar pedals is the freedom to mix-and-match different pedals to create a palette of tones and effects that suits your music and guitar playing style. While it’s natural to lean towards a particular pedal builder that resonates with you, keeping an open mind to new ideas (and new effects) can open up unexpected pathways on your journey of musical evolution. Innovative effects pedals can come from anywhere, and sometimes builders fall in and out of favor or lose their way.

Yes, many modern pedal builders are filling out their line-ups to stay competitive as we near the summit of guitar pedal mania. If one of your favorite builders is doing this, chances are that many of their latest pedals are still pretty solid even if another builder makes a similar pedal that is arguably “better” by various measures of qualified criticism. We’re going to continue to steer clear of many of these less-than-stellar pedals in an attempt to keep the focus on the very best guitar pedals available today and those appearing on the horizon.

While the statements below don’t constitute a final review verdict for the pedals listed, there are some nuggets of commentary, praise, and criticism that you may find useful. As always use your best judgement when making buying decisions and don’t let your G.A.S. be fueled by the hype machine. If you’ve seen our top pedal lists for Winter NAMM 2015, Summer NAMM 2015, & Winter NAMM 2016, you already know what to expect. The pedals aren’t in strict “best to worst” order, but the most exciting all-new pedals are generally listed towards the top in accordance with the level of excitement generated.

Now here are the Top 16 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2016.


Old Blood Noise Endeavors Mondegreen


Sometimes you hear something one way, but it was actually intended to be heard differently. Like lyrics in a song. Surely you remember singing along to some song thinking you knew the words only to find out later that the singer was singing something entirely different. That is the essence of the Mondegreen delay pedal.

The Mondegreen has 3 modes: Stutter, Whirl, & Sheer. It doesn’t do the pedal justice to simply state that these modes add tremolo, chorus, & octave up pitch-shifting to the delay repeats. There’s a certain “life” to the sounds produced that make this pedal one of the more unique experimental delay/modulation pedals I’ve ever heard, recalling a uniqueness found in such quirky gems as the Red Panda Particle, Boss PS-3, & EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine.

This pedal also has a configurable exp pedal input. I was getting some truly mind-bending sounds at SNAMM with an exp pedal and the Sheer mode’s spiraling octave up madness. On a side note, I’m still awaiting confirmation if the exp jack is definitely CV (control voltage) compatible. Will keep you posted when I’m 100% sure. Crossing my fingers that it is so the Mondegreen can be used with modular synth modules and pedals like the amazing WMD Protostar and Dwarfcraft’s Twin Stags.

OBNE’s other pedals (minus the OBNE Haunt fuzz) are also getting exp pedal inputs as well. Yes, even the epic Dark Star reverb, a great pedal that I was somewhat less excited about due to the absence of exp pedal control. If they’re also CV compatible this will be beyond amazing.

The Old Blood Noise gang have also added soft-touch switching to their non-Haunt pedals, including the Mondegreen. The relays on the pedals at SNAMM didn’t remember if the pedals were on or off when last powered. Really hoping this is addressed before the pedals ship as “smart” relay bypass switching that defaults to the last powered state would make the pedals more friendly for use with effects switchers. My heart was broken when EQD went the route of lazy relay bypass on all their new pedals for 2016, and I’m really hoping OBNE doesn’t crush my soul a second time. Lazy relay switching wasn’t an issue in the pre-effects switcher days, but having to re-activate all the lazy relay pedals at gigs is becoming more of an annoyance when a little extra programming can eliminate this minor usability problem.

Aside from my two initial critiques (which are non-issues for guitarists who don’t use effects switchers and don’t care about CV), the Mondegreen is the pedal with the sounds I found most mesmerizing at Summer NAMM 2016. Big props to Brady, Seth, & the rest of the OBNE crew for the great strides they’ve made over the past couple years to become one of the most exciting boutique pedal builders to watch in 2016. One last thing: the word at the show was that the Mondegreen’s algorithms were programmed in-house, not outsourced as with OBNE’s previous digital effects. I consider this a bold testament to their dedication towards realizing the sonic visions they’d like to share with the world.

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Dwarfcraft Devices Happiness


Dwarfcraft has been killing it lately. The Silver Rose V2 is a monster, the Necromancer fuzz rocks, and their Twin Stags tremolo is an inspiring crossover into modular effects territory thanks to its extensive CV (control voltage) compatibility. Dwarfcraft’s Happiness reaches farther into the realm tread by their Twin Stags by offering synth style filtering and CV control possibilities in a similarly Twin Stags sized enclosure with plenty of available parameter control.

You get the expected high pass, low pass, and band pass filtering modes from the State switch. A Scramble switch activates a “slightly smoothed” sample and hold function. You can use CV to modulate the Filter and Scramble function. You can also send the LFO out to modulate another effect pedal or synth module. And there are expression pedal inputs for the Filter and LFO. Tons of fun and happiness awaits your exploration.

Dwarfcraft is steadfastly carving out a nice little happy place for effects loving guitarists and modular synth junkies thanks to their Twin Stags & Happiness, and I do hope they continue down this path and release more guitar pedals in this vein.

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Fox Pedals Expanse Novaplex Delay & Defector Fuzz


Fox Pedals had several interesting pedals to show off at SNAMM. Their soon-to-be-renamed delay pedal (looks like it’ll be called the “Novaplex”) is derived from the analog voiced digital delay of their “The Wave” pedal but with a new modulation section (including a chorus mode), tap tempo, and subdivisions.

The biggest surprise is that the delay pedal has a side port for connecting to Fox Pedals’ upcoming Storehouse preset controller. While Fox Pedals is still working out how the controller will function in use, the Storehouse prototype shown at SNAMM had 4 ports for connecting to up to 4 compatible pedals for preset selection. Lots of exciting possibilities here, so expect Fox Pedals to make more upcoming pedals Storehouse compatible.

It’s also worth giving a shout-out to their mutant-muff Defector Fuzz, which takes the Russian flavored muff into interesting new territory thanks to a bit-crushing feedback mode. I definitely want to hear how this one comes along.

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Keeley Electronics The Dark Side


The Keeley Electronics Monterey Fuzz was an instant hit, taking their Workstation series of pedals into modern Jimi-fied territory. The Dark Side is an obvious nod to Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon LP, with the sounds within evoking a modern interpretation of various David Gilmour influenced effects. The fuzz side trades the classic “Fuzz Face” inspired flavor for a suped-up Big Muff on steroids. Think along the lines of Keeley’s Psi Fuzz but with more tonal variation thanks to a 3-way flip-switch with Flat, Full, & Scoop options. The version of The Dark Side at SNAMM had a mod section with Rotary, Vibe, & Delay/Verb modes, but the final version could be expanded with 3 foot-switches that allow fuzz, mod, & delay/verb to be used together. Keep your fingers crossed. As is, I was still blown away by the pedal and to my surprise enjoyed it even more than the Monterey. Keeley no doubt will have another hit on their hands when The Dark Side drops.

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Greer Amps Super Hornet BC 107-B Octave Fuzz


I think I can go ahead as say that the Greer Amps Super Hornet was my favorite fuzz pedal shown at Summer NAMM 2016. The BC 107-B silicon transistor based Super Hornet has a nice crunchy rhythm sound with plenty of bite and saturation at higher fuzz levels. It cleans up nicely with the guitar’s volume knob as well. Flip the Stinger switch to “On”, and you’ll get a ripping octave up fuzz sound that’s killer for leads or super splatty rhythm sounds that tear your chords apart. But what makes the Super Hornet really stand out is the Stinger mode. Just leave the Octave flip-switch set to “Stinger”, and you can press the momentary Stinger foot-switch to activate the all-analog octave up sound on a whim. Apply it to single note runs and induce analog “Whammy” like sounds. Press it while a note is already ringing out, and it sounds as if you’re hitting tapped harmonics. Can’t give you my final verdict considering the loud NAMM show environment, but it blew me away in the moments I got to spend with it.

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Hungry Robot Pedals Kármán Line


If you dig lo-fi delays, runaway oscillation, spacious soundscapes, and joysticks, the Hungry Robot Pedals Kármán Line is a pedal to check out. The left foot-switch activates the pedal, bringing in the pedal’s dark and somewhat overdriven delay echoes. The center “Swell” momentary foot-switch brings in a wave of self-oscillating delays that are actually well controlled, as in they don’t escalate into a speaker shredding, ear ripping mess. Very cool. The right “Launch” latching foot-switch activates a below the mix oscillation. This creates a pad of murky delay ambience underneath your playing. Let it run and use the joystick to control the delay time and modulation rate for out of this world delay excursions.

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Daredevil Pedals Red Light District


The Daredevil Pedals Red Light District is a straight-up rocking dirtbox that delivers raunchy to searing distortion tones. Aside from the self-explanatory Volume & Gain controls, a flip-switchable Scoop lets you dial in the width of the scoop for a tightly Q’d mid-cut for a wider drop in midrange. A Hi/Lo switch offers a little extra tonal contouring flexibility. Simple and potent, the Red Light District delivers the goods.

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Swindler Effects Red Mountain


Speaking of bandwagons and “me, too” products, almost every builder out there is doing a tap tempo tremolo now. But here’s one that offers something a little different. Basically, if you like kill-switches, the Swindler Effects Red Mountain tremolo has a potentially awesome surprise for you. Set the waveform to “st”, and the Tap foot-switch activates a stutter function. Flip the Phase toggle to set it to either “Tap = On” or “Tap = Off”. Kill-switches typically cut the signal when pushing the momentary button/foot-switch, but having the signal pass through while pressing the foot-switch could facilitate easier rhythmic timing of manual stutter effects. Aside from all the normal trem sounds, stereo outs, and tap tempo, the stutter mode could add some great experimental possibilities and make the Red Mountain something special.

A few suggestions/ideas: since the stutter mode uses the optical tremolo manually, negating the function of the knobs, it would be interesting if one of the knobs (Speed or Depth maybe?) could control the speed or duration of the stutter effect’s signal cut. Or maybe one knob could control the attack and the other control the release. Either way, the tighter or faster the stutter, the better as that would make for really tight chops and rhythmic effects.

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BAT Pedals Pharaoh


I really dig the Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh Supreme, a mid-rich “doomy” fuzz pedal. Now the mastermind behind Black Arts Toneworks is co-creating a spin-off brand called Bat Pedals to downsize pedals like the Pharaoh, Black Forest, and more while making them more affordable in the process. Pedals that are pedalboard and wallet friendly sound like a win-win to me. The BAT Pedals Pharaoh is definitely one to watch out for if you like big nasty fuzz, and the BAT Pedals lineup as a whole will resonate with fans of Black Arts Toneworks.


Digitech Nautila Chorus Flange


Okay, I wasn’t originally excited about this pedal at glance. Chorus & flange is nothing new. But the Digitech Nautila delivers in a big way. You can get plenty of slow moving, light chorus and flange tones. The sound is impeccable from what I’ve heard so far. The Voices control is what really makes things interesting, taking your signal form a single voice to up to 4 flanger voices or 8 chorus voices. Yes, it sounds huge. And you can run it in stereo. The Nautila is simply a monster… a deep sea monster. Should’ve called it the “Kraken” or “Leviathan”, something more ginormous and foreboding. Digitech’s compact stomps (like the excellent Obscura Altered Delay as well) are really pushing boundaries in terms of what to expect from seemingly traditional compact effects pedals.

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Cusack Music Pedal Cracker


Okay, aside from the fact that this pedal has one of the worst pedal names in recent memory, the Cusack Music Pedal Cracker looks awesome… particularly if you’re a vocalist. The Pedal Cracker’s XLR Input & Output jacks on the right side of the pedal let you feed your microphone signal through the pedal. Then you can add a chain of your favorite guitar effects pedals via the ¼” Send & Return effects loop jacks. You can blend your Wet & Dry levels as well as control the Gain via dedicated knobs. There’s a Bypass foot-switch for activating the effects in your signal chain as well as a Momentary foot-switch for applying effects to only a certain segment of your singing. This becomes more interesting when using the Trails/Presend flip-switch. Imagine sending a single word or phrase into a delay or reverb (or both!) and having the echoes spill over while you sing dry. The possibilities for live vocal performance are staggering.

ZVex unveiled a similar device called the Pedal Thief back at Winter NAMM 2015, but it still hasn’t seen the light of day. Kudos to Jon Cusack & Cusack Music for finally getting ready to drop an incredibly useful pedal for vocalists who want to integrate guitar pedals into their live performances. I only wish it had MIDI control or at least a TRS control jack for external control over the Bypass/Momentary functions.

(Forgot to snap a pic of the Pedal Cracker at SNAMM. Grabbed this photo from the Cusack Music Instagram page.)

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Function F(x) Aftershock


The Function F(x) Aftershock is a dual-modulation pedal featuring a tremolo and phaser section. In addition to Rate & Depth controls for both effects, the tremolo gives you control over the Shape (waveshape) and the phaser lets you adjust Feedback. This pedal had some potentially interesting utility in its present form, but I’m curious if it can be expanded for even deeper control (i.e. more stage options for the phaser, maybe making the effects sync-able). It’s only a prototype but still a sign of potentially exciting things to come from Function F(x).


Boss CE-2w Chorus


Some consider the signature Boss pedal enclosure iconic. I call it archaic. Some modern guitarists hate the buffers built into every compact pedal. That’s not really an issue to me. However, the switching that always defaults to “bypassed” upon powering up ensures I’ll never use a compact Boss pedal in my effects switcher based guitar rig. Yes, I might be hard on the company sometimes, but in many ways it feels as if Boss has fallen a bit out of touch with the needs of modern guitarists. Boss was once the undisputed “boss” when it came to pedals. Not anymore.

But the Boss CE-2w Chorus is something worth celebrating. It recreates the sounds of the legendary CE-1 Chorus, the very first Boss pedal released back in 1976, and the CE-2 Chorus, the first Boss chorus pedal available in a compact stompbox enclosure. The CE-2w offers the classic CE-2 sounds with stereo output possibilities and an expanded CE-1 mode with added Depth control which was unavailable on the vintage CE-1 effects unit.

This pedal made the best pedals of SNAMM ’16 list for one reason. Yes, the CE-1 sounds great and is simple to use, but those reasons aren’t why it’s here. I’m a firm believer that the best is always yet to come, and the CE-2w is an example of this philosophy. While this pedal draws upon sounds that are 30 years old, it will essentially render the CE-1 & CE-2 obsolete in the eyes of many guitarists. Sure, the nostalgia hungry guitar player will still chase down the original units, perhaps even swearing that some minor variance in audio fidelity makes the originals superior or gives them more character and charm. For the rest of us modern guitarists seeking those original tones, the Boss CE-2w Chorus will be a more reliable, versatile, and readily available replacement that remains true to its roots.

While I still feel that Boss is resting on a reputation long since overshadowed by the innovations of many great modern guitar pedal builders, there’s an endearing appeal of Boss pedals for those who grew up playing them. Like many of you, my first pedal was also a Boss. Yet while there are still a few classic Boss pedals I’d like to see get the Wazacraft reissue treatment, I’d prefer to see more of that risk-taking spirit I remember from the Boss of old. The overwhelming success of the Strymon TimeLine seemed to shake Boss into ditching those big clunky foot-swiches in their similarly spec’d DD-500 Digital Delay. And I do appreciate a few of Boss’ design updates to their Free The Tone inspired ES-5/ES-8 effects switchers (although I couldn’t possibly recommend using any lazy relay bypass Boss pedals with them). But it’ll take more than mimicking other companies’ innovations to return Boss to their former glory; charting new territory is what once made Boss great. While I appreciate the history and lineage of this legendary company, I hope to see Boss step up their game, surprise us with something we haven’t seen before, and once again become a leader in innovation.

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Function F(x) Clusterfuzz Jr


Mini-fying pedals isn’t always the most exciting of changes, but it can provide some extra convenience for a crowded pedalboard. The Function F(x) Clusterfuzz Jr shrinks the original Clusterfuzz to a box that appears like a cross between an MXR-sized stomp and your somewhat more slender mini pedal. All the original rotary knob parameters are here, including the Nintendo tone inducing 8-Bit knob. The 5-way clipping selector knob will be reduced to a 2 or 3-way clipping toggle. I’m personally hoping they keep the original unit’s silicon clipping option although there could be a possibility of releasing 2 Jr versions with each having “no clipping” and 2 of the original’s 4 clipping options. I’m also curious if they can sneak the original pedal’s Filter switch back in as I enjoyed the additional tonal variation it offers. This pedal is a very early prototype, so we’ll see where Function F(x) takes it when it’s finally officially released.

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Eventide H9 Sculpt Algorithm


Hot off the heels of Eventide’s awesome CrushStation distortion, fuzz, and octave algorithm comes Sculpt, a massively flexible distortion multi-effect for their H9 Harmonizer, H9 Core, & H9 Max stompbox units. The Sculpt algorithm starts with a unique crossover distortion effect that lets you manually set the high/low crossover point and individually adjust High & Low Drive. You also get a Compressor and Low Boost, both of which can be applied pre or post distortion. There’s also Pre & Post Filter sections and a dedicated Envelope Filter control for dynamically controlled auto-wah style filtering.

The Eventide H9 Harmonizer isn’t new, but it’s the one guitar pedal that just keeps on giving (yes, I’ve said that before). You’ve probably already seen the Eventide in our list of the Best Modern Guitar Pedals, and it’s new effects like the Sculpt algorithm that keep this pedal on top. This particular algorithm won’t suit everyone’s tastes, but it’s futuristic vibe certainly keeps with the forward thinking mentality that keeps Eventide at the forefront of innovation in guitar effects. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’d like to see even more effects that defy expectations and push the boundaries of guitar effects. I’ll cross my fingers for VST plugin style synths and more mind-bending effects. Eventide has the definitive platform with the H9 for making the most insane DSP effects a reality.

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That concludes our list of the “Top 16 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2016”. Thanks for reading!


In case you missed it, here’s our Top 51 Best Pedals of Winter NAMM 2016!