In the tradition of our definitive best guitar pedal round-ups for Winter NAMM 2015 and Summer NAMM 2015, Best Guitar Effects is bringing you the decisive review of the best guitar pedals that really stood out at this year’s NAMM Show.
NAMM recently reported in a press release that smaller builders of boutique guitar pedals are driving innovation, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen such a big turnout of exciting new products from several up-and-coming and established boutique builders.
In 2014 the pedal industry experienced record growth, with 2015 showing more phenomenal expansion. If you’re a guitarist and love guitar effects pedals, there’s never been a better time to be seeking pedals to fill your pedalboard. There’s no shortage of pedals that’ll take your music to interesting new places.
The challenge presented by this industry growth is that while brands fill out their pedal line-ups with “me too” releases to capitalize on selling other types of effects that may not fall within their strongest areas of expertise, guitarists need to be diligent in choosing the pedals that benefit their music, not the ones that’ll simply make your pedalboard look “cool” or impress fellow pedal nerds or brand loyalists.
This article almost ended up becoming a Top 80 and was originally looking like a less critical roundup, but it was carefully trimmed down to include the guitar pedals listed below. You can find full NAMM release archives elsewhere. This list chronicles the guitar pedals that stood out from the rest in terms of quality, features, or other innovations as described throughout. As the market continues to be over-saturated with guitar pedals, we’ll continue to maintain our focus on the products and companies that are driving innovation and the pursuit of sonic excellence.
DISCLAIMER: We’ve learned that the NAMM show-floor isn’t the best place to assess the final quality of a pedal. Our “Best Guitar Pedals of NAMM” articles are simply based on initial product impressions. We often get to play and hear these pedals at the show, but some may not have been playable. Also, the noise conditions make it difficult to really distinguish the actual sound quality of certain products. While this article will undoubtedly fuel the hype surrounding some of the products featured, trust your ears as always and try to make sober and informed buying decisions. With that being said, we hope this gives you a great place to start your search for the latest and greatest guitar pedals that’ll inspire your music.
Here are the top 51 best guitar effects pedals of Winter NAMM 2016!
Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall
This is it. The guitar pedal the world has been waiting on for 30 years. Tonal Recall is here. Ever since Chase Bliss Audio came onto the scene with the ground-breaking Warped Vinyl, guitarists have imagined what it would be like if the Minnesota-based boutique builder released an analog delay pedal. But Chase Bliss Audio didn’t want to put out just another delay pedal. Seriously, there are enough mediocre delay pedals out there already. Chase Bliss Audio wanted to release the ultimate analog delay pedal.
For this Herculean task, company founder & engineer, Joel Korte, sought to “recall” the “tonal” qualities of arguably the most prized analog delay pedals ever created: the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man and early Boss DM-2 Analog Delay pedals that contained the ultra-rare and coveted MN3005 bucket-brigade delay chips. Upon reaching this zenith of analog delay tone, the Chase Bliss Audio mastermind tamed the analog beast with complete digital control. While still a work in progress in the iteration playable at NAMM, it’s on the path to delivering what it intends to accomplish and very well could be the be-all, end-all analog delay pedal.
It’s also important to note that while this pedal intends to capture the nostalgic sound and tone of those classic MN3005 based analog delay pedals, the Tonal Recall brings these sounds into the 21st Century with deeper modulation control, Tone shaping of the delay sound, Chase Bliss Audio’s unique Ramping functionality, presets, MIDI, and more. While mainstream pedal-building conglomerates often attempt to capitalize on nostalgia by rehashing retro products with minimal so-claimed modern enhancements, Tonal Recall is on course to deliver the ultimate old-school analog delay experience in a modern pedal format.
Regarding the Tonal Recall’s MN3005 chips, the original NOS Panasonic MN3005’s have long been out of production, becoming ever more scarce and sought-after as the years passed. Fortunately, a Chinese chip builder called XVive teamed up with original Deluxe Memory Man creator, Howard Davis, to reproduce MN3005 chips that capture the sound and tone of the originals. While many poor-quality knock-offs of MN3005’s exist, the XVive MN3005’s have been given the nod of approval by Howard, Joel, and other reputable ears for tone. Just beware of some lesser builders using the MN3005 as a cover for releasing otherwise rubbish pedals. You’ll no doubt begin to see some companies adding this mention on their product spec sheets going forward.
Fortunately, Chase Bliss Audio has proven their reputation for releasing pedals of uncompromising quality. The recently released Spectre Analog TZ Flanger as well as their Warped Vinyl MKII Analog Chorus & Vibrato, Wombtone MKII Analog Phaser, & Gravitas Analog Tremolo all push the boundaries of those types of effects. The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall is set to shake up the industry more-so than any modern delay pedal released since the Strymon TimeLine.
This will be a hard buzz to kill, and Tonal Recall is one pedal I hope lives up to the monumental hype when it’s officially released in May 2016. Aside from what it is and what it aims to accomplish, Tonal Recall earns its top position among the best guitar pedals of NAMM because it’s the best example I’ve seen of a company giving guitarists exactly that they want without asking. For companies striving to make a “hit product”, few companies have nailed the sales moment as well as Chase Bliss Audio has with this pedal. And they’re one of the few companies who could pull this off. The question isn’t whether or not it’ll be great, but just how great it is.
Empress Effects Reverb
The Empress Effects Reverb was the biggest surprise of the show and could be the new best reverb pedal available when it hits the market this Spring. The Canadian builder has already accrued a standout reputation with such releases as the Vintage Modified Superdelay, Heavy, and Compressor, and the Reverb will surely take their reputation to the next level. What makes it so special? Everything.
Housed in a familiar 3 foot-switch enclosure the size of their Superdelay, the Reverb boasts stereo ins/outs, expression control, MIDI functionality, a ton of presets separated into differently colored banks, and 12 categories of reverb effects controllable with an array of surface knobs that negates the need for menu-diving.
While the 12 reverb categories may appear to signify a standard of only 12 different reverb algorithms, there’s more than meets the eye on tap here. Yes, there’s “beer”. But we’ll get to that in a moment. As you turn the selector knob to choose from the 12 reverb categories you’ll notice the RGB LED sometimes change to a different color on the same reverb type. Some of these categories have up to 3 different variations of the particular type of selected reverb. These may be entirely different algorithms based on a particular style of reverb.
But those are just the stock sounds, and here’s where things get more exciting. There’s an SD card slot on the back of the pedal so that you can download and add new reverb effects to the pedal in the future. There are already around 20 different reverb effects available with more to come. The RGB LEDs for each effects type can add a new color for each new algorithm Empress Effects releases in the future. The Empress Reverb is the boldest stance against planned obsolescence since the Eventide H9 (which is still going strong), and we haven’t even talked about how good it sounds.
There are already many standout reverb effects in the pedal although my listening experience was confined to stereo headphones. The Plate modes were great. The Sparkle section had some of the more pleasing shimmer reverb effects I’ve heard. The 3 different Reverse reverbs were mesmerizing. The Ghost mode will be a real draw as it’s one of the most original reverb effects I’ve heard and worthy of its dedicated type on the pedal. Seriously, some guitarists will buy this pedal just for the Ghost reverb effects. Lo-Fi was another standout with heavily filtered reverb spaces. The “Beer” category is where the more experimental or other uncategorizable reverbs will be placed. A glitchy, stuttering reverb was in here as well as a surprisingly playable gated reverb. All-in-all the Empress Effects Reverb looks like one of the more exciting pedals to watch for this year and will surely be the new must-have reverb pedal popping up on effects savvy guitarists’ pedalboards.
Strymon Zuma & Ojai High Current Power Supplies
Okay, these aren’t pedals, but every guitarist who uses pedals needs a quality power supply. And I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this excited about a power supply before, let alone 2 power supplies. And it’s not because of the California love shown in the names. (I’ve spent many great weekends in Ojai, California, and Zuma Beach is one of my favorite spots in Malibu.) It’s the ground-breaking new perspective on pedal power presented by Strymon with the Ojai & Zuma that make these products stand out.
According to Strymon the Zuma is the “most technologically advanced” effects pedal power supply available. The Ojai is its smaller sibling. The Zuma has 9 outputs; the Ojai has 5. All outputs are individually-isolated, ultra-low-noise, and get this, they’re all high-power, pushing 500mA of current each. That’s enough DC power for just about any pedal available today, from your 2-knob fuzz pedal to your power hungry Strymon TimeLine. And if your mind isn’t blown yet (and it should be), you can chain power supplies together as your pedalboard grows. You can add an Ojai to a Zuma or connect several Ojais together in series.
Oh, they’re also world-tour ready with automatic international power compatibility built-in. That’s one less issue to worry about on the road. And the reliability Strymon have become known for with their BigSky, Mobius, El Capistan, & DIG pedals (among others) is an early assurance that the Ojai & Zuma High Current Power Supplies will be worth keeping on your radar and most likely on your pedalboard. I confirmed with Strymon at the NAMM Show that they’ve spent months testing these units, leaving them on with an entourage of their flagship pedals connected. You’re looking at what’ll most likely become the new standard in pedal power.
Ojai: See the lowest price on eBay.
WMD Protostar & Geiger Counter Pro
The WMD Geiger Counter Pro and new version of the Super Fatman were 2 of the most exciting pedals of Winter NAMM 2015, and they’re both back this year, nearing release, and with the Super Fatman reimagined as the Protostar.
The Geiger Counter Pro takes the wavetable, bit-crushing distortion to new sonic extremes thanks to CV control of 2 parameters, more control, presets, and now MIDI. The MIDI capabilities have been added since last year and promise complete control over every aspect of the pedal. This is an upgrade worth waiting for as the Geiger Counter Pro will surely be one of the most versatile and devastating sound mangling distortion pedals when its payload is detonated sometime later this year.
The Protostar is an all-analog filter pedal with digital selection of its 4 different filter modes. The filtering can be LFO controlled via expression pedal or CV. You can also patch in step sequenced patterns for rhythmic or random filtering. The coolest feature of this pedal is how you use modular synth style patch cables to achieve various functionality possibilities. The Protostar just begs to be added to a modular synth setup or hybrid guitar/synth effects rig. So excited about this pedal, and I hope its success leads to more interesting modular style hybrid effects pedals.
Protostar: See the lowest price on eBay.
Geiger Counter Pro: See the lowest price on eBay.
Source Audio Nemesis
The Source Audio Nemesis is finally here. This is the 3rd NAMM Show in a row we’ve been preaching about the Nemesis, and it looks like the wait is finally over. While some companies have tried to ape other companies’ successful formulas for a flagship digital delay pedal, Source Audio have gone in an entirely original direction with the Nemesis. It’s smaller than any other delay pedal in its class, it has 12 onboard delay machines with 12 more available via the Neuro App, it offers a full array of parameter control without needing complex menus, it has multiple tap divisions, 4 onboard presets (128 via MIDI), full MIDI control with MIDI I/O and beat clock sync, stereo inputs & outputs, and more. The Nemesis should be in stores as you’re reading this, so you know what to do.
Keeley Electronics Tone Workstation
Keeley Electronics have been releasing pedals at an incredible rate over the last few years, and many guitarists haven’t been able to keep up. The great news is that Keeley’s new Workstations are each the combination and pinnacle of the types of effects the Keeley crew have been releasing and offer a lot of bang for your buck in terms of the ranges of effects each one offers.
The Keeley Electronics Tone Workstation is perhaps the biggest draw, featuring a Keeley Compressor with Blend, a Drive/Boost stage that’s selectable between a Katana or 1962 (Bluesbreaker), and finally, a Drive section centered around a Red Dirt overdrive with the “Baked” & “Mod+” Tube Screamer mods. Supposedly, John Mayer has been testing out the circuit chain for a while to help Keeley get it right. This will most likely be regarded as the new ultimate Keeley overdrive pedal when it starts shipping in a few months.
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
The EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run is a big deal for several reasons. First, EQD have been secretly working on a high-powered DSP platform, and the Avalanche Run is the first pedal to utilize it. What you’re looking at here is a combined reverb & delay pedal in one enclosure. Since delay & reverb are typically used in conjunction at the end of a signal chain this combination is a match made in heaven. The Avalanche Run helps fill a void in the market I’ve been hoping to see addressed by more products for a while. EarthQuaker Devices already realized they were on track with the Dispatch Master. The Avalanche Run takes that concept to the next level with several operating modes, stereo I/O, tap-tempo, tap-hold for oscillation, 6 sub-divisions, and more. What’s most exciting about this release is that EarthQuaker Devices is entering a new frontier with this DSP platform for imaginative sonic exploration that will probably yield even more exciting pedals in the vein of imaginative modern classics like the Rainbow Machine, Afterneath, Organizer, and Arpanoid.
Neunaber has been making waves recently with the gorgeous sounding algorithms in their chorus, delay, and reverb pedals. A hallmark of their products, which typically come in mono and stereo versions, is the spacious beauty of their surreal stereo modes. While Neunaber pedals such as the Wet Reverb & Seraphim Shimmer can be reconfigured for different algorithms with Neunaber’s Pedal Customizer Software, the Neunaber Immerse instead gives you a convenient center knob for selecting between 8 different high-quality effects algorithms. The Immerse has a high quality buffer, useful when placed at the end of your signal chain, external kill-dry & trails switches, and an analog dry signal for clean signal purity and no latency. The pedal can also be used in mono or stereo for adapting it to any rig and a variety of different instruments besides guitar. If you’ve never played a Neunaber pedal before, the Immerse Reverberator should probably be at the top of your list of pedals to try from the brand.
Read the Neunaber Immerse review.
Made playable to the public for the first time at NAMM, we already had the pleasure of reviewing and demoing the Free The Tone Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus. Inspired by the sounds of the old Tri Stereo Chorus & Roland Dimension D rack units, Free The Tone sought to create an original chorus voice in guitar pedal form. The Tri Avatar’s 3 voices are spaced evenly in sequence by 120 degrees and in stereo they’re also spread across the left, right, & center channels for a massive chorus effect. It sounds great in both mono & stereo and is easily one of the best chorus pedals available today. The Tri Avatar also has expression control, 4 on board presets, MIDI implementation, and uses Free The Tone’s HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) switching circuit.
Read the Free The Tone Tri Avatar review.
Diamond Compressor SL
We recently compared the original Diamond Compressor & Comp Jr in our roundup of the best guitar compressor pedals, but there was actually another discontinued version we didn’t include: the Diamond Comp SE. The Comp SE was a limited run pedal meant to commemorate Diamond’s 10th anniversary and featured upgraded audiophile components including Takman carbon film resistors, WIMA polyprop caps, 20 gauge oxygen free hookup wire, and an audiophile grade Analog Devices FET-input opamp. The Comp SL brings backs the premium pedal for those who must have the highest possible performance. Check back to see what our take on it is after it’s released.
Walrus Audio Luminary
The Walrus Audio Luminary is another pedal unveiled at last year’s NAMM Show and showing up again this year. It’s a polyphonic octave pedal that gives you 4 additional voices (+1 Oct, +2 Oct, -1 Oct, & -2 Oct) with Dry/Wet control, Attack, Filter, and Flutter knobs. If you appreciate the kind of quality Walrus Audio has been maintaining with the Janus fuzz/tremolo, Descent reverb, and Aetos & Phoenix power supplies, you have reason to be excited about the Luminary. Walrus Audio is spending a lot of time to get this right, so here’s hoping it’ll be worth the wait when it drops later this year. If you love multi-voice octave effects, the Luminary looks like a pedal to keep an eye on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
The Eventide H9 Harmonizer has been the pedal that keeps on giving since it came out a couple years ago. What made the pedal such a landmark release is that while some companies release DSP based pedals that become obsolete in a year or two, the H9 Harmonizer keeps gaining new effects and abilities.
The SpaceTime is a new algorithm for the H9 that combines reverb, delay, and modulation in one algorithm. It starts with a chorus-like modulation. Then you have twin delays based on the Vintage Delay algorithm from the Eventide TimeFactor. The reverb is a cross between the Space pedal’s Plate reverb and Ultra Reverb native plugin. The delay and reverb can be placed in series or parallel, and all effects can be used individually.
If you haven’t already purchased an H9 (or 4), the black unit pictured above may be released very soon. Check with Eventide for details. Now if we can just convince them to release more algorithms…
Read the Eventide H9 Harmonizer review.
EarthQuaker Devices Spires & Gray Channel
EarthQuaker Devices was killing it this year. The Spires & Gray Channel are a couple rad-looking and sounding 2-channel pedals. We all know EarthQuaker Devices can make a killer fuzz pedal. Hoof Reaper. Awesome. Fuzz Master General. Super awesome. And EarthQuaker Devices blew minds (and maybe speakers somewhere) with the killer Palisades overdrive pedal.
The Spires delivers fuzz carnage in 2-flavors, recreating an oldie called the Rosac Nu Fuzz and bringing back EQD’s discontinued Dream Crusher with a silicon flavor. It unleashes an assault of fuzz with a Tone knob letting you color it accordingly.
The Gray Channel is based on a certain famous grey box overdrive, the legendary DOD 250, with the Green & Red Channels having 3 different clipping options on each side (Green: Silicon, None, Germanium – Red: LED, None, FET) for a wide range of smooth and beautiful crunch. Basically, EarthQuaker Devices pulled a similar move like they did by killing the Tube Screamer to create the Palisades. The DOD 250 has been completely reimagined to heighten and improve what made that classic pedal so special by creating a versatile tone monster of an overdrive pedal that your guitar is going to love. The Gray Channel is already one pedal I can’t wait to spend some more time with.
Gray Channel: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Spires: See the lowest price on Amazon.
The Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage is yet another bold offering from the Santa Barbara based pickup maker, further staking their claim to your guitar effects pedalboard. The Palladium is a full on attempt to add a completely new channel to your amp. You get a full EQ section including Bass, Mid section (with Level and sweepable Freq from 255Hz to 1.1kHz), Treble, and Presence controls. Level and Gain are self-explanatory. Then there’s the Resonance which provides a bottom end gain boost for the extra thump of a loaded speaker cabinet. The foot-switchable Boost section draws from Seymour Duncan’s inspiring 805 Overdrive for a hot-rodded solo lead boost when needed. It should also be available in the 2 colors pictured for a more personally expressive touch.
Read the Seymour Duncan Palladium review.
Way Huge Overrated Special
This George Tripps creation under Dunlop’s Way Huge brand was made for Joe Bonamassa, a guitarist familiar with great overdriven tone and that nearly impossible to attain amp sound from the legendary Dumble Overdrive Special. Poking fun at the ludicrously hyped and expensive amp with its name, the Overrated Special Overdrive is designed to give you a bold and punchy sound with a pronounced midrange. Drive, Tone, & Level controls give you a familiar starting point, while a 500Hz control also lets you boost or cut your lower mids for a thinner or more girthy tone.
Dwarfcraft Devices Necromancer & Twin Stags
Dwarfcraft Devices had two awesome offerings that were playable at NAMM. The Dwarfcraft Necromancer contains the Super Fuzz side of the killer Silver Rose V2 and adds a 3 band EQ for sculpting your wall of fuzz. The mid control is voiced at the same frequency as the Mids switch letting you further add or cut midrange when the switch is engaged for greater control. Considering how awesome the Silver Rose V2 is, the Necromancer will obviously be one of the best Super Fuzz style fuzz pedals around when it drops in 2016.
The Twin Stags made my brain explode upon hearing it and induced a temporary lapse of reason and understanding. This was a good thing as the Twin Stags will be a ground-breaking release for Dwarfcraft Devices. What you get is a dual tremolo pedal. Both tremolos have knobs for setting the Rate, Shape, and Depth of the effect. Where things get interesting is when you flip the switch on the surface to sync one tremolo to the other. This lets you dial in unique, poly-rhythmic tremolo patterns. Where things get even more interesting is that there are 2 CV inputs on the right that allows you to use external control voltage sources to modulate one or both tremolos. Then on the left you have 2 LFO outputs to allow the Twin Stags’ LFOs to modulate other pedals, synth modules, or whatever musical devices you feed them into.
(After having my mind blown by the Twin Stags, I forgot to snap original photos of these pedals. When you hear it for yourself, you’ll understand. These images are republished from the Dwarfcraft Devices Instagram page.)
Necromancer: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Twin Stags: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Audio Damage FreqShift & Fluid
It was about a decade ago that I first used Ableton Live to record and process guitar, and I was inspired by the wild effects offered by processing a guitar with VST software plugins such as those by Audio Damage. (Their Discord plugin brings back memories.) While it’s possible to process a guitar in real-time via software plugins, the latency induced by running it in and out of the box is typically unacceptable. I’ve long dreamed of the day that experimental VST plugins once available only as software would somehow be made available in stompbox form. Fortunately, Audio Damage are just the sonic pioneers to pull something like that off, having already released various software-based effects in Euro-rack form.
The FreqShift Stereo Frequency Shifter adds additional frequencies to the audio signal and all of its harmonics. This alters the timbre of the sound in a manner unlike any other familiar effects processors. It can start out subtle and get wildly extreme. Each knob’s range can be programmed for use with expression pedal or CV control. Also, this pedal has stereo ins & outs for frequency warping across the stereo field.
The Fluid Stereo Chorus is a pristine digital chorus pedal, reminiscent of a Roland Dimension D. It offers 4 & 6 voice modes for a very thick and lush chorus effects. Stereo ins & outs and CV/Exp control are also present.
Another pedal based on Audio Damage’s Spectre Stereo Freeze module was shown that’s still in development. These pedals will get a snazzier visual overhaul before they’re released, and you can expect to see these and other effects pedals from Audio Damage in the future.
JHS Pedals See-Saw Modular Volume Pedal
Ah yes, the JHS Pedals See-Saw. Now this pedal has a few interesting ideas that may catch your interest. Since many volume pedals (such as the classic Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR) have a dedicated tuner out jack, it’s surprising that it took this long for a company to release a volume pedal with a built-in tuner. But that’s only part of what makes the See-Saw more exciting than your old Ernie Ball volume pedal. The See-Saw is an active, modular volume pedal with change-able I/O interfacing. You can configure it for mono, stereo, and XLR input/output routing. This makes it a potentially interesting tool to use with non-guitar instruments, microphones, and other sound sources in the studio. Oh, and if you’ve been disappointed by pedals with breakable strings or faulty potentiometers, the See-Saw is optically controlled for a stable and reliable volume sweep. You can also adjust the taper and toe-down volume level. The See-Saw also supports Templeboard’s Quick Release system for easily mounting on a Temple pedalboard. While the JHS Pedals See-Saw could spark a new trend in hybrid tuner/volume pedals (TC Electronic PolyTune Volume Pedal, anyone?), expect the novel modular idea to be a hallmark of this product.
Malekko Sneak Attack
Malekko has been killing it lately. Seriously. Look up the Scrutator & Charlie Foxtrot to see what kind of insane guitar pedals they’ve been releasing lately that utilize their new DSP platform. The Sneak Attack is a cross between a tremolo pedal and the old Boss SG-1 Slow Gear. It’s been in the works since before last year’s NAMM, and it should be arriving soon. The Sneak Attack gives you control of the shape of the waveform as well as the Attack & Decay length. You can then set it to trigger the volume modulation via LFO or the dynamic threshold of your playing for interesting auto-swell style effects. You can also plug in a remote button foot-switch (such as Malekko’s Lil Buddy) to control either the tap tempo in LFO mode or to manually trigger the waveform when Auto Thresh is set high. The Sneak Attack is yet another creative and inspired effect in a trend that will surely continue in upcoming Malekko pedals.
Alexander Super Radical Delay & Oblivion
Alexander Pedals upgraded their gnarly 80’s Radical Delay pedal with a ton of useful features. Tap tempo is here. You get 3 onboard presets (128 via MIDI!). There’s full MIDI implementation. Gotta love that. And of course there are the 4 totally bodacious delay modes: Mod (pristine digital delay with modulation), Glitch (digital delay with glitched out bit-crushing effects), Bend (spiraling pitch-shifted delay effects), & Flow (filtered delay with 4-pole resonant filter). The real kicker is that you can turn the delay all the way down for chorus effects, glitchy robot sounds (domo arigato…?), pitch-shifted harmonies, and phasing. This looks like one totally rad delay pedal.
Another surprise up their sleeve was the Oblivion Vintage Delay, derived in appearance and classic delay flavor from their Amnesia delay. But this pedal seems to have a lot more going on to make it an entirely different beast with Analog, Tape, Oilcan, & Multi delay modes. A similar feature set to the Super Radical Delay means this will be another versatile alternative in your search for the ultimate delay pedal.
Super Radical Delay: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Oblivion: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Boss Vocoder VO-1
Now this looks fun! I’ve complained in the past about Boss/Roland not doing enough to draw upon their near-peerless expertise in synthesizers to bring guitarists more synth inspired effects. The Boss VO-1 Vocoder brings those classic singing robot vocal sounds made famous by the likes of Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, and others simply by singing/speaking into a connected microphone while playing along with your guitar. The VO-1 also features a Talk Box mode for those squelchy vocal effects made famous by Peter Frampton, Slash, and Joe Perry to name a few. The Advanced mode offers a new modern vocoder sound with enhanced clarity, and the Choir mode lets you create surreal emulated vocal effects without using a microphone. While a pedal like this may seem to have novel appeal for more traditional guitarists (that Talk Box mode will be tempting though!), I’d like to see more effects with crossover interest for guitarists who fuse guitar with electronic music. While Boss/Roland have been known to delve into guitar synthesizer pedals, I give big kudos to Boss for putting out a risky and weird pedal that harkens back to the time when Boss was undoubtedly the boss of guitar pedals.
Seymour Duncan Catalina Chorus
The Seymour Duncan Catalina Chorus is a real analog chorus pedal utilizing bucket-brigade chips. What makes it so special, you ask? The most unique draw of this pedal is its Dynamic Expression mode that lets you control the depth of your chorus with your picking dynamics. It’s also one of the few chorus pedals to offer a Delay control for altering the sound and character of the wet chorus signal. The Dynamic Expression mode is also foot-switchable for going in and out of the volume sensitive mode. This allows you to kick it in for moments when you want the pedal to be more responsive to your playing. The Catalina Chorus also has a Tone control for brightening or darkening your chorus sound as well as the expected Rate, Level & Mix controls. This looks like it could be another great offering that’ll sit well with the Santa Barbara based company’s Vise Grip, Vapor Trail, 805 Overdrive, and Pickup Booster guitar pedals.
Mu-Fx Boostron 3
It was refreshing to see Mr. Mike Beigel back on the scene again a couple years ago making pedals under the moniker of Mu-Fx. He is, after all, responsible for the creation of some pretty legendary effects, most notably, the Mu-Tron III, recently revived as the Mu-Fx Tru-Tron 3X. While partially branching away from the designs that heralded his original success, Mike & Mu-Fx have sought to reinterpret a trio of classic effects within their Boostron 3. It starts with a boost section based on the Alembic Stratoblaster, a retrofit guitar input jack that added an onboard gain/boost effect. Then you get a Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer type of compressor section (which is inspired by the product that Mike Beigel also helped create). Lastly, a drive circuit ends out the trio that draws its inspiration from the legendary Pro Co RAT LM308 op-amp distortion pedals. Also worth noting is that the enclosure is significantly smaller than previous Mu-Fx releases and should be the new compact form factor used primarily going forward.
Catalinbread Bicycle Delay & SFT
The Bicycle Delay is a psychedelic utopia of swirling pitch-shifted delay craziness. It’s unlike any other delay I’ve heard and may be a potent portal of discovery for guitarists whose music ventures into entheogenic frontiers. The parameters are cleverly named with Lucidity controlling mix and Mood adjusting between ascending or descending pitch-shifting effects. I haven’t heard another delay that sounds quite like this pedal at all, so the Bicycle Delay wins for sheer sonic originality.
The new version of the SFT is an update to their Ampeg style foundation overdrive. (If you haven’t checked out one of these “foundation overdrives” before, Catalinbread’s Dirty Little Secret does a great Marshall Super Lead/Super Bass.) The new SFT sounded pretty nice at the show. The major obvious difference is that there’s now a “Stones/Stoner” switch which selects between two different levels of gain. The Stones setting has a decidedly classic rock vibe going on while the Stoner setting offers higher levels of gain that will compliment down-tuned “stoner” rock & metal genres. I noticed that the gain sweep sounds incredibly smooth throughout the knob’s range in both modes, so this pedal should provide a very playable experience whether you gravitate towards the milder or heavier sounds it offers.
Bicycle Delay: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Electro Harmonix Lester G & Lester K
Electro Harmonix brought their new Leslie Rotating Speaker emulating pedals to the show. The Lester G is the “deluxe” version with a focus on guitar. It has a built-in compressor and expression pedal input as well as an Acceleration control for setting how fast the pedal changes between Slow & Fast speeds when the Speed foot-switch is pressed.
The Lester K is a slightly stripped down version designed for keyboards that excludes the compressor section, Acceleration knob, and expression pedal input. Interestingly, it also has stereo inputs. The Lester K is still a suitable alternative to guitarists who don’t need the compressor or want to conserve a little more space on their pedalboard. Is it just me or are both versions begging to be paired with the Electro Harmonix B9?
Lester G: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Lester K: See the lowest price on Amazon.
This was a pleasant surprise. While Jamie Stillman of EarthQuaker Devices is a known fan of the rare and sought-after Maestro FSH-1 Filter Sample/Hold pedal, the Spatial Delivery is not a recreation of that circuit. Instead this pedal offers a digital filtering that sounds surprisingly smooth and responsive. In addition to Up Sweep and Down Sweep filtering, there’s a Sample/Hold mode for speed adjustable random filtering. Hearing this mode makes me recall the Arpanoid and its quirky randomness. The random and temporal nature of that pedal is what draws me to the charms of the Spatial Delivery’s Sample/Hold mode. The Spatial Delivery has a unique sound and feel and may be just the auto-filter/auto-wah type pedal to bring some psycho-space funk to your pedalboard.
TC Electronic Ditto X4 Looper
TC Electronic have had great success with their best-selling Ditto Looper and Ditto X2 Looper pedals. Now the Ditto X4 Looper looks to up the ante and stake its claim as the ultimate twin loop looping pedal. Housed in a familiar enclosure the size of the Flashback X4 Delay, the Ditto X4 allows easier access to various functions across its 4 foot-switches. The first 2 foot-switches are dedicated to Loops 1 & 2, like having 2 Ditto Loopers side by side. Then there are dedicated foot-switches for Stop & FX. The Ditto X4 includes 7 different loop effects including Once, Half, Reverse, Hold, Double, Fade, and Tape Stop. A Decay knob lets you set the rate at which older loops fade out when layering new parts. There’s also full stereo I/O, 4 dip-switches for performance customization, and MIDI implementation that includes syncing to MIDI clock and CC & program change control over certain functions. This is definitely one looper pedal to watch out for.
Amptweaker Tight Metal Jr, Tight Rock Jr, & Tight Drive Jr
Amptweaker had smaller versions of their Tight Metal, Tight Rock, and Tight Drive pedals at the NAMM show. All 3 of these “Jr” versions feature the same great base tones of their larger siblings but in a condensed package for a better fit on “tighter” pedalboards. All 3 pedals feature Gain, Tone, & Volume knobs, an onboard Noise Gate, and a Fat/Tight switch. While the Tight Drive Jr and Tight Rock Jr feature Plexi/Smooth EQ switches, the Tight Metal Jr lets you tweak your EQ with a Thrash/Smooth switch. The smaller size of these pedals compared to their larger predecessors means that it should require less pedalboard disruption should you wish to replace one of your other overdrive or distortion pedals with one of these. Maybe it’s about time your tone got a little tweaking.
Tight Metal Jr: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Tight Rock Jr: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Tight Drive Jr: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Keeley Electronics Delay Workstation
The Keeley Electronics Delay Workstation is a delay & reverb powerhouse with tap tempo. It also has expression control, a tap input, and stereo outs. The Delay & Reverb sections each have 8 different modes available for an incredibly wide range of effects combinations. While it almost seems like delay + reverb pedals were a new trend at this year’s NAMM Show, no other pedal at the show displayed this wide a range of delay + reverb possibilities. The delay and reverb can also be used independently although the foot-switches are close enough together to activate them both simultaneously when you’re going on ambient excursions.
Wampler Mini Ego Compressor
The Wampler Ego Compressor is arguably one of the best guitar pedals made by this company and definitely one of the best guitar compressor pedals available. In terms of that classic Ross Compressor/MXR Dyna Comp style of compression, the Wampler Ego Compressor is arguably second to none thanks to the in-depth control it offers. The Wampler Mini Ego Compressor promises to capture the style of compression that made its forebear so impressive in a more space-saving enclosure. The only compromises that have been made are that the Tone and Attack knobs are replaced with 2-position flip-switches. The Tone switch selects between a maxed-out bright tone and a fully dark sound. The Attack switch selects between settings that are around the larger Ego Compressor’s 3 o’clock & 9 o’clock knob positions. This pedal will no doubt be a hit when it drops. But this wasn’t the only mini compressor pedal to be shown at NAMM…
Keeley Electronics Compressor “Mini”
Keeley’s legendary Compressor got downsized for the NAMM Show with a variation of the classic 2-Knob Compressor on display. This version features a Blend control for dialing in some of your uncompressed signal. There’s also an internal switch for brightening up your sound, a feature that compensates for the slight darkening effect that is common with an OTA style of compression. Considering how popular the legendary Keeley 2-Knob & 4-Knob Compressors are, this pedal will also surely be a hit.
Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone Micro
Pigtronix also had a miniaturized version of their Philosopher’s Tone compressor pedal at the NAMM show. While the “Grit” is gone, all the other parameters are intact, including the Blend function and Treble knob to compensate for any perceived loss of high-end. The one curiosity that remains is whether the ratio of compression is the heavier squash from the original Philosopher’s Tone or the slightly more refined sounding Philosopher’s Rock which came later. Assuming the Philosopher’s Tone Micro has the improved feel of the Philosopher’s Rock with the deeper control of the original Philosopher’s Tone all in this micro format, this pedal could be a hit as well.
DOD Looking Glass Overdrive
Following up from last year’s collaboration with Black Arts Toneworks for the Boneshaker distortion pedal, DOD have partnered with Christopher Venter of SHOE Pedals to bring out the Looking Glass Overdrive. This is a remarkably versatile pedal that aims to be used with a wide variety of instruments. There’s an Input Filter for taming brighter guitars, hybrid Bass & Treble controls that function pre and post gain, and toggle selectable Dual Gain Stages. This results in a pedal that should be adaptable to various musical situations. It sure sounded great for mild to moderate gain applications at the NAMM Show.
There have been several guitar pedals released over the past few years that have sought to emulate the sounds of classic Supro guitar amps, but the Supro Drive is perhaps the most exciting attempt at capturing that elusive sound. Part of this pedal’s magic is in its internal transformer which offers a richer saturation and response than what your run-of-the-mill Supro copying overdrive pedal offers. A large amp-style flip-switch lets you tweak the pedal’s response from Bold to Rich and yields the kind of satisfying feel that you’d expect from controls on an amp. Volume, Tone, & Gain controls give you convenient overdrive pedal style control and an expression pedal input lets you modulate the Gain in realtime for greater flexibility. This pedal was secretly shown back at Summer NAMM 2015, and we were kindly asked not to reveal it at the time. It’s been in the works for a long time, and considering how much effort Supro has made to get it right, this should be the Supro style overdrive pedal to buy once it hits store shelves.
Ibanez expanded upon their very successful Tube Screamer MINI with several mini pedals, the Ibanez ADMINI being the biggest surprise, delivering real bucket brigade analog delay tone in a very compact package. While recalling the classic Ibanez AD9, it has the 3 staple controls of Blend, Delay Time, & Repeat. The legacy of the AD9 will be enough to sell some guitarists on this pedal, but anyone looking for a small, space-saving and budget-friendly analog delay pedal will want keep this one on their radar.
Read the Ibanez Analog Delay MINI review.
J. Rockett Hooligan, .45 Caliber, & Lenny
J. Rockett Audio Designs had a slew of new pedals available at the NAMM Show sporting a similar appearance to their hit Archer “Klon Centaur” overdrive pedal. The Hooligan is a simplified version of the WTF Fuzz with a few tonal tweaks. It’s meant to be more musical and inspiring fuzz pedal. The .45 Caliber is an overdrive pedal inspired by the legendary 1962 JTM 45. JRAD have had this one in the works for quite some time and are finally content that they’ve nailed the sound and feel of those classic amps. I think I’m most excited about the Lenny, a colored boost pedal originally inspired by the Dumble Steel String Singer that ended up becoming its own unique thing. Boost sets your level while Tone tweaks the high-end content. This could be another one of those great little pedals that adds some magic to your sound.
Hooligan: See the lowest price on Amazon.
.45 Caliber: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Lenny: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Vemuram is a boutique pedal builder from Tokyo, Japan, that has been gaining in reputation among guitarists with discerning ears for tone. They’ve had a new FET booster pedal in the works for some time and the Vemuram Budi was on hand at Winter NAMM 2016. The pedal makes me recall another favorite, the Xotic RC Booster, in its layout and potential usage applications. The emphasis here is on the Boost knob that will dial in the richness and saturation of the boost effect. This will be a pedal to keep an eye on for the tone connoisseurs with distinguished tastes and demanding tonal requirements for the pedals that make it onto their pedalboards.
Wren And Cuff Sonder & Irkalla
These pedals are just straight up winning. First off, the original artwork on these pedals by artist, Tony Coppin, is a welcome visual collaboration that sets the tone for the kinds of sounds these Wren And Cuff creations produce. The Sonder is an analog chorus/tremolo with tap tempo for the tremolo section. You can dial in the overall depth/mix of the effects individually and add a little volume boost if needed, then kick the whole thing on with a single stomp. The vibe is very moody and hypnotic, with just enough control to be inspiring without being overloaded with too many options. The Irkalla is a simple 2-knob dirt device. There were some solid mild drive/distortion tones on hand, but the real fun was in cranking up the gain knob. Along with achieving maximum saturation, you’ll notice that the red clipping LED is visible in Irkalla’s heart and pulses accordingly with the intensity of the clipping of your guitar signal. It’s little touches like these that add to the audio/visual aesthetic and appeal of these pedals.
Sonder: See the lowest price on eBay.
Irkalla: See the lowest price on eBay.
I’m always a little cautious of amp companies dropping a line of new pedals. With many amp makers seeing a hit in sales in recent years and the pedal boom exploding in the aftermath, more and more amplifier manufacturers have suddenly appeared on the scene with whole line-ups of mediocre pedals. But Friedman is an amp company that has made a solid niche for themselves in the amp realm, weathering the storm better than most thanks to their top-tier Plexi inspired amps. Among the Friedman pedals announced at the show, the BE-OD in particular seemed to be an initial strong showing from the amp maker. The pedal offers a Pres control in addition to Bass & Treble knobs for more subtle articulation of the high frequencies. A Tight knob also helps characterize the feel of the overdrive sounds this pedal creates. Among the recent wave of amp companies trying to enter the pedal arena, Friedman is one to keep an eye on.
Boss Vibrato VB-2W
Ever hear of the Boss VB-2? It was an old vibrato pedal from Boss, regarded by some fans today as an all-time classic. Functional units sell for exorbitant amounts with the second-hand eBay prices to prove it. In continuing the trend of their Wazacraft line of effects pedals, Boss is reviving that classic pedal as the VB-2W. The pedal’s Standard mode seeks to accurately reproduce the sound and feel of the original VB-2’s analog bucket-brigade pitch-shifted warble. The Custom mode provides a more modern vibrato sound. A Rise Time control lets you set how long it takes for the vibrato to be applied when activating the effect. You can also use an expression pedal to adjust the Depth. While many great modern guitar pedals provide great vibrato and chorus sounds in a single pedal, the VB-2W may still find some love with nostalgic guitarists or those who don’t need much more than a decent vibrato pedal.
Lightning Wave Ghost, Doom, & Astro
These pedals are just too original not to mention, so here’s a little bonus to close things out. Lightning Wave is a builder from New Zealand who had a few intriguing digitally controlled analog modulation pedals on display at NAMM. Ghost is an optical tremolo. Doom is a wah-style filter effect. Astro is a 4-stage phaser (upgradable to 6 or 8 stages). There are plenty of interesting things going on here to talk about. That massive slider on the pedals can be used to manually create the modulation waveforms for the pedals. You can save and recall presets. There’s tap tempo. On the Astro phaser, you can add circuit modules to increase the stages of the phasing. These seem like very interesting pedals for guitarists who like to experiment with weird and unorthodox pedals. I’d personally love it if the Doom filter had the modular functionality for low-pass and band-pass filtering modules. But these are the kind of original outside-of-the-box guitar pedals that make the NAMM Show so fun to attend and exemplify why boutique pedal builders continue pushing boundaries towards interesting new sonic frontiers.
That concludes our Top 50 Best Guitar Pedals of Winter NAMM 2016. See you at Summer NAMM 2016!