Rich’s Top 10 Pedals Of 2015
Hey all, happy holidays! I thought I’d throw this out there and I also wanted to wish you all a great New Year.
I love pedals. Let’s be honest we all love pedals. I thought it’d be cool to write a bit about some of the pedals that stood out to me this year, as 2015 has been a pretty good year for guitar pedals.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a throw back to ten pedals that came to the forefront of my mind when asked to write a ‘Top 10’ list for the shop. However it’d be unfair to call it a ‘Top 10’ list as the whole tone thing is subjective and I haven’t spent near enough time playing or researching every single new addition to the pedal world this year, plus keeping it to shop brands of course (there’re plenty of links to take you to the website)!
Maybe in the future I’ll do a ‘Top Something’ list but categorise it and choose my favourite. But until then, here are some ramblings about my picks of the year.
Recently there’s been a resurgence of popularity for the famed ’Legendary’ Drive pedal, and there have been a few pedal manufacturers who have joined the fray with their offerings. The Tumnus is an adorably small, Narnian inspired take on a certain gold pedal and my gosh it sounds fantastic. Brian Wampler has such an ear for these things and with a sprinkling of genius has come out with a very solid and authentic pedal.
The Tumnus can do the coloured boosty thing punishing an amp into searing overdrive and it also has plenty of it’s own overdrive with a twiddle of the gain knob. Crisp, clear, mid range humpy with a dash of compression whilst also being gloriously open and dynamic at the same time. This type of pedal is known for stacking brilliantly with other drive pedals too, and the Tumnus is no different.
However you choose to use it, the Tumnus adds that extra sparkle, oomph and tonal magic making this pedal a standout for 2015 – well done Wampler.
I’ve already written a blog on the JHS AT – Andy Timmons Signature Drive when it came out, as I was taken in by the hype and then blown away by the tones after I got my mitts on this grumpy pedal! Within hours it found it’s way onto my board.
Why it’s not called the ‘Angry Timmons’ I don’t know, but I do know that JHS & Andy Timmons are a match made in tone heaven. Andy Timmons was introduced originally to the already popular Angry Charlie pedal, thus making it even more popular with Andy known to be a tone aficionado.
The Angry Charlie was already a ridiculously awesome dirt box, capable of turning any clean channel to a roaring amp-like distortion, but retaining the clarity and warmth you’d want from an amp channel. With a few tweaks and a ‘wattage’ switch, the AT was born. With the toggle switch you can tailor the compression and drive to emulate different wattages of amp (25w, 50w and 100w) depending on taste. Alongside that and the very musical overdrive, the range of the EQ & drive allow you to dial in anything from mid-gain to hi-gain into any amp which is a great feat for a pedal.
Super impressed with this one, and it came at a time when I was on the hunt for a dirt box that does just this. Cheers Andy and Josh!
Whenever the guys at Strymon release something it immediately sparks the tingling GAS sensation that sweeps across the pedal world. This was no exception.
I’m a huge fan of digital delay, I’ve used it for the percussive dotted eighth thing which is always fun, it’s great for the ambient vibe and just as a basic solo delay to make notes a bit spacier. Now I own a Timeline and adore it, but when the DIG appears my interests piqued. Everyone knows the one thing better than a delay pedal is two delay pedals! And despite the Timeline having a dual function, it just doesn’t scratch the surface of what the DIG can do.
The DIG contains a master delay (selectable to be 1/4, 1/8 or 1/2 note in value – tempo tappable), and then a second which you can set as a sync’d up ratio or unsync’d for free time. Ratios include triplet quavers, quavers, dotted quavers and dotted crochets; but the one that sold it to my nerdy brain was the ‘Golden Ratio’ setting. Perfect for ambient delays that have very little rhythmic meaning as the repeats won’t stack.
Alongside the rhythmic possibilities of two delays, there are three different delay types reminiscent of ye olde rack units. There’s the early ‘80s adaptive delta modulation (ADM) mode, the mid-‘80s 12 bit pulse code modulation mode, and the modern high-resolution 24/96 mode.
ADM mode has a pronounced attack on the repeats, perfect for getting the percussive rhythmic vibe going. 12 bit is soft, lush and warm, great for more ambient approaches. And the 24/96 is a clean, hi-res pristine delay that sits really nicely with the analog dry signal.
Strymon also like to pack their pedals with hidden features accessed by holding down the two footswitches, giving the knobs new parameters to tweak. One such parameter which is particular useful for dialling in the tone of the repeats is the filter knob. Turning the Mix 1 knob whilst accessing the hidden features allows you to tailor the top or low end of the tone, using hi and low pass filtering – a very nice and extremely useful touch.
Further to being an incredible delay unit to dial in the sounds, it’s also stereo and full of configuration options. You can stack the delays in series, parallel or ping pong across two outputs for a huge soundscape of possibilities. I literally spent hours in awe hooked up to two amps letting tiny chords and lines bounce around my ears, truly splendid and inspiring, finally finishing off by utilising the circular repeats feature by holding down the tap tempo for infinite repeats and dialling an expression pedal down to fade the repeats away. There’s so much control and thoughtfulness here.
I was excited about this pedal for quite some time before actually trying it out, as I knew as soon I as plugged it in I’d need it in my life. Alas it’s now on the board, but I can’t say enough great things about this pedal and Strymon in general.
Eventide are another one of those effects guys who blow the socks off people with their digital prowess time and time again. No slouch in the effects department, Eventide are responsible for a vast array of mythical tones heard across the decades. After compacting their top quality rack algorithms into their Factor series of stomp boxes, they went one further and introduced the H9.
The H9 is a single pedalboard friendly stomp box capable of loading any of the Eventide factor algorithms (of which there are many!) onto it and since then there have been some H9 exclusive algorithms too. For the technologically advanced of us who aren’t scared off by MIDI and iDevices, the H9 opens up a world of convenience with controls at your fingertips.
Apart from the ridiculous amount of features (Stereo Ins & Outs, MIDI, Expression Pedal, Bluetooth control via app etc…) the pedal just sounds incredible, as expected from an Eventide Product. From a plethora of delays and reverbs from the TimeFactor and Space; to the warbling and whirling of any modulation you could muster from the ModFactor; topped off with the craziness of the PitchFactor – the H9 is sonic potential in a tiny white box.
The downside to the H9 was you’d buy one and the algorithms were then bought separately in an iTunes style fashion through the H9 Control App. Fantastic for guys who know what they want and their palette may not be so demanding. I can’t stress enough how brilliant each algorithm is, and I keep saying algorithm on purpose. For example if you purchase the Phaser algorithm, you don’t just get one sound – you get a whole phaser creator interface for dialling in any phasing you could dream of.
You can trial each algorithm before you commit which is cool, however what it you want them all?! Enter the H9 Max.
Earlier this year Eventide released the somewhat pricey H9 Max. A H9 unit loaded with every algorithm plus every future algorithm and update. When you think about what you’re getting, it’s a bargain! Not only do you get all the algorithms and any future ones, you also get to ‘unlock’ 4 other H9s. So if you want two H9s with everything on, just grab a H9 Core (their stripped down version of the H9) and unlock it.
This pedal utilised with a MIDI controller and expression pedal is something special. It can seem daunting the sheer size of tones available but the app is super easy to use to create and organise your sounds. For my uses I have about 20 sounds loaded on readily available and you can bank through on the pedal normally or use a MIDI switcher to do it for you (and Eventides MIDI mapping is fantastic). So I may have my normal phaser selected via my MIDI switcher, but in the moment I want some tremolo – I simple hit the bank up a couple of times and hey presto Western Saloon.
Full of potential, this is one of the most powerful pedals you can pick up today. Super easy to use, incredibly versatile and it sounds so great – a firm favourite of the year.
The Pitchfork is one of the less pricey pedals on this list, but boy does it do something special. I don’t know how EHX have managed to cram so much pitch voodoo into a tiny box for the price.
Mike Matthews is one of the actual heroes of the pedal world. Father to the Big Muff and so many other greats, I first latched onto the brand when seeing their crazy pitch-based offering – the infamous POG. Blown away by the otherworldly sounds the POG generated, the notion of changing the pitch of the guitar not with frets but with a pedal opened up a world of inspiration.
Many years ago I fell in love with my POG 2 and oh how many fat riffs were written around that organ-like bellow and chime. So it came as a surprise when the PitchFork came out. A tiny pedal capable of not just octaves but other intervals, and even a pseudo chorus detune setting. The fabled EHX pitch tracking is there, with a slightly different feel over the POG sounds which is cool.
Then there’s the features. For the whammy in all of us you can throw an expression pedal into it for some raging moments, but for those of us tight on pedal board space there’s a latching/unlatching switch too . For example setting it to +1Oct and unlatching, allows you to momentarily stomp in an upper octave, and it’s worth noting there’s a nice glissando to the pitch bending up rather than instant glitch up if you know what I mean.
A great sounding pedal from EHX with some nifty features, excellent stuff!
A trend that’s been going on for some time now has been manufacturers shrinking everything. Not just in the pedal world but every product nowadays seems to be a mini, or nano, or micro something. Not that I’m complaining at all, as we all know more space equals more room for more things!
So as pedalboard real-estate becomes increasingly more valuable, and the size of our pedalboards starts to suit our travelling needs – it was a no brainer that one of the largest assets of a guitarist board needed to shrink. The Wah Pedal.
King of the Crybaby themselves Dunlop managed to do the impossible this year. Taking the Original Crybaby and cramming it into a foot pedal half the size.
The Crybaby has been the industry standard for a guitar player who wants to express themselves through the wahing of a sweep able filter. From funky wakka to crying soloing, the sound is undeniable. But to have it half to size, and packed with features (a running theme on this list) is pretty good going.
Not only is the Crybaby mini equipped the fabled Fasel inductor, giving it the classic wah sound but it also has three internally adjustable voicings and true bypass switching eliminating dreaded tone suck.
It was only a matter of time before this appeared, but Dunlop really knocked it out the park with this adorable little thing. Everyone needs a mini board right?!
The SY-300 is an extraordinary piece of kit, able to turn any guitar rig into a raving synth machine with an endless possibility of sonic creation. Sporting an all new DSP running three polyphonic synth sections and 4 effects processors, you’ve got a beast that can create some real other worldly noises. And of course it’s laden with all the usual extra utility features Boss are great at.
The unit is super easy to use with a nice LCD display and easy to navigate menus, you can get lost in tweaking your apocalyptic manifestations or dial in a sound very simply depending on the mood. The randomiser function is hilariously fun too, able to generate new sounds quickly and fill you with inspiration. All of this is available without any need for an extra pickup or such – the SY-300 takes a normal 1/4 guitar jack lead which is pretty special.
This is one of those pedals that can innovate the soundscapes an artist can make, and utilised either by itself or as part of a bigger rig it’s scary the range of sounds you could bring out, all from a jack lead. From dubstep inspired ‘wob-wobs’ to saw-tooth lead lines, 16-step sequencing and as much filtering you can shake an oscillator at, this is one of those off the wall incredible pedals from this year that’s worth a look.
Oh and if you haven’t already, check out the video Tom Quayle did for us showing off some of the things to SY-300 can do, one of which was to see if it could keep it tracking his quick legato.
If you’re into psychedelic throbbing you’ll want to have a look at this mythical beast. Alongside the hilarious marketing JHS do (check out the videos on their channel) they make some excellent sounding pedals. The Unicorn is a unique Uni-Vibe photocell modulator that’s all analog but with a tap tempo and more. Some serious pedal voodoo going on here, as you’re able to control and set the rhythmic ratio and then control the LFO rate using the inbuilt tap tempo. On top of that there’s an external Tap/Expression jack for even more control of the parameters, and all of this is added without compromising the lovely warm analoginess.
Capable of comping the late 60s, early 70s psychedelic vibe and able to go from subtle modulation to deep throbbing juice this is one of my favourite modulation pedals of the year. This in front of some fuzz or drive and you can have your tone dripping in a lush, fat rainbow of elf tears.
For those unfamiliar with Chase Bliss, their slogan is a perfect introduction: “Digital brain, analog heart”. Joel is another pedal genius to grace the list, who has innovated some fine pedals marrying some seriously amazing sounding analog circuits with a digital brain controlling every knob and switch. The thing to get your head around is the signal is 100% analog and never gets digitally processed, but the control is done digitally opening up a huge canvas of sonic potential.
This year Chase Bliss have been busy, and had it not been for this late entry in the year I may have picked the Mark II versions of the Warped Vinyl and Wombtone, or even the mighty Gravitas. They’re Chase Bliss’ Chorus, Phaser and Tremolo offerings, but calling them that doesn’t get across their complexity. Anyway, as fantastic as they are the brand spanking new nothing-to-do-with-a-certain-spy-film Spectre is a their take on the Flanger.
This through-zero flanger pedal can go from subtle chorusey-flange to crazy wacky aeroplane flange tones, and some completely unique effects using the dip switches. You’re able to ramp parameters using the ramp knob and the dip switches on the top, and you can adjust the waveform to create some interesting rhythmic effects on top of the flanging. Alongside the massive amount of control over the sound of the flanging, you can also store presets and utilise the tap tempo.
And there’s more! As well as being a fantastic flange, you can coax chorus and vibrato out of it out too or even cause it to oscillate for some authentic dolphin singing.
Mind blowing as always, Chase Bliss Joel has reached unfathomable depths of wonderment with the Spectre.
The final pedal on my list isn’t even a pedal, how unfair is that?! It’s actually the Control Looper & Switching System which Boss introduced earlier this year.
For those with larger pedalboards who haven’t embraced the ‘pedal dance’, the solution is some sort of unit to do the switching for you. Over the last few years I’ve seen a few new additions to this category of unit, and had this been out earlier I may have had a very hard decision to make – alas I am very happy with what I ended up with, but boy is the ES-8 cool!
Boss ES-8 has to be one of the most feature drenched switchers out there today. It is thoroughly impressive how many things this thing can do, and what it means for someone with a large gigging rig and complex setup.
If you’re asking ‘What’s a switching looper?’ let me enlighten you. Essentially a switching looper tends to have several effects loops that are routed together for the purpose of being able to bring in/out a single or array of pedals. The reason for having one could be you have a huge amount of pedals and cabling that ends up ‘sucking your tone’ just because of the length the signal has to travel ends up meeting a lot of electronic resistance. A way round this is to only wire the pedals up such that you can choose which pedals are in the main signal, and take out the ones not being used.
Some switchers just do the loop thing and that’s it, whereas others may let you program an array of loops to come on or off with the switch of one button. Going from a crazy modulated, ambient clean sound with some reverb and compression to a massive distorted lead sound with your phaser and delay? That’s a good pedal dance of 8 or more switches to hit as the section changes. Well instead a programmable switcher can do all that in one button, and more!
So now I’ve convinced you a pedal switcher is a large rig must, as not only does it keep the integrity of your lovely analog signal path for all the tones, it also makes changing sounds easier – I can tell you about how the ES-8 is ridiculously awesome.
Apart from the obvious of being a programmable switcher with 8 loops, 800 presets and an additional volume pedal loop, the ES-8 contains a huge amount of attention to detail with the features available. So many that it’d be impossible to go over them here without doubling the size of the blog (which is already far too big anyway), so I shall bullet point as many of them as I can and you should check out Tom Quayle’s demo of some of the features too:
- Routing flexibility, where you can change the order of the loops and create parallel effects chains (eg. separate your delays and reverbs to parallel for a super clear effect)
- Buffers for each input and output stored per patch
- Easy to navigate menus
- MIDI functionality including midi mapping and global tempo syncing
- TRS out jacks for controlling expression pedals or amp switching
- CTRL function for any button
- So much more
Certainly worth having a look at if you’re building a large pedalboard and all those features interest you. Make sure you check out Tom’s demos too!
- Tom Quayle’s Boss ES-8 Overview Video
- Tom Quayle’s Boss ES-8 Guide Video Part 1
- Tom Quayle’s Boss ES-8 Guide Video Part 2
I thought it would be cool to note some of the pedals that I haven’t talked about but are definitely worth mentioning:
J Rockett Archer Ikon: Another ‘legendary overdrive’ harking back to a certain four legged drive pedal. Last year we saw the Rockett Archer blowing our minds, and this year Rockett introduced their ‘Gold’ version, the Ikon. Fantastic sounding as expected and worth a look if you’re after that vibe.
Electro Harmonix Key 9: EHX’s latest addition to their organ emulating pedals but this time cramming the likes of some electric pianos into a box. Some great sounds are contained within ranging from a electric pianos, vibes, organs to mallets and steel drums.
Korg Miku Stomp: Pahh! Definitely a memorable pedal of the year, but probably not one you’ll see on many boards! Still, worth a thought.
I’m sure there’re many more pedals that I’ve forgotten, which I apologise for but I need to stop myself sometimes when it comes to talking about pedals!
Well we have come to the end of my ramblings. It has been an emotional rollercoaster and I’ve now got to go get rid of all this GAS. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and possibly learnt something along the way! If you’d like some more of this type of thing give us a comment or email me (email@example.com) if you have a question or want to tell me what you’d like to see on the blog. Onwards to 2016!
~ Rich T