"You sit in here and play that... electric twanger!"
September 6, 2020 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Guitar effects pedals are, at their most basic, just a box with a button or pedal, and maybe a knob, that changes the way your instrument sounds. You could build one yourself with schematics that are online (and troubleshooting if the buzz you're getting isn't the buzz you're wanting). There are some basic configurations, and some classic sounds. Or you can buy a number of weird and unusual off-the-shelf varieties and go down the rabbit hole of amusing nerd pedal review videos. But for the true pedal coolhunter, you have to look to to world of odd vintage effects, precious rare devices, oddly-pedigreed limited run getups (more), and, of course, the clones and knock-offs.
posted by jessamyn (56 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
I once built a (analog, of course) fuzz box with schematics from this book. It sounded ... fuzzy. Especially when the 9 volt went low.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:20 PM on September 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


The weirdest novelty one I've seen recently is this oddball:
Rainger FX are inviting you to take part in an experiment in tone-shaping discovery…. This mini-pedal makes no sound at all until you pour liquid into it – any kind at all – and the various qualities of that liquid decide the amount – and to some degree the quality – of the distortion, and also the amount of treble and bass. What you use to do this is entirely up to you – any sort of mixture you can dream up!
posted by zamboni at 12:25 PM on September 6, 2020 [5 favorites]




One of the earliest effects pedals is the wah-wah, which in its classic form has a rocking pedal for your foot to control a potentiometer to shift the peak response of a frequency filter up and down to create a wah-wah effect. The problem with the classic design is that it anchors the guitarist in place: one foot supporting the body, the other on the pedal.

My friend and one-time bandmate showed me a recent acquisition a few weeks back, which I wished I had had when I was still playing more guitar and living in our nation’s capital: he has an Auto-Wah. Rarely is a stomp box simultaneously a useful bit of stage gear and a solid dad joke.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:26 PM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


Perhaps my favourite weekly show of any kind is JHS Pedals; if you have the interest - watch 'em all.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


I've only ever had two pedals. An Ibanez Dual Chorus/Flanger, which I never played without, and then I got a delay a while back which I never really got into. But then last year or so I picked up a Peavy Vypyr 30 modeling amp at the Goodwill, which pretty much can do anything I would ever need effects wise. Some of these look awesome though...
posted by Windopaene at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2020


Ah yes, the auto-wah. There is only one solo you need that for, and you might need a pair of overalls too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:44 PM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


Two of my favourite YouTube channels for this sort of thing are by the small pedal manufacturers (the companies being small, the pedals are mostly normal size) Brian Wampler and Josh Scott.

Brian tends to answer practical questions like "Do fuzz pedals sound better with a clean or dirty amp?" or "3 tips for stacking overdrive and distortion pedals" as well as technical deep dives into designing and building pedals, which remind me of watching Open University when I was a child. This is a good thing.

Josh specialises in the history of different pedals - he's an enormous collection of them, an encyclopedic knowledge of their history and he usually has the box.

("He has the box!")

History of Distortion; The First Guitar Effects Ever; 1970s Op Amp Distortion; Is Pedal Color Important?

(Josh is JHS as mentioned above, but I mention him again because I don't want to waste all that typing.)
posted by Grangousier at 12:45 PM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


There is only one solo you need that for

Sure but it lasts 45 minutes.
posted by Lorin at 12:50 PM on September 6, 2020 [5 favorites]


My favorite pedal, hands-down, is my Strymon El Capistan. It is magical. Tape echo and tone degradation for days. Second up is my BBE MindBender, a cheap and dirty analog vibrato that goes pleasantly slow.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


Now I am missing my Electro Harmonix Q-Tron, a sort of simplified Mutron III knock off. Its maybe inaccurate to reduce the legendary envelope filter to a mere auto wah but it's in the ballpark and that flavour of pedal is just fun to play with. The sensitivity to pick attack is, to me, almost more expressive than the treadle of a wah.
posted by Lorin at 1:04 PM on September 6, 2020


I had a Mutron - it got stolen. I think I know by who, even. But I had to let that go.

Strymon stuff is so great because they have Walter White working for them.
posted by thelonius at 1:09 PM on September 6, 2020


I have to sell a lot of my pedals, as they're mostly the cheap Chinese takes on the more costly pedals, to find out what they do - but now I know from owning a Caline Pure Sky that a Timmy is a fine thing to have, I really ought to get a real one. I do have a Wampler pedal - a Dual Fusion, which is two overdrives in one pedal. I'd like at least one JHS pedal, though I don't really know what. I'd like to have one by ThorpyFX, because they look cool and I like to buy local. I also have a few JuanSolo pedals, which also scratch that itch - hand-made in very small batches, often with beautiful if occasionally slightly risqué decoration - and I'll keep them.

The others are taking up space, and to be honest I tend to use the virtual Helix equivalents as there's a lot less plugging and faff.
posted by Grangousier at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2020


Yeah I used to have a pedalboard loaded with boutique stuff and I do miss it. I miss having money! hah. I wish I could afford to support creators like that but for now it's clones and used pedals for me. I did have a Timmy, ordering it from Paul over the phone reminded me of visiting that dealer who insists on 15 minutes of hang time before producing the goods. It was well worth the $ though, probably got the same back after years of use.

The pedal I miss the most is probably myBoomerang+... half and double speed looping, infinite stacking delays, stutter, real time reverse leads all on the most chunky, road-ready slab of metal. Right now I'm messing around with a $50 one button loop clone that fits in the palm of my hand. It's interesting how the limitations take me to different places, but man, that Boomerang was one helluva pedal.
posted by Lorin at 1:22 PM on September 6, 2020


[Please note this is a post made as part of MeFi's Fundraising Month. Read more about this project here.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:28 PM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]


Oh, and - sorry, this thread is about one of my obsessions - the other day I received a Frederic Effects West Germany tremolo (even more local than Thorpy). It's just a wobble, but it's a very lovely wobble, especially in combination with a spring reverb, which is all I need most days. One day I'll get a Strymon Flint, but not soon.
posted by Grangousier at 1:29 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


The others are taking up space, and to be honest I tend to use the virtual Helix equivalents as there's a lot less plugging and faff.

Yeah I do almost all my playing via my interface into Guitar Rig 5, which has perhaps saved my credit card balance.
posted by thelonius at 1:33 PM on September 6, 2020


To be honest, as indulgences go - the Joyo or Mooer or Nux or Caline pedals aren't a very extravagant use of resources, and they're pretty good. Joyo's Iron Man series are adorable, for example, as are the Hotone Skyline series.

The cutest effects pedal of all time, hands down, is, of course the Fuzz Face.

And then there's the Miku.
posted by Grangousier at 1:59 PM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]


There is only one solo yt you need that for, and you might need a pair of overalls too.

No worries: I already had the overalls from my days in a Dexys Midnight Runners tribute band.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:06 PM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


My favorite pedal -- or at least the one I've used the most -- is the Line6 DL4. It's immense (bigger than four standard Boss pedals), heavy (the case is very thick cast metal), green, and there are so many settings and controls that the depths are nigh-unplumbable. The pedal still has a committed cult following -- you're guaranteed to have heard it on some piece of rock or electronic music in the past month -- and is the only Line6 product still being made two decades after its introduction. It is one of the funnest things to try glitching out. One night it had my electric bass sounding exactly like steel drums -- not just some kind of harmonic shift with heavy reverb, but literally steel drums. And I've gotten banjo-ish sounds out of it too. I haven't recorded these and long hours of trying to recreate them haven't been successful, but I've happened across yet other unusual noises while trying.
posted by ardgedee at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2020 [3 favorites]


Grangousier: " Joyo's Iron Man series are adorable"

Their new R series has really good reviews, even from JHS himself.
posted by signal at 2:17 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


I generally justify my pedal habit–which to be honest is not that extreme, about 15 pedals, most under $50–by saying that it's a cheaper and healthier mid-life crisis than getting a sports car or having an affair.
posted by signal at 2:26 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


My binky pedal is Montreal Assembly's Count to Five. I like making whale noises and this one always makes me smile.
posted by the painkiller at 2:28 PM on September 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


Another good youtube channel is 60 cycle hum. He has an afford-a-board series all about cheap-o pedals from aliexpress.
posted by smcameron at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


There's also ... apologies for coming back over and over, but it's compulsive ... the Dark Side by the probably legendary Robert Keeley - essentially a box containing everything you need to make David Gilmour sounds. Except the strat, of course. And the talent.
posted by Grangousier at 2:38 PM on September 6, 2020


This is a neat post! Thank you for making it, jessamyn. :)
posted by Kitchen Witch at 2:41 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


a box containing everything you need to make David Gilmour sounds

Digitech used to have a Hendrix-in-a-box unit....it got discontinued, I think. Adrian Belew recommends it, sort of, here.
posted by thelonius at 2:57 PM on September 6, 2020


let's not forget the old alternative to guitar pedals - the rack fx unit of the 80s and 90s - they're still going for fairly cheap prices - this one, the alesis midiverb ii, can be found for under 100 and is rumored to be a good part of kevin shields' sound
posted by pyramid termite at 3:16 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


One thing that happened recently in pedal-land was the owner of a fairly famous pedal brand, Fulltone, made some dumb comments on BLM and was promptly, as the kids say, cancelled.

A post on Fulltone’s official Facebook page… criticised the local response to the demonstrations, stating: “What is this like night 4 of looting with 100% impunity. The pussy Mayor and Governor don’t give a shit about small businesses, and it’s never been more clear.” The original post was followed half an hour later with a comment on the original post stating, “Ahh I feel better, and flushed out some prissy boys who were raised to pee sitting down. Now I’ll delete.”

So now there's a lot of people selling their OCD pedals, and a bunch of "other" people buying them.

Me, I never even considered getting an OCD in the first place, couldn't stomach putting something with Comic Sans, Balloon and Brush Script and Arial on my board. Looks like the graphics were made in MS Word by a teenager in 1995.
posted by signal at 3:26 PM on September 6, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm not much of a pedal guy. I got into designing them because I wanted noises that couldn't otherwise be had. I'm also fundamentally lazy, so what I came up with tends to be very much on the low parts count of the spectrum. Around the same time (about 20 years ago), the diy community was really getting cranked up, where I was a pretty active member. The simplest, most bang-for-buck circuits were on geocities for all to see, adapt, and enjoy. Googling my (real) name will bring them back, where not only has the wayback machine archived them, but several individuals have also done so. I pretty much found what I was looking for, and dropped out of the scene, but still use a couple of designs all the time.

The scene did spawn a whole burgeoning sub industry of builders, along with the rise of cheaper and more powerful microcontrollers/processors allowing diyers to venture into the digital domain. I can't get my shit together enough to jump into that realm, but the possibilities there are just mind boggling.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:43 PM on September 6, 2020


> So now there's a lot of people selling their OCD pedals, and a bunch of "other" people buying them.

"Other" people have a harder time buying them now. Guitar Center dropped Fulltone (afterwhich Fulltone claimed they severed their sales to GC first) and Reverb banned sales of new Fulltone pedals. Meanwhile the dude doubled down on his shit.
posted by ardgedee at 3:48 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


afterwhich Fulltone claimed they severed their sales to GC first

I have heard that Rickenbacker and some other manufacturers have cut Guitar Center off for non-payment, so they may be conveniently using that as cover
posted by thelonius at 3:53 PM on September 6, 2020


Back in the day I had an Art Multiverb Alpha from which I managed to extract distortion by overloading the input. Very nice on my Roland JX-3P. Sadly that technique eventually killed the unit.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:54 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


Digitech used to have a Hendrix-in-a-box unit....

They also made a Brian May pedal, which is kinda funny because his signature sound was split thru more than one amp with different settings.

the rack fx unit of the 80s and 90s...

oh yeah those Boss ME-50/ME-70 boxes, often derided for their weird tinny distortion patches, but capable of some pretty nifty sounds.
posted by ovvl at 4:19 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


Fuller's already got my money for an OCD, so I'll keep playing it I guess. But fuck, he might want to consider selling the business now. He's done. What a moron.

And for people who wanted an OCD - there are heaps of great pedal builders out there.
posted by awfurby at 4:35 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


The Electro Harmonix 16 Second Digital Delay Unit from the early eighties - marketed as the Fripp in a Box (they refused to give Fripp a free one, amazingly)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:32 PM on September 6, 2020


> he might want to consider selling the business now. He's done.

I'm not sure about that. There's no shortage of reactionaries in rock and country music, more than a boutique shop needs to stay afloat. But he's definitely put a limit on his business now.
posted by ardgedee at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2020


since before last year, some professional guitarists have been selling off their pedals & boards when they graduate up to Kemper Profiling Amps. But the market for selling unique pedals remains as stronk as eveh.
posted by ovvl at 5:58 PM on September 6, 2020


All of this and no mention of the discontinued rarity that is the Marshall Shredmaster? Sure, arguably you would use it for one bar of muted chunky pre-chorus Jonny Greenwood, but it's the only pedal that I've had long discussions about in bars.
posted by Vcholerae at 12:46 AM on September 7, 2020


I love guitar pedals, as my MeFi music contributions attest, but however arresting they look and intriguing they sound (effectpedal.tumblr.com is a great resource), the thought of wiring spaghetti and sounds that can only be stumbled on and then never rediscovered makes me anxious. The aforementioned Guitar Rig 5 (soon to be updated) is one solution, as is the trusty all-in-one pedal board. The Mod Dwarf is a forthcoming box of tricks that I'm going to hold out for.
posted by srednivashtar at 3:07 AM on September 7, 2020


This is the part where we share pictures of our boards, right?

This is mine, the board itself is my design, cut on a friend's CNC router. The pedals are mostly cheap, second hand or just cheap. My oldest pedal is the Crybaby on the right, got it in 1997.
posted by signal at 5:36 AM on September 7, 2020 [4 favorites]


This is, uh . . . Extremely Relevant To My Interests.

(Do not ask me how many pedals I have, I honestly don't know. I have undoubtedly spent too much money on them, although plenty of them just sort of wandered into my possession - like a friend gave me an '80's vintage Rat pedal because it didn't work (I fixed it) and somewhere in a closet I have a no-name salmon-pink fuzz/wah/delay thing from the late '70's that I got because I know somebody who bought out a music instrument wholesaler/importer business and he invited me & some co-workers to tour the warehouse and he had literally a pile of these things and he told me. "Just take it, it's one less piece of junk to go in a landfill.")

Nice board, signal. Pic of mine will have to wait a couple of days until socially-distant band practice.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:57 AM on September 7, 2020 [2 favorites]


But so ANYway -

My goto reference for "what is that pedal and when was it made by who?" is DiscoFreq's Guitar Effects Database.

My goto for opinions and info about pedals (current and vintage) is The Stomp Box forum at TDPRI.com.

If you're thinking about heading into the DIY world - either modding or building from scratch - there's the classic (25 years old and still going!) amzfx muzique by Jack Orman. Or the still-extant but not very active geofx.

During my own periodic bouts of pedal building or madding invaluable info and assistance have been provided by the forums of DIY stompboxes, freestompboxes.org, and especially the Burnt Fingers DIY Effects section of (again) TDPRI.

I've started more than a few building projects with the info at Guitar FX layouts a.k.a. tagobardeffects.blogspot, which has literally over a thousand circuit layouts for pedals common and rare. Also a browse through the archives gives a real sense of how many pedals both mass produced and boutique are really just variations on a relative handful of circuits - when you see the acronym "YATS" it stands for "Yet Another Tube Screamer."
posted by soundguy99 at 6:29 AM on September 7, 2020 [1 favorite]


srednivashtar: ", the thought of wiring spaghetti and sounds that can only be stumbled on and then never rediscovered makes me anxious"

That's actually what I like about pedals as opposed to computer based effects, the serendipity and accidental discovery.
posted by signal at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2020 [1 favorite]


The aforementioned Guitar Rig 5 (soon to be updated)

Wow! Almost 10 years after GR 5. Trying to figure out what the new amp models are based on.

Bass Invader: "A punchy, vintage solid state bass amp that’s as solid as a rock. With a 4-band active EQ, voicing filters, and distortion control that sits as sweet in contemporary rock settings as it did 30 years ago." Clearly a Gallien-Krueger.

Chicago: "A classic, rare mid-50s combo amp with simple gain and tone controls, but with a wealth of character, and highly responsive to picking dynamics. Turn it all the way up for tube-driven, saturated glory." Supro?

Fire Breather: "Capturing a hand-wired American boutique amp that was originally modded from a British classic, this versatile coming-together of high-gain goodness can do everything from modern metal tones to amazing clean sounds." I'm not sure about this one.
posted by thelonius at 9:45 AM on September 7, 2020


Love pedals, I've found my toolbox and won't be likely changing it.
Decent Strat >
OD-2 >
(any available flavor of mutron/env filter here if I'm doing jer, but usually bob)
Ce-3>
Ibanez flanger>
Dd-6>
Any flavor eq/boost>
Box it all in with a rc-300 loop station >
Music Man 110-rd50 (amp)

And I recommend this for non tube amp guys: Fdr-1

A lot of BOSS, but good-enough and durable, and - this seems odd - I really like the knob feel and resistance.

There's *way* cooler boutique stuff but I am old and not so cool.

Adrian Blew and Julie Slick are pedal gurus. Go look at their live setups (when there are live setups again).
posted by j_curiouser at 10:02 AM on September 7, 2020


Head cannon: A guitar with lots of pedals is a modular synthesizer, where the guitar is acting as the oscillator.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2020 [8 favorites]


Fire Breather: "Capturing a hand-wired American boutique amp that was originally modded from a British classic, this versatile coming-together of high-gain goodness can do everything from modern metal tones to amazing clean sounds." I'm not sure about this one.

Something like a Friedman?
posted by atoxyl at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2020 [1 favorite]


I've built four pedals so far during the pandemic (delay, fuzz, phaser, equalizer) and then had to build a bigger pedal board because I outgrew my old one. Sadly, this hasn't compensated for my lack of talent. Maybe another guitar...
posted by tommasz at 12:57 PM on September 7, 2020 [4 favorites]


Wait, you plug in a guitar to your effects pedals?
Huh.
posted by signal at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2020 [1 favorite]


Great post! I am not a guitar player but love quirky pedals for tabletop synth/other source audio manipulation and mangling. Something about the knobs makes for a nice break from mousing around in a DAW or sequencer.

Current faves are the Strymon El Capistan (highfive grumpybear69) and the Red Panda Particle.

Fantasize weekly about upgrading the El Cap to it's big sibling, The Timeline. Holy cow that thing is deep.

The Particle is (strangely enough) a granular discombobulator that takes any source, smashes it into dust and lets you swirl that dust around in interesting ways. Recently upgraded with many new features in v2.
posted by erebora at 3:37 PM on September 9, 2020


I have a digital amp that uses Fender's FUSE software. It lets me fiddle with tons of different pedals and effects as well as a bunch of the switches and knobs that are on the analoge versions. It sounds amazing and I wouldn't really have a chance to play with all these different sounds if I had to have analog pedals.

I'm definitely not trying to say that one is better than the other, just that digital effects can be really really excellent and definitely have a place.

PS: It's a Fender Mustang IV V.2. Two 12" speakers, it emulates a ton of amps, pedals, and effects. I got it used with both of the foot switches for $200 on Craigslist. It's easily the best deal I've ever gotten on any piece of electronics or music gear ever and I love to flex. :)
posted by VTX at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


> PS: It's a Fender Mustang IV V.2.

Hah, I have a Fender Bronco 40, which is its counterpart for basses. I haven't tried the FUSE software yet because I don't have a 12 year old computer for it; it is written in Silverlight because somebody at Fender thought that was the best thing to hang a lot of hardware products off of 🙄. Fortunately I have the installers because I snagged them before Fender abandoned the FUSE platform, and I have to get around to setting up a Win8 emulator to run it on. The software and its support documents have been completely purged from Fender's website (although fortunately the hardware docs are still available); the only acknowledgement that FUSE ever existed is a page that says only that it's no longer supported.
posted by ardgedee at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


Damn, that's good to know. Thanks.

I believe I have copies of the documentation and maybe a couple of versions of the installers and at least a few of the user created custom presets. I haven't actually fiddled much with it since The Boy came along so I've yet to try and use it with win10.
posted by VTX at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2020


Ha! I almost forgot this:

Here's my main pedalboard.

Here's my "auxiliary" reverb pedalboard that runs thru the effects send & return of my amp.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2020


Well, since my last post on this thread, I've moved from an HX FX multi-effects into my small amp (Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18) to actual effects boxes - Fairfield Accountant compressor => Frederic West Germany tremolo => TC Soul Food (Klon clone) => Caline Pure Sky (Timmy clone) => amp, with a Strymon Volante in the effects loop. The Volante is incredible, and everything is echoey all the time now. Also tape loops. Think I'll try some different overdrives in there, though, just for a change - both drives are set with very low gain, just to do something undefinable to the sound, which they do.
posted by Grangousier at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2020


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