Happy holidays, dear Flypaper readers and Soundfly students! If you’re anything like me, that is, a chronically dissatisfied gear nerd, this is the time of year when many manufacturers and distributers offer great deals on their products, upon which we must pounce like the bargain-savvy consumers that we are. Heck, it’s our right as Americans!
This year, I’ve kept a close eye on the new pedals to have hit the market, and was reminded of some older ones that continue to prove their worth. Some of these may be familiar to you, others may not. But here’s my list of some of the best, must-have pedals and gear items to give as gifts… or to yourself (hey, we get it…) this holiday season. So slap on your sleigh bells and let’s talk tone!
2016 has been a great year for overdrive junkies. At the top of our list is ToneConcepts Goo, a brand new distortion pedal that was created with and for guitar guru Nels Cline. Goo is a true distortion pedal (not an overdrive or a fuzz pedal) that is creamy, colorful, and can sustain for days. Based on what we’ve heard of the pedal, it’s versatile enough for any situation, while providing the coveted crunch of a vintage distortion box. It features glow in the dark knobs, as well as a funky sci-fi theme. The Goo is an extremely limited release that is currently available for pre-order over at toneconcepts.com, so if you want one, the time to act is now!
Now for a brief 3 minutes of your time, let Uncle Nels take you to Goo-Town in his demo.
Klon KTR Overdrive
This year marked another milestone, as Klon announced that they would be manufacturing a new, consumer-priced distortion pedal after discontinuing their famous Centaur — a legendary pedal with a very prohibitive price tag. In the years since it’s been discontinued, the market has been flooded with “Klon Clones” — pedals that aim to replicate the original circuitry of the Centaur, while keeping costs reasonable. Now guitar players can rejoice in a new offering from Klon, the KTR Overdrive, a more affordable and truly fantastic overdrive. The KTR is designed to push a tube amp into “sweet spot” territory, while retaining the character of your guitar’s signal. For the live guitarist looking for a secret weapon to stand out in a crowd, the KTR might just be for you.
Keeley Dark Side
Robert Keeley and his team have been cranking out boutique products for years. His most famous offerings are the 2 and 4-knob compressors, as well as his modifications of bigger brand effects pedals. This year, Keeley introduced a few new offerings that aim to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the other multi-effect workstations by companies like Strymon and Eventide. The Dark Side is a faithful reproduction of the tones achieved by a legendary guitarist (it’s unclear whether they’re allowed to say, but his name rhymes with Mavid Fillmore) and features a legendary fuzz circuit on one side and a modulation/delay channel on the other. Capable of everything from throaty leads, watery rotary effects and percussive delay patterns, fans of Pink Floyd or those looking for a trip down memory lane can’t lose with this pedal.
The Electro-Harmonix name is synonymous with effects pedals that are both innovative and classic, and their recent offerings include a line of pedals that convert the guitar’s signal to legendary electric keyboards and organs. Their newest pedal is the Mel9, a stomp box that emulates the sound of the original Mellotrons. For the uninitiated, the Mellotron was a keyboard-style instrument that used pitched tape loops to emulate the sound of strings, voices, or flutes — essentially, it was the predecessor to modern sampling technology. Check out the intros to “Stairway to Heaven” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” for some classic Mellotron action. Well, now we lowly guitarists can access those same haunting, vintage tones in a compact pedal. For the first time, no modifications to the guitar or shelling out thousands of dollars on a massive machine needed. Groovy, man!
Alright, people. It’s time to get weird. Who remembers walking out of the house clutching a trusty Discman, only to have your favorite songs glitch out because you ran to catch the bus at the last minute? Well, now you can apply that same obsolete digital technology bug to your guitar tone thanks to the CSIDMAN (an anagram for Discman) by Catalinbread. At its core, the CSIDMAN is a crystal clear digital delay with standard controls for time and feedback. The Latch and Cuts knobs grant access to the glitch features, and they are highly interactive and very unpredictable. For the guitarist looking to explore some new worlds of tonal ambiance, or just give their standard delay experience an old fashioned kick in the disc, this pedal offers a wild world of exploration.
Chase Bliss Tonal Recall
Off to another corner of the delay spectrum, Chase Bliss offers the ultimate in bucket-brigade-style delay. Bucket brigade technology is so named because the analog signal of your guitar is passed through a series of capacitors, which can create a funky, desirable loss of fidelity. While the CSIDMAN is a crisp digital delay, the Tonal Recall keeps your signal analog through and through. However, the controls of the effects are digital, so the player has unprecedented control over the delay patterns, making for some truly surreal tones. Watch the demo on Chase Bliss website for a brief introduction to the magic this pedal is capable of.
Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor
Compression is a fantastic tool to have on any pedalboard, and Walrus Audio’s Deep Six Compressor is one of the best we’ve heard in a long time. Something to look for in a compressor is versatility, and this one’s got it. The Deep Six is useful for its subtle smoothing, a “barely there” effect, but boost the attack and sustain for the full on clunk and squishy response that’s perfect for country or funk. The effect remains dynamic throughout, and includes a blend control that allows you to dial in however much of the compressed signal you’d like. If you’re looking to get into compression or just want a new sound for your board, this is a great place to start.
EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander
I love a good guitar synth. Ever “synth” I was bit by the funk bug back in the day, anything I can get my hands on that’ll fly me out to the groovy stratosphere is a-okay. The Bit Commander is by no means revolutionary, but it’ll grant you access to the world of dirty, funky analog synth tones with high quality, hand built components in a heavy duty chassis. With everything from simple square wave octave tones, to glitchy weirdness (try feeding a monophonic synth some full chords and hear it dance around the notes) this pedal does a great job of tracking your tone while remaining clear and focused when you want it to. Blending a synth pedal with any type of modulation and delay will only get you further into synth land, so have fun with this one!
Boss Waza Craft CE-2W Chorus
Not long ago, Boss released a new product line that sought to recapture the magic of their pedals that defined the sound of the ’70s and ’80s. Boss was responsible for marketing the first chorus pedal, the CE-1, back in 1976 — a monstrous box that replicated the sound of the Roland JC-120. The CE-2 chorus was released in 1979 after players demanded a more compact unit. Well, fans of vintage chorus can rejoice, because this year Boss announced the CE-2W Chorus, a pedal that will bring you back to those first units, and is made in Japan just like the originals. The pedal offers stereo output, as well as features that were available on both the original CE-1 and CE-2. Very luscious, very fat, very fun!
Hologram Dream Sequence
Here’s the thing about this pedal — I’ve never seen one quite like it. It’s a sequencer that pitches your guitar signal up or down. From cool tremolos and vibratos, to funky gated tones, and modulation effects… there’s no shortage of amazing sounds that can be created with the Dream Sequence. Just look through some of the online demos to see for yourself. Yes, it’s pricey, but if you’ve got an in with Santa or know someone who does, this could be the last pedal you buy for a long time — and we mean that in a good way.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Take today off and de-tune your guitar, then re-tune it. Now figure out all those magical chords you’re hearing with our free course, Alternate Guitar Tunings for the Creative Guitarist!
Amptweaker TightMetal ST
Hey metal heads, we haven’t forgotten about you! For those who crave gain, gain, and more gain, take heed — the TightMetal ST is the pedal for you. The TightMetal ST features an on-board noise gate, which is essential for a high gain distortion pedal. The pedal also has a “chomp” switch, for even more gated, staccato riffing. Standard gain, tone, and volume controls, as well as a “tight” knob, give you great tone customization, and a built-in effects loop can be useful for isolating your guitar’s dry signal. No tuning is too low for this beastly unit. Step into the darkness, folks!
Neo Instruments Mini Vent II
The Mini Vent II is hands down the best Leslie emulator we’ve ever heard. We don’t see a lot of these floating around, but for those who are interested in the rotary cabinet sound without shelling out for a rotary cabinet (let alone the crew necessary to take one of those around with you), this pedal from Germany’s Neo Instruments is possibly as close as one can get. It’s simple to operate, just the on/off switch and a slow/fast switch — nothing fancy. Internal controls allow for gain control, speed, balance, drive, distance and cabinet sim on/off. We simply can’t recommend this piece enough to anyone interested in rotary sounds!
Walrus Audio Aetos Power Supply
No, it’s not a pedal, but if you don’t already have a proper way to power your units, you’ll be shocked to see how quickly a good power supply can clean up your sound. The Aetos offers incredibly clean power for up to eight pedals, including two high current outputs for pedals that need it. Walrus Audio also offers the Phoenix, a 15-output version of the same power supply, and both come with some pretty nifty graphics.
These pedals may not be for everyone, but if you haven’t seen what they can do, it’s certainly worth your time to be inspired by the range of sounds that these can achieve. Happy holidays, everyone!