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12 of the Best Compact Bluesbreaker-style Pedals

Analog.ManBoost and OverdriveChicago StompworkscmatmodsGoudie FXJHS PedalsKeeley EngineeringMojo Hand FXOverdriveRockBoxSnouse Electric CompanyVFE PedalsVick AudioWampler+-
2018GPX12BluesbreakerStylePedals700-min.jpg

This is essentially the last piece I will do in a while on the Wampler Pantheon - which I am so enchanted by currently. I honestly feel it’s Brian’s best pedal to date, and I was a huge fan of both the versions of Tumnus and Euphoria. The Pantheon comes into a pretty crowded arena where there are already a number of stellar pedals present.

 

There’s a lot of debate about whether a pedal is a clone of a certain circuit which I always find kind of overly academic - and I prefer to think of these as more inspired-by - even when there are marked similarities in the circuits. I think it’s often something of an insult to a pedal-builder when they spend several years on a circuit and you accuse them of being a copyist or plagiarist even. Within pedal design there will always be a number of fundamental similarities - yet there’s a lot of artistry too in how you work the Tone control circuit and where you place your various resistors and capacitors etc. to further shape the tone.

 

First to get some common misconceptions out of the way - the somewhat misleadingly named Xotic BB PreAmp actually ha nothing to do with the Bluesbreaker, the BB here stands for ’Big British’(sound) - and it is basically a Baxandall tone-circuit-controlled Tube Screamer type pedal - intended to boost Marshall style amps and make them sound ’Big’. I’ve read lots of people wrongly attributing the BB as a Bluesbreaker where it really is not. There’s also lots of arguments about the King of Tone / Prince of Tone being Bluesbreaker style circuits - which they are, while it would be somewhat impertinent to call them clones as there are significant differences too - I think the phrase ’inspire-by’ is the most apt here.

 

So all of the above 12 pedals are largely based-on or ’inspired-by’ the same circuit - the original 1991 Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal, but all of these have nuances - and slightly different tonal profiles - particularly of the mid-range frequencies - where for a number of these the mid frequencies are fairly flat, yet while others - like the King of Tone have a more pronounced mid-range.

 

I have something of a phobia towards internal dip-switches and trim-pots - so I’ve always been more in the market for a Prince of Tone rather than a King of Tone - as the voicing / gain toggle is external - and you can easily switch from Boost to Overdrive to Distortion mode. The Prince of Tone also runs a little hotter with a little more gain on-tap so that suits my need for the pedal. A lot of King of Tone players though use is primarily as more of a boosting style overdrive - to add warmth, dynamics and headroom to their core tone. This is another reason why some players don’t necessarily get on with the King of Tone - as some of what it does is very subtle and that needs to be coaxed out of it rather smartly with the right sort of setup.

 

So the current most famous Bluesbreaker-style pedal is the King of Tone, probably followed by Josh Scott’s JHS Morning Glory and then the Snouse BlackBox and Keeley 1962X - even though I keep forgetting about the latter. All those 4 pedals are slightly different takes on the same original pedal, and the first of these that I acquired was actually a limited edition version of the Snouse BlackBox 2 - with all the usual internal dip-switches externalised to site-mounted toggle switches.

 

At one time I had a mind to get the Rockbox Baby Blues as well as the VFE Blues King - both of which have extended voicing capabilities via additional switches and dials. Yet when the Wampler Pantheon came out - it kind of stole the limelight from all of these somewhat - being in my opinion now the most versatile and easily adjustable of the ’Bluesbreaker’ style pedals. I still rather like my Snouse BlackBox which has slightly different dynamics, and I will still likely pick up an Analog.Man Prince of Tone and a VFE Blues King one of these days - even though they would mostly play second fiddle to the Pantheon. The Pantheon really does have it all - and the interplay between those dials and switches is so effortless and it’s so easy to dial in an amazingly harmonically rich tone. If you want more of King of Tone boost sort of thing - then run the Pantheon at 18V. Note that there are still many players that prefer the very slightly more pronounced mid-range-profile of the King of Tone and that is totally understandable as each of these pedals still has its own specific tuning of that core tone, and none of these have a mid frequency dial - so that is the key ingredient that is tuned into each one’s core circuit.

 

I generally prefer more dials and switches - as I love versatility and range, while there are simpler pedals on offer here too - which still sound great without all the extra bells and whistles. A few years ago JHS even did a modified version of the King of Tone pedal - with all the internal dip-switches surface-mounted as eternal toggles - I’m guessing all those went pretty quickly. In any case there are plenty of different pedals here at different price points - and if you’re really strapped for cash or real-estate then go with the Mooer Mini Blues Crab which also does an excellent assimilation of this core Bluesbreaker tone.

 

I originally combined Bluesbreakers and Blues Drivers into my same category overview which I now realise was a mistake as they are distinctively different even tough there is a significant degree of overlap. Once someone releases a new Blues Driver style pedal - I will probably do an updated overview of that lineage too!

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as always:


Analog.Man Prince of Tone - $138

This is actually a very reasonably priced and versatile pedal - still hand-made - in China this time rather than in the USA, but with the same components including those critical high quality Transistors which make it sound so sweet! 3 dials - Volume, Drive and Tone, and a 3-way voicing / clipping switch - Boost, Overdrive and Distortion - this pedal is still great and still relevant and I sort of prefer it to the King of Tone (slightly more gain and external mode switch) - if I wanted a full King of Tone setup - I would just buy two of these! There is some limited supply to this on occasion, but generally these are fairly readily available and usually go up for sale on Wednesdays.


Chicago Stompworks The Blue Fox / Bluesbreaker Clone - $70

I last mentioned Chicago Stompworks for their Maestro-style Black Fudge fuzz - for that category round-up. They have no qualms about advertising that they make clones - and most of the current batch of pedals are just fairly blatantly called 'X' Clone - or Bluesbreaker Clone as in this example - while earlier iterations of this particular pedal often went under the moniker 'The Blue Fox'. It's a decent 3-pot compact - there's no frills here, but you get decent quality components, hand-assembled at a very good price - easily the lowest cost of those on offer here. (Note - no specific Bluesbreaker pedal demo available so I feature the Stompworks range-reel above)


Cmatmods Butah - $135

The Cmatmods Signa Drive was featured in my original Blues/Breaker/Driver overview - while that is more of a Driver style pedal, and the ...smooth as... 'Butah' is the equivalent Breaker style. This has the same control topology as the above Blue Fox, but comes in at twice the price - so depending on your own personal situation and preferences - your mileage might vary here. It is of course capable of some very sweet tones.


Goudie FX Blue Daddy - $119

New to me but established Canadian pedal builder Goudie has its own well-respected version of the Bluesbreaker style circuit - and similar to its two preceding pedals in this listing has that same vanilla control topology of Gain, Level and Tone. The newest livery is slightly different (with blue text) - but I was unable to find the most recent pedal in the correct image aspect for inclusion within this format - so I used a slightly older version.


JHS Morning Glory - £195

This is Josh Scott's of JHS - best selling pedal to date, although it may eventually be eclipsed by his multi-mode Bonsai Overdrive. I think he was expecting the Muffuletta multi-mode Muff to do similar things, but that did not manage to topple the incumbent champion. The Morning Glory is Josh's own voicing / take on that core circuit and has found its way onto pretty much the equivalent number of pedalboards as the equally perennial favourite - King of Tone pedal. I on occasion mistook this for more a Klon style pedal - I think the colour association (gold) here threw me somewhat. This is definitely though one of the most significant Bluesbreaker types of all time.


Keeley 1962X - $249

I don't know what it is about this pedal that I keep overlooking it - I sometimes associated it wrongly with the Tweed style, and I get confused by the KT66/KT88 valve-type voicing toggle. This pedal has lots of fans, but it has never quite attained the lofty heights of the two more famous aforementioned pedals - even though it's another amazing sounding BB style pedal in its own right.


Mojo Hand FX Magpie - $179

I've featured Mojo Hand FX quite a lot on this site and in a lot of different Overdrive and Fuzz categories - they do great fuzzed, dumble-style and organic-style overdrives. For this circuit type their offering is the Magpie which similarly follows the Prince of Tone and Morning Glory with a 3-way voicing toggle-switch - Boost, Overdrive, Crunch.


Rockbox Baby Blues - c£157

The supply of these seems to have somewhat dried up of late despite some very positive reviews back in the day. It kind of shows the importance of maintaining a current and present image and reminding both retailers and potential customers that you are still around and active and relevant. The Baby Blues adds 4 x 2-way toggle voicing switches to kick in different boost and drive levels - although I feel they may have been better with 2 x 3-ways rather than 4 x 2-ways - nevertheless you get a huge range of voicing options here if you can track one of these down. When I looked a year ago there were more of these about - currently there are 3 on Reverb.com, one brand new, one with a custom paint job and one Mint - ranging in price from c£120 to c£180. They do sound cool though and I had considered getting one of these at the time which I saw it for around £100 then.


Snouse BlackBox OD V2 with external switches mod - £147

I paid exactly £147 for this pedal all-in from the official Snouse store on Reverb.com. This is a limited edition of the BlackBox V2 with all the formerly internal dip-switches externalised. You get the classic 3 different gain voicings - essentially Boost, Overdrive and Crunch. Then there is a separate toggle for Bright/Smooth and Classic (lower gain) or standard - for a huge variety of voicings. With its 5 dials this pedal is generally the equal of the Pantheon, although I find the Pantheon's core tonal profile slightly more to my liking and find it also a little easier to 'dial things in' - but generally these two pedals are quite similar in scope and ability - and alongside the Baby Blues are all superbly versatile! I happen to be a fan of additional mode switches / voicings / clipping - while lots of players prefer to keep things more simple - in which case there are of course numerous simpler alternatives - as above!


VFE Blues King (discontinued) - c£120 (Reverb.com)

Peter Rutter of VonRutter Family Effects is a special kind of pedal genius - and he does things very much his own way - his classic 3 large and 3 mini dials layout. I am a huge fan of VFE pedals - with 4 already in the collection and many more on the wishlist - all of these main line ones are now somewhat discontinued, but do come up for sale every now and again as specials and second hand examples. There's currently an older somewhat ugly livery up for sale on Reverb.com for £102 - for VFE it's a case of waiting for the right enclosure pedal to come around in the right sort of condition. These pedals inhabit all manner of different enclosures and some I find genuine eyesores - where others are really rather elegant. Following on from the release of the Pantheon, this pedal is not as important to me any more, but I do want the right livery version of the VFE Merman (Klone) pedal! In any case all VFE pedals uniformly sound amazing and get snapped up very quickly typically - especially the more popular ones. (Alpha Dog etc.)


Vick Audio Mount Pleasant - $129

I've featured Vick Audio on this site a number of times - very quietly unassuming and very reasonably priced - but always tremendous sounding. I often wonder if this range would not do better with a more strategic facelift of better / more appealing livery and graphics - after all us artistic musical types listen with our eyes as well as our ears! These are sort of the Cinderellas of the pedal world which perform far far better than they initially look. Here we have again the classic 3-knob format plus voicing / clipping switch.


Wampler Pantheon Overdrive - £189

I've spoken at length about this amazing pedal and this will be its last feature for a while. There's no doubt I really love this one - I use it in various ways - alongside my Spaceman Mercury IV Harmonic Boost and Decibelics Golden Horse - set to twin low-gain / soft-clipping settings with Volume at circa 2 o'c, Gain between 2 and 3 o'c - and it sounds amazing every which way - it's just really responsive and dynamic and full of wonderful rich harmonic textures - and so versatile up and down the gain-scale. Possibly this is just the honeymoon period - but I've pretty much been playing this one non-stop since I got it. I find it more emotionally connecting than the Tumnus or the Euphoria. This just has to be Brian's best pedal to date - it's a masterpiece!

Final Thoughts

All of the above pedals are excellent and all will deliver fantastic tones - it depends on your own playing style and dynamics as to which overall tonal profile is closest to your preferences and which best suits your specific usage requirements. For these twelve there are essentially 3 tiers of pedals - the Feature-rich, Smart and Basic - and pricing is usually in tune with their available options. These are all boutique pedals of a sort, but run from as low as $70, while the Mini Mooer Blues Crab is just £45 or thereabouts and another decent alternative if space is tight.

 

Lots of players already love the King of Tone / Prince of Tone, Morning Glory and Snouse BlackBox in particular - but over the coming years I expect the Pantheon to dominate too. I currently have two of these pedals as mentioned, and I still want to acquire a Prince of Tone at some stage and a VFE Blues King. If I see a Baby Blues at a decent price I may swing for one of those too.

 

Do note that different players use these pedals vastly differently as most here have 3 distinct voicing flavours - Boost / Overdrive / Crunch and Distortion, and each of those has its particular set of followers. I very much use it right along the Overdrive range at the moment, while traditional King of Tone / Prince of Tone pedals have largely classically been used as High Headroom Boosts. I think you need to love the core tone of the pedal you choose, and then it's up to you how much range and versatility you need on top.

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