This follows on from my earlier article on British Pedal Builders - I had no immediate plans to do a series of these, but there are definitely certain nations that excel in pedal-making which I quite enjoy featuring. I need not really include the most prodigious - the USA as most pedals still come from there, but will focus on some of the smaller nations and do fairly compact roundups of each. As I said I had no plans originally beyond British, but will likely do French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese next besides this Canadian one - as they all have significant pedal builders.
These are not necessarily the absolute best by engineering or popularity, but are those makers whom I have high regard for, and my favourite or preferred pedal recommendations for each of those makers. I have a sort of Top 9 as pictured up top, and then identify other makers of interest. For sure I have inadvertently overlooked or omitted some - and please let me know in the comments below if you feel I’ve left out someone significant. Note always that I don’t necessarily select all the obvious ones - I occasionally find some of the more leftfield builders more intriguing / interesting / appealing - and will feature those by preference.
Most of the Top 9 is fairly obvious - where I have a number of pedals from a number of these makers - my very evident favourites being Dr Scientist, Empress and SolidGoldFX. While I’ve had a couple of The Montreal Assembly pedals - in particular the ’Count to Five’ on my wishlist for the longest time.
Diamond Guitar Pedals are probably the most established of the Canadian builders and have a long track record of success - with their various mid-sized modulation, compressor and delay pedals particularly well-known. I feel though that they’ve become somewhat ’stale’ of late and have been outshone by other brands in their former areas of strength. For me the most dynamic / pre-eminent Canadian pedal builder of the moment is Empress, which I have occasionally referred to as "the Strymon of Canada". SolidGoldFX are also particularly strong while Dr Scientist have a much smaller range, but some really interesting pedals within that.
Ex-pat Brit abroad - one Simon Jarrett of Kingsley Amplifiers is probably the best-known proponent worldwide of proper tube-driven Boost, PreAmp and Overdrive pedals. In the earliest days of my considering my first pedalboard I thought long and hard about acquiring his Jester PreAmp pedal before heading in a slightly different direction - there is no doubting the wonderful organic tones his many fantastic pedals generate.
Fairfield Circuitry is also an interesting proposition with its slightly industrial / minimal looking pedals - I kind of put them slightly more in the leftfield camp alongside Industrialectric and Sonic Crayon. Compared to the British pedal overview where I now own 7 of the Top 9 featured. Here I own just three of those featured above, but many more from each of the featured brands.
Canada does not quite have the depth and breadth of Britain as far as I can gauge, but there are certainly a number of interesting makers here - and a number which just missed out on a Top 9 listing - including 6 Degrees FX, Aleks K Production, Radial Engineering / Tonebone, Retro-Sonic and REVV Amplification.
In terms of those listed, my most wanted that I still don’t have is the Montreal Assembly Count to Five, but there are several more Canadians that I have my eye on. Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand - first the Top 9 and then the rest:
I believe Diamond were initially best known for their various Compressor pedals, mostly of vertical mid-size enclosure, but then latterly their medium landscape orientation Modulations - Chorus, Phase, Tremolo and Vibrato, as well as the Memory Lane Delays. As stated previously, I feel several other pedal-makers have over-shadowed these compressors - Keeley and Origin Effects in particular. On the other side - the various modulation and delay pedals have been put somewhat in the shade by Empress's equivalent offerings. All these pedals sound great and are really well put together, but they somehow seem somewhat off the pace - not modern or stand-out enough. There are still legions of fans that really like these Diamond pedals, but I'm starting to see them less and less on pedalboards nowadays. The only one I really like within their current collection of 20 or so is the dual gain stage Cornerstone Overdrive - while if you find a copy of their discontinued Memory Lane 2 Delay - that's worth getting your hands on too!
Husband and Wife team Ryan and Tanya Clarke really make some extraordinary pedals - I have three of theirs all of which are special, and all of which I really love - 2 have been pretty much permanent fixtures in my pedal-chain - The Elements Multi-Drive, and Frazz Dazzler Saturated Fuzz. The BitQuest Fuzz-Modulator also gets a lot of rotation in the chain. I love everything these guys put out - including the Tremolessence Tremolo and super rare Heisenber Molecular Overdrive. I look forward to checking out the brand new Atmosphere Reverb when that finally materialises towards the end of the year. These are all inspired and inspirational pedals - some of them have some slight quirks, but they're all worth some of your time.
For me, Empress is the flagship Canadian pedal-maker, much like ThorpyFX is becoming the British equivalent. The current pinnacle of Empress's endeavours are the quite superb dual-simultaneous-effect stereo EchoSystem Delay - which I love and am unlikely to ever replace. I feel better things may be yet to come as the genuinely ground-breaking Zoia Multi-Effects-Sequencer is just around the corner. Near enough the whole collection of circa 17 pedals is brilliant - in particular the EchoSystem, Heavy, Multidrive and Reverb. There's also the industry-leading Compressor and ParaEQ - with stunning modulations too in the form of the Nebulus, Phaser and Tremolo 2. As I've said before - I feel that Empress has totally stolen a march on Diamond - the Empress pedals generally just seem to have an edge. In having the Heavy and Multidrive pedals, I don't feel like I really need the individual Distortion, Fuzz and Germ Drive pedals which circuits come together in the Multidrive. I've often called Empress 'The Strymon of Canada' and I still stand by that - these are both titans of the industry with really smart design, engineering and marketing / customer care.
These unadorned minimal / industrial looking pedals have been on my radar for a long time and I've included both The Accountant Compressor and Randy's Revenge Ring Modulator in previous overviews. Probably the best known and best loved Fairfield pedal though is the neat Chorusey Flangey Phasey Random Modulating effect that is the Shallow Water K-Field Modulator. There are only 8 pedals in the current collection but all are excellent, even though I'm not really on the hunt for any of these specifically, I can't deny they sound great though. If they ever make a more compact version of the Shallow Water I would likely be interested!:
Most definitely a leftfield pedal-maker with just 3 pedals in the current range and two really cool but recently discontinued pedals based on the Schumann PLL pedal. I have featured the PPL clone 4046-M before on this site, but not its smaller sibling - The Squarewave Generator. The three current pedals are all pretty worthwhile - the RM-1N Gain Stage Reverb, Echo Degrader Lo-Fi Delay and my personal favourite - the dual-channel Incinerator Silicon Chaos Fuzz! These are obviously pedals for tweakers - with a multitude of switches and dials, and the boxes are also quite all really as they are packed to the brim with circuitry. Definitely more of an oddball choice and out of the mainstream - and certainly not for everyone, but pretty different, and a joy for more experimental players.
If you are avid watchers of That Pedal Show, you should be very familiar with Brit-abroad's Simon Jarret Tube/Valve-driven Boost, PreAmp and Overdrive Pedals. I've include the TPS video above which introduced my to the Jester which was in high consideration for a while for my first pedalboard - before I took off in a different direction. Coming back to it now, I still realise I love that beautifully growly tube sound - all that lovely texture and low-end grunt. And if you're into this sort of thing then all 12 of those pedals are pretty handy. Most people's favourites tend to be the Jester, Jouster, Harlot and Marshall-esque Constable V2 - with the Maiden and Minstrel also popular. I may still get around to acquiring a Jester eventually - but realise that these tube-driven pedals still come with additional maintenance requirements and often unusual power-supply requirements.
One Scott Monk does not have a lot of pedals to his name put they are all genius, and most have been featured once or twice before on my site. I've of course had the flagship 'Count to Five' on my wishlist for the longest time, but still have not got around to acquiring it - I will eventually - I just typically have higher priorities. And everyone is looking forward to the forthcoming PLL clone - the PurPLL. While the 856 for Zellersasn Looper and Sample Sequencer also sells out in seconds whenever a new batch appears. These are all pretty leftfield pedals, but they're all pretty special too - and you rarely see any of these on the second-hand market which is a good indication of how much players love these.
This is the third of my triangle of favourite Canadian pedal-makers alongside Dr Scientist and Empress Effects. As a huge fuzz fan, then SolidGoldFX is an obvious candidate and I have and love their really well received 76 Octave and Rosie Germanium fuzzes. Pretty much all of their 20 pedals are worthwhile, while I'm all about the fuzzes really. They also have 4 exceptional medium enclosure pedals - the Electroman MKII Modulated Delay, Apollo II Phaer, Zeta DLX Overdrive/PreAmp and Funkzilla Ultimate Envelope Filter. I may still acquire another of their fuzzes - with the If 6 Was 9 BC183, Imperial and Sasori still on my wishlist!
This is the most leftfield choice of Canadian pedal-maker and most leftfield choice of pedal too - the weird Anti-Nautilus Glitch Machine. I have a feeling that this is somehow related to Scott Monk of Montreal Assembly - a weirder sister-brand or associated brand somehow. In any case all the Sonic Crayon pedals were likewise built in small batches, and are rare as hen's teeth. There's only 4 proper pedal types that were released that I'm aware of, although some of those may have stayed in prototype form - they very occasionally crop up on Reverb.com. Besides the Anti-Nautilus, there is/was the Hollow Earth Tremolo, Mechanical Sun Delay and 3-in-1 SuperFuzz.
A boutique builder with 7 medium enclosure pedals to its name. I really like the look of their Amplitude 11 Class A Dual Channel Overdrive and have featured it in a NAMM pedal roundup before. The FamiComp Fuzz Compressor is also pretty cool. These are well-made decent looking pedals, but I'm not overly fond of the larger medium-enclosure size unless it's giving you something extra - dual channels or dual function as per the two above
Aleks K actually does guitars and pickups as well as pedals, but I know this builder mostly though their pedals which I have encountered a number of times in passing - in particular the very Canadian looking Maple Leaf Royal Drive. There's only 5 pedals currently to the range, but all are of a type I really like - compact with multiple dials and clipping / voicing options typically. All of these are pretty cool, though rarely seen in the UK:
For some reason this builder reminds me a lot of Basic Audio - it's sort of the Canadian Basic Audio - with a mostly fuzz-based offering of several Tone Benders, Fuzz Faces, Rangemasters and Big Muff - style pedals mostly in compact, but also in mid-size enclosures. These all look to be of a similar quality and style to Basic Audio - although the latter has a lot more distribution - and therefore more pedals on Reverb.com etc. It also for me has some slight overlap with another favourite fuzz-maker of mine - one Richard Coibion AKA Monsterpiece. I am more familiar with those other brands so somewhat likelier to buy from them - also as I have some of their pedals already. I already have plenty of every type of Fuzz, bar a MKI style Tone Bender - which I was considering acquiring from Monsterpiece - prices here are identical really, so I may get this one instead - shipments from Canada are typically quicker to reach the British Isles for whatever reason!
This is a tiny boutique builder with just two really cool pedals to its name - the Pistol Slapper Overdrive + Boost and Bone Tender-style Firing Line MKII Fuzz. Both are cool pedals at expected boutique prices, with currently the Firing Line Fuzz sold out.
An even tinier boutique builder with just one finely honed Dumble-style Overdrive - the FET Dream Drive. Not much more to say here - 4 control pots, Lean, Drive, Level and Girth. I still have a few Dumble-style overdrives on my wishlist, not sure I need to add another - although no doubt it's a decent contender.
Demedash Effects is one Steve Demedash of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who has managed to build up a fairly substantial pedal range in a relatively short span of time. The only one of his I am not overly enamoured with is the slightly over-sized medium-enclosure Vox-like Britannia, while I think the remaining compact pedals are all pretty cool really - with the Tanstaafl OD/Distortion likely my pick of the bunch - or one of the Germanium fuzzes.
Yet another small builder this time with 6 pedals in its line. Not sure it does enough to separate itself out from its competitors - relies on very basic graphics mostly centred on boxy 3-letter acronym names. There is a Phaser, Boost, Transparent Overdrive, Fat Distortion, Silicon Fuzz, and Silicon/Germanium Hybrid Fuzz - which is the only one really I like the look of here - they could really do with some sort of graphics revamp / facelift!
An Ontario-based pedal-maker who seems to do most of his business through vendor Pedal Boss. This range of 14 pedals as a variation of the kind of outline graphics much loved by JHS - but the illustration style here is distinctive to Ellman I guess. These are a mix of Compact and Medium -size enclosures and cover a wide range of effects. The standouts for me are the Drive and Fuzz Pedals:
Another sort of one man brand - one Russell Goudie - with a range of 8 compact, fairly vanilla Compressor, Boost and Overdrives. Russell uses highest quality components, but circuits tend to be quite simple with no additional voicing or clipping options. Range is quite minimal - needs some interesting graphics or something to make it stand out from the crowd. Not sure there is anything here that particularly appeals to me, although his Blue Daddy Bluesbreaker clone is generally well received and I included it my recent category overview.
This sleek modern pedal maker I find graphics-wise at least a touch reminiscent of Walrus Audio. These compact pedals look like they have had significant attention to detail baked into their assembly and finish. It's another diminutive range of 5 pedals, but all are cool:
An oddly named boutique maker with a strange assortment of pedals and amp-top boxes, even a Tube Amp Head. There's a total absence of branding or common thread here really - and the two stompboxes featured are totally plain and unadorned. Not sure if I can recommend anything here - all comes across a little made-in-a-shed?
This boutique pedal builder is somewhat reminiscent of EarthQuaker Devices - particularly in their pedal graphics. It's a pretty nicely styled range which I have come across a number of times before - in particular the Moby Depth Spring Reverb and OctoFuzzy Octave Fuzz - they also have a cool mid-size enclosure Wave Rider Optical Tap Tempo Tremolo. There are currently 13 pedals to the range - in mini, compact and medium enclosures.
Master Effects is a custom shop boutique pedal builder aka Tim Gorjanc, who seems to be best known for his high quality PreAmp Simulators - building a series of mostly high gain distortion amp clones - covering a lot of the usual suspects. I'm not sure the videos provided do the pedals sufficient justice - but if you seek it out there is a great Wolfy demo by Louis The Tone King which very ably demonstrated the dynamic range of that pedal. I've recently removed my Diezel VH4-2 pedal from my pedal-chain partly because of its rather hefty size - so I could be very interested in Tim's own DieFet Deluxe Dual Channel VH4 clone. Both Mesa clone PreAmps sound great too - but I could really do with better High Quality audio references to be 100% sure in advance. There are several other overdrives and fuzzes alongside delay and modulation pedals - and of course Tim can consult with you to make pretty much any kind of pedal you desire. There's quite a few pedals here I like the look of - including the following:
Another boutique fuzz specialist best known for its compact London Fuzz and mid-size Britbender fuzz pedals. There are 9 pedals currently to the range including several fuzzes, a couple of Vibes and a couple of Wah pedals. Several pedals here use very vintage premium components and are pricey as a result c$350-$400. I always have a preference for the more compact pedals - and I really quite like the look of the London Fuzz and Luxora Overdrive, and have consider both of those before.
A substantial range of Mini Chinese-Made pedals specified and sold by Canadian distributor SF Marketing. These seem like decent Mooer-level quality mini pedals at a not too dissimilar pricing, a touch higher possibly. Certainly not anywhere near as broad as Mooer, but these 20 pedals do have their highlights - including the Five O'Clock Fuzz which I've featured on this site before. I'm not sure of their exact merits versus Mooer say, but they're certainly not of the quality of Boutique minis like say OneControl, Suhr, Wampler or the finest of all mini-pedals - Decibelics. As always my interest is more tempered towards the drive pedals, but I would likely give Mooer a look-in first at this level.
This boutique maker is another fuzz specialist making essentially just different variations of its OxFuzz Fuzz Face Style pedal in Germanium, Silicon and Hybrid versions and a medium enclosure with additional Bias dial. I'm not sure whether these pedals do enough to differentiate themselves from others, and there is no mention on the site exactly what manner of transistors are being used her. I guess they look OK, but I'm not really sure what I'm getting here - needs more details and references.
Another small mostly fuzz pedal boutique maker with a nice line of 5 primary coloured pedals. I quite like the look of the PeaCo Rat and T2 Fuzz pedals, this range looks small sure put pretty well-formed, and reasonably priced.
This is a rather sizeable high fidelity audio equipment manufacturer which makes a load of studio equipment besides the usual plethora of pedals. The range is split by DI Boxes, Load Boxes / Amp Sims, Boosts, Overdrives & Distortions and PreAmps, Switchers and various utilities - many under the secondary Tonebone brand. For a while I used the Tonebone Twin-City ABY Active Amp Switcher, but I don't really need it any more, and it is currently benched. Part of my finds many of their PreAmp / Drive pedals rather old-fashioned an bulky, while many rate the Regency and Texas Overdrive pedals, as well as the Classic and Hot-British V9 Distortions. Most of the pre-amp pedals here are loaded with tubes also.
Another small but perfectly formed boutique maker with a compact range of 6 pedals - Stereo Chorus, Analog Delay, Eight-0-Eight Overdrive, Retro-Sonic Distortion (Rat), Compressor, and Phaser. I've featured the Retro-Sonic Distortion before in my Rat Pedal overview, and that's my pick of the bunch here - although the Stereo Chorus is also cool
This master-builder of boutique amps - including the highly celebrate Dynamic and Generator Series has just one pedal currently to its name - the aptly monikered G3 Overdrive/Distortion which models the REVV Generator Purple Channel 3 in all its varieties - giving you 3 voicing modes of various degrees of gain saturation from off, to Blue to extreme Red - for really tight and percussive metal tone. It bumped the Friedman BE-OD from my pedal-chain which is no mean feat!
A slightly confusing website which does though seem to provide a range of quality true bypass switching / loop-switching pedals. The pedals are fairly unadorned and look rugged and solidly built - the come in a variety of button variations - varying in number and layout - strip / staggered, there's also a basic mini A/B pedal. I'm not really in the market for any of this sort of gear, and if I were there are other purveyors close to home that I'm more familiar with - like say TheGigRig. Not sure what to recommend here.
I have featured the Southampton Utility Knife Modulator at least a couple of times on my site. This pedal-makers graphics remind me of a slightly more detailed JHS, but generally with their own house-style. A compact range of pedals covering a surprisingly wide category of types. These are all pretty cool:
Yet another 5 pedal range boutique maker - with a mostly distinctive look to their pedals. A 12AU7 tube-driven Tone Grenade Boost/Overdrive, 2 versions of White Rabbit Fuzzstortion, a 3-way Loop-Switcher and Piercing Rook JCM Style Distortion. Pick of the bunch here is probably the cool Tube Grenade - compact Boost/Overdrive with the tube poking up near the rear of the pedal.
A Fuzz Specialist with a range of pretty cool classy looking and mostly compact-size enclosure pedals covering most of the usual Germanium and Silicon varieties. Pick of the bunch for me is the EF1 Jordan Bosstone-style Fuzz.
What's with all these 4 and 5 pedal range Canadian boutique makers? - here's another one which I've featured before for their Hunger Bender Tone Bender style fuzz. Also in the range is the Fuzz Face style Fuzz Cream, Rangemaster style Treble Master and mini Hot Molasses Overdrive (Fuzz Drive). I actually feel all of these are worthwhile, as follows:
A 7 pedal range boutique builder with a mix of mostly Fuzz & Overdrive pedals. Pick of the bunch is likely The Classy Lady TS-808 style overdrive with additional toggle switches to change clipping / voicing and add bass boost. Pedals are neat and tidy and generally well turned out, but nothing particularly revolutionary.
A cool range of 14 colourful mid-size enclosure pedals. I have always felt that 2 and 3 dial single footswitch mid-size enclosures were somewhat oversized for fuzz pedals - considering most builders can easily accommodate the usual 46+ components of a more complex typical Big Muff style circuit within a standard enclosure. These come highly rated and have quite a following, but I would really rather prefer they accommodated their pedals within more pedalboard-friendly enclosures.
A more modern range of 14 Bass and Guitar pedals which I've come across a number of times before - particularly the Bighorn Overdrive, and Black Wolf HM-2 style distortion. These pedals have a unified look to them and are modern and smartly engineered with the multiple tone-sculpting and voicing controls that I really like. There are various versions of the Battering Ram Overdrive + Fuzz pedal - with up to 4 footswitches to activate different voicings and channels - like Octave up etc.
Generally pretty cool offerings from Canada, but the usual preponderance of the all the typical pedal clones. I find overall that the Canadians are slightly more organised with their themes and branding - where a lot of the British pedal ranges were rather messy and disparate collections. Much like Britain, there are some very obvious stand-out giants here as indicated above. I can't say enough good things about Dr Scientist, Empress Effects and SolidGoldFX - they are all uniformly excellent thoughout their ranges.
There are some really cool more leftfield builders here too - like Fairfield Circuitry, Industiralectric, Montreal Assembly and Sonic Crayon. And then you have the more broader based offerings from Diamond Pedals and Radial Engineering, the latter of which shares its love of tube-driven PreAmps with the always excellent Kingsley Amplifiers.
I have and regularly use a great number of Canadian-made pedals, and they all perform marvellously - with 5 currently active in my pedal-chain Dr Scientist Elements and Frazz Dazzler, Empress Heavy and EchoSystem, and REVV G3 Distortion.
Note that I really wanted to include the REVV G3 in the Top 9, but could not really justify a single Pedal purveyor on that list - so it gets a very honourable mentioned but sits just outside that group - which I'm really very happy with in any case.