After the Best of French roundup, the German leg of the European tour turned out to be quite arduous. Germany have easily as many pedal builders as he UK but with a little more strength in depth. There’s a mix of everything from Germany - both vintage and innovation, and they’re of course very strong in the area of overdrive and distortion as backed up by their many superb high-gain amp builders.
Overall, I felt that there were a few more brands here that I was familiar with, and I chopped and changed the Top 9 several times - while the other 3 I have done were much more obvious. The Best of British I found easy, Canada I mostly knew what would feature before I started - for France I made a few swaps, but for Germany I went back to the drawing board several times.
I’ll start with the brands that just missed out - Ohmless Pedals, Rodenberg Amplification, Valhbruch Effects and Weehbo - the last two mentioned in particular - both of which have excellent ranges of pedals, but I felt that my final selection Top 9 just about pipped them. That said, the Vahlbruch Octavia is probably my next likely acquisition, although the Nobels ODR-1 has been on the list for a while too.
Of all these German pedals I have currently just one in the collection - the Diesel VH4-2, I actually have its predecessor also, and will look to get its new Herbert pedal at some stage. The listing starts off alphabetically with the Thomas Blug BluGuitar Amp 1 floor-based amps. This is not only one of the first units of that type, but the first to use Korg’s NuTube technology - and does this really well. There’s few that compare to the slick and refined approach of this 4 Channel-floor-amp.
The Hexe BitCrusher III has been featured a few times on this site, and is one of the most sought after in that area - Piotr Zapart makes some really innovative pedals still and his pedals are always in high demand. Chris Jupiter of JPTR FX is another pioneer who makes pretty gothic looking machines - kind-of steam-punk-ish almost - really innovative and unusual effects, but a touch on the large side usually. I will still probably acquire one or two of his at some stage in the distant future - just to get to experiment with those unusual effects.
KMA Audio Machines contrasts by being very modern in its approach - melding together more DSP controlled effects which blend a number of secondary and tertiary functions - and well exemplified in the new all singing and dancing Horizont Stereo JFET 4-Stage Phaser. Some may see Lehle as an odd placing here, but they are most likely the Rolls-Royce or Maybach even of switching pedals, and are a breath of fresh air when compared to their many industrial looking competitors.
In the bottom row we start of with the current King of Leslie/Rotary Effects - the superb industry benchmark Ventilator II, which has actually mostly nowadays been replaced on pro pedalboards by its smaller lesser-feature-packed sibling the Mini Vent II. I’m still waiting for an in-between version which carries most of the controls across but in a more compact enclosure. The Nobels ODR-1 needs to introduction, everyone is familiar with that, while the 9th slot which was heavily up for debate I decided to give to the Okko Dominator, as I’m a particular fan of its really crunchy and percussive mid-range push - that’s another high-gain pedal I will look to add at some stage, once I get over my Fuzz fixation!
So I’m really happy in the end with my Top 9 selection - which I feel may look scattershot, yet is fully representative of the breadth of German pedal-makers. All of the above are also well-known and Internationally traded brands, which is not necessarily the case with the previous country best 9 listings I’ve done.
Brands are of course listed alphabetically - first as my favourite 9, then as the rest of the bunch:
Thomas Blug has put his many years of music production and playing into a dedicated nano-tube-powered tone machine PreAmp - the BluGuitar Amp 1 - a fully 4 Channel floor-based, 3-band EQ, 100 Watt Guitar Amp. The setup is completed with the BluBox Impulse Response Speaker Emulator (Cab Sim) and Remote 1 Foot Controller for an all-encompassing studio and live playback system. There are increasingly more of these types of Amps around - but Thomas's was amongst the first, and few are as well-rounded or refined! My preference is for the slightly 'gain-heavier' / tighter Mercury edition of the Amp 1.
Germany's pre-eminent 'heavy metal' amp maker - which makes super high quality high gain amps at around £2.5K - £3K a pop. Just as well for me then that they have collaborated with David Friedman's Boutique Amp Distribution to bring a number of their legendary amps into pedal format - at a very significant cost reduction! I have both the VH4 and it's 2-Channel update - the VH4-2. I also look forward to acquiring the Herbert pedal in the near future. Diezel also have the rather large Zerrer Dual Channel PreAmp pedal which I'm not really interested in.
Notably high quality and hard-to-get-hold-off pedals from Hamburg pedal engineer Piotr Zapart. There are occasional one-off custom experiments that occasionally come out, but the actual range amounts to only 5 pedals - medium and large, and including a single mini. Both the reVOLVER DX Micro Looper / Glitch and BitCrusher III are highly celebrated while the Melusine III Vinyl Record Simulator is somewhat more of an acquired taste. The Bitcrusher III Studio adds stereo and input gain options, while the mini Vario is a really smart momentary footswitch type expression pedal. The Bitcrusher III is a touch large for my tastes, but all these pedals are worthy of consideration.
I see Chris Jupiter of JPTR FX, Wilhelmhaven as the sort of German 'Death by Audio'. Both brands share fairly similar aesthetic and design cues - in terms of steel enclosures with stark/bold monochromatic graphics, and both build very unique rather leftfield effects. The most celebrated of Chris's pedals are the Fernweh Multi Echo Delay, smart feedback circulating Kaleidoscope Reverb and rather cool Super Weirdo Gated Fuzz. The most leftfield of Chris's pedals is probably the triple-spring-loaded percussive Drumthing Deluxe which can be used in a variety of imaginative ways. As a Drive and Fuzz fan though, I also like the Apokalypse Dual Tube Drive, Chainsaw Distortion, and Tesla Wolf Overdrive. These are all interesting and intriguing pedals, yet the large size of many of these makes them somewhat impractical for me, and I'm still not sure I would sacrifice several of my existing pedals for just one of these. For those who have the space though, these are truly wonderful inspiration machines! The one pedal I really don't like here is the unnecessarily elongate vintage-style Silbermaschine Fuzz.
A really innovative Berlin-based pedal-boutique run by one Enrico Preuß and responsible for some pretty unique combination effects like the Tyler Frequency Splitter and new Horizont Stereo Multispatial Phaser. Enrico is obviously a dab hand with Phasers - having produced both the Astrospurt and Horizont. There are cool Octavers and Treble Boosters and the fantastic sounding Boss HM-2 on steroids - Wurm Distortion. My main thing is though Fuzzes as usual, and there are three really cool ones of those - the Dead Stag Fuzzstortion, Fuzzly Bear Silicon Fuzz and Minos Germanium Fuzz. I really like the little details here and the graphics, the only issue I have is with some of the over-sized enclosures which make several of these pedals impractical for my pedal-chain. Players with more space available to them though should love pretty much all of these.
Very smooth high end galvanically isolated utility pedals - largely Volume Pedals and Device Switchers, I'm not so much bothered by the various bass pedals on offer. These sort all manner of unwanted noise issues - created by power supply phasing, ground loops etc. Lots of pro players use Lehle for seamlessly smooth, noiseless instrument and amp switching with their most popular pedal either the Little Dual Switcher, or the Mono Volume. (Note - SGOS = Second Generation of Switching).
Neo Instruments is one Guido Kirsch of Fulda, who without doubt has created the best loved modern Leslie / Rotary effect pedal in the guise of the Ventilator / Vent line. It currently consists of the full size Ventilator II and Mini Vent II - the latter of which solely has two footswtiches and a voicing switch on the back - internal settings are accessed by combination presses on those two footswitches, but most leave the defaults in tact. I have considered both the Ventilator II and Mini Vent II, and went with the Tech 21 NYC Roto Choir in the end - because it offered more tone-sculpting options for its size, although the footswitch section on the Mini Vent II is better. The other pedal for consideration was the Strymon Lex. Ideally I would like something in-between the Ventilator and Mini Vent - size-wise - with all the features in tact and easily accessible. Just this year Neo added their first drive pedal to their range - the Drive In - which does not particularly share any of its siblings characteristics - the launch passed by relatively unnoticed - and I've not made up my mind about that pedal yet. The two rotary pedals meanwhile are the current industry standard.
Nobels is famous for just one pedal - the 'other green pedal' ODR-1 Natural Overdrive which many find to be a preferable alternative to a Tube Screamer. Although the tonal profile is not really the same at all - there is a very significant number of players for whom this is their secret weapon - chief among those would be various Nashville chicken-pickers or country style players to you and me! John Shanks, Marty Schwartz and Tim Pierce are notable named users of this pedal. I've always intended to get an ODR-1 as much for some alternative variety to the various TS808 types I already have - but it has not happened yet - I'm also not 100% clear on whether I would prefer the original ODR-1 or more tweakable ODR-S - I will seek advice from Bernhard. The other pedals in the range are the 3-band EQ version of the ODR-1 - the ODR-S IMP, the Pre-1 IMP Ground Effect PreAmp, and the AB-1 IMP A/B Switcher. Correction - as kindly advised by Bernhard Nobels Kurzke himself the 'IMP' suffix on all his pedals indicates 'Integrated Mounting Plates' included for pedalboard or display-wall fixing purposes - said add-on is also available separately as the 'Mounty-P' which has garnered 'Accessory of the Month' awards in Australia, Japan, USA and Germany.
A well-established pedal-builder of some repute now - particularly known for some of its more high-gain distortion pedals. I really appreciate the uniformity of look here, and even though there are a large number of medium enclosure pedals - these are typically loaded with multiple dials and voicing switches as well as the occasional dual-footswitch. In theory the Dominator II Black should be the highest gain one in the range, but the Red version has a much better tuned core tone and far more punchy and potent mid-range - to the degree that it sounds far superior in every way to the Black version - which can sound a touch muddy. The Dominator MKII Red is easily my pick of the bunch!
One-man-band outfit as such with a reasonable range of very minimalist but cool looking pedals - all in medium-size enclosures. As usual for me the stand-outs here look to be the fuzz pedals - the well-named Electric Maggot Fuzz and somewhat heavier gain The Doom Scout.
An extremely utilitarian range of mini and large Boost / PreAmp, Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Compressor, Delay, Looper-Switchers and Patchboxes - hand-made in Berlin. They look like they're pretty solidly built, but none are really my style - we'll do a soft pass on these!
Tiny boutique builder with just 2 pedals to its name, both relatively vanilla - a Dynamic Overdrive with higher gain voicing switch on the rear, and a solid looking A/B switcher. Both pedals look well put together, but not necessarily that different to everything that's out there already.
A vintage Moog-like range of pedals - that same sort of size with wood side-panels and all. These 7 pedals are all beautifully put together but somewhat over-sized for my needs - a mix of boost, sustainer, overdrive and fuzz.
3 compact and 1 large pedal - Conditioner/Booster, Magic Boost, Touch My Hall Reverb and dual-footswitch Dual Drive. A decent assortment with the most interesting one here - the Dual Drive highly capable but a touch too large for my liking.
A range of 10 medium and large enclosure pedals some of which bring to mind some of Fulltone's pedals, and there are a lot of utility/switcher pedals on offer here. Styling and pricing-wise they are reminiscent of Fulltone to a degree, and I'm not sure these sufficiently differentiate or deviate to warrant special consideration.
Behringer has evolved into a vast conglomeration of brands now - having swept up TC Electronic and TC Helicon with a number of others. It still sells its older rounder-corner plastic Chinese-made Boss-style clones - while a number of pedals from that range have been absorbed into TC Electronics secondary square box range. Of the old Behringer style pedals still around 25 remain - and there are some OK sounding ones within that selection, albeit build quality is notoriously dubious for those. I've still to figure out what detrimental effects the acquisition has had on TC Electronic - the newer aggregated Music Tribe website is obviously significantly worse than the old TC Electronic site. I also feel that their quality control might not be as high as it used to be - but hopefully that is just a blip. Generally there are lots of decent quality low cost effects out there, and I would probably looks for something equivalent in a metal box - say by Joyo or similar. While for just a little more you can get cool mini Mooers and the fantastic and original Boss's!
A range of 15 or so mostly Treble Booster / Rangemaster style pedals using vintage transistors - also makes vintage overdrives, fuzzes and signal boosters. There is a significant custom component to the operation - where you can specify exactly how you would like the pedal to be set up. Interestingly the dials are located on either side of the pedal rather than on the front face - usually with one per each side. These are certainly fairly unique looking, there are not too many pedals which have their dials on the side in this format, the only one that springs to my mind is the Scott McKeon SM Fuzz. Nevertheless nothing here really that speaks out or appeals to me.
Another small boutique outfit - Matt and Pete of Mainaschaff - who have to date built 5 small / compact and medium pedals with the compact Ganesha Dynamic Drive and Kijo Germanium Fuzz my two favourites here. The Ganapati is also cool - which combines the Ganesha Dynamic Drive and Vahana mini boost in a single dual-footswitch medium enclosure.
The celebrated guitar builder also has a range of similarly pretty pedals in mostly medium vertical enclosures with usually 3 dials - Boost, Overdrive, Compressor, Delay, Reverb and Tremolo. No doubt elegant and great sounding, but rather simple for my tastes.
Diezel's nemesis and equally brilliant high-gain amp builder Engl currently has an 11 pedal range of mostly compact enclosure pedals. There are a few really great high gain distortions available - and I prefer this form factor to the Diezel pedals, while the Diesel pedals are a touch more complex sounding - and with more tonal parameters:
A 5 pedal range of mostly medium vertical enclosures, one compact and one large - these are all boost / overdrive type pedals with a couple in TS808 territory, and at least one Germanium Transistor based. Nothing here really of note for me though.
Appears to be recently defunct now - Haller seems to have been mainly an amp maker - with some vintage-style pedals offered too - various overdrives and phasers. There are still some of these in circulation (Effect Boutique, Reverb.com), but the last social media update was back in 2013!
Thomann's in-house own label mostly consists of re-branded OEM pedals - largely of Joyo origin by the looks of them. There are some pretty decent low cost star performers here - like the Ultimate Drive, but you largely get what you pay for, and there is overall better available elsewhere. Also, not sure why you would buy re-branded pedals over those Joyo-branded originals?
Höfner has 8 beautifully appointed medium orientation enclosure pedals to its range - Compressor, Boost, Fuzz, Overdrive, Tremolo - with a number of these made principally for Bass. They are beautifully well-made with unusual knobs and metal logo badges, but a touch too simple overall for my tastes.
More of a studio-gear purveyor, with a range of 6 switcher / loop-switcher pedals, as well as amp-top style studio compressors. The switching pedals look pretty solidly made with traffic-light LED's and cool black enclosures. Could be worth a look-in, but nothing immediately stands out for me.
A somewhat fragmented / disparate but still cool range of mainly Boost, Overdrive and Fuzz pedals in mostly compact size enclosures. I have featured the switchable Germanium/Silicon Union Fuzz a couple of times on this site previously as a sort of somewhat substitute but-not-really for a Spaceman Gemini III - it's still under consideration!
Not to be confused with Chris Jupiter's JPTR.FX, this outfit has just 1 production pedal - the 'Integrail' 2-loop blender. While there is a Custom division which makes a broader variety of fuzzes, blenders, Rats etc. on a commission basis. In terms of signal-blending I feel the Ohmless Multitool pedals offer a lot more in a similar form-factor.
Small boutique operation featuring 4 large and 1 compact pedal range - 2 overdrives, 2 fuzzes, 1 bass overdrive - nothing for me here - although the V2F overdrive does look sort of interesting.
Oddly, this is mostly a rack-effects PreAmp and Power Amp maker - with 3 studio -type effects and a single Tiny K large stompbox style 2-channel PreAmp. I'm sure the quality of this unit is fine, but there are lots of better-equipped pedals of this type, in fact like the Top 9 BluGuitar Amp 1 above!
Berlin-based electronic engineer Theodor Kleissiaris has a range of 6 uniformly styled steel enclosure pedals with handprint graphics in compact and large enclosures - a mix of boost, delay, fuzz and tremolo. All these look well-put-together but somehow don't hold particular appeal for me - there's nothing here I'm clamouring to add to my collection.
A mix of products - including guitar potentiometers / wiring harnesses, Wah-pedals and overdrive and fuzz pedals for guitar and bass. The Wah's are the standard larger size, while the main effects pedals are of the vertical medium format. There's nothing here which particularly catches my imagination, the website navigation could be much improved also!
Beautifully designed and engineered pedals by one Marc Widmaier of Hamburg. Just a small range so far, but a good mix of smart utility, fuzz and compression. The Multitool Junction Boxes let you cleverly connect and adjust the input of two different guitars into your pedal-chain - so you don't need to change the dials on every single pedal. While for me the standouts are the recently updated Yara Compressor and newish Silicon Transistor Boar Fuzz. These are finely crafted pedals with proper due care and attention applied on the engineering side in particular - and nice graphics!
A range of 15 slightly disjointed non-uniform pedals in mini, compact and medium -size enclosures. A facelift of the range could do wonders here as these pedals are a touch too disparate for easy viewing. I also see nothing particularly unique or appealing here and already have a low tolerance for somewhat over-sized enclosures - so all these medium enclosures unfortunately do nothing for me. There's nothing here that has sufficient stand-out to appeal to me. That said, I've seen a number of these on pedalboards - especially the Kafka Reverb, which must account for something.
Broad, colourful range of circa 26 mid-size weirdly extended-chassis Vertical and Horizontal enclosure pedals. All rather simple / vanilla varieties when compared with the more innovative brands. The base and sides of the enclosures peculiarly extend approximately 3 cm behind the pedals - which makes no sense to me? The pedals are at least well put together and have uniform appeal - although that weird loading bay style extension behind the pedals is frankly a deal-breaker for me!
Small, well-made range of 6 polished compact and mid-size enclosure pedals - a couple of boosts, a mic killswitch, transparent overdrive, delay and univibe. Nothing necessarily stand-out for me here, but probably worth a look-in for some.
Handcrafted Dirt Pedal Workshop with just 2 pedals on offer - the 'Smoke's A-Blowin' Fuzzing Fuzz!' - 8 dial fuzzstortion with 3-band EQ and parametric Mids, and The Supra 6-dial Fuzz. The former also monikered SABAC Fuzz looks the more interesting proposition.
Mainly a Guitars and Guitar Parts maker - these only have one pedal currently to their name - the Real Treble Booster Rangemaster style pedal with 4 control dials including Treble and Bass.
Somewhat overly minimalistic text-only website featuring 5 medium-enclosure pedals - Big Fuzz Germanium, Grantler Power Amp Distortion, Mammut Muff, Moon Boost, and White Fuzz Silicon. Nothing here particularly that stands out for me.
This originally amp-maker now has circa 17 pedals in production for guitar and bass - in mini, compact and large enclosures. The vast majority here are Overdrives and Distortions - including signature pedals both compact and extended workstations for Steve Lukather and Lee Ritenour. The standouts for me are the dual-footswitch compact Overdrive and Distortion - or the Twin Overdrive and Commander II Distortion respectively. There's also a cool line of mini pedals - XS Clean Boost, XS Overdrive and Commander XS Distortion. The enclosures for these pedals are really beautifully engineered - nice looking range of pedals.
I've been aware of this outfit for a while - there was a burst of activity about a year ago which brought the Glam High Gain Distortion pedal to my attention. There are currently 8 pedals to the range and a handful of these are worth a look-in:
Probably he largest range of German pedals I've come across - a good 3-score or so and covering all manner of utility functions - Volume, Routing, Patchboxes, Loop-Switchers, Tap-Tempo, Mixers & Splitters, Amp & FX Switches and a compact range of Boosts, Ovedrives, PreAmps, Distortion, Fuzz, Delay and Reverb. Aesthetics are not the strong-suite here and these are all very utilitarian looking and right across the different sizes of enclosures. They probably have a pedal for every occasion here, but there's something about this collection that does not appeal to me. There's no flagship pedal here either to hang the range off as far as I can see.
Looks like this company is currently in its third incarnation - with two previous iterations of the company seemingly having gone to ground. In its latest version the company so far has just one pedal to its name - the compact Tweaker Full Parametric EQ Boost - which to me does not appear to be quite on par with say a Wampler EQuator or WMD Devices Parametric EQ. There's another pedal on the way too - the SubQ Filter Based PreAmp/Crossover which seems to incorporate similar technology. These look like quality modern pedals, but I'm not sure how they hold up against the best of what is available in the same category. Nothing here for me yet.
Actually a really cool boutique builder with 5 cool pedals to the range - a compact Deer God Fuzz, Medusa Fuzz, My Little Droney and Power Booster/Soulsonic FX Fourbanger 4-in-1 boost, then medium enclosure Red Mercury Overdrive and Sexy Destroyer Bass Distortion. The standout pedal here is the 4-in-1 Power Booster which I really like the look of, these are modern pedals with cool graphics and proper attention to detail.
Another small builder with nice clean graphics and just 5 pedals currently to the range - 3 compact and two mini. The compacts are the Custom Muffin, Real Tube Sound Overdrive (Tube-driven), and Re-Verb, while the mini's are the Autobahn Boost/Ovedrive, and Son of Screamer Overdrive. These are pretty nice looking pedals, but nothing particularly stands out for me.
A guitar-builder mainly with just 1 pedal to its name - the Duane '69 low gain Ovedrive+Boost. It looks well put together, but for whatever reason it does not particularly speak to me.
Looks like this boutique maker went to ground back in 2013, at the time though it had a very formidable range of 11 compact and medium enclosure Overdrives, Fuzzes and Distortions - some of which crop up every now and again on the second-hand market.
A vintage style builder of 3 Wah's, 10 medium enclosure overdrives, fuzzes, distortion and tremolo, and one compact Boost. As stated many times, I'm not at all a fan of vintage / larger style enclosures so I'll do a hard pass on these. The vintage bridgade will no doubt find many of these appealing.
Another vintage-inspired boutique builder with 6 mainly medium-enclosure pedals - Filter Booster, Grand Fuzz, Kompressor, Overdrive, Treble Booster and Tremolo. Nothing here that particularly shouts out to me.
A smart, rather utilitarian but super high-quality range of 11 compact and medium size enclosure pedals. A lot of these pedals are pretty simple, but they are engineered from the very best analog components and sound amazing - in particular my standout pick - the purple Octavia which is one of the best sounding of its kind, and where you can toggle off the effect for just plain unadulterated crunchy fuzz. The Octavia has been on my wishlist for a while - now due for fairly imminent acquisition!
One of Germany's better known pedal-builders with a really substantial range of 14 Overdrive and Distortion Pedals - all excellent. I've come across these pedals quite a lot, but they're not really much in distribution in the UK (actually only at SoundsGreatMusic.com), so my exposure has been fairly limited. These are some very impressive compact and horizontal medium-enclosure pedals - most of which are well reviewed and really well built - all the compact pedals have 3-Band EQ, while the larger formats have a mix of amp-style, dual-channel-tone and 3-band EQ. I really need to audition a few more of these.
I should really stop doing these lists as I keep reminding myself of pedals I want! There are several I would like to add here, albeit only a couple in my top 9. I think the BluGuitar amp is really clever, but does not suit my current multi-tonal / multi-textural pedal approach necessarily. The Hexe BitCrusher is second on that list to the Iron Ether Frantabit; the JPTR FX acquisitions are a long way off; the really cool KMA Horizont is too big for my needs, but really cool at what it does; the Lehle Little Dual I don't really need either as my rig is permanently stereo; I would really like a Mini Vent 'III' with some control dials on it - instead I may try a Strymon Lex next; and finally the Nobels ODR-1 and Okko Dominator are already marked for acquisition, but not prioritised.
I also really want a Weehbo or two and I definitely want a Valhbruch Octavia Fuzz, and possibly an Ohmless Boar Fuzz. There's plenty here to get your teeth stuck into - I still feel though that Britain and Canada have a slight edge over Germany with their premium pedal brands - say in particular Origin Effects and ThorpyFX, and Empress Effects and SolidGoldFX to name a couple.
The process of identifying all the German pedal builders above was a real hard slog as so many of those businesses no longer exist or have changed tac in intervening years. And several more have horribly obtuse websites with not at all user-friendly navigation. For the record, all pedal-makers should have one long listing page which displays all their pedals at sufficient scale and resolution to make out what the heck those pedals are about, and how well they are designed and put together.
I feel a lot of these boutique builders could be a lot more successful if they put a tiny bit more effort into design, product placement and marketing. Uniformity of theme is pretty critical to success, and there are still too many out there selling borderline ugly over-sized enclosures when there are geniuses around like Joel Korte who can cram a whole assortment of pedals into one compact enclosure.