When I do my category roundups and reviews, my remits are always to be as broad as possible within the set criteria, and I typically include one or two older and discontinued models alongside the usual suspects and new releases. It is always with some degree of sadness that I witness pedal builders going out of business for one reason or another. This industry seems to have a fairly high burnout rate and with competition getting ever fiercer, it is unfortunately understandable that some businesses will likely get kicked to the kerb along the way.
Like many others, I do have a number of pedals from companies that are no longer active, and in many cases prefer earlier editions of pedals to the latest released versions - latest is not always greatest therefore. So I feel it is always opportune to celebrate the best of pedals - whether those builders are still active or not. In terms of pedal maintenance and repair - as long as the circuit is relatively analog, someone like Johnny Balmer at Alchemy Audio can always revive and recondition those kinds of circuits - as can a great many experienced pedal and amp-techs.
For my first ’2 Laid to Rest’ feature I am focusing on the really very recently defunked Blackout Effectors and Classic Audio Effects which I have always been a fan of, and have featured both on this site before. I always thought the Roller style expression control was an ingenious take for that format, although the newest OBNE Expression Slider is possibly neater still in some ways - it just needs to be a touch more robust for proper ’foot-manipulation’ but that is probably how I would use it anyway - regardless of the limitations and warranty conditions stated.
For Classic Audio Effects - I feel the roller type was always best suited to Expression and Volume tasks - although they never combined those in the one unit. And the mechanism obviously requires electronics to work as even their passive Volume and Expression pedals have a power supply requirement. I was and am a fan of the Mini Dunlop pedals - but was considering at one stage getting a Classic Audio Expression Roller - those days are now somewhat behind me - and for my own needs I will probably look more towards the OBNE Expression Slider for now. For other players - I feel the roller style controllers could be a proper ’revolution’ - particularly in the compact form factor department.
Blackout Effectors has long been known as one of best makers of Muff style Fuzzes - with its universally celebrated ’Musket’ type fuzzes. While I prefer the slightly more open sounding, gainier and more versatile edition of that - which is the Blunderbuss Hybrid Fuzz (Silicon + Germanium). The other one listed here is one of the more unusual Tone Bender style fuzzes - which has been on my wishlist for a while. I scooped both of those up very recently as they were seemingly two of the last examples out there in the wild and I feared that I would really struggle to obtain these if I did not pin them down swiftly.
Fans of Blackout Effectors are going to need to stalk Reverb.com hard to get their hands on either the Blunderbuss or Fubär fuzzes, while I have found some examples of the Classic Audio Effects Expression and Volume Rollers for sale on Reverb although those are too fast drying up.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual:
This is the Musket's slightly quirkier brother - with more gain on tap via use of Hybrid mix of Germanium and Silicon transistors - for a more open and articulate sound. 6 controls - PreAmp | Midrange | Focus | Gain | Tone | Level - for significant degree of tone-shaping. Most feel that this is more versatile and thus preferable to the standard Musket. This is of course essentially a Big Muff style - just with a huge degree of tonal variance though its 6 controls - which means it covers a lot of ground.
Tone Bender style fuzzes are typically a lot more vanilla than this extreme noise box. While the core underlying tonality is indeed a Tone Bender style circuit fuzz - the 6 controls give you all manner of oscillating and starved voltage 8 bit style arcade and sci-fi soundings fuzz tones. Range | Bias | Sag | Fuzz | Exp | Level - where you can apply external expression pedal, or use the second Sag / Exp footswitch to switch between two different dialled-in Sag settings. This is obviously a fuzz for experimental players and those who like the more tweakey style fuzzes out there - like Zvex's Fuzz Factory. Both have highly interactive dials - which can make it difficult to dial in preferred settings a second time around - but you sure have fun along the way.
A very simple pedal - just uses a roller system rather than pivot treadle for expression control. The LED light gets progressively lighter and dimmer as you revolve it - takes circa 2 rotations from 'heel to toe' as such - which covers the full range. This is obviously the standard compact enclosure format - but slightly taller to avoid conflict with neighbouring pedals. As mentioned I had considered this for a while as an alternative to my Dunlop minis - but would possible consider the OBNE Expression Slider nowadays - no doubting this is a really cool version of expression control though.
Classic Audio do Passive and Active Volume Roller pedals - both of which are powered types. I've chosen the newer Foothills Active edition here which features Active Buffer at the start of the circuit, as well as 3 different sweep modes selected by rear toggle-switch - Flat, Normal and Scoop. You also have a third socket jack on the rear - presumably for tuner insert. Once again I feel this is a really smart compact format volume controller and preferable to those enormous pivot treadles. These were regularly available on Reverb.com for a while, but not many reached this side of the pond. I still feel it's a loss to loose such an innovator as this - hopefully they will rise like a phoenix again sometime in the future. Note that I could not find demo video of Foothills version, so the video above is of the original Passive Volume iteration.
In a pedal universe of so many clone pedals an also-rans I feel it's particularly sad to loose a couple of significantly innovative companies as these both are. I feel much of 'guitarland' is still populated by traditionalists who tend to stick with the older ways.
It's always a risk to be too much out there on your own - and Classic Audio in particular seemed to have several factors against it - as it needed to offer up both traditional and roller versions of most of its pedals. And possibly Blackout Effectors were never sufficiently mainstream to get consistent cashflow to support the more experimental side of the business.
I have said before that most pedal builders need at least one vanilla-ish cash cow that keeps things ticking over regardless. Keeley has compressors, TC Electronic has loopers and tuners etc. each of the mainstays tends to have at least one pedal they shift significant volume on - to support all the other lesser popular parts of the range.
I feel T-Rex lost its way somewhat recently - as their main bread-and-butter area - 'power supplies' had been eroded away by more innovative recent entrants. Possibly neither of the above mentioned companies had a single strong enough performer to sustain the business through lean times - I for one though am sad to see them go. Hopefully those persons involved go onto bigger and better things eventually...