Following my piece on 20 of the Best Boss Compact Pedals, I decided to do an overview of 20 of the key different pedal types by approximate pedalboard sort order - to see which brands in my opinion fared the best across all 20 categories - in terms of preferred compact pedal per type. This is of course all hugely subjective, but there are several practicality concerns here too, and some pedals perhaps that would be selected almost regardless of any size restrictions. In every slot you have numerous choices - so I will state my current favourite (always subject to change) and the two next closest alternatives.
I always tend to match up tone and versatility, both are important for me - and of course price is a factor, as are more esoteric matters such as voltage and current draw, socket positions, pedal output level and pedal adaptability - how easily it adapts within your chain and how easy it is to dial in a satisfactory tone.
I’ve decided to list out the pedals by their approximate most appropriate placement/order within the pedal-chain; as follows:
I actually prefer the PolyTune Mini Noir for space reasons, but the newest regular-size PolyTune will do just fine. Generally I would typically always have a preference for a mini-size tuner, but these are classics too:
My preference here is for as compact a pedal as possible and ideally with the combination of volume and expression control - in passive (unpowered) format. The Dunlop is easily the winner here, and then you have a descending scale in terms of quality and cost. I find it odd that more expression/volume pedal companies have not followed suite with smaller pedal version of their own - you really don't need to have something the size of a skateboard!:
Per my post on Wah Pedals there are lots of different options here - various Auto-Wah and Filter pedals too which fit the bill to a degree. The Dunlop comes first because of a combination of durability, affordability and tone, I must say though that I am intrigued by the Mini Wilson which looks to me USA-only currently, and there could have been several in third place here - including also the Mooer Wahter Wah and the Plutoneium Chi-Wah-Wah - while I settled on the AMT WH-1:
The EHX Pog in its various guises is typically seen as the king of the octaves, but the more full-featured versions are clunky, and the compact ones lack features. The runaway winner here is the Sub 'N' Up, lots of people love the Boss Super Octave still, and the EHX Pitch Fork is a decent multi-tasker albeit probably rather more of a pitch-shifter:
My preference for boosts has always been the mini ones - like for tuners, yet the Jackson Audio Multi-Function Prism Buffer Boost really intrigues - that's quite a special pedal, as reflected by the price - there are all manner of tone-sculpting abilities from clean boost to thunderous gain ramp-up. The recent Friedman Buxom Boost is also pretty decent, as is TC Electronic's Spark Booster, of which I have the mini variety as a backup:
Here again my preference is and has been for mini compressors - Wampler Mini Ego, Xotic SP and Pigtronix Mini Philosophers's Tone. Most of the pro players though seem to be of a mind that the Origin Effects Cali76 compressors are the best. I've followed that up with the full-size Wampler Ego and the versatile TC Electronic HyperGravity:
As stated below there is only one winner here really, not an awful lot of competition, and a rather contentious category too as many detractors claim this does not get them nearly close enough to acoustic dynamics, but then we're really just talking about flavours - and if you add the right sort of reverb and boost and EQ it carefully enough you can get close enough. The Mini Mooer Acoustikar gets rave reviews too for its size.:
The Overdrive and Distortion categories were pretty difficult to choose as I have so many distinct flavours that I like. I settled on the dual-channel compact Foxpedal The City for sake of its incredible versatility and boost option - you can also use the boost independently to impact your other drives downstream. On my wishlist but yet to be acquired too is the new Steve Stevens Signature J Rockett Rockaway Archer - essentially a Klon with a built in 5-band EQ - for heaps of tonal versatility. I then included my favourite mid-gain overdrive - the classic Fulltone OCD:
This was another tough category, as we realy need a dual-channel compact pedal to mix things up properly here. The Elements comes top by virtue of its incredibly versatility - you can pretty much dial in any kind of tone here. The new Super Crunch Box V2 is then the perfect Marshall Sound Pedal, and finally the new Boss JB-2 combines its own classic Blues Driver circuit with JHS's Marshall-esque Angry Charlie circuit - for yet more versatility. I've also included the Friedman BE-OD because of its great core sound and deep range - obviously a slight lean towards Marshall here as there well should be:
Not everyone will view the Chase Bliss Brothers as a bona fide Fuzz pedal, but that's what I mainly use it for, supported by my new Foxpedal Defactor and more extreme Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler. I elected to put the JHS Muffuletta in the 3rd slot even though it's position in my chain is now occupied by the Defector - it is though the most versatile Muff-style pedal currently available - giving you 6 great classic modes of those legendary fuzz flavours:
I've actually been through 2 Boss gates, an original and an Alchemy Audio Modified version with upgraded internals - my current is the latter. Someone suggested that the ISP Decimator G-String was better, but I could not get it to work as well as my Boss - so it went back to the shop. Both the alternatives allow you to do 2 separate loops, isolating your noisier pedals which I like - the TC Electronic because of its TonePrint option comes a very close second - I may even swap out to the at some stage. It is followed by the very reasonably affordable EHX Silencer:
Like for the Noise Gate I went through both original and Alchemy Audio Modified versions and stuck with the latter. The Maxon gives you one less band, but is very high quality, and the WMD is fully parametric - a sort of mini version of the popular Empress ParametricEQ - handy ot have that sort of fucntionality in a compact pedal. There was also a Boss Parametric compact available at some stage which had more limited controls:
This is the second of 5 Chase Bliss pedals listed - for many players these are total overkill as well as being somewhat pricey, for a tone-tweaker they are a delight though, and nothing else really comes close at this compact size (only improvement would be stereo-outs). The Dry Bell Vibe Machine is almost equally popular by the pros, and the come the more moderately priced yet full stereo alternative in the Shape of the TCE Dreamscape and DigiTech Ventura Vibe - both really excellent choices:
This is a wonderful pedal with a huge range of tones, as is the A/DA PBF Flanger which also sounds pretty spectacular. The TCE Vortex rounds up the selection with its usual smart TonePrint functionality onboard:
Again Chase Bliss leads and pips the digital La Calavera which I also have, and which does some really cool extreme effects. TCE's TonePrint enabled Helix rounds off this selection with a more reasonably priced option:
The final of the Chase Bliss pedals featured was the first one I acquired and got to grips with - at times it was relegated to second place by the equally spectacular and dual-tremolo Tremotron. Again TCE gets in on the action with full stereo ports and TonePrint onbard:
Even without the new improved features the TCE Flashback was favourite for this category - all of this selection are full stereo and have a broad range of effects, but the Flashback still maintains a healthy lead in its fully-rounded smart feature set, now with genius 'MASH' footswitch too:
Much like with the Flashback, TCE has the compact sector Reverb Workstation category wholly covered - no one offers close to what the HOF has onboard. There are many fans though of the Neunaber Immerse, but strangely not so many for the DigiTech Polara which is pretty much as good as that. The Boss RV-6 could also have got a shout in here, but the 3 featured are for sure the 3 stongest - they're also all sterero too which is a must!:
The Looper I have is the TCE Ditto X2 which I like by dint of its dual footswitches. Yet had I been compelled to buy within the compact form-factor I would have gone for the slightly more feature rich Boss RC-3 or DigiTech JamMan XT - both being excellent choices. Would be nice to see the Ditto Stereo at some stage with a few more features onboad - and why not two footswitches like Chase Bliss, Dr Scientist and Foxpedal do:
This is really only good for a stereo rig like mine is, but if you are playing through 2 amps, then the Mimiq is amazing - it not only thickens up your sound, gives it more dynamism and more crunch, it also widens your stereo soundstage - it's like a magic Hi-Fidelity or 3D switch. The Keeley and Boss here are pretty decent, but they don't really have the same magic formula that the TCE Mimiq does
The 20 Pedal Types above are mostly considered the core or classic ones - likely with the exception of the Double Tracking, but I wanted to include my mainstays - here follow the other key categories guitar pedals are usually classified within:
The majority of the first choice pedals here are long-term tried and tested regular constituents of my chain. There are several others here that are obvious shoe-ins in their categories, and a couple more recent additions which are not yet part of my collection and which I may never acquire, even though they are on my rather expansive wishlist.
I have multiple Drive pedals in my chain, and mix up the Chase Bliss analogue modulations with Digital Boss MD-500 & RV-500 as well as an Empress EchoSystem. I also have a lot of medium-sized dual-channel pedals in my chain which are obviously beyond the size restrictions of this category.
Were I force to source my pedals entirely from the compact pedal format I would be more than delighted with the pedal chain featured here - all of those pedals are exceptional and would serve anyone well.
If you read through all the different placings here then TC Electronic (12 mentions) is the winner, followed by Boss (9) and then Chase Bliss (5). I would need Dunlop for the Volume and Wah pedals, and one more brand to cover off the odd drive pedal, and that would be most of this covered. Boss, EHX and MXR properly have a pedal for pretty much every occasion, and even though TC Electronic has moved up fast there are still gaps in its range - same can be said about fairly expansive ranges by DigiTech, Earth Quaker Devices, Keeley and Wampler. I still see plenty of scope for growth and plenty of space for boutiques and independents - like Foxpedal. As with fashion though much of this is down to luck and happenstance and how you can appeal to and maintain mindshare in such a media-saturated world.
In my various blog posts to date I have covered and mentioned pedals from somewhere in the region of 200 different makers, and this is still only just scratching the surface - much of this is also down to local distribution and availability, as well as price points. I still find it strange when I can buy a pedal from Canada on Reverb.com, get it shipped and pay custom dues, and still get it for a lot less than it's sold for within the UK. Distribution is not really the biggest problem as there are often numerous UK resellers that list a product - just none of them have it in stock and may not have had it in stock for a while. All my Dr Scientist pedals were procured from Canada via Reverb.com - they just weren't available from the UK vendors.
Most UK-based pedal-makers, with the exception of Origin Effects, Rainger FX and Stone Deaf, seem overly rooted to the 70's - with old-fashioned oversized recreations of mostly already existing products - wholly lacking in innovative flair. Just like Boss has had to react to heightened competition from the likes of Strymon, TC Electronic and Chase Bliss - UK pedal-makers need to also react to those and try and gain their own competitive advantage like the aforementioned trio of UK companies is already doing.