2018 has been a really surprising year for pedals - there have been quite a few unexpected innovations along the way with also some of the usual production delays and holdups. As I write this I am still waiting for my long-overdue Jackson Audio Bloom to arrive - but I expect it will be worth the delay. I would have liked to have seen the Empress Zoia despatched this year too, as sort of predicted though - I feel that it will be pushed into next year - to coincide with Winter NAMM possibly - in any case it would arrive too late for this particular overview.
Like last year I have selected 25 of my favourite pedals - not necessarily all that I will end up owning, but all that I admire in their own way. Of all of these I have 7 already, with probably another 4 or 5 definite additions and a couple more maybe/probables!
After much deliberation I selected my Top 3 in the following order:
I decided that the overall technical achievement and scope of the Revival Drive nudged that ahead of the rather wonderful new Dark World Reverb. And while I’ve still not made up my mind about owning/long-term-use of the Plasma Pedal - you cannot really argue that it’s not a smart and original innovation - as to whether you like or can make best use of its output is another matter entirely q.v.:
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:
I pretty much knew I wanted this after the first couple of demos I saw and it truly is a great sounding fuzzy-drive pedal as I like to call it - with plenty of variety and range on tap. It it a large pedal - but then again it does have 3 footswitches, and there are a couple of niggles for me - I feel the thin / hollow plastic dials somewhat cheapen the otherwise exceptional build and attention to detail and quality. I also would really have liked separate tone controls for each channel. That said you can set it in such a way that you don't need to tweak the universal controls every time you switch - I just think it would offer so much more flexibility if you could!
When this was first announced I thought it would be a significant threat to the Boss DM-2w and MXR Carbon Copy analogue delay pedals, but it's so much more expensive that it really cannot compete directly. Apart from it's second tap-tempo footswitch and clever modulation - one of it's main advantages is a USB port for pretty much unlimited updates - but at it's price point it's closer to competing with the Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall, and does not offer quite as much as that. It's a really cool next-level analogue delay, but part of me can't help wondering if it's not just a touch too pricey for what it is delivering?
The simplicity and elegance of this sort of Chorus pedal makes it somewhat unique - even though TC-Electronic has a lower cost 3rd Dimension - that does not do exactly the same sort of multiple overlapping chorusing effect. I was hunting down good quality originals of this formerly discontinued pedal on Reverb.com - but am so glad I held out long enough for Boss to make this upgraded re-release - covering both the Dimension C and rack-mounted Dimension D's tones. When I add this, it will be as an alternative / understudy to my Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl Chorus.
Like many, I was surprised when this appeared a few months ago, as I was rather expecting a revival of the much in-demand discontinued HM-2 rather than a Waza version of the already successful and ongoing Metal Zone variety. Nonetheless Boss have done an excellent job in taming that other popular Metal pedal which is still one of Boss's all-time best sellers - and may only be pipped by the DS-1 in overall sales!. In any case the new Waza version offers a second tighter and more refined custom mode, as well as a significantly tweaked and re-focused standard mode - making the pedal less temperamental and easier to dial in than before. I still have my Keeley Twilight Zone Mod edition of the original but will be getting this version too eventually as it sounds great.
I'm a huge fan of Chase Bliss Audio pedals and have 6 of those already in the chain. I've struggled of late how to accommodate Joel's more time-based effects within my stereo rig - as these are all strictly mono. I'm still trying to figure out how best to accommodate the Thermal and this fantastic Dark World Reverb. It's really smartly evolutionary and innovative - particularly in how it splits classic and otherworldly Reverb modes across 2 channels and allows you to stack them any which way. You could argue that Mooer's Ocean Machine sort of did this first, but not as cleanly and succinctly - and the quality of Tom Majeski's Dark Side Reverns - Modulate, Shimmer and Black is just unparalleled. This really is a game-changer of sorts and I really want to figure out how best to incorporate this within my stereo rig - if only it were stereo! I really had this and the Origin Effect RevivalDrive battling out for the top slot - and awarded it to the latter by nature of its slightly more involved technical development. That said this should probably also win a separate prize - 'Best Collaboration of 2018' as it throws together 3 great innovators of this industry - of course Joel Korte of Chase Bliss, Tom Majeski of Cooper FX (Generation Loss), and the venerable veteran Robert Keeley.
Because this contains those expensive Bucket Brigade Device chips the pricing on this one is a touch high - nevertheless it has become many players essential otherworldly delay this year - with its combination of sort of glitchy pitch-shifting combined with Tonal Recall underpinnings. I still definitely want one of these, but need to figure out how best to accommodate in the chain - I won't really be using it as a delay as such - so it offers no threat to either my Empress EchoSystem or Eventide H9 , it would obviously need to go in significantly upstream in the chain - before the start of the various stereo effects.
A fantastic technical achievement which I've followed from since Ryan Clarke started posting updates on its progress. It has though alas been somewhat overshadowed by Chase Bliss's Dark World which materialised just shortly afterwards - which although it does not approach the depth and range of Reverbs available on the device - the Atmosphere has 16 algorithms - nevertheless combines Reverb in a more clever fashion. This pedal is also somewhat handicapped for me in not being stereo output - but otherwise it's nigh on perfect for a Reverb pedal of this type and infinitely controllable and tweakable. There's just something about the Dark World which makes it ever so slightly more appealing for me.
This one came out just a touch to late for me - as I was already committed to the Jackson Audio Bloom, which does much the same thing only in a more digitally controllable fashion - and with dual footswitches. Had the Bloom not existed I would be onto this in a second as my main compressor with extras. For a long time I was considering getting an Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, then the Bloom came along, and finally this - all of which are exceptional, but which for me I feel the Bloom is the perfect fit for me - I still really like the look of this unit though and may acquire for rotation anyway at some stage.
Finally a worthy adversary for my Chase Bliss Audio Spectre - this ups the stakes somewhat with stereo output and a few more algorithms to throw into the mix. It's obviously slightly over-sized compared to the now discontinued Spectre - and around about the same price. I've sort of made up my mind already to get this - initially it was as a primary replacement, but I think more likely now as an alternative rotation - as I still really like the way undervalued Spectre. In most ways the Pyramids is a sort of upgrade to the Spectre, but it is digital rather than analogue.
This is a great little companion on EHX's earlier Canyon Delay and has some pretty fantastic sounding algorithms onboard - with the Spring Reverb in particular getting a lot of love. It's of course considerably outplayed by Dr Scientist's Atmosphere and Chase Bliss's Dark World, but then those are at roughly 3 times the price - so this is a more vanilla proposition and actually great for those wanting a relatively straight forward multi-mode Reverb. This pedal is on many end of year lists - particularly based on the strength of how great many of its algorithms sound - I do feel it has a lot of competition though and it would not necessarily be my first choice.
Even though I award this essentially gated fuzz sounding pedal very high technical and innovation points - I'm still in two minds as to whether this is actually really something for me, and whether I will use it sufficiently. It generates a very specific kind of gated fuzz sound - which is definitely an acquired taste. Andertons / Rob Chapman's above video went a long way towards convincing me as to the merits of this pedal - which I feel works best as a sort of ambient shoegaze tool - with heaps of delay and reverb piled on top. I do feel it's quite a specialist thing, but what it does it does very well - so likely more of a sort of second string pedal for me than a principal or primary - top props to Gamechanger though for continuing to push the envelope - I look forward to what they come out with next.
The second pedal from Misha Mansoor's Horizon Devices uses MXR's EVH 5150 enclosure to house a fantastic tight modern high gain classic. Friedman's more recent BE-OD Deluxe may have taken some of the shine of this one by offering a little more in a similar format - but the tonal profiles are somewhat different - with this very much more and all-out Djent machine - while the BE-OD offers a little more versatility in its two different gain stages - and allows you to cover off both Plexi and JCM800 style tones to the largest degree. That said I see the BE-OD Deluxe as an evolution of its single pedal predecessor - and I would rather have that one with the same control topology as the newer Deluxe pedal - with the tightness dial changed to a 3 way-switch and replaced by a more useful Mids knob. For out-and-out high gain though possibly the Apex just pips it - although I am kind of two minds right now for which of the two I would go for - as I really love the BE-OD and would welcome the extra control of the newer version.
I fortunately bought mine at a discounted price on USA Labor Day - but after several production delays am still waiting for said pedal to arrive - it's been enroute for a while though and should probably turn up this week! I also mentioned the fact that DryBell's not too dissimilar concept-wise Unit67 appeared soon after, but was actually ready for orders first - while I was already fully committed to the Bloom. I had considered the Cali76 Compact Deluxe and ThorpyFX Fat General, but as an owner of a Jackson Audio Prism - there was something extra about the Bloom that appealed to me - it's smart combination of Compression, EQ and Blooming Boost - I just really liked it conceptually and the early demos I saw of it were great. Of course we will see when it finally arrives - to replace my Wampler Mini Ego. If it does not work out for whatever reason, the DryBell Unit67 is my second choice - then following by the Cali76 - so we just have to see on that score - I have very high hopes though!
For owners of the JHS Muffuletta this is a familiar format, only instead of 6 classic Muff types you get 9 classic Tube Screamers - including the photo-screamer Boss OD-1 and super rarity Polish Exar OD1 - which is actually my favourite flavour on this pedal. For Tube Screamer lovers this pedal is everything you could wish for - especially to figure out what you particular preference is. I really like this pedal, but possibly prefer my Foxpedal The City V2 overall as my Tube Screamer of choice - because of the enhanced tone-tweaking and separate footswitched boost. If you own only 2 Tube Screamer pedals - then it makes sense to have this everyman version as one of those choices.
I seem to have a love/hate relationship with guitar synth pedals - often finding it pretty hard to dial them in and get along with. I was pinning a lot of hopes on the Pigtronix Mothership 2 - which is a decent pedal, but I somehow don't fully get along with it - preferring instead DigiTech's Dirty Robot. I'll probably hang onto both of those in any case, and if the synth bug hits me again then this new Enzo is probably the current best of the bunch - with all kinds of cool secondary modes including arpeggiation. The Enzo has fluttered near the top of my wishlist for a while - but I grow kind of hot and cold for these synth type pedals - often preferring fuzzes, bitcrushers and ring-modualators to create the same sort of thing. There's no doubting the credentials of the Enzo though and while the majority are very much in its favour - there are still some players that don't get on with it either - so beware of that. Still probably the best compact/medium format all-round synth pedal for guitars these days.
This was one of my big investments this year along with an Eventide H9 Max and Barn3 enclosure - but both have been really rewarding in their own way. I love having lots of dials and switches to tweak the output of my pedals - sometimes the more the merrier - so in most ways I prefer the controls of the RevivalDrive versus those of the H9. That said I feel that Simon
Keats could have labelled some of the parameters in a more modern manner - I totally understand though that he was being authentic to the classic vintage amps he was trying to replicate with this pedal. I would also have preferred separate Mids dials per channel really - but that's about it for the criticism. This is a really wonderful dynamic and expressive pedal, and probably the most nuanced, harmonically rich and textured of this kind. You should though only buy it in its full-fat Custom edition version with footswitch in order to get the most of it. Unlike most I also use the additional front EQ panel as a further voicing selector - rather than just tuning the pedal into different amps. When I covered my favourite amps for the year I mentioned that the 3rd Power Kitchen Sink was designed to combine the best of Fender, Vox and Marshall tones, then that is certainly what the RevivalDrive does in pedal format. I largely split the Left/Right channels by Vox / Marshall type tones, but occasionally throw in some Dumble ODS style flavours. It's a really versatile heavyweight pedal which does though require some due care and attention for best results. Pedal Tweakers like my will love it, other more singularly and linearly minded may find it a touch too much. Overall though I award this my Pedal of the Year for both its incredible technical achievement and resulting output. I feel it could still do with a couple of improvements, but there is truly nothing like it at the moment - an expensive investment for sure, but will be worthwhile for most.
I don't know why I somehow overlooked this really cool tape delay sample-hold pitch shifting sort of pedal. It creates really cool moderately glitchy delay textures in a really smart fashion. Lots of pros have picked up on it and feature it on their boards - including Daniel Steinhardt most recently. I just somehow missed this one - it kind of skirted the radar somehow - I guess you can't catch every single pedal in one year - and I certainly have kept tabs on a few hundred. This is one of the more compact Red Panda pedals and a very different but sort of soul-brother to the Chase Bliss Thermae. It would probably be greedy to have both - and difficult to accommodate both on your board - so you need to choose which - and I'm usually leaning more towards the Chase Bliss camp but you never know ...
I bought mine from this Canadian Amp-maker pretty much as soon as it was first previewed. It is largely considered the best new high gain pedal on the market - and knocked out my BE-OD on that slot has principal compact high gain pedal. I actually have currently rotated the new Abasi Pathos / Wampler onto that slot, but probably overall the slightly more versatile G3 is my favourite. It has plenty of range to it along its 3 different voicings, and remains tight and musical throughout the range. For its form-factor I think this is the current champion.
I was weirdly enough fairly new to Spaceman Effects this year, but quickly developed a taste for them and now have 6 of the classics. I was originally holding out for a decent second hand Mercury III which is more compact sized with 3 dials. I alway tend to prefer more compact pedals if I can get them - however the VIIIs don't go for much less than £1,000+ these days - so I succumbed to the delights of the equally magnificent MKIV type which slightly more tonal modes than the III by way of dual 3-way toggle switches. In any case I'm delighted I did get this as it's now a pretty much permanent fixture in my chain. Not on all the time, but a good 70% or so. I use it in addition to my always-on Jackson Audio Prism Boost/Buffer/EQ/PreAmp.
Stone Deaf make my equal-favourite Tremolo - the Tremotron which I alternate/rotate with my Chase Bliss Gravitas. The new Syncopy essentially takes the same form factor and control topology and applies it to Analogue Delay - with modulation options, tap tempo and onboard presets. This is in a sort of similar vein to the above Bondi Effects Art Van Delay but has significantly more features on board but not the USB port for infinite updates. I would still probably pick this one over the Art Van though - better price and more features - both of course sound excellent.
I am rather fond of Subdecay Effects although they seem to be somewhat overlooked of late - they have quite the reputation I guess alongside Malekko Heavy Industries for making really cool slightly off-kilter pedals which are fairly unique, always great sounding and usually not too complicated to deploy. In this instances we have a really clever sort of octaver/modulator/bitcrusher type effect which generates really cool synthy style tones. I am typically more at home with this sort of thing than say the Meriz Enzo above. As it stands - this is slightly higher on my wishlist than the Enzo - although things do change all the time - and it depends for which one I see a really cool demo next ...
This is very much a Boost + Overdrive pedal as the Boost is as important as the latter as a voicing for journeyman guitarist and Andertons Video Director Peter Honoré (aka Danish Pete). They started off with the Peacekeeper circuit but ended in a very different place in designing Pete's perfect signature pedal. It lends itself particularly well to Fender single-coil guitars as those are Pete's weapons of choice - but the demos with hum buckers are pretty fine too. Adrian Thorpe has had a bit of a number year - delivery a couple of award-winning pedals - including this one an the Team Medic Boost/Buffer/EQ/PreAmp - both of which are on my wishlist. He's also managed to seriously compact his pedals in bringing down the enclosure size by approximately 20% - making them far more pedalboard-friendly and much more to my liking!
I foolishly declared this the greatest ever 'Blues-Breaker-style' pedal without fully checking out the Analog.Man King of Tone. Now that I have both - I find them both to be exceptional and slightly different actually in frequency profile. My King of Tone is of the JHS 4-Star Mod variety - so I have all the internal dip-switches and trim-pots mounted as dials and toggles on the top surface of the pedal with the other dials. The Pantheon is surely the most versatile compact format edition - while the King of Tone with its dual channel stacking ability actually offers even more versatility overall. I in fact have both currently in my pedal chain and use them both somewhat differently. I am kind of in a pedal stacking frame of mind these days - and the both the Pantheon and King of Tone combine really well with other pedals in my chain - for an even greater variety of tones. However much I love my Tumnus Deluxe I think the Pantheon is better still - more dynamic and more versatile - I dare say it's Brian Wampler's best pedal to date!
This pedal was kind of caught up in developer hell for a couple of years - so complicated was its birth. It has to be the most advanced bitcrusher type pedal to-date. Containing 512 wavetables in total with cross-morphing and 16 foot-switchable presets. If you're serious about bitcrushing then this is definitely your pedal - which though may be a little too much for some. I really like the idea of this, but not 100% convinced this pedal is right for me - possibly the medium-sized original Geiger counter is more suitable - but I am tempted!
I pretty much like all of the new vertical Zvex pedals but have only acquired the Germanium Fuzz Factory to Date. This though is probably the star of the show - a real vintage-sounding vibey phaser - based on Zachary's sculptural Candela Vibrophase. This is definitely high on the wishlist and will be acquired soon enough - not sure about when for the the vertical Box of Rock and '59 Sound (Tweed) - they will be added to eventually.
So in reviewing the list of 25 - the 7 I already have are the Beetronics Royal Jelly, Jackson Audio Bloom, JHS Bonsai, Origin Effects RevivalDrive, REVV G3, Spaceman Mercury IV and Wampler Pantheon.
The additional ones I will definitely be getting are the Boss DC-2w, Boss MT-2w, Chase Bliss Dark World, EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids, Subdecay Octave Theory, and Zvex Vibrophase.
While I'm still pondering on the Chase Bliss Thermae, DryBell Unit67, Gamechanger Plasma, Horizon Devices Apex, Meriz Enzo, Red Panda Tensor and ThorpyFX Dane.
Right now I don't think I will find space in my chain or collection for the Art Van Delay, Atmosphere, Oceans 11, Syncopy and Geiger counter Pro - which are all excellent though and may very well appeal to and properly suit other fellow players.
Upon further reflection I feel I was definitely right about my top 3 - I feel those are the standouts here in a very strong field - some of these are a touch leftfield for sure - while many here are already breaking sales records for their makers. Class of 2018 really was pretty impressive - and would have been even more so if the Empress Zoia had been released in time for this. As it is - it will go into the reckoning for 2019, and there will need to be something truly incredible if it is to see off the final format I believe the Empress Zoia will take!