I’m possibly writing this just a touch prematurely as at the point of writing - one of the pictured pedals hasn’t turned up quite yet, and it will be touch and go if gets released out of customs before the end of the year. That pedal being Sinvertek’s new N5+ Drive - featuring no less than 7 beautifully milled aluminium knobs along with 5 toggle-switches - and all within a compact enclosure format - but more of that later.
This year has mostly sort of gone to plan - but there are really too far many variables, unforeseens and tangents to entirely be able to be wholly predictive in where you’re going to end up. I’ve spent a lot of this year researching and tweaking Glitch-style pedals - even though few feature in the final-chain, same actually goes for Fuzzes - where I currently stand at around 200 of those, while I have place in the chain only for 4 really - and two of those are pretty much semi-permanent now, while I do often have a fuzz on flexible slot #14 too!
I started the year with 40 slots in the chain yet added one final one during the year to make for a rather odd tally of 41! Totally new this year were X pedals which are the ones I will focus on in the main below.
Top 7 brands = 26 Pedals out of 41
Circabout 50% Turnover Rotation between years
From the above earliest Pedal-Chain planning for 2019 you can see quite a lot changed throughout the year - I had several ideas for updating the 4th Row in particular - with acquisitions and swap outs for debuts of REVV G4 Distortion, Zvex Vibrophase, Pladask Elektrisk Fabrikat, Boss DC-2W Dimension-C, EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids Flanger and Line 6 HX Stomp. Also note the Empress Zoia targeted in row 5!
All the pedals outlined in green were acquired and added to the chain in the first month of the year - with the addition of the Decibelics Angry Swede and Zvex Vibrophase outlined in orange. I did not get around to the Boss DC-2W alas - that will definitely happen next year (2020 Year of Boss and Minis!). Also I ended up with the actually much preferable fully analog ThorpyFX Camoflange vs the digital EQD Pyramids Flanger - and decided not to pursue the HX Stomp at that time - as it would have meant quite significant changes to power requirements / power supplies - needing really 2 sockets (2 x 660mA combined) of a Cioks DC7 device! The Zoia of course arrived in April - around the 24th I believe.
Following on from a few new surprises at Winter NAMM per the usual - I had a number of new acquisition targets - including the TC Electronic Brainwaves Pitch-Shifter, I had already ordered and placed the Red Witch Fuzz God III - which had a fairly brief stint on slot #5. As well as the Demon Pedals Kondo-Shifuku D-Style Drive - which is unshakeable in slot #12 still.
The big newbie announcements were the Chase Bliss Audio / Benson Amps Automatone MKIV PreAmp (slot #14) - which has still to materialise this year, then the Beetronics FX Swarm (#19) which is currently in place obviously, along with the Empress Zoia (#36) and of course the rather magnificent Strymon Volante Simulated Magnetic Delay (#37) - which was to become my main delay pedal by around March 21st.
Since the start of the year I was so busy with projects that I did not do another Pedal-Chain Status check / snapshot until the start of June - where I actually still had just the 40 slots - so #41 must have come into effect in early Autumn I guess. Here the board/chain is already taking up a familiar form to what it would end up as at the close of the year - with the new Meris Hedra and Jackson Audio Broken Arrow in place already - and the BYOC Crown Jewel Multidrive present - which occupied its slot for most of the year actually.
Other notables include the then addition of the Demon Pedals Parvati Fuzz, Menatone The King Marshall-style Multi-Drive, JHS Unicorn Uni-Vibe and Red Panda Particle V2. Some of these as such held onto their seats, while others were voted out and rotated in the next forthcoming ad-hoc elections.
Looking forward to 2020 I've already made some key decisions, and there will certainly be some minor shuffling. The top 2 rows remain pretty much unchanged apart from my decisions to bring back in the Dr Scientist Elements again on slot #17.
I've also been intending to get started on KMA Audio Machines for such a long time now - and likely my first inroads there will be the Dead Stag Multi-Muff Style Fuzz - which will go in on slot #20 for a rotation. I've also been considering the Doomy Blackhawk Amps Balrog Distortion for slot a #24 rotation, and as mentioned above - will definitely be bringing the Boss DC-2W into play at long last - probably ending up at peak level Boss - with 8 of that brand in the chain. Even though the CBA Blooper should be with me before the end of the week - I won't get too much time to play around with it before year end - family commitments and all that - so I've decided that the Generation Loss will sit in place for a few more weeks so I can 100% get to grips with that before I rotate in the Blooper!
The big decision I've already taken is to put the excellent Zoia on hiatus for now, and take up the dual-channel modulation of the GFI Synesthesia which is already a firm favourite of many and took a lot of deliberating and soul-searching versus the Wampler Terraform which I was also considering hard for the #35 slot.
No doubt NAMM will throw up new surprises - but I'm not necessarily expecting the same degree of switch-out on the whole chain for 2020 - I believe 2019 was a fairly exceptional year, and I feel 2020 would be highly unlikely to replicate that.
As mentioned earlier on I will now focus on the 20 new-to-me pedals that are part of my End-of-Year setup - and which includes 17 brand new pedals released in 2019 - as below :
Turns out I'm largely a one guitar man - I've found my perfect instrument / interface of choice which is a totally natural and effortless extension of myself - my PRS CE 24. Even though it has pull/push coil split / coil tap onboard - those single-coil voicings aren't quite sufficiently satisfactory for me - but the Keyztone EXchanger pretty much makes it all work! I'm sure there will be a more finely calibrated version of this at some stage in the future - with even more nuance - but right now I find it really excellent for how it can enhance and adapt my core tonality and give me really close approximations of classic pickup types.
I've mentioned the SY-1 a few times, and was on the hunt for an all-round noise machine as such - particularly for doing synthy dubstep type basslines - I considered all manner of devices here large and small - and settled on the Boss SY-1 as the one providing me with the greatest variety of usable tones - even thought it could really do with presets!
I've considered numerous pitch-shifters over the years - I had the TCE Quintessence and Brainwaves in a similar slot - and used the Whammy Ricochet probably the most for that one Tom Morello feature. Even considered the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae and Cooper FX Moment Machine for a while. Yet the Hedra seemed to me the perfect combination of form-factor, features and tones for me - and became my preferred pedal for this role!
Most will know of my long hunt/chase after a relatively reasonably priced Gemini III - so I was delighted when this functionally superior evolution arrived. I have to mention the Anasounds Bitoun Crankled Edition Octave Fuzz - which probably lived on this slot for the longest time this year - alongside my custom Expresso FX MKI Fuzz Bender and DanDrive Austin Pride dual Germanium/Silicon Texas Square Face style fuzz.
Props first to the Spaceman Effects Mercury IV Germanium Boost which introduced me to the potential of using a semi-permanent Germanium texturiser in my chain and lived in this slot for the longest time. But the Thorpy Heavy Water gives you 2 channels of boost - a smoother Dane Style boost on the right, and a grittier Germanium diode boost on the left which your can deploy individually or stack them together for 3 flavours in 1 compact form factor - obviously more versatility here than the Mercury IV, and both sides are just perfectly calibrated with heaps of headroom - while I deploy them with almost minimal levels.
I had been intending to get this for a while after having had absorbed the Thorpy Trifecta some time before. This is every bit as good as advertised and took over the rotation from my equally excellent Wampler Pantheon. Both these pedals are fantastic, and initially I was just intending to have the Peacekeeper in for a moderate rotation before swapping the Pantheon back in again, but I obviously like the Peacekeeper that much that it's getting an extended run-out!
This is probably the most usable of the new extended feature Multi-Drives I acquired this year - with 4 different overdrive modes on the left footswitch - essentially Tube Screamer, DS-1, Timmy and Plexi -style, and 4 different boost modes on the right footswitch - essentially Bright/Treble Boost, Mid Boost, Tailored Boost and Full Range Boost. I mostly have it on its asymmetrical DS-1 style drive mode with full-range boost - by pressing both footswitches together you also control the degree of gain in 25% increments proportional to what you've set the gain dial at. This is such a clever and beautiful sounding pedals - most haven't really caught onto how brilliant this is!
I've long been a fan of the Dumble Style drive - that slightly fuzz-edged mid gain sound and have a number of pedals that fulfil that role excellently. This though is the closest by far to my idea of what this tone should sound like - just a beautifully articulate drive which is actually relatively difficult to achieve, and is one of the few tones that the Boss OD-200 Hybrid Drive cannot get close to.
As of today Shipping details on this one still seem to be a touch hazy - perhaps that's just the FedEx website for you though! I was hoping this would be in before the new year, but right now it looks rather unlikely. I have both predecessors - the No.5 Distortion and the more recent N5 Drive - and this one takes things onto a whole different level with no less than 7 proper milled-aluminium knobs and 5 toggle-switches on the single compact enclosure with multiple modes, 3-band EQ, Presence and Resonance. This is a different format of Multi-Drive to the Jackson Audio Broken Arrow above - but both are head and shoulders above other similar pedals - particularly at the compact form-factor. We're still waiting for a promised Pete Thorn demo - hopefully I can add that here before too long! I need to give props to the Basic Audio Tri/Ram Muff Fuzz which has otherwise mostly occupied this newish slot since its inception!
A lot of you seem to have read my Rather Detailed Review of this extremely capable pedal - which crams in no less than 180 Drive and Boost combinations right across the spectrum of Boost, Drive, Distortion and Fuzz. I've noted a certain core default timbre in here which is very pleasant, but tends towards the harder clipping side of things generally. There's huge range here on all the dials, and some genuinely stellar tones to be found right across the algorithms and dials, while there are also just a few minor operational deficiencies that could do with tweaking as some stage. This is easily the most impressive DSP / Hybrid pedal currently out there though - it just take a long time to run through all the permutations and pick all your favourites - and there's something of a discrepancy in having 180 combinations but only 4 Presets to store them on. Regarless of the tiny niggles, I'm extremely impressed - and this is here for the duration - probably at least until the Chase Bliss Benson Automatone rolls around! Note also that the Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil Effects-laden Fuzzstortion pedal resided on this slot for a while, as did the Pushking Ironfinger Distortion before that, and the BYOC Crown Jewel for the longest time of all this year.
Ever since I saw this demo'd on Devin Townsend's pedalboard I wanted one of these really singing soaring sort of 80's style saturating distortions. It's been in my rig now for easily the best part of this year and it sounds every bit as good as I expected. The only downside really is the slight lack of output volume which I need to counter with both 12V power supply and additional downstream boost!
This was one of the standout Fuzzes of 2019 and as far as I'm concerned the most user-friendly version of the Schuman PLL to-date. I ended up acquiring 3 different types of this and trying those out extensively - and the genius of the Swarm is how the PPL has been distilled down into those 7 smart controls. It's still involves some tweaking and experimentation - but satisfying and useful tones are far more easily attained on the Swarm than on similar alternatives. The PLL is an acquired taste for sure - but depending how you dial it in can be pretty amazing too. This slot also had a lot of action here from the Demon Pedals Parvati Fuzz.
This was a really pleasant surprise this year - wholly unexpected, yet actually really slotted into my appreciation for Fuzzy-Drive and Fuzzy-Distortion pedals. I first categorised this as a Marshall-esque distortion with a distinct fuzzy edge - for me 'Red Means Marshall' feature. And I decided to slot it into #23 which is where the Alchemy Modded Xotic SL Drive lived for the longest time, then Menatone The King, Thorpy Gunshot and REVV G2 - but it's the Wuffy which gets the extended workout currently!
This was probably my favourite new High Gain pedal of this year - just ahead of the REVV G4 and Aleks K Red Scorpion. This Mikey Demus signature has that really powerful percussive fuzz-edged tone that he grinds out of his Orange Rockerverb 100 on a regular basis. Early demos were stellar, while latter ones somewhat lacklustre - they sounded nothing like the tight, fuzz-edged high gain tones I was getting out of my rig. Some even said this was a fuzz pedal while I don't agree really with that description either - as the core tone is more of a conventional chewy distortion - just with that fine fuzz edged accent has I've reported many times now.
This is now the 4th Thorpy pedal that will likely have a permanent placement in my rig as my favourite flanger to date. Thorpy has of course had a blistering year on the back of last year's run-away 'The Dane' success - January saw the launch of the Deep Oggin Analog Chorus, then we had The Dane-derived Heavy Water Dual Boost, then Redbeard Red Mist and finally this amazing Flanger which fully captures that hitherto elusive Vintage Mistress High Frequency Shimmer! Of course I still love my Chase Bliss Audio Spectre, and had to re-jig things to accommodate the Camoflange - but that's how much I love it - even though I'm pretty unshakable about the compact form factor and need for tap-tempo!
Like I've said previously - I've always liked the Cooper FX pedals - their algorithms and output really, but not necessarily the form-factor. I always thought I would need to get just a smaller portion of the Generation Loss - as part of the Mod algorithm on the CBA Dark World Reverb. But Tom Majeski and Joel Korte collaborated further and released this superb enhanced CBA take on the Generation Loss as a strictly limited 1000 unit edition - which I was lucky enough to be in on. I'm still working through this pedal which bumped the MOOD really before I had 100% gotten to grips with that. So I decided that I would give the Generation Loss a little more time to acclimatise before I rotate in the new CBA Blooper - which should be with me on Thursday according to latest updates!
I must first give props to the Red Panda Particle V2 Granular Delay which occupied this slot for quite the longest period this year, and was the first to provide additional supplement and flavours to the Strymon Volante. I am still of a mind that the best ever Digital Delay Effects unit is the Empress EchoSystem which I still have and love. But when I rotated in the wonderful Strymon Volante, I needed something more compact to supplement that - and I felt the the Particle 2 initially best fit that purpose, but then I found I wanted some slightly more vanilla textures - alongside of course the wonderful Tera Echo - and so the Boss DD-200 was the perfect choice. It's also probably the best balanced and most perfectly formed of the the 4 new Boss 200 series pedals. It has just the right mix of features and tones - and is very easy and straightforward to operate with no unexpected quirks or omissions, unlike at least a couple of the others. The DD-200 and OD-200 are definitely my favourites of that new series - and I might consider trying to fit in the EQ-200 at some stage - but honestly am rather right for space funnily enough!
I had big expectations of this, and am very much of the opinion that this is a work in progress, and is actually more useful and usable for Modular Synth players than guitar players as the tweak ability here all through a single control dial really does not suit my style of interaction with pedals - where I occasionally just want to quickly ramp things up a touch. Here it is all Object-oriented modular blocks which just don't naturally align themselves to my way of doing things. I thought at one stage that you could have a sort of modular Memory Card approach for lading in different 'pedalboards' as such - but the lack of adhoc tweakability means that this won't really ever work for how I want it to. I will certainly keep this with an eye open to further innovation and development. But I've decided that first the Wampler Terraform was what I really needed here, before coming across the GFI Syneshesia and seeing that as the perfect tool I had in mind when I initially envisaged what I thought the Zoia could do for me. The Zoia is an incredible technical achievement and yes you can make your own modular effects exactly as to how you would like them - but you have only one surface knob for tweakage - which really doesn't suit a pedal tweaker like me!
For the longest time I had been eyeing up the Dawner Prince Bogner Echorec style Delay - hoping that there wold be a stereo deluxe version of that one day to fit into my rig. I also considered the Gurus Echosex T7E for a while - but when the Strymon Volante materialised I knew it was the perfect delay for me - as the tape-style delays were the ones I typically preferred to make use of. Strymon did pretty much everything right here - bar their rather clunky way of recalling just one favourite preset at a time. I would also have wanted slightly more tone-sculpting here, and the ability to create slightly more 'uglier' tones. Yet such is the Strymon manifesto that their magic HP + LP Filter DSP lends all Strymon pedals that impossibly elegant sheen which makes it impossibly to wring out any deliberately nasty tones. Some players still find the Boonar more warm and tuneful sounding, while the Strymon is actually mostly about right for me - they've obviously spent a very long time calibrating all their dial ranges, and they do like to set up their pedals such that things always somewhat lean on the smoother side of things!
I've been meaning to do a review on this one for a while - just haven't had the time yet. On paper it's exactly the thing I was looking to replace my rather boring and vanilla Ditto X2 for me - which had long since ceased to be inspirational. Yet right form the start for the RC-10R I have a fairly significant issue of insufficient volume on the beats part of the pedal. No matter how high you crank the beats in stereo mode - they're never quite load enough for me and unfortunately all too easily disappear into the mix. I don't know whether we need a firmware updated here or similar - but I've tried everything to get sufficiently loud stereo drums into the playback - to very limited success thus far. Would love to know who else has tried running this through a stereo rig and what the experience of this is. I will likely checkin in with the Boss team early in the new year to figure out what improvements can be made. Everything else works pretty much perfectly and the functionality here and range of features is spot on really - it's just the lack of volume on the beats which seems to be something of a downfall currently.
I'm not intending to confess or volunteer any incriminating details on just how many new pedals I get through in any given year - but it's a fairly significant amount, and obviously unlike Pokémon, you really cannot collect them all - not just because of the financial side necessarily - but where do you put them all eventually? I have a touch over 400 pedals in my collection to date and will face new challenges in the next year in trying to accommodate still a few more!
As always I operate under a variety of practical considerations, tolerances and restrictions. I actually have a massive floor-rig now of 41 pedals - and I've pretty much practically taken up all the floorspace I practically can - meaning that I have to operate within set parameters when choosing and deploying pedals within my own setup. This is why I very much have a preference for compact enclosure pedals, and only really use larger formats for the stereo workstations at the end of the chain.
I try to pick the best mix of tone, features, functionalities, practicalities and things like learnability and usability - to decide which is the actual best pedal for me for each of the 41 slots of my pedal-chain. I initially started along the lines of my '12 Degrees of Saturation' methodology - to which I added a variety of further modulation, time-based, utility and textural pedals. I have wholly organically arrived at my own particular setup / rig - and I have a number of my own 'tone-components' and methodologies I intrinsically rely on. My default / core pedal-chain tone is already improved and enhanced, and it would be worthless for me to do tone demos as all the pedals would sound significantly improved over what they do isolated from my chain.
So when I decree a certain pedal is the best choice for a particular slot or position within the 12 degrees methodology - it really means best for my situation and my rig. This does not mean that these won't necessarily translate to be perfect for you too - but chances are they will likely sound quite a bit different in your rig - unless you somehow adhere to all my other philosophies of tone generation.
In deciding on the perfect pedal - tone and feel and response consistency is essential to a long-term successful relationship with that pedal. I usual refer to my peals as either Tone Machines, Inspiration Machine or Tone Components - and you need a mix of each in the chain. In fact pretty much every play-through pedal has to be an inspiration machine for me - it has to make me want to play and do interesting things with that core tonality.
There are lots of little arbitrary decisions throughout the year which also shape your rig - in terms of timeliness and availability of funds/finance - accessibility and availability of pedal/s - and of course cost and time and ease of acquisition generally.
This year I've also begun to suffer an entirely new syndrome of 'Limited Edition Fatigue'! Where I'm actually so bored now by artificially limited runs of pedals that it just puts me off the whole thing. Sure there are times when the look or attractiveness of a pedal can be a big incentive. But much like with travel - I'm of a mind that everything should be as high a quality and as good a design as possible for that price. As a Scandinavian I loath the concept of first class travel - as you see on various country's trains and planes - where they deliberately need to make standard seating a little more crap than necessary to make the upgrade seem worthwhile. When they should really have pristine and shiny cabins throughout - and have everyman class as the gold standard! So it should be the same with pedals - I get rather emotional when I see an improved design of pedal touted as a limited unit / limited edition run. Just make the darn pedal the best it can be from the start say I!
At the end of this week I will be doing my '2019 New Guitar Pedals of the Year' feature - which will of course overlap with many of these mentioned and covered here - but others besides too - as I can't have everything, and most importantly not everything is wholly suitable for my rig or my needs - but I can still appreciate a pedal's engineering, tonal and functional brilliance and suitability for others. All in all this has really been one of the great years for pedal innovation and I somehow feel we would be very lucky to see another so good any time soon again.