And here is the first of the category overviews for the year - combining those Overdrive and Distortion pedals which sparked some interest for me. Note that there will be 4 of these types of articles - Overdrive & Distortion (this one), Fuzz, Delay and Reverb (exc. Reverb Workstation already covered), and Modulation + Pitch + Untility pedals. Before I then reveal my overall 25 or so favourite favourite pedals for the year in a Best-of-the-Best listing - with possibly some sneaky additions.
This selection should cover most avenues really with diverse examples and representatives here for Low, Mid and High Gain - as well as one obviously major all-rounder. I tried to list in alphabetical order - but the different shapes and sizes here make this more of jigsaw really - and there is some accommodation of the order to best fit all these in - I really don’t have room for more - but if I did it would include the just announced Custom 4K Mini TD-X pedal by Dave Friesema of Pickdropper / Function F(x).
There are 29 featured here all told - 4 minis, 16 compacts, 7 mediums, and 2 large - with one obviously slightly larger than all. Most have been featured in some way on this site this year - some obviously more than others.
Interesting how there were a number of Plexi + RangeMaster / Boost style pedals this year - not just the two here (PlexiRanger and The Engine), but also the Nabla Custom 1987 V2 - and I will probably do a roundup early next year and include the Bogner La Grange too!
I have acquired 13 of these to-date, and have the following 10 still under pretty intense active consideration :
I will unlikely end up with all of those - but you never know - will most likely lead off with the HotCake, Smallbox and ODI in any case for early next year - as soon as I’ve decided which opamps are my preferred configuration for the ODI!
So here follows the first jigsaw in largely alphabetical order - as mentioned.
Do let me know if you feel I’ve overlooked some essential contenders; that said this is really a curated personal preferences list - so there is a max limit and a certain bias to these proceedings - while I do hope I’ve included many of your own personal favourites here too! :
There is significant competition here between this and the Drybell The Engine - I prefer this enclosure format (Vertical-BB), while I largely prefer the feature set of The Engine. They both sound excellent of course.
On the Plexi side of this pedal we have Gain, Tone and Level controls, on the Ranger side we have Boost, Frequency and Range controls. With a universals 0/1/2 incrementing Lo-Cut switch.
The pedal combines Carl Martin's excellent PlexiTone circuit with a highly shapable RangeMaster style boost - this is a simpler take on this format versus The Engine - which I overall kind of prefer for some reason, while the PexiRanger is obviously the handier and slightly more pedal-board friendly format as far as that goes.
I feel this is worthy for consideration, but my own mind is mostly made up already.
I've already said everything I need to say about this pedal - it is every bit as good as everyone says - simply the most versatile, 'alive' sounding overdrive - with the best user experience overall - besides the large form factor, and still lack of protective lid - to protect those slider aperture - while the lid will come eventually!
I say if you can afford it, and can accommodate it - this should be the number 1 drive choice on your list - unless you're going specifically for high gain. Everyone else really needs to get in on the action.
Key features include :
This was featured in my fairly recent Medium-Enclosure Dumble roundup, and obviously Dan and Mick are big fans of this pedal among others. I really rate this pedal too - while within that particular listing it's probably my third favourite choice - after the Custom Tones Ethos Clean-Fusion II and Mad Professor Supreme - particularly after I recently snagged the Clean-Fusion.
It's very much a nice-to-have for me, as I have all the Dumble flavour I really need for now.
The pedal represents 2 sides of Dumble - a Low/High Compression side with Gain, Volume and Tone controls, and a Jazz/Rock side with Gain, Volume and Tone controls. There is a central channel order switch - and separate footswitch per channel for stacking.
This is a great choice as a representative of the Dumble genre - it just so happens that I have other favourites and preferences - it's not outside the realms of probability though that I might one day own one of these too!
It's a shame there aren't any up-to-date demos of this great overdrive pedal - which is particularly exceptional when used with Vox / EL84 style amps. The V2 2020 version combines all of the key features from the pedal's prior heritage, including accommodating the Blueberry version via toggle-switch.
This is that same Classic 3-knob overdrive with just a couple of extra switches - XLF for Extended Low Frequency, and +Cream for the smoother Blueberry Mode.
I had really intended to get one of these this year - but was waiting for my pal Joe Light to get some in - I believe that is rather imminent in the new year now. If Joe doesn't get his skates on I might just have to turn to Hotrox - who are the only UK dealer to have the updated model for sale currently.
This is a largely very straight-up Mostortion pedal with a few extras, and as featured in my fairly recent Mostortion roundup.
It features a very typical 3-Band EQ, but then a sort of unique gain structure switch - which offers up progressively gainier modes of Mostortion - ramping up somewhat the utility and versatility of this particular pedal.
I would still quite like to snap up an early edition Ibanez Mostortion in the right condition and for the right price. That time doesn't seem to be right now - as those on Reverb.com are vastly overpriced - particularly with how poor a condition some of those pedals are in.
I am happy to have the Roebuck as my Mostortion genre ambassador for now - but would like to supplement that some day with a decent quality original - with the earliest model of opamp of course.
I was kind of aiming to land one of these this year - but it didn't quite happen - too many other priorities - and only so much swag to go around. So this is for sure one of the priority targets for early next year.
I have both the Dirty Shirley and BE-OD compact editions - and it is likely that the Smallbox - with it rather more modern mid-pushed singing tone will be my favourite of the three. It would likely go in on slot #17 for a stretch!
The pedal features 4-Band EQ including Presence, and a side-switch for Gain Structure / Distortion Headroom - Low/High.
For sure will be added to the collection fairly soon.
I did a proper overview of this when it was launched - and I'm generally hugely impressed by its feature set and tones - and is probably the perfect take on the Plexi Drive + RangeMaster Treble Boost pedal.
Like I mentioned for the Carl Martin PlexiRanger - I will likely do a 4-way overview early next year - between The Engine, PlexiRanger, Nabla 1987 V2, and of course the Bogner La Grange - which is slightly larger - but still near enough in that pall park.
The Plexi-side of the pedal has Level, Gain, Tone and Shape (Countour / Mid-Shift) controls; while the RangeMaster-side has Range (Frequency Focus), Level, Low and High Frequency controls. There is also fo course a central Channel Order switch for - A/B | B/A.
This is my preferred take not he mid-sized Plexi + Boost pedals, while I prefer the vertical aspect of the PlexiRange. The Engine is the one I'm likeliest to acquire - it's on my 'nice-to-have' list!
This is an interesting case as this pedal was initially launched as the Mateus Asato Signature El Guapo Distorrtion + Overdrive. But I believe because Mojo Hand FX already had claim to that name for one of their still in-production pedals - Jackson Audio was compelled to switch the moniker to 'Asabi'.
In that relaunch, Brad Jackson decided to incoporate the Modular capabilities he'd been developing for his Modular Fuzz + Octave pedal - whose release is imminent too - probably early next year. I've been an ardent supporter of Jackson Audio over the years, but am not really feeling the love of late - so it's questionable as to whether I support said brand going forward. I don't really wish to expend heaps of effort when it's not being reciprocated. And if you see less Jackson Audio going forward then you will know the reasons why.
The Asabi is identical to the El Guapo - bar for the addition of the modularity - so if you buy it by default - it's essentially the same pedal with a series of JCM800 voicings on the left-footswitch, and a series of Plexi voicings on the right - in fact 4 of each.
The JCM800 side benefits from 4-Band EQ including Presence, while the Plexi side is controlled by more conventional Volume, Tone and Drive mini-knobs.
If you do buy the Asabi - then you can switch out the distortion circuit - which is a JCM800 variety by default. To date there is just one other Module available - the Rat-style Large Mouse. Which is interesting, as one of the JCM800-side voicings is referenced as Rat-Style.
I think we need a few more demos of the Rat card - as I'm not fully au fait with its strengths.
For my own purposes I'm back to playing this rather opportunisitclally, as my recent emails have gone unanswered. I will simply aim to secure these when appropriate through the typical sales channels when they are sufficiently discounted.
I feel the Large Mouse card is nice to have, and if you have the El Guapo version as I do - you still have the core of this pedal. It may become more interesting when more cards are available - depending on the usefulness and viability of those cards.
The JCM800 Channel and variations are pretty decent. while I feel I have better alternatives for the Plexi side - although the Green mode there works great as a boost. Generally I prefer the Amber mode on the left channel, and the Blue mode on the right - but when used in combination it has to be Amber + Green!
The Golden Boy became my Blues Breaker of choice this year - essentially a circuit update to the Broken Arrow Overdrive - with all that functionality and Clipping and Boost EQ options in place. In fact the Broken Arrow Tube Screamer style circuit was simply swapped for a warmer Blues Breaker equivalent - while all the other essential elements of the Broken Arrow remain largely in place.
The Golden Boy's voicing is of course slightly warmer, softer and more transparent in most places - and really provides the best usability for a compact overdrive pedal of this ilk - where you can quickly and easily change up your gain structure and tone via different footswitchable options including Gain Cycling.
In some ways my favourite favourite Blues Breaker voicing is to be found on the Wampler Pantheon, while that can't really compete with the extended user experience the Golden Boy provides.
Brian Mena obviously has released a new version of his Workingman's Blue pedal - which is in the same category - so that may be in for a stint next year - once the Brexit shenanigans have settled down somewhat.
I'm rather intrigued by this pedal - which seems to have garnered somewhat mixed reviews so far, but I really like its rather elegant breakup texture.
It features absolutely No Clipping Stages in the circuit, No Diodes, LEDs or FETs - but rather a combination of 5 carefully selected complementary opamp gain stages which generate the rather distinct breakup texture and tones. This has obviously involved considerable research and calibration work / and figuring out just the right amount of positive feedback. Otherwise this is a very simple overdrive with just Level, Gain and Tone controls.
This is another of my wishlist / acquisition list goals for 2021 - but we'll have to see how Brexit impacts all of this - and how feasible it will be to keep shipping things in direct from the States. I know already a few pedal builders who will no longer deliver to the UK - because of proposed changes to VAT payments - which need to be paid in advance by the exporter supposedly - i.e. the pedal shipper. Strange times ahead for sure.
This is of course Paul Gilbert's Signature Disruption pedal - made in collaboration with Josh Scott. A Parametric Mids Distortion with additional Pre-Gain Push.
I had it in my chain for around a fortnight - where I found it pretty decent, but not quite as versatile as I would like. I often say some signature pedals are too specifically developed towards one player's requirements and lack extended applications and versatility as a result - which I feel is the case here.
Yes I was able to get satisfactory tones, but I have a lot of other pedals which are more versatile and slightly more to my liking. So file under nice-to-have rather than essential.
This is another interesting proposition - and one that I came very close to pulling the trigger on. Only a couple of hundred or so were made - they didn't sell out immediately but are all long gone by now.
This high gain distortion has a very satisfying dense bark to it which rather pleases my ears. But at the time I had only just acquired the Toneczar Openhaus EQ, and KMA Audio WurHM Limited Edition - and also had other conflicting concurrent priorities. There is only so much money in the pot unless you wish to become overwhelmingly foolishly indebted. And thus I somewhat reluctantly waived a pass on this,
It combines a 3-Band EQ High Gain Distortion for that Anthrax axe-wielder and also features a complementary and 2-Band Shapable Boost - for really driving those saturated tones.
Sounds pretty great to me - and I may well pick one second-hand if the opportunity arises. For now this is an opportunistic nice-to-have!
Still weirdly no up-to-date demos for this stellar combination overdrive pedal.
It brings together Brian Mena's classic Red Snapper and Blue Collar pedals into a single enclosure with a central order toggle switch and dual-footswitches.
Each circuit has 4 controls per side - Volume, Gain Hi-Cut and Bite for the Red Snapper; and Level, Drive, Tone and Presence for Blue Collar.
I have several exceptional options for my #15 pedal-chain slot - and this is certainly one of those alongside the Nordland ODR-C and Shnobel Tone Daily Driver - an embarrassment of riches really!
I'm a fan of Lawrence Petross Design pedal - while I only have a price so far - including the earlier Eighty7 forerunner. I still intend to get at least the Seventy4, possibly even the Sixty8 too - all the compact edition ones.
I see Lawrence's Eighty7 Deluxe as a major competitor to the Friedman BE-OD Deluxe.
The LPD Pedal is comprised of 2 complete Eighty7 pedals in single enclosure each with 3-Band EQ, Green and Red Modes + shared universal Presence control and internal individual Bright switches.
This offers a sufficiently differentiated feature set to the BE-OD Deluxe to be a viable solution for many - it is a fairly large pedal though - as is he Friedman equivalent. That has individual Presence controls (mini) and Tightness toggle-switches, while the LPD variant has 2 modes per channel, and additional internal bright switch per channel.
Each is a different take on the JCM800 - and some will prefer Larence's ear for tone over that of Dave Friedman and vice-versa.
They're both competing options for me - but not really suitable for my own needs. My next foray into that area will be the Friedman Smallbox for sure. And besides I still have the other two LPD compact Marshall-style drive pedals to get. Pricing and Shipping are often not particularly favourable for LPD Pedals - we'll see how 2021 shapes up.
This pedal has really made a home for itself on my #17 pedal-chain slot - and currently serves as my Plexi Pedal of choice - while I have quite a considerable number of backups for said pedal. I do so like this format of King of the Britains - that I haven't been that tempted by the DryBell The Engine. Of course I want that, but don't really need it.
The KOB offers up more tone-shaping and control in certain areas, while the Boost is just level only, and with no shaping - so likely there may be slightly more versatility for the The Engine in some ways.
The KOB makes up for that in several ways - including its 4-Band EQ with Presence, and 3-way Brightness / Amp type Voicing switch.
The only proviso here is that you need to be fairly precise on the dial in - and it can take a little due diligence and patience to dial in your preferred tone.
This is a hugely versatile pedal - and no doubt the best for me for this purpose in this form-factor.
This is the Third of my Menatone Vertical Trifecta - which I acquired all at the same time, and so far my most used of the three. This is very much my 'Brian May' tone of choice - and it is an excellent take on that essential tonality - or Two Boosted Vox AC30 Amp.
It sports 7 controls - with separate Boost with Level - then Treble, Bass, Hi-Cut, Output Level, Gain and Sag controls.
Prior to this the Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine was my Boosted-Vox of choice - but I feel the Menatone TBIAC variety gets slightly close to that signature sound.
I can't really see anything shifting this in a hurry - the way I have it dialled in on slot #16 sounds just right!
Again - not up-to-date demos of this format of pedal yet.
I have had my differences with Andrew McNicholas this year - but I can't deny his great ear for tone - and I've doubled my MidValley FX quotient this year - first with this fantastic Rectifier-style High Gain Distortion.
It's a very straight-forward 3-Band EQ style topology with an Edge / Attack stick option for slightly more cutting delivery. The Mid Band EQ control is also imbued with some special properties where you really clever temper the nature of the distortion texture.
A great pedal for palm-muting - just really satisfactory all-round.
There's not much more to be said about this pedal either - an exact miniature replica of the original compact Paul Cochrane Timmy Pedal - with those same 5 controls and labels - Gain, Volume, Bass and Treble, alongside 3-way Clipping / Compression switch.
I have the original compact size edition - so I really don't need this miniature replica - but rather want one! This goes on this wishlist alongside the Suhr Mini Riot and several mini pedals of that ilk for which I already have the compact-sized originals!
I will have one of these eventually, but it's in no way a priority.
I've done an in-depth review of this pedal very recently - Kai Tachibana's updated and evolved ODR circuit - with extra refinements.
It sports 6 controls - 4 regular knobs - Drive, Level, Spectrum, Mid, and two mini-knobs - ODC (Overdrive De-Compress) and Lo-Cut
3 of those controls are in addition to the regular ODR-1 - Mid, ODC and Lo-Cut.
This is definitively the most evolved of the ODR circuits with the maximum degree of tone-shaping and fine-tuning possibilities.
I do love me some Origin Effects action as such - obviously beautifully and robustly made pedals, but always a rather pricey proposition - this time at near £400.
This is the second derivative of this format after the initial RevivalTrem pedal - which was the first Origin Effect to combine drive/preamp and modulation in the same unit. This time around the pedal is dedicated towards replicating the Magnatone Amp's output with that lovely Vintage Vibrato modulation.
The Drive-side benefits from 3 controls - Output, Tone and Drive.
While the Vibrato controls are Intensity dial with 3-way Blend Switch, and Speed dial with 3-way Speed Multiplier toggle-switch. You have separate footswitches to engage Drive and Vibe.
I prefer the sound of this to the RevivalTrem edition as this has slightly richer and more lively dynamics to my ear.
It's not dissimilar to last year's Crazy Tube Circuits' Killer V Vibra-Drive - which does a very similar thing for around half the price. Both of those sound pretty decent to me - you will need to decide whether the MAGMA57 is that much better to substantiate the price tag. There is also the practical consideration of enclosure size - which could swing the vote towards the Killer V - but it's up to you really and how much you wish to invest.
Pedal Pawn has hit the radar hard this year with its brace of compact enclosure pedals - the 'Fuzz' (FF) and Texan Twang Overdrive. I really don't need another 2-knob Fuzz Face, while the TT is a far more interesting proposition.
It is very much modelled on Stevie Ray Vaughn's signature sound - and to my ears comes really impressively close - with just 2 controls - a Level knob, and Hi/Mid/Lo sort of gain-structure control.
Could not be simpler and it really delivers - this is another one that goes in on the wishlist - not sure which priority yet, but I'm definitely intrigued by this - where usually I prefer to have a few more controls. But then again I really like the Danelectro Breakdown - which similarly has only two such knobs - albeit 6 options on its gain structure. Somewhat different tone and purpose though really of course.
I've come fairly late to the Pettyjohn fold as such - while I have added both the recent RAIL and ROUS pedals to my collection this year. And full intend to add this Pettyjohn take on Boss's legendary OD-1 pedal.
I had harboured hopes of securing an original OD-1 in suitably great estate - but prices and conditions of what's currently available are somewhat at odds with my intentions.
Just as well then that this ODI has materialised - with added 2-Band EQ.
My first two Pettyjohn pedals were totally stock as I deemed those sufficient to my needs.
For this one though do intend to available myself of some of those custom options - and hopefully secure one with the Classic Opamps and NOS Clipping Mods upgrades. It sounds suitably richly detailed - and will for sure likely satisfy that Boss original OD-1 itch.
This NAMM starring delight is obviously to a large degree a novelty sort of pedal, but now one entirely without merits.
The drive's charter and level of gain are set by the viscosity and opacity of liquids placed in its lidded bowl-like chamber. The pedal itself has only the single Volume control and footswitch - all other tonal characteristics are derived from the liquid/s employed.
Great for people who have a lot of spare time on their hands - but possibly a little messy and fiddly for those of us who just want to play. I feel the technology here is sound - but we need a more reliable and cleaner way to change up the pedal's output - say some sort of cartridge or carousel based mechanism. Or say you could have several sound modules by of removable bowl / pods - which would allow clean and easy updates. Otherwise you are forever cleaning out that receptacle bowl before you fill it again with something else.
On a side-note I certainly wouldn't dare to buy one of these second-hand - even with sterlisation!
I'm really enamoured by this hugely versatile overdrive with really elegant breakup character and delicate high frequency sparkle.
The variety it achieves with just 2-Band EQ and 3-way Hi-Cut switch to soften the attack - is quite extraordinary. And while not quite as versatile as the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII - it nevertheless gets into certain areas which that multi-drive does not.
My first in on this pedal was Roman Belonozhko's demo comparison with the superb Pete Cornish CC-1 - which has a rare character to it that I feel the Daily Driver is one of the very few that comes close to replicating some of the magic of that pedal.
The Daily Drive covers off all manner of low - to mid gain applications and has a pretty decent amount of crunch when fully gained. It's just a really delightfully balanced overdrive and a pretty rare beast as far as I am concerned. This has made quite a home for itself on the #15 pedal-chain slot.
I've covered this dual-natured overdrive in depth earlier this year - where the Freya has been honed to work exceptionally well as an amp conditioner, as well as a characterful standalone overdrive in its own right. It is particularly adept with single coil pickups.
While it works best for humbuckers when combined with the boost in pre-gain position.
The Orange and Red LED clipping modes add a lot to the pedal in addition to the Level, Tone, Drive and +12dB Boost controls. Lots of players use this too as a sort of bridging device to more easily adapt different guitars to the same amp.
This is sort of Thorpy's + Dan Coggins' V2 iteration of the Lovetone Brown Source with additional Texture control and Sauce Tone-Stack Bypass - and obviously in handier and more compact enclosure. Pretty much an enhancement in every area - with more range, versatility and output.
This is supposed to be a hot-rodded Plexi as such - but I tend to deploy it more as a JCM800 type - with the Texture control almost fully CCW for actually maximum texture.
I did a piece on the Bunker vs the Gunshot where I discussed how I had kind of juxtaposed their intended usage.
I admit I was initially a little tepid towards this actually highly versatile overdrive pedal - the early demos were such that I was unable to identify a specific character or timbre that really appealed to my ears - versus some of the other overdrives with which I had formed a much quicker bond.
Over time however I came to appreciate some hidden depths within this pedal - with its 5 Clipping Modes, 2-Band EQ and Dry Blend.
This is definitely on the wishlist now - and we'll see how 2021 pans out - I've still to acquire the 385 drive from Walrus - oh and their new Julianna Deluxe Chorus - I have quite a list building up there.
The Wampler Belle Mini Overdrive was a little higher on my wishlist before I then caught up with and acquired the Nordland ODR-C in its stead. The Nordland obviously has a little more about it, while the Belle simply has an additional variable Bass control over the standard ODR-1's Spectrum (here labelled Color), Level and Gain controls.
This is a little like all those other Mini overdrives which I have on the wishlist - where I have the original compact equivalent or more-so version.
This is definitely a nice-to-have for me - and I would probably already have this had I not come across the Nordland - that is often the way of things.
I keep forgetting that the standard compact size Wampler Plexi-Drive has only 4 controls - a Bass---Boost switch in addition to Gain, Volume and Tone.
The Mini Plexi-Drive sort of goes one better with a 5th Mids Boost switch - giving you a little more control and versatility,
I'm already something of an advocate for the Alchemy Audio Modded Xotic SL Drive which does much the same thing with 4 external tonal and gain-structure switches in addition to Volume, Gain and Tone knobs. I'm a huge fan of Brian Wampler and already have a dozen of his drive pedals. But once again I'm not sure I need another Mini Plexi has it would be my third with the Xotic SL and the OneControl Purple Plexifier.
Still very decent value - and I would probably take it over the compact Wampler edition.
For these particular selection overview articles I don't break it down by any form of ranking - in the final reckoning for the overall best-of-the-best I single out the 3 superstars of the year - otherwise everything in these final roundups had already passed the excellence test and is worthy of consideration.
The Thirteen I personally own here are :
And I've already indicated 10 likely targets in the introduction, with the Crowther Audio HotCake V2, Friedman Smallbox Distortion, and Pettyjohn Electronics ODI Overdrive the ones I should be tackling first with a high priority.
I hope I've included some of your favourites here too - do let me know if you feel I've inadvertently or otherwise left a particular worthy pedal out!