It’s been a couple of years since I last did one of these particular genre roundups and this year has seen a number of new entrants into this category which really makes this worth visiting again right now. I’ve already done a feature on the larger dual-channel Bluesbreaker style pedals this year - KOT etc. While the Fredric Effects Blue Monarch, Jackson Audio Golden Boy and Siren Pedals Juneau are the newbies for 2020.
Moreover - the much loved Bondi Effects Del Mar has been reissued in part, and Zach Broyles of Mythos Pedals has announced the likely return of his Runestone Bluesbreaker variant. Last time around I covered 12 pedals - while this time I’ve expanded the selection somewhat to encompass 24 great candidates. Of course all my previous recommended variants are still very much valid, and in the new selection are all fully current with the exception of the Ohmless Solana which is discontinued - but still has one copy available on Reverb.com! The VFE Blues King keeps popping up again - even though it’s still somewhat discontinued, as is the Torino Audio Organic Cream.
The one variety I personally added to my collection and pedal-chain this year is the exceptional Jackson Audio Joey Landreth Signature Golden Boy Programmable Overdrive + Boost - which brings my own personal Bluesbreaker roster to 5 - alongside the Snouse Blackbox Overdrive 2, Tsakalis Six BOD, VFE Blues King and Wampler Pantheon - which are all top-tier candidates here. The Golden Boy has obviously found a lot of fans - to the tune that the 1,000 unit threshold has already been crossed.
I really don’t need any more personal examples for this specific genre, but I will still though likely add a few more - most likely from within the Prince of Tone, Del Mar, Morning Glory, Mount Pleasant and Straight Flush selection at some stage. As Bluesbreaker fan Chris Buck says - they all sound slightly different and each largely has its own merits; they also stack really well together.
There are a number of pedals within this category which are considered the blue riband perennial favourites - which I’ve all touched on before - and the Golden Boy goes straight into that category too. Some variants here are quite evidently more versatile and feature-rich, while others make a virtue of their very finely calibrated control ranges for ultimate ease of dialling in sweet-spots.
The Bluesbreaker / Blues Breaker genre is most certainly one of my favourite overdrive categories - and for most of the time I have at least one of these representatives in my pedal-chain. The Golden Boy is firmly anchored to the chain at the moment - and it’s going to take a lot to shift that on a more permanent basis as it’s footswitch and control-ability innovations are just next level.
Generally all these pedals are very much loved variants and you really can’t go wrong with one of these!
Here follow the usual individual pedal details, pedals are arranged alphabetically by brand as usual :
Kit and PCB suppliers Aion Electronics have been incredibly active / proactive of late and are somewhat overshadowing more established DIY brands like BYOC and General Guitar Gadgets. They've gotten a number of their assembled pedals into the hands of RJ Ronquillo - who has a habit of making pretty much everything sound great; I've already featured their Helios Rat a number of times on the site. They also have a great take on the Bluesbreaker genre - not too distant in fact from the Brian Wampler's approach - where they provide separate 2 x 3-way Hard and Soft Clipping selectors - alongside Volume,Tone and Gain controls. A pretty great value versatile variant which you can get for a great price if you shop around. I've seen pristine second-hand versions for as little as £60 equivalent.
This Chinese-made compact edition of the King of Tone still has the same parts as the original, but only one of its bigger sibling's channel. The Prince's advantage is the external 3-way OD/Boost/Dist toggle switch - which on the King of Tone is controlled by a couple of dip-switches per channel. The Prince is also slightly 'denser' and gainier than its forebear but otherwise near enough identical in sonic prowess. This has often been a stop-off while customers wait for their number to come up on the infinite King of Tone waiting list. I already have the big brother in superb JHS 4-Star Mod edition - which has all the essential controls and dip-switches externalised for more versatile deployment. So I don't really need the smaller derivation per se - but I don't always have space to deploy the King of Tone - particularly since the CBA Automatone Preamp MKII too over that slot - so having a smaller alternative that you can more easily slot in on your board isn't a bad things at all. This still remains one of the top-tier options in this category.
This somewhat legendary pedal now had something of a 'Klon' moment when it was discontinued a few years back and its price shot through the roof on Reverb.com. Jon and Anna Ashley's highly celebrated pedal is a significant derivation and evolution from Tube-Screamer and Bluesbreaker circuits. It's best described as somewhat adjacent to those flavours as the Del Mar circuit is significantly evolved from its inspirations. A central toggle allows you to alternate between the two core voicings - which you then refine with Level, Gain, Bass and Treble controls. This is a great sounding pedal which Jon always considered somewhat flawed - and improved in his 'Breakers' variant - while there has been so much demand for the original Del Mar that it was reissued again last year. I think there have only been one or two batches of that - and it remains tantalisingly out of reach still for most!
This pedal has been called various names over the year including The Blue Fox - as last featured on this site. Probably easily the lowest cost option here with just those standard 3 knobs - Volume, Tone and Gain. There are still no really decent demos for this pedal - yet it still remains a great taster for newbies who are looking to dip their toes into this category. There are of course other more impressive candidates here - but Chicago Stompworks has a pretty solid reputation for putting out decent quality pedals at very reasonable prices - so will still be a valid candidate here for many.
Another variety I've featured before on this site and with those 3 classic knobs - Drive, Level and Tone. No extra bells or whistles here - just a very elegant take on the format which has many fans. All pedal brands have somewhat oscillating degrees of prominence - and CMATmods has been a little under the radar of late - but there are a number of really decent variants within quite an extensive range. The Butah is decent for sure - but is likely outshone by a few of the more celebrated candidates here.
I've seen glimpses of this new pedal for much of this year, so was a touch surprised when it was only officially announced last week. This is a more extended-range version of this genre with controls for Gain, Volume, Tone and Treble Boost - the last mentioned Boost which is activated by the 2-way toggle-switch. So this is a somewhat unique take on the format and certainly a valid choice for consideration. That Treble Boost stage makes all the difference here and makes this a genuine contender - while it's got it work cut out for it as there are some really heavy hitters within this category and all crying for attention.
I included this Canadian variety in my last Bluesbreaker roundup too - and they seem to have further improved the quality in the interim now also with slightly sharper graphics and metallic knobs. This is another fairly straight-laced variety with the classic Gain, Level and Tone controls. It's very reasonably priced too - and a fair candidate for a first Bluesbreaker - while probably somewhat overshadowed by most of these others.
I think everyone knows by now that I have and love this pedal - as it's been featured numerous times on this site this year. In most ways this is my ultimate Bluesbreaker as those onboard footswitch voicing options are just next level genius. You have 4 selectable Diode Clipping options on the left footswitch and 4 differently EQ'd Boost options on the right footswitch - also if you press both together you can step up your gain cycle in 25% increments of value selected on Gain knob. This sounds superb and is such a delight to deploy - this surely has to be the singular principal consideration if you're happy to pay the relatively high ticket price. I've been a fan of the Jackson Audio flagship pedals since they first materialised, and have acquired each of the 4 flagships - Prism, Bloom, Broken Arrow and now Golden Goy - as soon as they were released. All overdrive pedals should work this way! Jackson Audio already has its El Guapo Overdrive/Distortion out right now too - while I feel this format could be rolled out for all the classics - including most obviously the Rat - I expect to see an LM308 variant of this format at some stage relatively soon - 2021?
This is Josh Scott's much celebrated JHS flagship pedal - the one that never leaves his board, and the one that has been the most enduring JHS Pedal throughout the years. Josh just recently delivered 'The Story of the Morning Glory' per the above video - which gives amazing insights into the development and evolution of this pedal. It's long been on my wishlist - but there always seems to have been a another variety which I wanted more. That doesn't mean that the Morning Glory is not one of the enduring classics here as it certainly is - and is many players' favourite take on this genre - there's just a whole lot of competition nowadays. There are actually 5 controls on this pedal with a Bright Cut Switch tucked away on the right-hand-side; the visible controls are Volume, Drive and Tone - with the Gain Toggle-switch engaging a higher gain mode when flipped up. There's also a Red Remote Jack for connecting JHS's Red Remote switch - such that you can toggle the Gain-switch by foot. I've already said that I don't really need another Blues Breaker, but this is one I'd still quite like to add to the collection some day.
J Rockett / JRAD is one of those quality brands that always has a suitable candidate variant - with its Archer, Dude, Melody and Rockaway pedals in particular being widely celebrated. Somewhat more under the radar is this Blue Note Bluesbreaker variant with Volume, Gain, Tone and Fat controls. J Rockett always do their own interesting and very valid takes on each genre and this is another great Bluesbreaker variant - that is just somewhat overshadowed by the better known variants here.
This seems to be one of Keeley's perennial special edition pedals - which only puts in fairly rare appearances these days within a limited batch offering - in fact it's been a while since this one was last available. At the core here are the 3 classic controls of Gain, Treble and Boost, while this variant has an unusual Valve designation toggle-switch - where you can switch between KT66 original stock profile and beefier KT88 mode. This is another great sounding Keeley pedal which I believe is in some fashion one half of the D&M Drive. It's limited availability can make it difficult to get your hands on one - still mostly worth it though if you ever come across one!
This is another perennial favourite with Gain, Tone and Volume knobs and a 3-way clipping selector - where Up is a more compressed Crunch, Middle is Boost (No Diodes) and Down is the sort of default Overdrive setting. This is a relatively reasonably priced very decent sounding pedal with a little more versatility than most here - well worth a look-in.
I selected this in my recent 9 Best Mythos Pedals article - or more correctly my preferred 9 Mythos Pedals. This is another straight-laced 3-controls variety with knobs for Level, Drive and Voice - where the 3rd knob is a somewhat innovative departure from most here and gives you more textural variations without the need to deploy a separate clipping or voicing switch. Interestingly this pedal was evolved to a degree with Joey Landreth's input - who is know obviously the poster boy for Jackson Audio's Golden Boy. My Mythos roundup article triggered a few discussions as many of mine often do - and Zach is very much going to be bringing the Runestone back in some format in the not too distant future. As of right now it's discontinued, but I expect to see a new version well within the next 12 months!
This is one of the very few fully discontinued varieties here where other similar absent varieties are rather more just currently out of circulation - while no more of these Solanas will ever be made. It's drawn several comparisons to the JHS Morning Glory - while its approach is rather slightly closer to that of the Vick Audio Mount Pleasant - with its High-Cut toggle switch. Otherwise you simply have those classic Tone, Drive and Volume knobs. This is another decent candidate for sure - and there are still some in circulation with dealers, and at least one currently available on Reverb.com.
This was a brand relatively unknown to me until fairly recently. They are very much under the radar at the moment, but have some very decent pedals in their range. This time around this Bluesbreaker variant has 4 knobs - Volume, Gain, Tone and Presence, while the toggle-switch is a 2-way clipping selector between stock and LED options. This is sometimes described as a slightly beefier Morning Glory, and relative to its price and feature set I feel it's a pretty good proposition which well justifies its place in this listing - definitely one of the more unusual ones well worth checking out.
Prices seem to have gone up here slightly since I last checked in - while this has always been a very intriguing take on the format with its 3 knobs - Level, Drive and Tone and 4 x 2-way toggle-switches - Boost, Bite, Drive 1 and Drive 2 - for 16 individual variations. This may be a little 'clicky' for some - but it's approach actually isn't altogether dissimilar to the Snouse BlackBox 2. It has a particularly distinct enclosure with rounded top and bottom edges - but has always somewhat been overshadowed by the Snouse Blackbox. I'm still intrigued by this, but like I said - the prices seem to have gone up somewhat recently - so perhaps it's not quite as appealing as it used to be.
This pretty much brand new Nashville-based builder has been very industrious in its first year of business with 5 pedals out already and another incoming one already open for preorders. I am assuming by their speed of movement that these are in the main SMT style constructions - and they are most distinguished by colourful and appealing visuals in a consistent and distinct style of illustration. Their take on the Bluesbreaker is a fairly straight up variant of the format - with a variable Presence knob in place of Hi-Cut frequency control which a lot of the other builders tend to favour. The 4 controls here are Volume, Tone, Gain and Presence. It sounds pretty great, while its artwork and knurled metallic knobs are what really lift it above the norm.
This is always one that features highly in the top tier of Bluesbreaker variants - with its distinctive 5 knobs and 4 side-mounted toggle-switches. I acquired my version at just the wrong time - in that I have the slightly earlier 3 x external switch edition, while the current 4 x switch variant appeared just a month or two later! The 5 knobs are Gain, Volume, Tone, Boost and Presence, and the toggles are Bright/Smooth, Deep/Tight, Overdrive/Clean Boost and Standard/Classic modes. There is some clever override switching here too so you can make things super simple if you just apply Classic Mode. This is for sure one of the most versatile and best sounding of this genre and rightly deserves its place at the top tier of the table. I really like this variety and will most like update to the Stage Pro Mod version eventually - while with the Golden Boy still so very much in favour, my other Bluesbreakers aren't going to get in on the rotation any time particularly soon.
I had a few peripheral pedals under consideration for this listing and in the end decided to add this particular one to the selection - even though the Torino Audio Kickstarter Campaign didn't get over the line. This is still an interesting / intriguing footnote at least for this genre. Italian company Klonz Labs came up with an intriguing format of essentially modular pedals where as many as 5 could be slotted together and powered by just a single power socket. The format of each pedal obviously had to be identical which suited most of the pedals just fine - and I quite liked the simple looks of brushed aluminium with colour accent strip enclosures - which though failed to make the brand shine apparently - sufficiently to resonate with the public. The 'Cream' Bluesbreaker version's 3 knobs were Volume, Gain and Tone, and the 3-way voicing switch gave you 2 Bluesbreaker Modes - Normal and Bright, and one Plexi Mode - 'Boost'. Torino collaborated with Henning Pauly and friends on the promotional aspects - but even that was not enough to get these pedals over the line. Still a few were made - and you might just be lucky one day and catch one of those on Reverb.com
This is another one of the ones I own and a very fine example of the genre it is too. It promotes itself as a combination of Timmy, Blues Breaker and King of Tone - and it does that courtesy of 5 knobs and an 18V/9V Voltage headroom selector. This circuit is pretty unique in dispensing with coupling capacitors which gives it a more open-pored and natural feel. The 5 knobs are Volume, Gain, Mood (Tone), High and 6-way rotary selector - BS (Boost) / OD1 / OD2 / DS1 / DS2 / OD1+DS2. Few here have as much variety as this one. It's a truly great take on this genre.
I acquired my edition of this just last year - in my favourite really distinctive sort of sparkly marine green/blue colourway as pictured. It was the latest of my 7 VFE Pedals acquisitions to date and one of my favourites of those for sure. The joy or pain of VFE pedals (depending on your view) is the typical 6 controls - where the 3 x big knobs here are Tone, Drive and Level and the 3 x mini knobs are Bass, Hard (Clipping) and Soft (Clipping). This is a beautifully balanced take on this genre with some delightful nuances of its own. A few here can deliver a little more variety, but this is right up there too in the top tier as far as I'm concerned.
This is another fantastic example of Mike Vickery's take on a circuit - where he preserves its overall authenticity, but adds a few subtle tweaks that infinitely improve the core character and voicing of the pedal. In this instance he has tamed the high-frequency response of the circuit and added a further 3-way Hi-Cut toggle switch to exercise yet more control over those tricky top frequencies. As always you get no more than 4 controls on a Vick Audio pedal - with the classic 3 of course being Level, Gain and Tone. Mike always delivers a subtle but suitably enhanced yet fully authentic derivation of the original format. For sure there are others with a little more range - while I would say this was the leading candidate for the more faithful reproductions here. (Classic Reproduction series)
I of course had to include my good friend Panos's VS Audio Straight Flush - being the harder working side of its larger Royal Flush predecessor and sibling - which I've also featured on this site. The Straight Flush keeps things simple with the classic 3 Volume, Gain and Tone controls and a handy High/Low Gain Mode toggle-switch selector (not unlike the Morning Glory). This is likely one of the most elegant of the simpler extended-range examples here and a great virtue of this pedal is how quick and easy it is to dial in. This has been Chris Buck's favourite overdrive pedal for the longest while - which is about as high a recommendation / commendation as you can get! It's kind of surprising I don't have this one yet - it will surely be added some day.
This was for the longest time my favourite Bluesbreaker pedal - I acquired this and the Snouse BlackBox 2 at very similar times and although I really love both, I found myself gravitating slightly more towards the Pantheon. I just hit upon a fantastic sweet-spot with the Pantheon which made the breakup texture sound absolutely phenomenal - with a really smooth edge - and I've not been able to hit that exact same sound/texture on any other pedal. So even though my current favourite is the Golden Boy - all my other favourite Bluesbreaker put in regular appearances in the rotation - with this one being a particular understudy favourite. This pedal has no less than 7 controls - which is still 2 less than the BlackBox 2! The knobs cover Bass, Treble, Presence, Volume and Gain - where you're best starting with the Presence dialled fully CCW. And the 2 x 3-way toggle switches give you 3 varieties of Gain Level - Moderate, High and Stock, and 3 varieties of Overdrive Voice - which really means Clipping - Soft, Hard or Both. The methodology here is not dissimilar to the BlackBox 2 or Baby Blue - while both the BlackBox and Pantheon yield distinct tones and textures which justifies my owning both.
Somewhat amusingly my first reaction to the selection was how much shades of gold dominated proceedings - instead of the blue colourway you might have expected. I have an ongoing fascination with colour choices in enclosure design - and there are often established patterns based on a early dominant or pioneering pedal in that genre - per my Pedal Colour Wheel article.
In terms of grouping by specific sub-category, I feel these pedals fall roughly into 3 tiers - where my top tier kind of extended-range category would include most of the heavy hitters. Note that the delineations aren't wholly black and white - and there's obviously some further room for a less rigid classification :
My mid tier category would largely be comprised of :
And the slightly simpler-level tier would be :
The different tiers don't really reflect overall appeal or superioriority, while on this occasion most of my principal contenders do happen to sit in the top tier.
Like I said previously - my own 5 here are the Golden Boy, BlackBox 2, Six BOD, Blues King and Pantheon.
I would not mind adding a Prince of Tone, Del Mar, Morning Glory, Mount Pleasant and Straight Flush to the collection either at some stage - so all those would be my own preferences. As I've said many times in this overview - even though these all sit in the same category they each have their own distinct characteristics and quirks. I still contend that the Wampler Pantheon is the finest overdrive Brian has yet designed, while my overall favourite here is still going to be the Golden Boy for the combination of smarts and beautiful tones it delivers - even though my one most favourite Bluesbreaker tone setting of all time - is still so far to be found on the Pantheon!
What are your preferences here?