Following on from my recent piece on Steve Mac’s Pedalboard - I was intrigued enough by the Pete Cornish contingent within that to do further research in line with my own idiosyncrasies and preferences. I’ve noted previously that I somewhat dismissed Pete Cornish’s pedals as being something of an over-sized, over-priced 70’s anachronism (my sincerest apologies!). Referring largely then to the original tour-grade Grey Pro Series which festooned many a guitar legend’s pedalboard in the 70’s and 80’s in particular. And none more significantly than tone-master David Gilmour himself.
Many of Pete Cornish’s pedals cut their teeth on Gilmour’s touring rigs - and were fine-tuned over the years to his HiWatt amps - with some saying that’s what you need to get the best our of them. Which is why you always hear people talking about Pete Cornish pedals in the context of HiWatt amps. As I mentioned in the Steve Mac piece - each of Pete’s pedals was designed for a very specific application and solution - for a particular musician’s needs - typically as part of their live rig - so the pedals were designed to be wholly road-worthy, robust and precise tone-machines.
Pete designed all these circuits pretty much from scratch - including a very clever proprietary system of buffers that lives in each of his pedals. A few here may have been inspired initially by other adjacent pedals - like the Big Muff Pi influence on the P-Fuzzes and G-2 - but most of the circuits here are original Pete Cornish designs and are fiercely protected.
The Grey boxes are a bit of a hangover from the 70’s and 80’s - while the sleek Deluxe editions are much more modern - and feature those same exact circuits with the same highest quality components. I have personally not yet had hands-on experience of one of these, yet I’ve taken largely a complete 180 degree turnaround on my stance and attitude towards Pete Cornish pedals overall.
In doing the research on Steve’s rig - I was particularly attracted by something in the tone and timbre of 3 of these pedals - the CC-1, G-2 and P-1. And while there are some decent near-enough-match equivalents for the G-2 and P-1 q.v. - the CC-1 would still seem to be a total stand-alone / stand-out original - with its dual low-gain soft-clipping stages on top of a variable linear power boost. Most players marvel at its core tonality, and the incredibly well-calibrated 3-Band Active EQ.
As I delve into this overview in more depth - right from the outset I already have 3 favourites - of which I would probably try to secure at least the CC-1 over the next months or years even. Readers know that my favourite form factor is the standard compact size - but I don’t mind the vertical medium BB-enclosures too much either for some exceptions - and these Deluxe editions actually do look pretty sleek in a modern post-industrial sort of way - I really like how the enclosures are moulded up and around the footswitch.
There are currently 12 pedals in the Deluxe range where I’ve featured my 9 favourites. I don’t yet play bass, so the BD-1 Bass Driver is automatically out, as are the earlier SS-2 and NG-2 variants - where I’ve rather gone with the later edition SS-3 and NG-3. Pedals here are arrange in roughly ascending gain order / 12 degrees of saturation order! :
Of course it's fully understandable from the start that Pete Cornish makes exceptionally unique and finely calibrated fully hand-crafted pedals - while there are a myriad of near equally great optical compressors to contend for your early pedalboard slots - which can be had for a lot less, both price and profile -wise. The OC-1 has 3 very straightforward controls - Volume, Blend, and Compression - which puts it slap bang in Diamond Jr and Thorpy FX The Fat General territory. While my personal favourite is my own 6-presets Jackson Audio Bloom with optional EQ and Blooming Boost; - other notable contenders of the optical persuasion include - Steve Mac's recently featured Demeter Compulator, EQD The Warden, Friedman Sir-Compre, Greer Lamplighter, Mad Professor Forest Green, Mooer Mini Yellow Comp, Ohmless Pedals Yara, and OvniFX Smoothie - mostly as featured in my fairly recent 28 of the Best Compact Enclosure Compressor Pedals. The key advantages of the Pete Cornish OC-1 here are its two stage audio signal path, proprietary input buffer and variable attenuator driven with a control current generated by side-chain. The very precisely calibrated knob tapers / sweeps make for an exceptionally controllable compressor. Note that the video demos don't always feature the latest edition enclosures - as pictured in the main image up top - in fact most are the previous model. I would definitely hold out for the latest editions for my own needs and aesthetic and ergonomic preferences!
This Super-High-Headroom, high-fidelity Tone-Shaper ST-2 I consider somewhat adjacent to how Steve Mac uses his Colorsound Power Boost pedals. You have 2-Band Active EQ Baxandall Tone Controls with ± 16db on Bass and Treble - 30 Hz and 3 kHz respectively, with ± 15dB Gain on all frequencies. Tonally these are pretty distinct, while you can get near-ish match Power Boost type alternatives. Pete Cornish cites the specific use of this pedal for better aligning your amp with your guitar output / pickups - so you can really refine and balance your core tonality from the start. I personally don't feel I need exactly one of these - and am instead chasing a variety of Power Boost style alternatives - including a super rare dual-footswitch Wall-of-Sound variety, the original vertical ThroBak Overdrive Boost, and fairly recent edition Buffalo FX Supa Driver. Actually the original Jackson Audio Prism is probably a really decent near-alternative for the ST-2 also.
The 3Q-1 is your classic 3-Band Active EQ with Boost - typically intended for use further along your signal chain versus the previous ST-2 pedal. Bass Control range is ± 16dB @ 40Hz, Mid Control range is ± 15dB @ 1.2KHz, and Treble Control range is ± 18dB @ 8KHz. With overall boost with Gain at 100%, and 100% Volume at +20 dB. Thus the profile and application of the ST-2 and 3Q-1 is typically significantly different, while the ST-2 seems to be the more popular choice overall for whatever reason. I am fortunate in having 3-Band EQ on my Jackson Audio Bloom, where I could also have gone for a ThorpyFX Team Medic or Chase Bliss Audio Condor in fairly similar circumstances as alternatives here! There are a number of compact Parametric EQ's which do very well in this sort of area too - including Wampler's EQuator and WMD's Utility Parametric EQ. As mentioned - there is no demo for this particular pedal out there currently!
And so onto my first essential here - Pete's 'Cornish Crunch' Overdrive - a very distinct sounding two-stage, low-gain, soft-clipping overdrive run principally over variable gain linear power boost. On first encounter I noted something really special in the character and tonality of this pedal - and you could say that this pedal was the main one that swung the Pete Cornish argument for me. Those that love it also cite it's extraordinarily well-calibrated and potent 3-Band Active EQ - Bass Control range ± 13dB @ 70Hz, Mid Control range ± 15dB @ 1.5KHz, and Treble Control range of ± 16dB @ 5KHz. This is The one Pete Cornish pedal I would really want to get my hands on - i.e. own. And while there are plenty of 2-stage Soft, then Hard-clipping overdrives, I've not encountered any other dual soft-clipping variety - and I'm not aware of anything out there which sounds particularly close. This is on my 'nice-to-have' wishlist - obviously I will need to save up for it! And because of other longer-standing priorities, this certainly won't happen for a while - also there is of course Pete's 12 month waiting list - but we'll see when I get into a position to make this happen - and I can do further updates then.
Pete makes both the SS-2 and SS-3 Soft Sustain Overdrives which are designed to deliver that specific overdriven amp-tone many associate with the Dumble ODS style of amps. The SS-3 splits out the single tone control of the SS-2 into separate passive Treble and Bass controls - which essentially cut or attenuate those key frequencies - 60 Hz for Bass, and 6 kHz for Treble. This overdrive undeniably has a pleasant tone, but it's not as unique or distinct as the CC-1, and several well-known players have alternative Dumble-style preference in this area - including the Demon Pedals Kondo-Shifuku, Hermida Zendrive, J Rockett Melody Drive + EQ, Mad Professor Simble, Menatone Dumbstruck and Wampler Euphoria. I quite like the SS-3 as such, but it's not as instantly and as immediately appealing as the CC-1 and I feel I have other more compact and practical alternatives which deliver a near enough equivalent sound - my favourite in this area being my Demon Pedals Kondo-Shifuku.
In my Steve Mac Pedalboard feature I singled this out as another of my favourites - describing it as modelled on those 70's Jimmy Page Super Lead Plexi tones. Yet this pedal's back story is far more interesting than that as the circuit initially started off as a Big Muff variant which then saw the addition of a few NOS Germanium Diodes and some other substantial changes - to render a tonality quite distinct from anything Muff-like. It genuinely has a lovely sort of Marshally quality to the timbre, but is its own distinctive thing at the same time. You have those classic Muff-like controls of Volume, Tone and Sustain - but the output really is quite special and very different to what you might think a pedal with those controls would classically produce. I can get pretty close with my Menatone Vertical King of Britains, and I surmised that the recent DryBell The Engine PreAmp should be able to get you very close indeed. There is however an even closer match in Buffalo FX's Evolution 4 Stage Overdrive/Distortion pedal - which is to a large degree modelled on the tonality of the G-2. In fact I so like the Evolution that I acquired one such just recently - in fact it arrived today!
This supposedly started off as a sort of replica of one of David Gilmour's V3 Muffs I believe - the 'Red & Black' variety most likely. Of course enhanced and tweaked by Pete Cornish to spectacular effect. The tone and texture here is just fantastic. It's evident that Pete Cornish charges by the number of parts and texture as this most complex of fuzz circuits has the highest price-tag too. It's one of the best-sounding Ram's Head Muffs I have heard and is something I really wouldn't be against adding to the collection if I had unlimited funds! Practicalities being what they are I have lots of near match Ram's Head favourites in my collection already - including the Basic Audio Tri/Ram, Black Arts Toneworks Son of Pharaoh, Electro-Harmonix Alchemy Audio modded Violet Ram's Head, Skreddy Pedals P19, and a Wren and Cuff Custom Small Foot Caprid. I've noted that I still aim to pin down a Maxon Fuzz Elements Water FWA10 which should round out my own contingent of this type quite nicely - actually, a Buffalo FX M-1 also. I would of course love to own a P-1 - but it's pricing makes it slightly improbable, and while I'm definitely committed to the CC-1, I'm not yet sure I would want to double down for a P-1 too.
The P-2 is to some degree a refinement of the P-1 - where Pete has sort of blended in more of a Civil War Muff character in order to deliver a smoother tone and texture. Several players prefer the more refined P-2 Fuzz, while I believe most still prefer the slightly more aggressive and textural character of the P-1. The controls are identical - Volume, Tone and Sustain. While the voicings are distinctly different - depending on whether you prefer a more attacking Ram's Head style, or the smoother Hybrid Ram's Head / Civil War character of this P-2. Both are excellent fuzzes - and no doubt several players with means have one of each. My own Civil War contingent is currently somewhat minimal - with coverage from the JHS Muffuletta, JAM Pedals Red Muck V2 and Mojo Hands FX Colossus, where I still intend to get the Stomp Under Foot Civil Unrest at some stage too. Oh and for sure the Buffalo FX Patriot MKII as well!
Pete describes this as an 'Imminent Amp Death' simulator fuzz - which can be just brutally visceral and textured if you want it to, yet based on some sort of Big Muff underpinnings sounds like - although I've also heard rumours of some Super Fuzz style elements. What this delivers is that sort of Speaker Ripper style sound with obviously a sort of voltage starve / gated component courtesy of the Bias control - which when everything is fully cranked sounds like the amp is on the point of literally breaking up through sheer sonic assault. You have five controls here to crank up the texture - Tone, Bias, Sustain, Drive, and Volume. I would think this was somewhat of an acquired taste in some ways - but you can get some highly unusual and still useful tones if you temper the output appropriately. It's definitely masterful at delivering those sort of Gated Spitty sounds. My Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler can get into similar territory if you set the Volts knob just right - but generally you're looking at high-gain fuzz pedals with Bias, Gating or Voltage-Starve controls - they need several gain stages to them to get that degree of thickness and texture. The Gamechanger Audio Plasma Coil is something adjacent to this - but close-ish in many ways. Possibly some of the Woolly Mammoth style fuzzes get you close too.I feel I need to do a little more research in this area - and would happily consider suggestions from the community if you feel you have suitable candidates to recommend. I probably could do with a few more varieties of my own here to fulfil that slightly thicker sounding gated / spitty high-gain fuzz.
The first thing I will say here is that these pedals are not hype - they are the real deal in being some of the finest circuits you can lay your hands on - and which have been very exquisitely crafted and finely calibrated to deliver rare and unique tones. The major hurdle here really is the £500-£600 price tag for each unit. Meaning if I buy my 3 favourites here - the CC-1, G-2 and P-1, I'm out of pocket to a tune of £1,750 - which equates to the equivalent of 9 or 10 or so boutique style pedals.
As with anything in life it depends on funds-flow, practicalities and context - but you would have to really care a lot about any of these pedals to put them on your priority list. I would imagine Steve Mac would have some kind of equitable agreement with Pete Cornish - as he has a very significant contingent of those Grey Box pedals.
For me it's always about how much I love the sound - and whether I can generate it sufficiently well by any other means. For some tones you can be very broadly satisfied within a range of parameters and options - but others you need to be pinpointed to an exact degree. So the question here is how close do you want to be - in fact how close can you afford to be!
Of all my favourites - to which I add the NG-3 too - I feel I can get close enough with other varieties to satisfy my own criteria - with the exception of the CC-1. The CC-1 seems very distinct to me - I really love that tone, and I currently can't see how I can get close enough to that without acquiring said actual pedal.
For the G-2, I feel my very recent Buffalo FX Evolution is a very suitable alternative, and actually preferable in some areas. While I have options to get close enough to the P-1, P-2 and NG-3 in my considerable existing collection of pedals. If I were totally flush with funds - I would likely happily have one each of the CC-1, G-2, P-1, P-2 and NG-3. While until such a time that I win the lottery that is highly unlikely to happen. In fact there is another significant factor here in the guise of Time and Availability. As there is a waiting list of at least a year for each of these pedals. So you need some sort of plan in any case either way - as you won't be able to lay your hand on most of these anyway rapidly. There are some Pete Cornish pedals on Reverb.com - but those are generally the older editions - and I would be after the most recent Deluxe Series editions - with those tastefully centrally mounted and housed footswitches.
For now I will just play this semi opportunistically - I have far too many short and medium term priorities to attend to for now - and I typically restrict myself to just one big-ticket item per year - which for this year will be the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone PreAmp MKII - yup still saving up for that one!
Within a few years though I would expect to have pinned down a CC-1 eventually - at a distant probability there might be the possible addition of a P-1 or NG-3 to the collection - but I don't really see myself ever owning more than a couple of these at the most unless I come into a lot of money. I guess time will tell ...