With its still world-leading designer manufacturing industries I expect Italian pedal-makers to exhibit a certain degree of flair and pizzazz. So I was a touch disappointed when I came across so many poorly designed websites and often rather mediocre designs of pedals. That’s not to say there aren’t some leading lights here which raise the tone - but overall with the glut of pedal-makers I reviewed, I felt that as a nation they did not quite live up to their billing or imaginary status.
I also thought that there would be more Italian pedal brands of proper International repute, but there are actually surprisingly few here who have global brand recall. I think it’s quite easy to say that Gurus Amps is Italy’s flagship pedal-maker in terms of brand cachet, while Italy’s actual probably most formidable maker FTelettronic still remains somewhat unknown and out of general distribution. As opposed to Germany where there was a real ’fight’ as such for top 9 placement, here I really had to look around for likely candidates. And the 9th slot, actually 8th listed is still something of a 50/50 shot.
In terms of guitar effects - Italy’s properly famous for two things really - the truly magnificent Binson Echorec Quad Tape-head Delay, and it also made Vox’s incredibly well received Tone Bender fuzzes. So I was expecting to a degree a really rich heritage of delay and fuzz, and while the latter category still holds true to a degree there really aren’t that many Italians paying homage to the Echorec.
The first pedal featured is the superb Big-Muff inspired Esplora Fuzz, which actually sounds to me more like a really overdriven Silicon Fuzz Face - but gloriously so. Then the Cornerstone Royal Antique Overdrive+Boost is just a really nice sounding and highly versatile medium-enclosure overdrive pedals. Last in the top row is the F-Pedals DarkLight distortion - one of the many standouts for Italian-made, but L.A. designed range of 14 mini pedals.
The middle row starts and ends with Echosex - first the very newest incarnation of that tape delay pedal by Gurus Amps and Baroni Lab - Foxgear collaboration. The recent now full-featured Echosex T7E on the other end, with the excellent FTelettronica Schumann PLL replica in the centre.
The bottom row has the excellent 16 wave-shape Mastrol Valvolo LFO Tap-Tremolo and really innovative SIM1 Smart Tone-Shaping sort of guitar modelling but nor really pedal. The middle of that row has something of an outsider in the Nexihum Sound Cult Germanium Riccardo Signature Fuzz-Boost - where I’ve heard the two constituent parts to the pedal, but not the actual final integration.
There are actually quite a few pedals here I wouldn’t mind owning - in fact pretty much all of these past muster with the F-Pedal DarkLight and Mastro Valvola LFO Tremolo the most likely acquisitions.
Pedals are listed / pictured alphabetically by brand - first the Top 9, and then the rest.
A pristine range of just 4 compact pedals which includes the only pedal I actually own in this top 9 listing, in fact my only Italian pedal so far as far as I'm aware - the quite superb crunchy Big Muff -inspired Esplora Fuzz. All 4 pedals in the range are really cool and I could quite happily possess all 4 if I had no other priorities.
Another good looking modern range of elegant mostly compact pedals - overall I think I prefer AC Noises above, but of the range of 5: Antique Classic Drive, Flame Mini Boost, Royal Antique Drive/Boost, Sparkle Dynamic Overdrive, Zefiro Optical Compressor - I really like the Osvaldo Di Duo Signature Royal Antique Drive which adds Boost and a few more tone-sculpting controls into the mix. Note - Gladio Double PreAmp recently added - dual-channel Dumble-style Preamp, which is currently the brand's flagship product :
So strictly speaking this is only part-Italian, most importantly the pedals are engineered and made in Italy, while they are though designed and headquartered in Los Angeles. I have long loved this range of quality mini pedals - which I've always hoped would reach wider distribution, but weirdly seem somewhat trick still to get hold of in Europe! In any case there are 14 pedals to the range - all pretty much excellent, and my favourite pick of those is probably the really versatile DarkLight distortion with its 5 dynamic controls:
For those of you who like the look of the beautifully designed Gurus Amps pedals but don't have the fat wallets, Gurus have teamed up with fellow Italian amp and pedal-maker Baroni Labs to delivery a really affordable range of Gurus-designed compact pedals. So we get a cool compact 'Baby' version of the Echosex Tape Delay, while the 3-band EQ Sinister Metal Distortion looks really appealing too. This is a beautifully designed range made in a Chinese facility which is overseen by Baroni Lab - for optimal quality control. They're not properly in distribution yet as far as I can see - but make a really great alternative at the affordable end of the market.
This is probably Italy's greatest pedal-maker truly, and certainly the most overlooked - with around 100 superbly engineered pedals in its range. It covers all the obvious suspects and many more besides - with some creations of staggering technical complexity - yet beautifully designed and manufactured. I came across them first when researching the Shumann PLL pedal, and I have to believe that FTelettronica have the most faithful and beautiful replications of that special pedal in several colourways. Which is the key pick of the bunch here, but with many more standouts besides - listed below.
Considering Italy brought us the immense Binson Echorec, it's only fitting that they should also provide us with the most beautiful pedalboard reproduction - initially available with just a single recording head, but in its T7E version it finally covers the full feature set of the original for the most amazing of tube-driven tape-style delay. I just wish it was a touch smaller as this is an exceptional pedal in every way. Mr Gurus - one Chicco Bellini makes the most beautifully crafted effects pedals and several more are worth a look-in as below. The only properly pedalboard friendly variety here is the almost equally excellent SexyDrive II which is a really decent mid-gain overdrive - and the most likely one I would acquire here. I fear the full-size Echosex is just a touch on the big side for me to accommodate within my current rig - further down the road though I may experiment less and be prepared to sacrifice a number of my existing pedals for this one - for now though it just takes up a little too much space...
Another beautifully crafted range of pedals - 9 medium enclosure, and a mini Linear Boost, and Buff-o Buffer. The ones that particularly take my fancy here are the Multi Delay, Multi Reverb and Optical Tremolo dual-footswitch pedals - with the last mentioned being my pick of the bunch - with no less than 16 different wave-shapes. I'm a real sucker for fuzzes and tremolos, and would be quite happy to add this one to the collection - it would fit in nicely alongside my Modded Boss TR-2, Chase Bliss Gravity and Stone Deaf Tremotron - it's just a really cool sounding Tremolo.
A really new Italian boutique maker who has already amassed quite a collection of 20 rather elegant mostly mid-size pedals. The standout for me is the still being finalised - the Riccardo Signature Germanium Fuzz+Boost which is a combination of a 'DoubleFace' Fuzz (Fuzz Face) and 'BoogieMaster' (Rangemaster) Boost. Alas the only demo currently available is for the V2 BoogieMaster above, where we're currently at V3 for both actually. So the above demo does not unfortunately do justice to the final pedal's sound - I will post update video as soon as it materialises...
I vaguely recall this pedal from one of the more recent NAMM shows, I keep overlooking / forgetting about it when people ask me to recommend a good acoustic simulation pedal - to which my stock answer has usually been the Boss AC-3. However this pedal definitely goes quite a bit further than the Boss - in giving you specific tonalities for pickup combinations of said guitar presets. The core algorithm seems to have come a long way in these intervening months too, as everything sounds more dynamic and lively now. At the heart of this technology is a really clever engine that can translate your guitar input - in fact 'tune it' towards each of its simulation presets. It doesn't just act as a sample trigger or a modelling processor, but is more a type of tone-shaping pedal which adjusts the input from your own guitar to match the profile and dynamics of each of its core guitar sounds. I'm not expert enough to discern how close this gets to the originals, but it's a really clever piece of technology that I may well experiment with at some stage. No doubt by the time I get to it, they will have refined and improved the algorithms somewhat further.
Baroni are well known amp engineers, but for me their current collection of some 27 pedals comes across as rather confused - as there does not appear to be any consistency in thematic styling - the graphics are really all over the place and the pedal pictures equally inconsistent. It's not surprising that they collaborated with Chicco Bellini of Gurus Amps for their new diffusion Foxgear range - as he is a dab hand at pedal design. They should really hire him to do a facelift of their entire range too - as its muddled look is both a distraction and a turn-off. I have no doubt that these are decent sounding pedals with the dual-tube-powered Mesy Mark One particularly intriguing - yet we pedal fans listen with our eyes as well as our ears - and if there's something a touch off, we find it difficult to focus on the task in hand! I feel with some simple and minor face-lifting this could go from a very average range to a really decent one overnight. I was in fact surprised by many of the Italian site and pedal designs - which for all of Italy's amazing design heritage, were actually rather poorly designed - I guess the main difference between a designer and engineer priorities. Where successful pedal companies to day need quality from both sides.
This is largely a studio equipment and electronics purveyor really with just a sideline in Expression, Sustainer, Volume and Wah pedals. Nothing much here really to arouse any particular interest.
Another of the many Italian Tube Amp specialists - with a handful of pedals to its name - 3 medium enclosure, 1 large - Mercury Box, Mercury Box 2, Taxi Drive and Vanilla Overdrive. The Dual Channel Mercury Box 2 looks vaguely interesting, but I'm not sure it does enough to fully single itself out - still it will be worthwhile for some.
Obviously mainly a guitar builder - but with a slightly disparate collection of 8 pedals - 5 compact, 2 medium, 1 large - mostly overdrives, a chorus, compressor, distortion and fuzz. For whatever reason there is nothing here that particularly stands out for me - competent but somehow not particularly enticing.
A very new pedal-builder with just a single compact to its name - the smart Splinter Overdrive with 2 x 3-way voicing toggle switches.
Actually not a bad range of pedals although I found the website somewhat infuriating - and also come to think of it - there is no particular thematic consistency here - design of the pedals is really all over the place and does the parent brand no favours. The whole thing is somewhat distracting really and you get the same pedals appearing again and again as you page through. The whole range range could in fact do with a revamp - along with the website.
Since my initial review this maker has evolved significantly - with the range now consisting of 9 compact Boost, Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion pedals in the main but also with Compressor, Chorus/Phaser and Tremolo. I still think the graphics could overall be improved slightly, but there is a far higher degree now of quality and consistency throughout the range. The standout pedal here is of course the flagship 3-way clipping Michelangelo Overdrive Plus or more literally Overdrive + Boost. The core circuit is a typically rich JFET powered one with further Germanium and Silicon clipping options. You also have a separate PreAmp circuit which you can have always on or control momentarily with the Boost Footswitch. This medium horizontal enclosure pedal is a great highly versatile overdrive with some pretty unique features - including Dry Blend. My only confusion is the labelling of the EQ knobs which look on the device to be B (bass) and M (mids), while the instructions state B (bass) and H (highs) - possibly it means Upper Mids and Highs in this instance. In any case there is now largely a high quality consistency clearly apparent across the range now - and the Michelangelo is another pedal on my never-ending wishlist!
I think these 8 pedals - 6 compact, 1 medium, 1 large have the makings of something half decent, they're sort of on the way towards a Bearfoot FX aesthetic - but just with the hand-written style names - I think the Barefoot and BJFE pedals would not be half as appealing without their interesting textural finishes. Effetti Di Clara ends up much like Dophix as coming across somewhat cheap. While the Foxgear pedals which are cheap (above) come across as rather classy and higher quality than they probably are - such is the benefit of good design!
This is a fairly interesting collection of 8 pedals - 5 medium, 2 large - Boost, Overdrive and Distortion. The 5 medium pedals are consistently designed in terms of control layouts and graphics and have quite a cool slightly different vibe to them which is unfortunately lost on the larger two pedals. I like the uniformity of the medium enclosure pedals, but functionality wise there is nothing which draws me in here.
A very clean minimalistic / white range of pedals wholly lacking in recall factors, yet still somewhat quietly elegant - 5 compact, 1 large; 3 overdrive/distortion, compressor, tremolo, large GoodVibe pedal which does pretty much exactly what you would think. I don't feel there is anything here to specifically drive anyone in. There are so many pedal-makers out there nowadays that you have to offer up something somehow memorable to have any chance of long-term success.
Conceptually and design-wise I find the concept of these 3 medium vertical enclosure pedals intriguing - digitally controlled / programmable and smart-linking analogue pedals. Yet something about this trio of EQ7 Flex EQ, DLC Flex Delay and DOD Flex Distortion seems somewhat under-baked or not quite there yet. I feel that these are sort of half-way house towards something truly brilliant - and I still think they have a way to go to start properly winning players over. This sort of innovation is to be lauded of course, but it's not really quite at the finish line for me yet.
These are actually quietly appealing pedals in their black, white and red colour-scheme. And there are some here definitely worth a look-in. 14 pedals in total - 4 compact, 3 medium, 7 large : 7 drive+boost, 2 boost, 3 drive, chorus, distortion. I do quite like a Dumble style overdrive, and I never shy away from some classic British crunch!
Kuro was criminally overlooked by me on first sweep here and has now grown to become one of my favourite Italian builders. Proper boutique style hand-wired pedals made from the finest components by my now good friend Giulio. The business wasn't fully a proper independent entity until 2018 - but Giulio has an amazing record of custom builds going back a lot longer. The business is now focussed on the three flagship pedals - Akuma Fiery Fuzz, P.h.A Clean Boost, Overdrive, PreAmp and T120 Matamp-style PreAmp - for which I love all and am about to own two - while I will wait for Giulio to bring the T120 a little bit down in size before I go for that one.
This company is most famous for its Phil X and Stevie Salas Signature Pedals, plus Il Diavolo collaboration with MXR. Otherwise the range consists of the very utilitarian compact 81 Series x 4, and 9 compact drive, boost, phaser and fuzz pedals. I'm not sure I'm allowed to include the 'Il Diavolo' here - so I will settle on the two 'Sig' pedals and the Fuzz pedal with very obvious David Gilmour association.
A really cool range of 6 dual footswitch medium enclosure pedals - BassWaves Bass EQ, BlueJelly Guitar EQ, Green Fox Deep Overdrive, RedCat Distortion, Red Cat Steel (Metal) Distortion, UMIDIT Midi Controller - not pedals have 4-band EQ and patch options - similar to Chase Bliss philosophy of Digital Brain, Analog Heart:
A reasonable range of compact pedals - boost, overdrive, fuzz, distortion, various modulations. Website is a bit of a mess - odd inconsistent photography to match seemingly inconsistent design theme - slightly wedge-shaped enclosures themselves are pretty cool. Nothing really grabs me though. The whole experience could be made a lot better with some judicious updates to visuals and websites though - it just all comes across a little too messy currently - which I'm not sure most guitar players are into - crazy messy tone for sure - but we like our pedals to be fairly neatly organised.
Range of just 4 pedals - 2 larger enclosure, one medium, one compact. The Boost boost!, Frankie Tone Distortion, Mr.DriveBoost Overdrive + Boost and ZeroLevel Buffered PreAmp. I guess the standout here is the white black and red Mr. DriveBoost.
Pretty decent range of 14 mini, compact and larger enclosure pedals - a few with valves, usual suspects - typical 3 dials + 2 toggle switches with quite a few cool pedals here - even the slightly ludicrous all-in-one Multi One Deluxe!. I though quite like the look of the Echo Lab Deluxe, Rattler Driver, Tube Overdrive and Sovietik Fury
Pretty decent range of 12 mostly compact pedals compressor, boost, overdrive, distortion - there's a couple of pedals that stand out here for me - the Dark Lady Distortion, and Mr. W Driwah Overdrive + Fixed Wah.
Assortment of 5 medium and 4 compact mostly drive and fuzz pedals based on different coloured accent spot. Nothing here particularly stands out for me though - although there is certainly a theme going on here. I guess they sort of have their own look, but it does not hold appeal for me - will surely appeal to some though.
Reasonable range of 11 pedals - 7 medium, 4 compact - largely decent graphs though not thematically uniform, relatively simple pedals overall. As usual - I go with the fuzzes!
Actually a pretty cool range of nicely designed sort of etched, modern compact enclosure pedals with lovely textures and graphics - ADG Distortion, BrentZ Custom Boost, Clorofilla Drive, Iron Fuzz, Nano Tremolo, Opto Compulator Compressor, Pavone Drive, Surfinia Drive, Synthonia BJF Distoriton, Sythnoica Techno Drive + Radial Hot British mod, and Vox Wah mod. There's quite a few I like the look of here:
An actually pretty decent range of elegant engraved enclosure clone types - including Sunn Model T, Bassman, Rat, Microtubes (DarkGlass), Dual Big Muff Ram's Head etc. I rather like the look of the Satiro Fuzz myself.
Just a single medium-enclosure 12AX7-powered Valve Age Model 1 Overdrive / Distortion. Looks decent enough with its 5 controls and clipping toggle - probably not a bad choice for someone wanting a proper tube-driven overdrive - although it does not hole particular appeal for me for whatever reason.
A currently 10 pedal range in assorted sizes, mostly compact, with no particular standouts for me - the usual sort of boost, overdrive, distortion, compressor, delay, looper and tremolo - with one larger triple-footswitch PowerStation Overdrive / Distortion with dual channels plus boost.
A nicely designed compact range of circa 9 pedals - Boost, Fuzz, PreAmp and Overdrives and utilities, with a combination of regular and mini dials - I quite like hot the control topologies of these are laid out with several featuring a left-hand column of controls - highly stylised.
These seem to be mostly derivations of the same core Secret-1 Overdrive - enclosed in 2 different types of medium-size enclosures, there's also a separate 1 Soul Pressure Compressor. Standout pedal here is the added-boost Secret-1 Boost Addict version.
Assorted range of 15 clone pedals in mostly compact and medium enclosure - fuzzes, overdrives, delays and phasers in particular with the coolest pedal here probably he compact SDV Deluxe FX - a compact multi-effects pedal with 16 effects onboard - obviously of digital origin.
Decent range of compact and medium enclosure pedals - Nuke Booster, Over Boost, Super Hoffman Boost, Watt-Drive, Buggy Fuzz, T-Fuzz, Daytona Fuzz, Bastard Fuzz, Poncho Fuzz. My preferences as always are for the fuzzes - both of which have voicing / clipping toggles.
Range of 6 pedals - 1 compact, 4 medium, and regular sized Wah - boost, overdrive, fuzz, distortion, tremolo and Wah. Nicely colour-code pedals with a degree of uniformity of design, but very vanilla for my tastes - e.g. no tap-tempo on tremolo and only one pedal (L'Overdrive) with clipping options.
Tiny range of just 3 compact pedals - 2 boost, and 1 Steamroller Overdrive with dual voicing toggle switches - which looks like it has reasonable appeal for me.
A decent range of around 20 or so mostly utility pedals - buffers, boosters, and loop-switchers in particular. Not sure any of these hold particular appeal for me, but are probably very worthwhile for journeyman musicians - fairly simply looks, but slick enough for this particular category.
3 compact vertical and one compact horizontal pedals - one overdrive, one distortion and two fuzzes. Nothing here in particular to write home about - pedals look well enough assembled - with JHS style washers on footswtiches - yet graphics could be slightly more uniform and harmonious.
Upon further reflection - I was perhaps a touch too harsh in my introduction. Possibly the beautiful aesthetics of the Gurus Amps stuff overly ramped up the expectations. Generally there is a pretty good mix of pedal types in Italy - though there is the usual preponderance of all the usual clone-style pedals.
I genuinely though did expect to find more polished examples of design here than in the other European countries I have covered, but it was not really meant to be. There's still a smattering of pedals I would like to acquire here - and mostly those at the top of the page.
These last two overviews - Germany and Italy have taken quite a lot out of me, so I will probably give this particular theme a rest for a while before I start it up again. I know I want to to Japan at some stage, and possibly Spain and definitely Scandinavia - bur perhaps Australia, Netherlands and Poland too - as I've encountered a few of those pedals on my travels.
For the next few weeks though I will probably default back to the mostly mainstay USA-made pedals - possibly starting with a new series of head-to-heads with some of the more significant operators.