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End of July Pedal-Chain Update - Episode VI - Mercurial Conveyance!

Ambient EffectsAnasoundsBig Muff Style FuzzBlues Breaker Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBuffalo FXChase Bliss AudioChorus and VibratoCooper FXDemon PedalsDigital ReverbDr ScientistDriveDual-DriveDumble Style OverdriveElectro-HarmonixEnvelope Filter and Auto WahExpresso FXFlangerFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGermanium FuzzGFI SystemGlitchJackson AudioKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMenatoneModulationModulation WorkstationMulti-DriveOCD Style OverdriveOctave FuzzOddball ModulationOpAmp FuzzOverdriveRedbeard EffectsReverbReverb WorkstationSilicon FuzzSpacey ReverbTone Bender Style FuzzToneQuestTremoloTubescreamer Style OverdriveVox Style DistortionVS Audio+-
2020GPXSKSignalChainPostNAMMJuly700V2.jpg

July has largely been a very decent month for me and culminated with the arrival of my twin new Expresso FX Dual Custom Fuzzes and my annual white whale as such - the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII on this occasion.

 

It looks like 4 pedals failed to get over the line within the appointed time period - the longest-ranging of which is my Evil Pumpkin Modded DS-1 - which has been en-route from Kiev since June 12th and which I surely hoped should have landed by now.

 

My JDM Pedals Elektrika MKI/Zonk Fuzz should be here by the end of next week, while my Buffalo FX Reticon Flanger and Fjord Fuzz Embla both seem currently somewhat lost in the wild. It would have been nice to have all those in for July, but overall I did pretty well. Those missing ones will surely turn up in August - I’ve not had a permanently lost shipment yet!

 

July was largely a Fuzz Month (many still are!) - where I picked up the following:

  • Basic Audio Foxey Lady (Guild Foxey Lady Muff)(4 x 2N5088)(Triggered by Dope Priest on TPS)
  • Buffalo FX Carrera Overdrive (More Modern, Mids-forward, and Punchier sort of TD-X)
  • Buffalo FX Evolution Overdrive / Distortion (Pete Cornish G-2 Style Plexi-Muff!)
  • Carl Martin Purple Moon Vintage Fuzz Vibe (As it says- Sort of FF Fuzz + Digital Uni-Vibe)
  • Catalinbread Giygas Versatile 3 x Silicon Transistor Fuzz
  • Chase Bliss Audio + Benson Amps Automatone Preamp MKII
  • DOD Carcosa Silicon 5 x 2N5089 Versatile Fuzz
  • Expresso FX Dual Fuzz Face Ge/Si Custom - Switchable 2 x CV7351 + 2 x CV10806
  • Expresso FX Dual Tone Bender MKII Ge/Si Custom - Switchable 3 x OC75 + OC202
  • Fjord Fuzz Bjørn Low-End Opamp Fuzz
  • Pettyjohn Electronics Rail Versatile Opamp Fuzz
  • Zoom Multistomp MS-100BT Compact Multi-FX Workstation (cv Steve Mac!)

Buffalo FX

Buffalo FX

Besides my evident Fuzz theme for the month, I'm kind of going through a Gilmourish phase too - as triggered by my recent piece on Steve Mac's Awesome Pedalboard. I had always intended to get stuck into Buffalo FX at some stage, and the imminent arrival of the Reticon Flanger seemed opportune to get a few of those classics into the pedal-chain.

 

When I've had the Reticon for a while I will complete my piece on 9 favourite Buffalo FX pedals, as well as 9 favourite medium-enclosure flangers - and I will likely have a couple more or so Buffalos for the rotation. It currently looks like I'm going row-by-row - while that is really just alphabetical coincidence - I do though Intend to go for the Germanium Fuzz, Patriot MKII, and M-1 Stacked Ram's Head next - with the Patriot as the leading candidate for next Buffalo FX acquisition. I'm so far really enjoying the Carrera and Evolution / Buffalo experience - and may very well end up with most of these eventually - and yes I'm aware that the Germanium Fuzz is long since sold-out.

 

It's nice to have a few acquisition challenges - that always keeps you on your toes - and often leads to the most enjoyable occasions when you land something vaguely unobtanium!


Expresso FX

Expresso FX

It always gives me great pleasure when I can support my good friend Sof (Transistor Charmer Extraordinaire) - and he's made a couple of truly magnificent pedals for me. My previous Expresso FX Custom was an incredibly unique compact MKI which I really love, but the newer Gørva Chameleon Enclosure Germanium/Silicon Switching Fuzz Face and MKII style pedals are yet another notch above.

 

Sof has already made both of these custom editions before for other players - while the previous MKII variants were BB style enclosure size and I was adamant about wanting a compact. Sof wove his usual magic and even managed to accommodate the sizeable Mullard Mustard Capacitors in my more compact build. Both pedals come with slightly more output too - per my preferences.

 

These pedals are just superb - and I will be doing and in-depth article on them early next week - so take this as the teaser. I've already decided what I want my next Expresso FX Dual Custom Duo to be. One of them will be another compact remake of a previous custom pedal - the Dual MKI.V - with switchable OC75 and OC84 transistors. And I will also be asking Sof to make a Dual Zonk I + II for me - i.e. Germanium and Silicon Zonk varieties with switchable transistors - similar to all these others. More details coming through later in the year as they happen. If you don't already have an Expresso FX fuzz then you're definitely missing out on some of the very best rare parts fuzzes being made today!


Winter NAMM and other Stragglers, New Releases and Priority Acquisition Pedals

Winter NAMM and other Stragglers, New Releases and Priority Acquisition Pedals

The one remaining ongoing top tier target I still need to secure is the Cooper FX Arcades for slot #33. I've already communicated with Tom Majeski a few times on the subject - and I'm hoping to acquire a unit from the very imminent August batch - with a full complement of modular cards! The Arcades is at the very top of a significant acquisition / wishlist stretching back even into last year!

 

My acquisition targets are listed in order of current priority here below (circa Top 20 Targets)! And those priorities will undoubtedly change in the forthcoming months - bar the few at the very top! Sone will undoubtedly slip into next year! :

 

Acquisition / Wishlist

  1. Cooper FX Arcades
  2. Buffalo FX Patriot MKII Pulse Muff
  3. Buffalo FX Germanium Fuzz
  4. Buffalo FX M-1 Stacked Ram's Head Muff
  5. Buffalo FX Supa Driver (Power Boost+)
  6. Fortin Fuzz Mini Doom/Sludge Fuzz
  7. Free Fall Diver Huge Fuzz Mini (Unobtanium Mini Japanese Fuzz!)
  8. Zvex Instant Lo-Fi Junky Yvette Young Edition
  9. CryBaby Mini CBM535AR Auto-Return Wah
  10. TC Electronic Ditto+
  11. Boss EQ-200 10-band Graphic Equalizer (Yes I've finely made the decision!)
  12. Danelectro 3699 Fuzz (Foxx Octave Fuzz)
  13. Danelectro Roebuck Distortion (Mostortion)
  14. Jackson Audio El Guapo JCM800 style Distortion + Tube Screamer
  15. Jackson Audio Modular Fuzz + Octave
  16. Blackhawk Balrog V3 Distortion / Fuzzstortion
  17. Spaceman Effects Apollo VII Dynamic Overdrive
  18. Crowther HotCake V2 2020 Overdrive
  19. MXR CSP027 Timmy Overdrive Mini
  20. Banana Effects Mandala Glitch Pedal
  21. Boss CE-2W Chorus Waza Craft Edition
  22. Boss DC-2W Dimension C Waza Craft Edition

And here follow the notable Pedal-Chain updates - note that the notation has changed somewhat with New pedals for the year indicated with 2020 in green, Brand New also in green, New to me in Aqua, very imminent in Yellow (Reticon), and pretty close in Orange (Arcades)! :


Top Pic 2

Slot #4 : Filter / Auto-Wah / Wah

Following on from my last update here where I stated that I was looking to occasionally rotate in a proper manual Wah - Dunlop only went ahead and launched the CryBaby Mini CBM535AR Auto-Return Wah - which is absolutely perfect for my needs and preferences. For the most part the Dr Scientist Dusk will man this slot, but once I acquire the newest CryBaby Mini - I will be rotating that in fairly regularly - having been inspired by Mikey Demus's Live Showcase all the way back at the end of February at the Birmingham Guitar Show. The Dusk is still absolutely perfect for my needs - I had also mentioned the Flower Pedals Hosta as a possible other occasional rotation partner here for the Dusk - but that is highly unlikely to happen this year.


Slot #5 : Germanium / Sensitive Fuzz (Usually!)

So we're back to a Germanium Fuzz again on this slot - while I have already been rotating in the Spaceman Sputnik III on occasion alongside the mainstay Kuro Custom Audio Akuma Fiery Fuzz and in fact the Gemini IV and others. I really love my new Expresso FX Custom Dual MKII Fuzz which I will review in detail next week. For sure I will be alternating it with the Germanium/Silicon Custom Dual Fuzz Face which is also exceptional - while I do have a slight preference for the MKII - more of that later! Swipe the Instagram left for a sound-sample at the end!


Slot #10 : Tube Screamer / Blues Breaker Style / Soft Clipping Overdrive

I'm still having fun with the Jackson Audio Golden Boy - while the recent introduction of the two new Buffalo Effects pedals means that I've not been playing this quite as much as I did in its first couple of months. Still really delivering for me - and if you notice some gaps in the frequency profile - you can always switch clipping mode and / or add one of the 4 flavours of boost - or of course tweak manually with the 3-band active EQ. This format of pedal - per the previous Broken Arrow variety is just ingenious / superbly innovative - while I prefer the slightly warmer clipping characters of the Golden Boy overall - both are great.


Slot #12 : Fuzz-Edged Overdrive / Fuzzy-Drive / Dumble-Style

The Reuss Germanium Dirt had a relatively short first innings on this slot - just one month really - not because I don't really love that flavour, but because I was for some reason missing the slightly denser texture of the Demon Pedals Kondo-Shifuku - it's quite fitting in the 5th anniversary month of Demon Pedals - that their favourite drive of mine gets 'Reupped' back into the chain. The Reuss Germanium Dirt will undoubtedly be back again soon.


Slot #14 : Various Twin Drive/Fuzz/Distortion Pedals or Multi-Drives

I'm both delighted and slightly sad that I've finally got the Preamp MKII into the chain. It occupies the former two experimental / test slots (#14 a & b) - where I used to place new pedals that I was trialling for the chain - for easy swap out. As the Automatone takes up a more permanent residence though, other slots will have to take up the focus of rotation. Currently looking like #10, #15 and #19 - the latter two of which are accustomed to being fairly free-flowing. The beauty of the Automatone though is that it's 3 drives in one Benson Amps' original default Chimera flavour Preamp, and then Tube Screamer and Klon style drives via Silicon and Germanium Diode switching respectively. We also have Open and Gated Fuzz - and Pre/Post Parametric Mids which can significantly impact and alter the character and tonality of the pedal. Many are using this for all manner of smart / advanced Midi control and EQ even - while this for me will be a Core Drive + Fuzz - which I can stack with adjacent upstream and downstream pedals. The real beauty of this pedal for me is its 30 onboard footswitchable presets - and the simplicity and elegance of how everything works. The automatic moving sliders - are just a brilliant bonus - but it's everything else that matters. I will be doing an indepth review on this in a month or so.


Slot #15 : Natural Amp-Like Overdrive and Distortion

I totally love my Kuro Custom Audio P.h.A. and Sinvertek N5+ Drive before that, and the Dr Scientist Elements before that, and the True North Tweed Drive even further back - all those are still amazing and valid slot #15 mainstays and will come into play again. For now though I'm going through something of a Gilmourish / Buffalo FX phase as mentioned - prompted by the recent launch of Steve Painter's Reticon Flanger - which I'm expecting to land for me in the next few days hopefully. In any case I'm trying out a series of Buffalo FX gain pedals - where for the longest time the deliberation was between the more traditional slightly more old-school and softly mid-scooped TD-X, and its somewhat punchier more Mid-Rangey modern alternative - the Carrera Drive. I did a lot of due diligence - particularly on Gilmourish.com - and decided that the Carrera would probably be overall a little more to my liking. The Carrera seems to have been discontinued anyway - so I though I should snap up a copy of the from the always exceptional Joe's Pedals - and I could try out the TD-X at a later more leisurely pace. This is a great amp-like overdrive - not quite as versatile as the P.h.A., but it does have a slightly different and equally appealing, character with a touch more bite.


Slot #16 : Boosted Vox Distortion

The Menatone TBIAC is pretty much settled down for the duration now - I've not seen or heard any better alternative - particularly not in this form factor. I also have the quite superb Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine - which I still very much love, and can rotate in on occasion. Overall though there is slightly more to the TBIAC - in terms of overall range and versatility. And I feel it gets a touch closer to the core Brian May / Boosted AC30 sound that I so love!

Slot #17 : Plexi / Chewy Marshall-like Distortion

For the King of Britains I went from liking it, to then not being sure, to then getting a better measure of its calibration and really loving what it delivers - having figured out properly most of the key knob-combination sweet spots - and really how to dial in the Bass frequencies so that you get more texture, and don't loose that chewy bounce and let it get too dark and dense. The Dials and Voicings are pretty sensitive - and this is not necessarily the easiest pedal to dial in - but once you get the knack of it - it really delivers. Either this one or the MI Effect Super Crunch Box V2 may come under threat eventually from the Jackson Audio El Guapo later in the year - but that will have to be super special to stand any chance of ousting either of the current much favoured incumbents - which are some of my all-time favourites in those categories.


Slot #19 : Big Muff / Rat / Extreme Fuzz

It's kind of fitting that the Buffalo FX Evolution goes in on the mainly 'Muff' slot here - for now ousting the EQD Sunn O))) Live Pedal V2. This sort of take on the Pete Cornish G-2 which started off life as a Ram's Head Muff - before being significantly changed, and pepped up with a quartet of 4 Germanium Diodes. The Evolution goes one control better with a very handy Marshall-style Contour dial - for scooping or boosting the mids. I like to call this a 'Plexi-Muff' as it combines characters of each. Sounds amazing for long sustaining passages of play - particularly accompanied by a superior quality Flanger - which up until now has been the exemplary ThorpyFX Camoflange - we'll see how close the Buffalo Reticon can get to that lofty standard..


Slot #23 : Modern High Gain Distortion / Fuzzstortion

I'm really loving the Honey Badger on this slot - and it's pretty much going to hold sway here for quite a while. I've been toying with getting in the Blackhawk Balrog V3 Distortion and Perhaps the Lichtlaerm Gehenna Distortion for some occasional rotation - but there's no priority on that yet - and regardless of what comes to pass, I think the Honey Badger will be the first choice here for a while. I will want to bring back the Revv G3 and Keeley Twilight Zone Modded Metal Zone too on occasion!


Slot #29 : Analog Chorus

This has now got some really stellar demos to show it off to its best advantage - I also featured it in my recent 28 Best Compact Enclosure Chorus selection - where this is still my favourite Chorus variety of any that are out there. Many more should be checking it out - it sounds amazing, and is a proper game-changer with its 6 footswitchable presets on top of a category leading pure BBD Analog voicing.


Slot #30 : Analog Flanger

I'm going to reserve judgment on everything that has been happening around this recent limited run pedal launch - until everything settles down a touch and I finally have my own example in my hands. It's obviously being rolled out a little behind schedule, and there has been total radio-silence form Steve Painter throughout this period - which has proved to be somewhat disconcerting or alarming even for certain prospective customers particularly as the Buffalo FX Facebook page has also recently disappeared!! I am largely used to this kind of thing to some degree (these are strange times0 - and I'm hopeful that my Reticon Flanger will arrive before long. I'm hoping it can match the ThorpyFX Camoflange - which is still my runaway favourite. The Reticon will only be produced in a 100 unit limited run - so the only way to try one is to buy one! They're of course all long since sold out. They just seem to be taking a little longer to get through to their eventual owners. The one immediate downside for me is the 18V power requirement - and use of those old-fashioned EHX labels - where the Camoflange labelling makes more sense to me. There are currently some horrible demos of this pedal on YouTube - but also a smattering of good ones on The Gear Page. I'm not sure this will permanently oust my Camoflange - I'm really just hoping it comes really close - I don't have any issues with owning the two best of any particular effect - and I'm quite a fan of flangers actually. I will of course post up a decent YouTube demo for this once one materialises.


Slot #31 : Analog Harmonic Tremolo

The Anasounds Ages Analog Harmonic Tremolo - with touch-sensitivity - is still not getting quite the love it deserves. I've seen a few more decent demos like the above one - and this pedal is starting to trickle in to International and USA distribution in particular. Like the VS Audio Alchemy it deserves a wider audience and customer base - which I'm sure it will pick up eventually. Only minor quibbles here are how some of those secondary functions are accessed and dialled in. How I have it set for dynamic touch-sensitive rate - it sounds just stellar. Note that Ponderer Sounds in the above demo misses out on a second group of alternative waveforms accessible via secondary function on the Tap-Division control - my own review has all the details!


Slot #33 : Glitch Pedal / Multi-FX / Workstation

This is the last of my major (known) targets for the year thus far. I have other acquisitions planned, but not necessarily so much for principal pedal-chain placement. I've decided that the Cooper FX Arcades is the perfect marriage of Glitch and slightly non-vanilla effects across all the key creative categories. We already have modular cards for Delay, Reverb, LoFi and Pitch, with further ones for Granular, Reverse Delays, Generation Loss and Synth are due sometime in August I'm led to believe. I see this as a modular quirky mono alternative to my Eventide H9 Max - which takes up a permanent slot (#38) - but mostly gets used for Secondary effects. The Arcades will take on all the quirkier and more experimental stuff - while it will occasionally be rotated out for some other Glitch Pedal - say the 3 Chase Bliss Audio varieties - Blooper, Mood and Generation Loss.


Slot #34 : Stereo Digital Multi-Modulation Workstation

I haven't really spent enough time with this pedal this month for various reasons and I still have a few of the 15 new algorithms to fully properly check out and figure out my preferences. As usual though this pedal never fails to impress. Once you get accustomed to its control topology this is just the most amazing dual channel monster multi-mdoulator you could come across - almost infinite possibilities here, and the recent refinements improve the experience even further. For this sort of pedal it's very much between this and the Wampler Terraform if you want the best of the Multi-Modulators - while this one offers up quite a bit more than all the rest.


Slot #39 : Stereo Digital Reverb Workstation

I must report that I haven't done enough with this pedal yet either - so much has been happening in July that I've overlooked the various days of experimentation I normally dedicate to a new workshop pedal of this nature. I have half a dozen favourite voicings dialled in already - but need to get into more of the clever stuff - in particular applying the Lo-Fi setting to everything!


Final Thoughts

I wasn't necessarily expecting to get the Chase Bliss Automatone in quite so soon - things just slotted together at the tail-end of July. And in fact the only remaining key pedal-chain long-term component I'm really chasing hard is the Cooper FX Arcades - which will really bring me fully up to speed with the projected path from Winter NAMM onwards.

 

I'm sure the year will throw up a few more surprises before Christmas comes around, and I will no doubt need to react and re-calibrate again. For now I'm generally very satisfied with everything I have in place. I'm kind of toying with a Boss EQ-200 for slot #28 - but I really don't need it, and probably would not use its extended functionality that much - It's form factor will mean a bit of a squeeze in that part of the chain while I much prefer its manual sliders to the digital bars on the more diminutive Source Audio EQ - which does in many ways have more functionality onboard - including a Tuner and Noise Gate. If Boss could combine the functionality of the NS-2 with the EQ-200 - that would be a killer pedal for me!

 

So per the Acqusitions / Wishlist - there area number of Buffalos to get, a couple of Jackson Audio and Danelectro - while there are various other lower priorities too - which trigger if they hit a certain Price Point and condition rating on Reverb.com or similar. All this multi-tasking is quite complex really as I track probably in excess of 500 brands and their many thousands of pedals. I'm also weirdly thinking I might be able to fit in the forthcoming Chase Bliss Audio Automatone CXM 1978 Reverb - definitely for next year! Looks like the Automatone Preamp MKII is going very well as mine is numbered #651 ...

 

I still haven't quite exhausted my infinite Fuzz wishlist - although parts of that are starting to reach saturation. Seems I never get bored though of interesting new flavours and varieties of fuzz. Part of me wants to own every major mojo combination of transistor and diode!

 

As with everything in life - some months are up, and some are down - and July has been one of the better ones this year. We don't know exactly what to expect - although it has been hinted to me that there are some very imminent new Boss pedal announcements forthcoming. Those are always exciting occasions.

 

I believe I've got to a place now where I have pretty good coverage for most eventualities. Meaning that I really just need to concentrate on polishing some of the edges - while even in the pedal-chain alone there is significant adjacent and overlapping coverage. The idea here was always to be able to cover as wide a range of guitar tones as possible - and I have several musical heroes in every genre that I need to get close to. I feel that by year end I will be largely state-of-the-art in terms of the current level of innovation for this sector - while I've decided that the Empress Zoia and Poly Digit / Beebo routes aren't really ideal for me in their current formats. They're both much better suited as desktop-based modular synth utilities - than floor-based guitar stomp boxes. I'm still one of those guys who likes direct and immediately gratifying hands-on control and tweakery!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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