June hasn’t been a particularly kind month to me - in fact it’s been something of a difficult period - I was going to call this piece ’The Darkness Lingers’ but didn’t really want that particular NLP on this blog - which I try to keep as positive as is practically possible.
A number of ventures and collaborations I was working on this month came a cropper when the other collaborating parties somewhat inexplicably and suddenly ended their involvement - which means well over a solid week’s worth of work is in the trash - and those pedal I was expecting to feature and focus on - are no longer coming through. This blog cannot exist without pedal builders being willing to collaborate with me and share their insights on their pedal developments - so that I can best communicate the features and benefits of those for your erudition.
This is largely the proverbial process of extracting blood from a stone as every tiny bit of information gleaned is often unnecessarily difficult and incredibly time-consuming to eke out. I then need to find some contextual reference within which to centre the narrative and give the readers something interesting to latch on to. What I do is a a sort of Photo-Journalism - and many of the articles on this site are several days in the making. I also spend a considerable amount of time doing research, and photoshop editing and re-touching - cutting out individual pedals and adjusting exposure, contrast and colour-balance etc. - and generally refining and sharpening things up. So each article pretty much takes a minimum of half a day to a day - some take a week or more to complete. Many of these I can do with little or no input from the builder - but for my more in-depth builder and pedal overviews I typically need some personal investment and involvement from the pedal builder community.
Guitar Pedal X is not my main job - I work as a Branding Specialist and Marketing Director for Affino from circa 09:00 - 18:00 each day - often more depending on what needs to be done. And then from circa 18:00 to 02:00 or so I work on Guitar Pedal X - with usually a big chunk of the weekend dedicated to this project too. For many of the pedal-builders too this is their pattern also - and they have their own high-powered day jobs - which means communications are typically difficult and happen over quite an extended period - depending on general availability and the need to juggle work and family duties around everything else. In these times of Coronavirus with so many people working from home - it’s often more difficult to establish meaningful ongoing dialogues as there are too many concurrent familial and household distractions and interruptions.
Everyone I have worked with over the years has generally gained some significant benefit from my efforts - while my contributions aren’t always fully valued, rewarded, or reciprocated. This is quite a tough gig really day-to-day - and I don’t really understand how I’ve gotten as much blow-back as I’ve experienced this month. But I guess you win some and you loose some. My efforts have been dismissed in a variety of ways recently - with some individuals referring to Guitar Pedal X as a promo-site - which it assuredly is not. This is intended primarily as an informative and educational resource to help pedal aficionados make better choices in their pedal acquisitions. I deliberately don’t engage in click-baiting activity or media spin - and I strive to keep everything positively focused and grounded. I won’t speak out negatively, and I won’t remove historical content covering those who have wronged me, but this is my house and those that break the covenant will no longer be welcomed here - certainly not with anything more than a foot-note. Yet despite a high hit-rate, still too many individuals outright snub and rebuff my invitations to collaborate - and wholly ignore my efforts to establish contact.
If there are particular pedal builders or brands guilty of offences - then they are simply excluded - without any sort of fanfare or announcement. You can by all means continue to request reviews and features on specific categories, brands and pedals - but I can’t and won’t always explain or dwell on the facts why certain ones have been left out - that is between me and the party that wronged me - note also that I always leave the door open for reconciliation in terms of personal communications - while the current prevailing vogue seems to be rather in the spirit of bridge-burning. These instances of somewhat random fallout are fortunately extremely few and far between - and but grains of sand on a beach in comparison with the overall cornucopia of brands and pedals covered here. It’s just odd that there was such a concentration this month - possibly just something in the air! Note that in general all the pedals I feature on this site are ones that I own, am actively considering / pursuing or have considered within some considerable due process - ones that are missing may be ones that I’ve overlooked, ones that don’t fit my criteria or preferences, or the tiny number of miscreants. I also frequently change and evolve my mindset as I learn and experience more and often later grow fond of pedals which didn’t initially resonate with me. There’s so much out there generally though that it really is quite tricky to cover any more than I already do within in my extensive rolling process. I sincerely hope most of you enjoy reading the contents of this site, and find some insights that bring you a step or two further forward in your respective ToneQuests...
As I mentioned way back at the start of the above preamble - June has been a relatively slow month for a variety of reasons, and while certain things did not happen - there have been some positive developments. I'm still delighted with and continue to be inspired by my above pictured pedal-chain - which actually only saw a couple of key changes this month.
The Reuss Germanium Dirt has currently taken over slot #12 in place of the Kondo-Shifuku - which I of course still love as my favourite Dumble-style overdrive, but the Germanium Dirt gives me something really magical too which is encouraging / inspiring more playing these days. The recently featured Kuro P.h.A. Boost/Overdrive/PreAmp has also taken up a fairly fixed residency on slot #15 in place of the Menatone Fish Factory - another favourite which will of course be rotated in regularly.
I managed to finally secure a Spaceman Sputnik III right on the cusp of May/June while I'm giving the Kuro Akuma Fuzz an extended innings on that slot - #5 where the Sputnik will likely take over in late summer.
That leaves the two white whales as such - the two pedals in the visual which are still 'Orange' not-quite-there-yet status! I was initially waiting for the Cooper FX Arcades to come through to UK distribution - courtesy of Guitar FX Direct, but decided that my coverage of this pedal and its forthcoming additional module cards needed involvement direct with MR Cooper FX - Tom Majeski - so I have made arrangements with him direct - and just need to wait for the main units to come back into stock which alas doesn't look like it will happen / land until some time in August. But be prepared for an in-depth update around then - I'm most definitely committed to the Cooper FX Arcades for my more Leftfield / Glitchy / Granular Effects - on slot #33.
That then just leaves the actual white whale by size - the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone MKII PreAmp - of which there seem to be plenty in distribution now. I just need to wait patiently for funds to come in to cover that - which hopefully means it can be added to the rig in the Autumn some time - or by Christmas at the very latest. If you follow Pedalboards of Doom - you will have seen Mikey Famiglietti doing his usual magical stuff over some insane midi-control of the Automatone. I was already sold on this pedal when it was very first revealed - while £750 is a significant investment on one piece of kit - particularly in these strange times, and particularly with my current reduced income.
Despite quite a few disruptions, I have largely enjoyed my ongoing dialogues with the vast majority of my pedal-builder friends over the month - and it's great to add new members to the family / extended network - like Giulio from Kuro Custom Audio and Anders Reuss of Reuss Musical Instruments. Even though I'm still something of an outsider in this world - I still harbour Robert Parker level ambitions - and would like to eventually establish a sort of pedal builder equivalent of Wes Anderson's fictional 'Society of the Crossed Keys'.
In any case here are the current runners and riders, movers and shakers in my ever-changing pedal-chain :
There's actually quite an interesting development here - as in doing the recent Mikey Demus pedalboard overview I kind of got a feeling I should be giving manual Wah another go - versus the mostly auto-was I use here. I don't think it will be an immediate development as I generally don't much like the conventional treadle-plate wah pedals - which is why I started using pedals like the Micro-Tron III, and current favourite Dr Scientist Dusk. I'm actually looking for something more like an extended-range compact version of Fulltone's WahFull - to which ends I've created another of my prototype visualisations that I will be sharing with you all a little later!
I've discovered that it's very much not just Germanium fuzzes that benefit by being on this first of the fuzz slots - there are actually quite a number of my fuzzes that just sound better on this earlier slot - many fuzzes are of course totally agnostic and you can stick them anywhere in the signal-chain - but some just really like coming first! In any case I'm really very much still enjoying the Kuro Akuma Fiery Fuzz and I'm extending its innings here - even though I have already acquired a Spaceman Sputnik III - which will likely come onto this slot for a more permanent innings around August onwards.
I'm still loving the Golden Boy - still mostly on Green mode. My good pal Matt Knight (Mr Boss Europe) posted a cool clip of a recent recording of his using the Blue 4 Symmetrical Silicon Diodes mode on a low gain setting - and it sounded divine. Not much more to say here really.
It would have to take a lot to shift my all-time favourite Dumble-Style pedal - Demon Pedal's Kondo-Shifuku, but I've taken to running the Reuss Germanium Dirt on this slot now. The Germanium Dirt I actually categorise as somewhat Rat-adjacent as it runs off a metal-can LM308AH - with 4 magical Germanium Diodes which give it just the most incredibly harmonic fuzz-edged tones - it's just my type of pedal for this kind of task - and actually brings a little more warmth and richness onto this slot. We'll see how it pans out, but this could become quite a long-termer here. The only quibble is that on lower settings the Germanium Dirt could really do with more output - which means I use it in combination with the Treble Booster mode on the Strymon Sunset when I need to.
I've already mentioned the status of the Automatone MKII acquisition in the above Positivity segment - this will hopefully happen some time later this year - the decision has very much been made, just need the funds to cover it! In the meantime the slot is occupied by two pedals - the JHS Kilt V2, and the Expandora 2000R - in preparation for a project I'm delighted to be collaborating with Guillem of Decibelics on - more of that later - when we have something to share with you all!
You should know by now how hugely impressed I've been by the Kuro P.h.A. Boost/Overdrive/PreAmp - which has likely taken up a fairly permanent residency here. As per a forthcoming feature, I'm also considering rotating in at some stage Steve Demedash's 112 Overdrive/PreAmp - nothing fixed or set in stone yet, while I feel the P.h.A. will undoubtedly have a starring role here for a very long time - most agree with me that it's a truly stellar, amazingly highly adaptable unit (Prodigiously high Adaptability!).
Still delighted with the Menatone TBIAC - it sounds consistently stellar - I think I'm pretty well done with its micro-tweaking - it always sounds just tremendous nowadays. If you love Brian May like I do - then this is a very handy tone capsule for that!
Same for the Menatone KOB as the TBIAC - just perfectly dialled in now for all that chewy goodness. I did mention that I quite liked the look/sound too of the DryBell The Engine PreAmp - but that is near enough twice the size of the KOB - and while I think I will probably get The Engine too eventually - I think it will be more of an understudy on slot #14 - I think the KOB pretty much owns #17 now.
and without the independent octave component - this is another fantastic Rat-adjacent pedal that I feel most would enjoy deploying. I still see the occasional negative comment posted about this pedal which is kind of understandable given the huge amounts of hype generated with its launch. For mr the hype is largely substantiated here - and this will undoubtedly linger on this slot for quite a while longer.
I mentioned last month that after just a month's absence I felt compelled to bring the Frazz Dazzler back in again. This is probably still my first pick fuzz every time - albeit not suitable for every application. As far as super extended-range Rat pedals or Rat-adjacent pedals go - this is absolutely my top choice. Best ever Dr Scientist pedal too in my opinion!
My recent coverage of Mikey Demus's pedalboard has inspired even more love for the Honey Badger - just superb every which way around - both with and without the octave effects. I don't feel this is going to be shifted for a very long time.
I enjoyed a quick catch-up with Panos at VS Audio - and I was somewhat surprised that the Alchemy is not breaking any sales records yet. This is one of the very best sounding and smartest Analog Choruses out there - I totally love using this and use it near enough every time I play to add sparkle to overdrive and crunch to distortion - among other things. Mostly makes everything sound a little more high-fidelity - I'm somewhat at a loss as to why this hasn't taken off more! I challenge you guys to check it out - I can't see how you would be disappointed - and there's nothing else quite like it out there right now!
This is an interesting one for me as Steve Painter of Buffalo FX is about to launch his not altogether dissimilar Reticon Flanger alternative to the Camoflange. As a dedicated Thorpy loyalist this is quite difficult for me - as I would really like to do a head-to-head here as the Camoflange is already as amazing as any Flanger can be - and it would be interesting to see just how close Steve's Reticon gets to those lofty heights. The Reticon flanger is also a medium-size box - very slightly narrower - but not much in it. Both have vaguely the same controls - both 6-knob topologies, while the Reticon has the additional Matrix Filter toggle-switch too as was on the original Electric Mistress. I don't see how you can improve on the Camoflange - but I'm still very intrigued as to just how well the Reticon Flanger acquits itself.
Much like the Alchemy Chorus above, I'm surprised and disappointed that the Ages Harmonic Tremolo hasn't taken off in quite the way I expected it should. Obviously Walrus Audio muddied the waters somewhat recently by 'borrowing' Anasound's product name for its recent 5-state overdrive. This is a truly fantastic sounding Analog Harmonic Tremolo which more people really need to check out. I've mentioned that some of the secondary function selections can be a little clunky - but generally this pedal works pretty flawlessly and superbly dynamically. More people should certainly be checking out the Alchemy Chorus and Ages Tremolo over and beside all those other usual suspects.
The Cooper FX Arcades saga has been a little complex for me. Initially I was waiting for it to come into UK distribution which means Phil Grounds' Guitar FX Direct. For whatever reason that whole process of re-stocking the shop has been somewhat delayed - as the intention was that I would do a feature on Guitar FX Direct and lead on how that is the sole Cooper FX UK Distributor - where I got my Arcades from etc. As things turn out that process was taking far too long and wouldn't have necessarily worked out how I need it to - to get the full inside details on the Arcades and its algorithms. The only way to do this properly is to deal with Mr Cooper FX - Tom Majeski direct - which has introduced further delays. To cut a long rambling story short - Tom and I have come to an accord - and I should be getting in a unit with the full complement of modular cards - sometime in August. At which point I will share some more in-depth Arcades key tips and tricks.
It's been a while since I updated the Synesthesia firmware to the latest release with its 15 additional algorithms - while I'm still getting to grips with all of those. In fact I'm still working on dialling in my perfect rotary sound - where the Horn and Drum are actually split across two different Channels - which is actually quite clever really. I will report back in more detail once I get further down the road here - and I will then be at a stage to do another follow-up feature on the Synesthesia which is still the most amazing of the Multi-Modulation pedals - despite getting some of the weirder reviews I've read in recent times.
I'm still deciding here if I need an add-on triple footswitch. So far I've found using the Oceans 12 to be really intuitive and quite inspiring really. Some of the dials are unnecessarily fiddly - particularly those two mini ones - but the interface and visibility on what is happening is mostly pretty clever. I would have placed the Channel A / B LEDs next to their respective footswitches though - parts of the interface are rather clustered together. Overall though I feel this is a really worthy stand-in for the Source Audio Ventris - and with some of the cleverer features - like the Lo-Fi ability across all algorithms - there's much about this pedal which is really ingenious. It's not quite the perfect usability experience I thought it could be - as some aspects are still a touch fiddly as mentioned - but generally I feel I'm broadly satisfied here and happy to have this as my principal stand-alone reverb now. While of course mostly I just use the Reverb on the Volante - in conjunction with that being my mostly-on textural delay, and have further backup from the Eventide H9 Max which has spectacular algorithms of its own - while it suffers from a somewhat clunky onboard interface!
Apart from Sweetwater kind of stepping up in place of Summer NAMM - with its very recent GearFest Online - these summer months look to be a fairly slow-moving affair - and there doesn't appear to be that much new product coming through. Coronavirus has of course majorly impacted on timescales, parts supply etc. and I believe many brands have just decided to postpone their scheduled summer releases to Winter NAMM 2021.
I'm still waiting for my Analog Music & Noise Space Audio Evil Pumpkin DS-1 to land from Ukraine - it's supposedly on its way, but has been off the tracking radar so far for a fortnight - will probably take a month overall to arrive. I also have a couple of Fjord Fuzz pedals incoming for July - but because of how badly June has gone, there really isn't that much set up or incoming for July. Content-wise I actually have a backlog of about 20 articles to share - so I'm covered for a while in that sense, but I'm not expecting too much relevant new stuff to pitch up over these summer months.
If anyone has something notable to share with me or would like me to feature or focus on some category in particular - by all means drop me a line and let me know. I've been assisting a number of you over the year with your pedal inquiries and hopefully I've had some positive impact. This journey can be harsh and lonely at times - and I'm always grateful when readers make themselves known and offer kind words of support.
Times are a little tough currently for sure, but I hope we can continue on this journey of discovery together for many more years to come - your participation is of course vital to all these efforts. After a month of being belittled, snubbed and rebuffed, I'm hoping for better things in July. I would normally encourage you to go forth and prosper - but for now I will rather just encourage you to stay safe and survive!