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End of November Pedal-Chain Update - Episode X - Penultimate Positioning

Big Ear PedalsBig Muff Style FuzzBossBrown Sound DistortionChase Bliss AudioCooper FXCoppersoundDemedash EffectsDistortionFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGermanium FuzzKMA AudioMetal DistortionMidValleyFXPushking PedalsSilicon FuzzSitek Guitar ElectronicsStrymonToneczarVick AudioZvex+-

So we’re in the final throws of 2020, and most of what’s going to be in place for the year is near enough there already - I typically wind down in November to shift budgets for December towards Christmas expenses. There will be at least one change in December - as I will reveal later on in forthcoming arrivals below - and there may be a couple or so further adjustments depending on how well I’m feeling things!


For 2020, of the 40/41 numbered slots - 21 have actually changed - which is a little more than I expected or necessarily planned for. Some have changed because I felt something better arose, while others where rotated in just for a change / for diversity’s sake - and may rotate further forward or back even in 2021.


In terms of size of impact - the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII (#14), Cooper FX Arcades (#33), Boss GT-1000 CORE (#34) and Strymon NightSky (#39) have been the most impactful - while all the new pedals have added new nuances - and I will do a full final run-down of exactly how things stand just before Christmas.


November has been mostly about Fuzz and Distortion for me (most months are fuzz months!) - as can be seen from the recent features on the site - and the 12 Degrees of Saturation Editions Series - which has really been quite an undertaking. I have 1 more in that series to go as such - albeit "12 Degrees of Transmogrification - 2020 Key Modulations Edition"- which will be out in a week or two (visual done already!).


I will focus a little on those wishlist pedals carried over to next year first - before rounding out what’s left to come in for the year.


The one big fish that got away from me this year is the Coppersound Triplegraph - for various reasons I missed out on the first two batches - actually I was in part waiting for those to come through to UK dealers - but I’ve been told that won’t happen for months. And while I had hoped a 3rd batch would materialise before Christmas - I’ve also been told it will rather more likely be early next year.


So currently head of my list for next year’s acquisitions is the Triplegraph, then CryBaby CBM535AR Auto-Return Wah, TC Electronic Ditto+ Mini, Friedman Smallbox Overdrive Distortion, and possibly Spaceman Artemis Variable-State Modulated Filter too. I’ve also decided recently - that while it will likely mostly play second-fiddle to the Strymon NightSky - that I will likely be looking to save up and secure a £900 CBA / Meris CXM 1978 Automatone Studio Reverb - sometime during next year. Early pre-orders are only being delivered now, and dealers won’t be getting their quotas until the new year - so no panic really. I think practically for me it will probably be more likely towards the second-half of 2021. I’m in no hurry in any case as I still need to get fully up-to-speed with the Strymon NightSky.


You will note from various articles, and the 12 Degrees Series, that there is much still on the infinite wishlist / acquisitions list - so as always I will try to come by those prioritised one fairly opportunistically. 2020 obviously did not go exactly to plan - but pedal-chain wise it’s been all for the better - while my intended themes for the year were somewhat off. That obviously largely depends on what builders put out. The one notable trend for the year being in the area of Reverb Workstations - which will be the focus of a forthcoming article - in fact likely the next after this.


In terms of what remains for the year - I have a fully-loaded Custom Tones Ethos Clean Fusion II Preamp incoming with all the mods and extras - these were discontinued in 2017, and this is the first one I’ve ever seen in the wild with all the extras onboard - so really looking forward to that. I also finally ordered a Reeves Electro BlackHatSound fuzz - with copper insides and power conditioner - as Markus warned he was running out of those NOS transistors, and I was in fact fortunate to secure one of the last pedals in that run. My Dave Friesema built Custom Function F(x) Professional MKI 3K Mini is also due early December, as is my new limited edition and HM-2 liveried KMA Audio WurHM - which will likely take up slot #25 for year end q.v..


I will probably just be ordering one more pedal before year end - which is the Big Ear Albie Multi-Combo-FX Ambient Modulator - currently open for preorders again on the Big Ear website until December 7th - with a 4-5 week lead-time - so early next year arrival.

In for November

The first row sees the arrival of the very formidable Chase Bliss Audio Bliss Factory - which I'm really enjoying these days, while I am too rotating that relatively frequently with my new Demedash Spidola Fuzz, and Sitek Fuzzie - which are both also excellent.


The middle row sees the most change - with the Toneczar OTP back in and alongside the newly arrived Toneczar Openhaus EQ - which I'm still really loving. Slot #23 sees the arrival of the excellent MidValleyFX Ignitor Octave Fuzzstortion, and slot #25 sees the re-up of the excellent Pushking Ironfinger Parametric Distortion - while row 4 sees the arrival of a second MidValleyFX pedal - Peaks 2 - a sort of Rectifier style high gain distortion. This has momentarily pushed out the two Redbeard Effects pedals - which will likely be in position again in the new year though, as they offer a little more variety and versatility. Everything else is pretty much set for now and sounding as good as it's ever done. Coming into the final stretch now I'm really rather satisfied how everything is right now - and it will take some serious innovation next year to shift many / any of these longer-term.


In the year end formation I will be bringing the KMA WurHM in on slot #25 - but otherwise this is as strong a showing for 2020 as it could be - I may make some minor adjustments in Decemeber though - you never really know what's around the corner! I believe there is one new Thorpy to be announced - and I also look forward to sharing some insider details with you on the forthcoming Boss Waza Craft 3-Transistor Limited Edition Fuzz.


Slot #5 : Typically Germanium and/or Position-Sensitive Fuzz


This, #15 and #19 have easily had the most rotation for the year - and for November #5 had a number of fuzzes in rotation - with the Chase Bliss Audio Bliss Factory grabbing the most playtime - over the Demedash Spidola and Sitek Fuzzie fuzzes. It's interesting to see just how many Bliss Factories went back into circulation - obviously a number of scalpers at work, but also, and as I warned, several people who failed to get along with it. I did put out a caveat that the Fuzz Factory has always been something of an acquired taste to a degree - but seems like large swathes really weren't aware of the proper nature of the pedal. I've not really done too much dip-switch manipulation yet, but I'm loving everything this pedal delvers - which at its core is a beautifully thick and rich-sounding Germanium Fuzz Face - of course with some extra special sauce - but like the Strymon Nightsky it too can be as vanilla as you want - just dial most of the parameters down!

Slot #19 : Big Muff / Rat / Extreme Fuzz


Lots of movement and lots of rotation here - largely between a series of Big Muffs of late - the Buffalo FX Evolution and Patriot II, Vick Audio V-2 - and the Toneczar OTP of course - which is kind of my favourite all-rounder Muff of the moment - that is likely to get a fairly extended run now, while of course it will still be subject to a lot of rotation - because of just how heavily contested slot #19 is. The Toneczar OTP - with its 4-band EQ and 3-way Gain Structure switch - is about as close as you can get to the full-range BMP experience with 1 pedal. If you're looking for The all-rounder Everyday Muff - then this is the best I have encountered for that task.

Slot #23 : Modern High Gain Distortion / Fuzzstortion I


In comes the MidValleyFX Ignitor - which is a rather fierce high-gain fuzzstortion with harmonic upper octave. This is one of the 2 new MidValleyFX Distortions I featured in that relevant 12 Degrees Distortion Edition. The Ignitor is brand new this year - and is another excellent Andrew McNicholas circuit - who definitely has an ear for those richly saturating high-gain fuzzstortions and distortions. It sounds suitably impressive of course, while it's likely to be rotated out again eventually in favour of the previous incumbent Redbeard Effects Honey Badger Sub-Octave Fuzzstortion, as that is slightly more versatile. I'm also likely to bring in the Friedman Smallbox at some stage in the new year - either on this slot, or the #17 Plexi one - depending on how I'm feeling. Most likely the Smallbox will be rotated in on this slot too.

Slot #24 : Extreme High Gain Distortion II


My new Toneczar Openhaus EQ is definitely a keeper and I can't really see anything shifting this any time soon. It simply sounds magnificent - and has such a brilliantly controlled and balanced high gain distortion - which you can properly shape in all kinds of interesting ways. It always leans into being tight and controlled whatever you throw at it - and has a huge range of tones and gain-structure. I did a lot of deliberating before I went for this, and I'm convinced I made the right choice - and this is the very best currently available of its type in my opinion - just superb - none of the current demos do it full justice.

Slot #25 : Modern High Gain Distortion III


While the StL Tones Andy James Revenant is certainly a distinct and interesting high gain distortion pedal - it it nonetheless a little temperamental and somewhat limited in scope and versatility - at least towards my intentions. In its place I've rotate back in the superb chameleon High Gain Distortion which is the Pushking Ironfinger. Its character and profile is quite distinct from the the Toneczar Openhaus - and it's a really handy companion to that - so I expect to see it quite regularly on the rotation. It will soon - however temporarily - have to yield its place to the new Limited Edition KMA Audio WurHM - which is due in early December. I still have a couple of impressive alternatives to bring in - with the likely acquisition of the Rockfabrik Effects Mind Abuse MK2 Distortion, and possibly a Lone Wolf Audio Left Hand Wrath too. I have a feeling that 2021 is going to be a bit of an HM-2 year in any case - for obvious reasons!

Slot #26 : Punchy High Gain Distortion IV


The final change for November - and still in the High Gain section - was the MidValleyFX Peaks 2 - which I've actually wanted for some time - because of its beautifully punchy / chuggy Rectifier style distortion. Like its Ignitor companion - it's not as versatile as the previous incumbent Redbeard Effects - Red Mist MKIV. The Red Mist has a somewhat more variable EQ which better lends itself to different applications. That doesn't mean the Peaks 2 isn't brilliant too - it's just not quite as versatile. I'm also considering bringing in the REVV G4 for another rotation! And I will likely pick up an Amptweaker TightMetal Jr someday soon for further rotation options.

Final Thoughts

My pedal-chain fundamentals haven't really changed in the slightest this year. The biggest disruption was accommodating the Boss GT-1000 CORE - but that settled down relatively quickly. I had earlier intended to go for the Helix Stomp, a year or two ago - so there was already a path for that - so when the CORE arrived - I was already in the right mindset for its adoption - regarding power supply changes etc..


There have been some magnificent additions to the chain this year - and I really cannot see any pedals unseating some of these newer arrivals - each really has hidden depths - that really lean into the dynamics and versatility of the chain - and help fill out the gaps. There's always been some degree of overlap - particularly in the gain pedal sections - while the range and individual ability of all those pedals is by and large much improved for 2021.


It's ever fascinating to see where you were at the start of the year - per the below visual actually - and how much has changed and moved along. There have been so many changes this year - meaning multiple pedals on multiple slots - that it's been tough to really get fully up-to-speed on everything. And while by and large gain pedals are easy - the Cooper FX Arcades, Boss GT-1000 CORE and Strymon NightSky all demand a lot of time - for which I'm in many ways still scratching the surface.


My enforced year-end slowdown and hopefully Christmas vacation period, should help me to get better up-to-speed with those 3!


Where did you all get to this year? And which was the one that got away from you?

Pre 2020 NAMM

Pre Winter NAMM 2020 Formation ^^^

November Formation

November 2020 Formation ^^^

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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