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End of September Pedal-Chain Update - Episode VIII - Starry Eyed Surprise

Ambient EffectsBig Ear PedalsBig Muff Style FuzzBlues Breaker Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBossBrown Sound DistortionChorus and VibratoCoppersoundDigital ReverbDistortionDr ScientistDriveDual-DriveElectro-HarmonixEnvelope Filter and Auto WahFjord FuzzFulltone EffectsFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGated and Velcro FuzzGermanium FuzzHarmonizerJackson AudioJoesPedals.comKlone and Transparent OverdriveKMA AudioMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionModulated FuzzModulationModulation WorkstationMulti-DriveNFYFXOCD Style OverdriveOctave FuzzOctaverOpAmp FuzzOverdrivePitchPitch-ShiftingPlate ReverbRack Style ReverbRed Witch EffectsReverbReverb WorkstationShimmer ReverbShnobel ToneSilicon FuzzSpacey ReverbStrymonSuper-Fuzz StyleToneczarTubescreamer Style OverdriveVick AudioWah and Fixed WahWalrus AudioZander Circuitry+-
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And so as my 7th month of isolation draws to a close - the frequency of new product releases has begun to accelerate again after the lull of summer. The month started on fine form with the slightly surprising snap arrival of he new Jackson Audio El Guapo, next we had the Walrus Audio Julia that always should have been - in the guise of the new and improved Julianna Chorus, then the Zander Circuitry Compact Siclone, Boss OC-5 Octave, somewhat delayed Big Ear Albie, the EHX Pitch Fork+, Red Witch FGIV and of course Strymon NightSky Time-Warped Reverberator. There’s also the really cool new Signature Jack White CopperSound Triplegraph Dual Octave, Kill-switch and Effects-Loop-activating pedal - which I will do a feature on as soon as I can find imagery suitable for my editorial style.


Over the same month I also saw the arrival of the Fjord Fuzz Mini Berserk, KMA Audio Fuzzly Bear and Minos Fuzzes, NFYFX Vertical Mastotron Clone, Toneczar OTP BMP-style Fuzz and first consignment of Vick Audio Pedals. Notably I also completed the highly detailed overview on Joe’s Pedals, and my own favourite article for the month - the one on Pedal / Enclosure Colour Theory.


In terms of the pedal-chain, I was delighted to get the OC-5 in at the start of the chain (slot #2) - I firmly believe this is Boss’s best Octaver to date with absolutely magnificent tracking and sounding suitably fully-formed and punchy on the Vintage OC-2 Mode - in ’Bass’ setting!


I was equally pleased to finally match my Toneczar Vault ’Super’ Fuzz with its newer OTP BMP-style cousin - currently occupying slots #5 and #19. Of course the Demon Pedals Kondo Shifuku is back on its usual #12 slot, and the quite superb Shnobel Tone Daily Driver goes straight in on slot #15. The Daily Driver very uniquely combines the most amazing top-end sparkle with a Big-Muff-style long-tail sustain. It’s a really versatile drive with just a superb core breakup tone.


The El Guapo takes over duties from the long-term champ MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2 and does that with aplomb. Weirdly I have a slight dilemma in that my favourite JCM800 mode is the Amber Guv’nor, while favourite Plexi mode is anything but the Green Screamer - although the best combination is Amber + Green! If I want to use the two channels fully independently and in combination for easy switching - then the JCM800 side can hold at Amber Mode, while the Plexi side gets set to the Blue Hot Rodded Mode - which doesn’t accentuate the main distortion as well as the Screamer! Sounds pretty darn fine though, and definitely the right pedal for me for this application.


I’ve indicated that I’m down for getting in a Toneczar Openhaus EQ High Gain Distortion in November and hopefully I can make that happen despite the many other scheduled releases for that month. And despite my not quite yet getting fully to grips with the EHX Oceans 12 - I am already sufficiently besotted by the Strymon NightSky and determined to add that in the coming week or two.


I’m privy to a lot of release news and gossip - and the month of November should prove to be particularly interesting and inspiring for most - so well worth holding onto your money until that time.


The chain will no doubt chop and change a few more times before year-end, but the general pattern for the pedal-chain is becoming pretty self-evident. I will be rotating in the Fulltone WahFull again on slot #4 and combining that with one of my MKI’s on slot #5 for some classic Bowie / Mick Ronson tones as I seem to be in that sort of mood.


I’m not sure I’ve fully reported it before, but my pedal-chain is devised to be able to provide me with all the tones of my favourite Guitar Heroes as follows - Andy, Billy, Brian, Carlos, 2 x Davids, Eddie, Ian, Jimi, Jimmy, Mark, Matt, Mick, Prince, Randy, 3 x Steves, and Tom!


Or if you’re more formal - Summers, Gibbons, May, Santana, Evans (Edge) and Gilmour, Van Halen, Crichton, Hendrix, Page, Knopfler, Bellamy, Ronson / Ronno, Nelson, Rhoads, Lukather, Stevens and Vai, and Morello! There is even a little Jack White on occasion - which involves bringing the Game Changer Plasma Coil into play. I should probably round it up to an even 20 - which I will endeavour to do for next time - just need to figure out who my 20th favourite guitar player is! Actually - there aren’t enough ladies on the list - so I’m definitely also name-checking Anne Clark / St. Vincent first - and then Yvette Young and Lari Basilio!


Here follows a little more detail on the break-down of the key changes to the pedal-chain (current and forthcoming!) :

Rat Pic

Slot #2 : Octaver / Pitch-Shifter / Harmonizer / Modulator / Utility


This slot is actually one of those in the heaviest rotation - with a large number of understudies here including - the Meris Hedra, DigiTech The Drop and Whammy Ricochet, Dr Scientist BitQuest, Mu-Tron Octavider, and TC Electronic Brainwaves, *Ditto+, Sub 'N Up, and Quintessence.


For now the Boss OC-5 is pride of place, but I see the Meris Hedra hewing back into principal position before too long. The Hedra will likely be the main choice with the OC-5 as most immediate alternative, while I'm also looking to acquire an EHX Pitch Fork+ for sometime rotation here too - likely equal understudy with the OC-5. The slot has actually shifted, as I previously has the Synth slot at #2 and Octaver, Pitch-Shifter etc. at #3, but it really makes more sense this way around.

Slot #4 : Auto-Wah / Fixed-Wah / Wah / Envelope Filter


I thought I'd best touch on slot #4 here as I'm rotating in the Fulltone Wahfull quite a lot these days for my principal Mick Ronson effect. Otherwise the Dr Scientist Dusk Dynamic Filter very much rules the roost, and when I'm feeling lazy - I just use that in conjunction with an octave or MKI style fuzz for my Ronno tones!

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


My two new Custom Expresso FX Dual Pedals are still seeing a lot of action here, as are the new for me KMA Fuzzly Bear and Minos Fuzz arrivals. While since the Toneczar OTP fuzz arrived, I've decided to bring the Toneczar Vault back into play too. This is a fantastic dense multi-texture fuzz which has great sort of blooming Super Fuzz style harmonics - but typically tighter, and to my ears at least also best or most nearly replicates the key tones of the Pete Cornish NG-3. In any case a superbly controllable and versatile High Gain / High-Texture fuzz!

Slot #15 : Natural Amp-Like Overdrive and Distortion


You can read my September 8th review for the full-picture. I really love this very distinct overdrive which combines sparkling high frequencies with a beautifully elegant Muff-style long-tail sustain - which can still be cleaned up by the guitar volume dial. It has a very distinct timbre which is not apparent in any of my other overdrives and is very reminiscent of the unique character I first heard in Pete Cornish's CC-1 Overdrive. I've stated recently that I've gained new-found respect for Baxandall Active EQ's and the combination of High and Low Controls with Hi-Cut actually works really well and combines fantastically to delivery all manner of tones - as indicated in the article. It obviously has no fuzz voicing nor Parametric Mids or even in fact any Mids Control of any sort - while it still has near the same flexibility on different overdrive styles as does the Automatone Preamp MKII. For me they are beautifully compatible as a complementary pair - with between them should be able to cover most things. Not that I also have no intention on releasing my Kondo, Keeley Blues Driver of Jackson Audio Golden Boy or ThorpyFX Peacekeeper even - each of those has distinct tonalities and characters which I very much like - so while I see both the Automatone and Daily Driver as versatile all-rounders - they don't cover everything, and not necessarily to my own specific preferred timbres!

Slot #19 : Big Muff / Rat / Extreme Fuzz


Boy is this slot seeing a lot of action - and the Vick Audio V-2 is already arrived for its turn, while I'm still very much loving the Buffalo FX Evolution and Patriot MKII as well as the EDQ Life Pedal V2 and Demon Pedals Parvati - amongst others. For now though my new Toneczar OTP BMP-style fuzz reigns supreme with its 3 different Gain/Sustain/Tightness modes. This pedal with its 4-Band Active EQ really does cover every type of Big Muff in the most musical way - right from ultra-smooth Black Russian style to more edgy and aggressive Violet Ram's Head and Triangle styles. The 18V power requirement gives it extra headroom and smoothness / sustain. And while plenty aggressive enough - I still have some 9V slightly more brutal sounding examples. If you're looking for one Muff pedal to rule them all - then this is undoubtedly that. I'm currently also in the process of acquiring all of Mike Vickery's Big Muffs - which means I will soon enough have all the EHX re-issues in modified format, along all the Vick Audio classics too - which is just a fantastic essential benchmark reference for that style of Fuzz.

Slot #22 : JCM800 / Brown Sound Distortion


I really could not be happier with the El Guapo - which lives up to every expectation - even though I foolishly forgot about the Presence knob in the beginning. I was thinking it didn't quite have the level / nuance of sizzle that my long-term champ the MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2 had. Of course I soon realised the error of my ways when I spotted the Presence knob and adjusted the core voicing exactly to my ideal preference. My favourite core JCM800 Mode is the Amber Guv'nor - but all 4 are great really and have their uses. On the Plexi Channel my facourite solo variety is the Blue Hot Rodded Plexi voicing - while the Green Screamer Mode combines best for accentuating the JCM800 distortion. So most of the time I deploy both sites together as Amber + Green. When I wish to utilise both sides properly independently and in combination in the easiest and most effective fashion - then it's a matter of combining Amber with Blue - that being my favourite solo Plexi voicing!

Slot #24 : High Gain #2 of 4


My typical High Gain slots are #23-#26 usually in increasing increments in gain assault - while this year their use has become slightly more freeform - with the Redbeard Honey Badger Sub-Octave Fuzz taking up a fairly substantial residence on #23. The Boss OD-200 going in on #25 in place of the MI Effects Megalith Delta, the Redbeard Red Mist MKIV pretty permanent on #26 - and the Toneczar Openhaus EQ Distortion feted to go in on the #24 slot in November. I've decided that with its 6-band Active EQ and 3 Gain Modes that this is my ideal Djent machine really - for those Mesa Rectifier and Diezel VH4 style tones. There is of course quite a lot happening in November - so I really hope I can make this happen - as it wound round out that selection nicely. I've also been considering the KSR Ceres in that role - but have decided that the Openhaus will likely suit me best - in combination with my other active pedals in that section.

Slot #39 : Stereo Reverb Workstation


This (Strymon NightSky) was really the biggest surprise for me this month and triggered some pretty weighty decision-making as I had been sort of holding out for the V2 Specular Tempus for whenever that is likely to materialise (possibly some time next year). I've also considerably warmed to the CBA Automatone CXM 1978 which I first considered a little over-large. In fact the NightSky is also a little over-large for my preferences, but I just love its unique building-block approach to building your own Reverb/s. I still dislike the system of presets which is a clunky hangover from the Volante, while I really love everything else and have been completely won over by this. October is my birthday month, and I'm not aware of many / any other killer significant releases in the month of October - so it will for sure happen fairly soon.

Final Thoughts and Take-aways

I've been really happy with the pedal-chain for a while - it has sounded phenomenal for these past few months - and the Toneczar Openhaus and Strymon NightSky will surely be the icing on the cake - along with a couple more surprises that I'm sort of expecting to materialise.


I said when I got my Cooper FX Arcades that I would be satisfied with the status right then if no further pedals were introduced to the chain from here to year-end. But there will undoubtedly be changes as there have to be very much for the sake of this blog. I still have a fair few pedals incoming, but not necessarily in the numbers earlier on in the year. I always tend to wind down acquisitions and sort of take a mini-break in December as I shift the focus towards Christmas and gifts for the delighttful hoards of nephews and nieces in particular!


I've arrived at a place where there are various forks in the road and numerous path-ways possible. I've now pretty well established a preferences for certain types of pedals - and while the Strymon NightSky vs Chase Bliss Audio Automatone CXM 1978 was something of an ordeal for me - the NightSky is very much slightly more my character - even though I know that the CMX 1978 will be more easy to use and dial-in - and it has that really elegant much superior system of presets. But it can't deliver all those Sci-Sounds that the NightSky can. I was already very close to acquiring the Blade Runner -inspired Meris Mercury 7 - and I feel the NightSky is that sort of concept on steroids with added bells and whistles / kitchen sink etc.


I would love to hear from readers where they are heading for year-end, and which pedals have stuck this year and which have been displace and why! My current top 3 for end of the year is looking like Automatone Preamp MKII, Cooper FX Arcades, and Strymon NightSky - who do you think is going to take pedal-of-the year for 2020?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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