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Boost and Overdrive

JHS 20 Year Pedal Challenge

Becos FXBig Ear PedalsBig Muff Style FuzzBitcrushing and Lo-FiBlues Breaker Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveChase Bliss AudioCompressorCooper FXDelayDelay WorkstationDr ScientistDrive WorkstationEmpress EffectsEnvelope Filter and Auto WahFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGFI SystemGlitchJackson AudioKlone and Transparent OverdriveModulationModulation WorkstationMulti-FXOCD Style OverdriveOddball ModulationOpAmp FuzzOverdriveRat Style FuzzTimmyTubescreamer Style OverdriveTweed Style OverdriveUtility+-
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This is obviously a follow-up from the Josh Scott / JHS January 1st YouTube video as below. Where Josh carried out and exercise where he compiled the best pedals released over the last two decades - in 6 specific categories - Best Overdrive / Distortion, Best Fuzz, Best Time-Based Effect, Best Modulation, Best Compressor, and Best Weird / Other - all must have been release January 1st 2000 or later.


Along with his own take, he solicited opinions from Jamie Stillman of EQD, Matthew Farrow of Alexander Pedals / Disaster Area Design, and Brian Wampler - watch the accompanying video to see their choices - I’m not going to repeat all of those within this article.


Rather - I have done my own take on the subject matter - where I sought out the absolute state of the pedal art and engineering innovation in each of those categories. And while the Pedal Luminaries’ choices typically skew towards the earlier period within those 20 years - with a lot for instance citing the classic 4-knob Keeley Compressor in that category, I will always select the most versatile and innovative really - which often means more recent releases.


For me a lot of these are very obvious shoe-ins that it’s tricky to objectively contest - while there are nuances and plausible alternatives in several of the categories.


Best Overdrive / Distortion = Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII - $749/£749


Simply the most innovative, intuitive, visual and most versatile overdrive workstation there ever was. The highly visual nature of the sliders, and the consummate ease of use marks this out as a very special pedal indeed - which will undoubtedly set the benchmark for many years to come. Just a perfect execution of a really smart concept!

Best Fuzz = Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler V2 - $219/£209


I've banged on for a long time now how this is my favourite fuzz of all time and it's one of the rare pedals that is pretty rooted to my pedal-chain. With it's multiple combine Opamps it produces the most wonderful textures - aided by 3-Band EQ, Volts/Starve Control, Dry Mix and second higher gain channel. It is great for multiple Big Muff and Rat style voicings - just immense really, and with the maximum flexibility and versatility.

Best Time-Based Effect = Empress EchoSystem Dual Engine Delay - $449/£449


Even though I really rate a number of time-based pedals, and while I currently favour the Strymon Volante and Boss DD-200. I have no qualms about declaring that Empress's EchoSystem is the greatest Delay pedal yet engineered. With its dual channel capabilities, multiple algorithms and fully surfaced and hands-on controls. It's only weakness is having to remember how Thing 1 and Thing 2 apply across all the algorithms. In terms of an all-sining and all-dancing delay box - this one is still the most formidable created to date.

Best Modulation = Big Ear Albie Ambient Modulator $199 - AND GFI System Synesthesia Dual-Engine Modulator - $399/£399


For Modulation I'm in two minds really of the Big Ear Albie and the GFI System Synesthesia - both are brilliant at what they deliver and really innovative in their respective categories. I'm declaring this one as a dead heat, as for me the 8 + 8 algorithms of the Ablie are just as clever in their own way as the circa double dual-channel algorithms of the Synesthesia.

Best Compression = Jackson Audio Bloom - $329/£315 / Becos FX CompIQ Pro Stella - $249


I've explained in detail why the innovative footswitchable Jackson Audio Bloom is my favourite compressor. While I also recognise the technical achievement of Becos FX's CompIQ Pro Stella - which the the closest a compact pedal has ever come to a full studio compressor. All the technology and controls onboard the Stella make it the Pro choice for those who wish to calibrate their Compression to the finest degree. Jackson Audio Bloom's innovation is somewhat more along the usability and switchability side of things, but much like the Albie and Synesthesia - both deserve to be featured here.

Best Weird/Other = Cooper FX Arcades - $329/£299


Understandably the Korg Miku Modulator was a popular choice for quirky pedal, while for me the best innovation to cite here is Tom Majeski's Cooper FX Arcades with all its 8 Mode Modular Algorithm Cards. The Arcades is near enough every bit as revolutionary and innovative as the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone. And more importantly still - it has an infinite upgrade path.

Final Thoughts

I personally own all of these bar one, and have extensive user experience of near enough all. I will eventually get my hands on a CompIQ Pro Stella, once head honcho Costel Barac relents on his unwillingness to collaborate. I've certainly supported him well over the years!


I would be really interested in finding out your own specific choices here, and what the rationale for each would be - and why and how you could possibly objectively cite them over and above my own well-considered selections here!


I've pondered this one long and hard, and I cannot figure out any objectively stronger or more impressive and innovative candidates. I feel my selection really stands up to scrutiny.


Will be interesting to cross-tabulate the differences in opinion - don't hold back your feelings!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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