Following on from the high ticket-price CBA/Meris Automatone CXM 1978 Studio Reverb article it’s nice to be at the other end of the scale for the new JHS 3 Series Range. It’s quite obvious that Josh Scott has been influenced by his featuring the BBE, Danelectro and Joyo budget pedal ranges on his JHS Pedal Show YouTube channel.
I’m the kind of guy that typically holds these sorts of things up to a little more scrutiny than most - in order to give you the inside track as such so that you can make a better-informed decision. So my above visual pictures each of the 7 new ’3 Series’ pedals with 2 smaller superimposed insets for each pedal - the first representing an equivalent sub $100/£100 alternative, and the second is the higher-priced JHS mainline equivalent.
The exercise of finding near-match equivalent alternatives was actually relatively tricky and for some categories in particular, while there are of course decent alternatives to be found (at least 1) for each of those new pedals. I will discuss the relative merits of each choice and the degree of saving you actually make! I tried to find exact equivalency pedals with at least the same number of controls as the 3 Series - meaning 4 or more, and in that compact enclosure form factor.
The ’3 Series’ is entirely manufactured / assembled by JHS themselves in the USA and at their main Kansas City facility. This in some ways is more a case of final assembly - as I believe the now entirely SMD Circuits are mostly machine-made - while some of the key components and larger parts need to be finished by hand. But still for some - a USA-made sub $100 pedal will be a big thing and is to be commended.
Also while some commentators have describe these as ’no-frills’ basics that is not entirely true, as in a similar way to the Legends of Fuzz Series - each of these pedals has hidden depths - often engaged via its 4th toggle-switch control.
I’m actually really quite impressed with this range and will do my take on each pedal below - generally they sound fantastic by default and have a significant range to them - as well as decent extremes of volume and tone-shaping. So these are budget in price, but can actually deliver a little more in my opinion - while obviously the slightly bland look-and-feel could not be further away from the colourful JHS mainline pedals as pictured - also very different knobs!
It’s interesting to include the EQD Plumes as the Overdrive alternative as that sort of pioneered this concept of USA-made sub $100 but still quality pedal - and the Plumes has a 3-way toggle versus the 2-way of the JHS 3 Series Overdrive - both are equally compelling, and the Plumes has obviously gone down a storm, but has not triggered any further EQD roll-out of that concept - while JHS has really gone all out.
Josh Scott often portrays himself as a sort of White Knight of the pedal industry which he is to some extent I suppose - but make no mistake - this is a definite commercial ’Land-Grab’ - and so you should factor that into your decision-making too. Robert Keeley has done a similar exercise to this before with his 10-pedal X-Series utilitarian range - while his price point was $149, but offered discounts if you acquired all together - which is currently not the case with JHS’s 3 Series - i.e. the group discount thing. I though feel this has been rather beautifully executed by Josh Scott on this occasion and each of these pedals has a compelling reason or two for acquisition - I will reveal my own favourites at the end!
You can immediately discern from the nasal honk of this pedal that it's firmly in 'Screamer' territory understandably. The 'Gain' toggle-switch is essentially 'Gain Compression Structure' which gives you more compressed and saturated tones in the up position, and more open and crunchy in the down position. The 3 control knobs on this occasion are Volume, Body (EQ) and Drive. This is all-round a great first time Overdrive / Tube-Screamer style pedal and sounds suitably impressive within that context.
This is not the first Budget Boutique Screamer by any means as the EQD Plumes pipped it by a significant time margin. The Plumes was the original $99/£99 template - while that retained its distinctive mainline EQD graphics approach too - where the 3 Series Overdrive is wholly visually separated from the mainline JHS range. Controls on the Plumes are the very similar - Level, Tone and Gain - where the clipping is 3-way - Symmetrical LED, No Clipping, and Asymmetrical Silicon Diode Clipping. There really is very little to separate the 3 Series Overdrive and Plumes - I think players would be happy either way - both are very decent picks. Lowest UK price I could find for Plumes was £96.
If you have a slightly bigger pot of gold, then there's JHS's original take on the Screamer - the currently V2 Moonshine which adds a clean blend knob into the mix, otherwise it has much the same Volume, Drive, and Tone controls and 2-way Gain Structure toggle-switch as the 3 Series. In the UK you pay a £60 premium for the Moonshine or circa £159/$199 outlay.
This entry actually tickled me a little bit as it is essentially a Silicon Fuzz Face variety - same as the recent Legends of Fuzz Series Smiley - but with more versatility and control - and a more appealing form factor for me. The 3 Series Fuzz is a classic Silicon Fuzz with Volume, Bias and Fuzz controls - and a 'Fat' toggle switch to boost / flatten the low-end response. The Bias control sort of triggers the pedal's gating for those sputtery sounds, and the range of tones available here is just fantastic - just my sort of Silicon Fuzz Face!
I was surprised by the dearth of mainstream sub $100/£100 Silicon Fuzz Faces - particularly those with 4 controls or more. I spent hours scanning all the usual suspects brands for likely candidates before settling on seemingly the one viable option in the guise of Big Joe's Silicon Freakshow Fuzz. I actually already had the Germanium variety which I really rather like - since its original launch, while I had always intended to get its companion pair, but just never got to around to it. In doing my search for a sub £100 fuzz I came across the £89 Silicon Freakshow and of course finally snapped one of those up too. This fantastic take on the format comes in a high quality and highly visually appealing Big Joe enclosure and sports no less than 6 controls. Regular knobs for Tone, Fuzz and Output, Mini Knobs for Bias and Trim (High roll-off), and a Buffer switch! And while I feel the JHS 3 Series Fuzz is great, the Silicon Freakshow might just be a little more impressive for a whole tenner less!
This presents an interesting quandary for the £179 priced Legends of Fuzz Smiley which comes with just 2 knobs, and a mode switch which triggers a sputtery gated voicing - much like the more variable Bias knob on the 3 Series. I have already raised my issues with the Legends of Fuzz Series - including the somewhat awkward over-sized enclosure and facing-away-from-you controls. I would assume that since there are fairly few viable SMD transistors for this purpose - that the 3 Series Fuzz and Legends Smiley use the same core tone-generating component. While the 3 Series is more compact and versatile and all-round more practical version.
And so we come to the Rat-style distortion which is always going to get me fairly excited as I'm such a fan of this genre. The pedal immediately gives away its provenance with its naming convention for its controls - Volume, Filter (EQ Sweep) and Distort. The Gain toggle has a very similar dynamic to the same on the Overdrive - i.e. up for more compression and saturation and down for a more open crunch! All-round another really compelling and great sounding Rat-variant.
Again I was a little surprised that there weren't as many sub $100/£100 mainstream Rat pedals as I expected to find. I immediately though of the BBE 427 and Animals Pedal Tioga - where the BBE is actually more typically $115 (also disqualified for only 3 controls!), while the Tioga can be found at around the £100 mark and below - I've come across a few selling for around £97 - so that's the obvious alternative here. This is actually a Matt Hall (Wren and Cuff) collaboration with Animals Pedal - and consists of his own modern take on the Rat circuit, with 3-way clipping : up being Symmeric, Middle is None and Down is Asymmetric! Funnily enough both the 3 Series Distortion and Animals Tioga sound great and distinct. I already have the Tioga in the collection, and will likely absorb the 3 Series version too relatively soon.
Josh Scott has dabbled with the Rat circuit quite a lot over the years with his own Mods, as well as own mainstream circuit take on the same - i.e. the now discontinued JHS All American Distortion. This was most recently offered as a Stew Mac pedal kit, but those have run out too, and any sort of All American is actually a rather rare sighting on Reverb.com nowadays. This differs from the 3 Series Distortion in having a 4th Gain-Sweep Mod (which kinda sorta does a similar thing to the 3 Series Toggle), and then we have a 3-way LED/Silicon/Open Clipping toggle-switch. The JHS All American Distortion was priced at around $199/£199 when in circulation.
This is a neat little compressor, albeit missing the 'Blend' control that so many of us have as an essential need. Here you get controls for Volume, Attack and Sustain with the toggle-switch giving you a little high frequency Brightness enhancement. As that kind of 'Orange Squeezer' type compressor this is excellent and does everything you need really - apart from the Blend - which is not essential for all players.
For just £85 you can get the excellent TC Electronic Hypergravity Multiband Compressor - with 4 controls - Sustain, Level, Attack AND Blend, as well as 3 Modes - Spectra, Vintage and Toneprint - the last of which allows you to set up any kind of advanced compression you might want. There's no doubt the Hypergravity gives you a lot more bang for your buck as such - so it depends how capable you need your compressor to be - so perhaps the 3 Series variety does everything you need in its simpler format!
JHS's mainline candidate is of course its highly regarded Pulp N Peel Compressor - currently in its 4th iteration. This is set up somewhat differently with Volume, Compression, EQ and Blend knobs, and a Dirt Gain Structure switch to take you from warm and elegant to a more gritty and textured feel. This retails at $229/£219 which is a rather more significant investment.
I've often voiced my preference for analog style effects in certain areas, and a BBD Chorus is something I consider as essential for my set-up. Here though we have a rather elegant digital SMD variety which gets close to those sparkly heights, but not quite to the extent some of my fellow pedal enthusiasts have proclaimed. Again there is no Blend control here - but that is solved by the 'Vibe' toggle-switch which renders the effect at 100% Wet. The core controls are Volume, Rate and Depth and behave per expectations. This is quite a versatile chorus with some significant capabilities for delicacy and elegance, but if you listen very carefully it doesn't quite render those magical sparkly frequencies that the very best of the analog BBD ones do.
For £85 you have the choice of one of Boss's excellent classic choruses from the brand that originally mastered the chorus effect! £85 gets you either the CE-5 Chorus Ensemble or CH-1 Super Chorus - both are priced the same. I have selected the CE-5 from that duo as it splits the Filter / Tone control into a dual-concentric High and Low knob. The other 3 controls are Level, Rate and Depth. The CE-5 can delivery slightly more variety over the CH-1, while many prefer the profile of the CH-1 particularly for stereo output. These are the staples and standards of the industry - and can be construed as budget vs the two Boss Waza Craft Editions - CE-2W and DC-2W - which currently retail for £169 and £179 respectively and are analogue.
JHS's mainline Analogue BBD Chorus is its superb Emperor V2 which carries a ticket price of $199/£195. The coolest thing about the Emperor is its Tap-Tempo second footswitch, it also has 4 knobs - Volume, Speed, EQ and Depth, and two toggle-switches - one for Chorus/Vibrato, and the second one a 3-way Waveform selector : Sine, Square or Triangle.
JHS's new budget delay could not be more elegant really - yielding either dark and warm Analog emulated delay or classic pristine Digital delay depending on where you set the 'Type' toggle-switch. You then have the simplest of Mix, Time and Repeats knob controls. This is all about getting the maximum utility out of the least amount of controls, while my favourite flavour of delay will always be tape-style. For such a simple box though this is about as elegant as it gets.
Just within budget, and 99 pence dearer at £99.99 is Foxgear's excellent Vintage Binson Echorec replica - the Echosex Baby. This delivers those wonderfully delicate magnetic echo / tape-style repeats courtesy of 5 knobs - Tone, Age, Level, Repeats and Time. So the question here is really which style / flavour of delay is your favourite - where you will always see me going for the tape-style variety, hence the Strymon Volante being my own main delay unit currently!
JHS's classic Digital Delay is the pedal formerly known as the Pink Panther, or currently the Lucky Cat. This tap-tempo enabled unit will set you back $199/£195 and comes with 7 controls actually - 5 knobs and a switch on the front panel - Time, Mix, Ratio, Repeats, Darken and Mod 1 / Mod 2 2-way switch, and a Digital Clean / Vintage Tape mode switch along the side. The only niggle here really is the lack of modulation depth control - otherwise this is a really fine and versatile digital delay.
The core voicing of the 3 Series Reverb sits somewhere between a classic Room and Hall reverb type. Featuring the typical Verb, EQ and Decay knob controls and then a set amount of Pre-Delay engaged by the toggle-switch of the same name - this renders more pronounced note separation and pseudo delay taps. As with all other pedals in the range the operation could not be simpler - with plenty of variety on tap and sufficient volume and headroom - just a beautifully calibrated basic Reverb.
I'm ever surprised how Reverbs generally seem to be rather dearer in nature within their respective categories versus other types of effects. And the target price puts the excellent TC Electronic Hall fo Fame 2 just slightly out of reach at £105 and therefore over the line. Instead I went with one of Josh's favourite reverbs - in fact per his overview of the Joyo 'R' Revolution Series. The pedal in question is the R-14 Atmosphere - whose 9 modes and 6 controls can be yours for just £78. Delivering Plate, Church, Spring, Eko-Verb, Shimmer, Comet, Rewind, Forest, and the unique Pulse voicing - with knobs for Mix. Decay, Tone and Modulation, and a Trails On/Off switch. A quite distinctive Reverb in looks and function.
Meanwhile JHS's mainline Reverb offering is the $179/£169 Dual Spring-style Reverb pedal with dual footswitches. The 6 controls - Boost, Highs, Tank 1, Length, Depth and Tank 2 allow you courtesy of a switch on the right-hand side and EFX Loop jack to flip between Tank 1 and Tank 2, or run them combined as Tank 1 + 2. This is still very much a one-voice Reverb, so not really up with the versatility of some of the other competing boxes - while getting the maximum out of the Spring Reverb flavour.
What started out as a relatively simple overview and comparative exercise soon turned very complex in the end - particularly in my search for exact equivalency alternative pedals - which had to be fairly mainstream compact enclosure pedals, at least matching the minimum number of controls - '4' and coming under the UK £100 mark.
The pricing limits meant that missed out on a huge selection that was available just a little further up the scale - sometimes a matter of mere pounds like with the TC Electronic HOF2 at £105, sometimes a step up to £125 or so - and with a whole load more variety available at the circa £150 mark. Where circa £200 is of course the typical full-range boutique version price.
In terms of the $99/£99 value threshold - I think a number of these pedals are really good value at that level, while others are competing with equivalent or 'better' pedals £10 or £20 less expensive.
I was actually most surprised by what a struggle it was to find a decent equivalent mainstream Silicon Fuzz Face style pedal for under £100. These are relatively simple circuits which several have proven can actually be rendered really well with the available tiny machine-loaded SMD components. I also went for equivalent enclosure size - while there were a number of somewhat superior pedals in the smaller Mini Enclosure format - but I discounted those for not being exact equivalency - also typically above the under £100 target price.
So it seems there is ample room for a decent quality proposition at around the £100 mark and while some of these pedals are superior contenders at this level, others are slightly less so. I really don't need another Tube Screamer, but if I did I could be happy either way with the 3 Series Overdrive or the EQD Plumes which are really much of a muchness to me.
I actually really like the sound and variety of the 3 Series Fuzz - I like all my fuzz pedals to feature a minimum 3 controls with the 3rd invariably being Bias but occasionally Tone. To me this is a much superior and more versatile take on the same underlying template as the Legends of Fuzz Smiley. I prefer the 3 Series in every which way - and am actually very likely to snap one such up one of these days. The fact that I was reminded that I had still to get my matching pair Silicon Big Joe's Freakshow Fuzz was a serendipitous moment - that Fuzz is every bit as good as the 3 Series and in fact with a few more aces up its sleeve. And as borne out by practical example I would take the Freakshow Fuzz over the 3 Series Fuzz - which I would still infinitely prefer to the Legends Smiley!
Onto the Rat-style Distortion - this is so Prime territory for me. In the frame here I already have the Wren and Cuff Animals Pedal Tioga Road Cycling Distortion and have long been trying to pin down an example of JHS's All American Distortion. The 3 Series is another excellent variety on the same theme, and as a considerable fan of the Rat-style format, I will still be hunting down an All American - even when I do get the 3 Series Distortion edition.
For Compressors - and however good both the JHS varieties are - I would still most likely go with the TC Electronic Hypergravity in this selection. Nothing is going to shift my own exceptional Jackson Audio Bloom - so it's all academic really. While my 3 top choices for Compressor are invariable Jackson Audio Bloom, Becos FX Stella, and Origin Effects Cali76 CD - obviously all pricey varieties.
For Chorus I'm really a fan of the Analog BBD varieties, and would for that reason definitely side with the JHS Emperor here - I really like Josh's mainline modulations which mostly feature dual-footswitches for Tap-tempo control and already have his Unicorn Uni-Vibe which is my favourite variety within that category.
I know a lot of people are fans of simple delays, while there's been a huge revolution in delays recently with the arrival of the Keeley Effects Eccos and Walrus Audio Mako Series D-1 which are the standout candidates at the compact enclosure size. Being the fan of the tape / magnetic-style delay - I would actually most likely go for the Foxgear Echosex Baby in the featured selection - which Dan and Mick at That Pedal Show also really rate. Generally though I go for more stereo workstation style Delay pedals - and my main delay unit is currently the Strymon Volante, ably supported by the Boss DD-200 and Eventide H9 Max in the same chain - oh and of course the Cooper FX Arcades too most recently!
Finally the Reverb Category - and in this selection I would likely follow Josh Scott's own advice and go for the Joyo R-14 Atmosphere with its 9 cool modes. None of those featured ones are ideal for me though as I really need a stereo reverb workstation. I've gone from Strymon BigSky to Boss RV-500, to Source Audio Nemesis, to EHX Oceans 12, and am in line to get the new Strymon NightSky which is likely the perfect unit for my preferences - even though it has a nonsense clunky system of presets - it does though save all those complex settings!
So actually all-in-all I'm really rather impressed with the 3 Series - I don't take too much stock in the USA-made label - it really doesn't bother me that much - I'm much more concerned with component use, durability and overall quality of construction rather than which tom, dick or harry assembled it. Modern pedals are increasingly machine loaded / manufactured and I'm really not that bothered with which country does the 'stuffing' as such. Although I actually do generally prefer my pedals to have full-size through-hole components - and if they found a way to automate that I would be all the more happier really!
My favourite guitar brands are PRS and Music Man which are very much at least 90% CNC-made which yields far more consistent and accurate results. I've watched Crimson Guitars on YouTube often enough to know that for fully luthier hand-made guitars there are usually some flaws present through human error - which just would not be there if everything had been CNC machined and computer QA controlled. As this is still a relative niche industry they have yet to automate the final level of sanding and fret dressing - but that will come eventually. Of course you would rather buy a car that came off a Japanese or German quality assured robot assembly line versus something bashed together in a metal workshop.
Boss has moved from Japan to Taiwan and now Malaysia for its core manufacturing, and the production quality of the most recent pedals - like the OC-5 is every bit as good as its predecessors. Americans are quite happy to buy in their Adidas and Nike sneakers from any old far-east factory, and in fact my favourite and greatest ever GOAT trainer - the Solomon XA Pro 3D GTX just happens to be made in Vietnam!
So I will almost certainly be getting the Fuzz and Distortion pedals from this batch - even though I have multiple other existing preferences - I'm just very active at collecting pedals in those categories. I don't think anyone would really be disappointed with any of these 3 Series pedals - even though you can buy better. The fact that Josh has launched a complete and wholly consistent range of these is to be commended. Don't forget it's a business too though and there are other options available!
How about you dear readers - anything here appeal to you? I would imagine most would be covered in these areas already. Compared to the recent 1966 and Legends of Fuzz ranges I'm actually rather satisfied with this 3 Series one - while of course I'm covered in all those areas multiple times over! I feel this is a really clever marketing move though and will appeal to newbies in particular - who still though need to be more circumspect about what else is out there ...