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Pedal Design 101 - Pedal Primary Colour Wheel and which Pedals 'Own' a particular Colour

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Update! This feature inspired 7 further articles - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Sky Blue and Purple.


This feature was inspired by a couple of different events - firstly ongoing conversations I have been having with Fjord Fuzz’s Daniel Thornhill about the colour of LEDs for different pedal types, and secondly an odd Q&A episode of That Pedal Show where Dan was trying to match a pedal to the colour of his yellow trousers or pants as some of you like to call them.


I turned my mind to considering the role of colour in pedal design and which Pedal Builders do this well and have pedals which actually ’Own’ a specific colour or are most readily associated with said colour. I have already said many times that Boss does this particularly well, and MXR is none to shabby in the colour-coordination stakes either, while I criticised the most recent and otherwise pretty neat Carl Martin new compact enclosure design for having inconsistencies in font, text placement and colour choices. I feel makers should look to Boss in creating distinct groupings of pedals that can be easily identified by category because of specific visual cues like a specific hue. Other makers who do pedal colours well include the BJFe family of brands - BJFe itself, Bearfoot FX, Mad Professor and OneControl, JHS, Strymon, TC Electronic, Thorpy FX and Wampler; obviously Mooer pedals are somewhat colour-coordinated to their inspiration pedals but don’t always match the originating hue for some inexplicable reason.


I simply considered each colour in turn and which pedal I naturally recalled in response - I then extended the range and filled in a few more of the gaps. While there are some colours still open to contest, other colours have long been claimed and rationalised - which you can see quite evidently in much of Mooer’s colour selection - which helps you figure out the original source circuit largely by the colour of the enclosure.


The most interesting point for me is that fire-engine red and standard yellow are both ’Owned’ as such by compressors. My first association for Red is the MXR Dyna Comp, and the first association for standard neutral or pale yellow is the Diamond Pedals Compressor - as replicated by Mooer too. Also interesting is how Ibanez owns both forest and light green shades with its TS808 and TS9 Tubescreamers. The most modern pedal in the visual is the recent Bondi Effects Art Van Delay - which has pretty much laid claim to Hot Pink / Fuscia.


Some pedals also have an associative element in their name which underlines the colour choice and ownership thereof which I feel is the case with the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver and the Lovepedal Purple Plexi. I could have covered other colours here too - Gold, Silver, Brass (Vemuram), Bronze, Magnesium, Titanium etc. and various metallic tones, alongside good old plain black and white. But in part because of the associated LED reference - decided to stick with just the bright primary colours and principal shades. I will start individual overviews with ’Red’ and move clockwise around the Colour Wheel spectrum (Update - I included some of the other colour references here too that were not on the chart).


I thought of including Mooer pedals in an inner circle here, but annoying their colours don’t match up closely enough to their inspirations, and moreover there are gaps in equivalency which render that exercise useless - so we will stick with just the primary associations!:


To me there are two automatic associations that come directly to mind for the colour red - the MXR Dyna Comp is the standout choice, followed by Marshall Distortion pedals en masse for some reason - even though Marshall is most likely readily identified with the colour 'Gold' there are a number of Marshall-based distortions including the brand new Red Mod version (no coincidence) of Catalinbread's Dirty Little Secret. Besides that we have the Amptweaker Tight Rock, Dawner Prince RedRox, JHS Angry Charlie, Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion, MI Effects Super Crunch Box and Wampler Pinnacle - all sporting RED. Boss also has the red DM-2 Delay - but that is more of Cerise hue, and not the proper bright red. Actually Boss's Looper pedals are all bright red, and as was its second every compact pedal - the SP-1 Spectrum and in fact the VO-1 Vocoder too. I think on balance though my first instincts were correct here, and Red has to be given to the MXR Dyna Comp which just has to be the most readily universally associated pedal in this colourway.


When I think of the colour Orange I get two immediate references - MXR's Phase 90, and Boss's DS-1, and then when I really apply myself I recall the Ibanez Overdrive - which is actually a Muff-based fuzz rather. JHS also has the Orange Squeezer Compressor, and there are a number of Orange Amp pedal replicas. But Mad Professor's Tiny Orange Phaser and Mooer's Ninety Orange Phaser - kind of underline that this is MXR Phase 90's category to loose. There are actually a number of Boss orange-hued distortion pedals - of which the DS-1 is the most memorable. But the colour orange belongs to the Phaser type of effect specifically from MXR.

YELLOW - amber/mustard, deep yellow and pale yellow

As per the above visual we're actually dealing with 3 different shades of yellow here. When I just think out 'Yellow' I consider Boss's Over Drive pedals first, then the second edition DOD 250 PreAmp - which actually started off Grey and is still probably more associated with its original colour. And finally the pale yellow Diamond Compressor - which is the one Mooer replicates in its own even paler yellow enclosure. Actually there is also the MXR Distortion+ which we mustn't forget, but as I am more principally a Boss fan - I'm more likely to recall the Boss Over Drives first. The darkest yellow shade - sort of amber / mustard yellow immediately brought to my mind the T-Rex Mud Honey pedal, and perhaps the BJFe Honey Bee Overdrive - while on closer inspection - it's actually definitely the same colour as the Mud Honey. I feel that those 3 yellows are the most likely associations, although some will likely swap with the Boss OD-1 or Diamond Comp Jr for the MXR Distortion+.

GREEN - forest green, and light green

If you hear mentioned of 'The Green Overdrive' pedal pretty much 99% of you will immediately recall the Ibanez Tube Screamer, while others might think of the Maxon OD-808 or Nobels ODR-1. Checking with Mooer - its own TS808 replica sort of follows the forest green of that pedal. While interestingly Ibanez also lays claim to the lighter green colour - which could in Nashville in particular be more likely associated with the Nobels. Boss's line of Phasers is also green - PH-1 through PH-3 - but the obvious Phaser colour has to be the Orange of the MXR Phase 90. Overall then the ever so ubiquitous Ibanez Tube Screamers win the Green colourway category by a landslide. Update - I forgot to mention MXR's Carbon copy delays which feature a darker green standard version, and lighter green 'Bright' version. Tube Screamers still win though! A further note on Moss Green or Army Green here - which is readily associated with the Green Russian Muff style fuzzes - including EHX's own Green Russian Big Muff Pi.


To my mind only 4 teal pedals spring readily to mind - first Boss's ever-present TR-2 Tremolo, Mad Professor's Little Green Wonder Overdrive, TC Electronic's Petrucci Dreamscape Modulator, and Wampler's Ethereal Delay+Reverb. I feel this category is still up for grabs to a degree, although I personally feel the strongest resonance here with the Boss TR-2 Tremolo.

BLUE - mid blue

On the colour wheel I selected as reference there was only one shade of blue depicted - a sort of mid basic blue - in fact all the colours here are relatively primary - so we miss out on the lighter and powder blues, sky-blue and more ink-blue, royal-blue and cobalt shades - which Thorpy's brand new Heavy Water pedal sports so well. Boss actually has a number of 'Blue' pedals - Choruses, Compressors, Multi-Overtone, Pitch-Shifters, Sampler/Delays, and Vibrato. It only really has one monikered Blue pedal though in the BD-2 BLUES Driver - which surely has to take the most common blue colour pedal association over the long-term. There is Strymon's BlueSky Reverb, MXR's Blue Box Fuzz and Wampler's blue Ego Compressor - but none of those has triggered quite so many mods and replicas as has Boss's original BD-2 Blues Driver circuit. The Blues Driver is a very slightly unusual mid blue - with a hint of green in it - but the colour plus the name surely cements its position at the head of this category. If considering the lighter blues - then surely the Boss Choruses must be in heavy consideration.


Much like the Boss blue Blues Driver - Lovepedal has one of its own monikered colourways in the guise of its Purple Plexi Distortion. The name verily matches the colour. Purple is often associated with Jimi Hendrix too - so a number of Hendrix Fuzz and Vibe -derived pedals often feature a purple tone. There is also Way Huge's Purple Platypus - whose colour is actually closer to Violet - but that also has the colour in its moniker - as does Carl Martin's Purple Moon Fuzz N' Vibe. More recently we have REVV's Purple G3 Distortion and Wampler's Pantheon Overdrive - actually Fulltone's Plimsoul is also actually a very dark shade of purple. For me though it's Lovepedal's Purple Plexi which most readily springs to mind here and to which I award winner of this category for now.


Difficult to know what to name this category - I see Magenta as being slightly brighter than Grape - for the former the contenders are most likely Strymon's Orbit Flanger and Suhr's Riot Distortion, while the more Grape shade represented here is most definitely matched by Boss's BF Series of Flangers - where I personally have a modded BF-2. Eventide's new Rose Delay pedal would snap into this category too as would JAM Pedals Limited Edition Hendrix-style Fuzz Phrase. Boss BF-2/3 for the win though.


When I think of Pink guitar pedals I most immediately think of the trio of Alexander Pedals Hot Pink Drive, Bondi Effects Art Van Delay, and Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine Modulator. JHS used fo have the Pink Panther Delay which was a more subtle shade of pink, and now renamed the Lucky Cat Delay, While I feel that recent entrant Art Van Delay has somewhat staked a claim with its powerful application of block colour. I feel that this category is still sort of up for grabs - but the Bondi Art Van Delay is a very strong contender here.

Other Instant Pedal Colour Associations not on the Wheel/Chart

  • Black = Metal Distortion, e.g. Boss HM-2, EHX Metal Muff, then ProCo Rat
  • White = Fulltone OCD Overdrive
  • Grey = Original DOD PreAmp 250
  • Dark-Grey = Also associated with Metal / High Gain - Boss MT-2 Metal Zone, Wampler Dracarys, Wampler Triple Wreck etc.
  • Brown = Boss Octave - OC-2/3, then Mad Professor Simble, Strymon Lex, Mad Professor #1, TC Electronic MojoMojo, Zvex Instant LoFi Junky etc
  • Lavender = Boss DC-2w Dimension C
  • Maroon = Analog.Man King of Tone / Prince of Tone
  • Peach = Chase Bliss Audio MOOD
  • Gold = Marshall Drive and Distortion, Klon Centaur
  • Silver = Boss Fuzzes - FZ-2, 3 & 5. then Marshall Silver Jubilee
  • Bronze = Up for grabs! Anyone?
  • Brass = Vemuram
  • Copper = Fjord Fuzz
  • Wood = Anasounds Pedals, then Bogner Bubinga Editions, and Zorg Effects

Final Thoughts

Readers and players alike will have their own personal choices and preferences here depending on what they've been more exposed to. Fans of Boss will probably be closer to my preferences while those with a more stronger association with say MXR or another brand which uses strong colours may more closely associate with those pedals.


Being the fuzz fan I am it's also relevant to mention the Dallas Arbiter / Dunlop Fuzz Faces - Red = Germanium, Blue = Silicon convention - which has been taken up by a number of builders - and in no more clear way than with Fulltone's two takes on the Fuzz Face - 69MKII and 70-BC Fuzz. Fuzzes though are still largely a 'minority sport' so that overall they have little chance of being the most impactful in enforcing specific colour associations.


Of all the colours above I feel the strongest associations are with Orange = MXR Phaser, and Green = Ibanez Tube Screamer - those are surely shoe-ins for near enough everyone. Other colourways here are more open to influence and interpretation.


I still feel there is a benefit in using colours creatively and systematically to group like-pedals together - to indicate specific function or at least functional effects families. In global branding two colours largely dominate - Red and Blue - say the Red of Coca-Cola and the Blue of Pepsi for instance. For pedals though even thought there are a number of really strong associations - there are still a number of colours up for grabs, and some categories which might yet be coopted one way or another.


In reviewing my own selection I am satisfied that I've drawn the right conclusions here, and wonder to a degree why more pedal-builders don't fully avail themselves of the more powerful aspected of colour choice and categorisation. I've also seen a number of players who have very monochromatic or monotonal pedalboards - where I actually like having a splash of different colours in my 41-strong pedal-chain so I can more easily pick out and identify specific pedals / effects.


In many ways pedal-science is still in its infancy to a large degree as most pedal builders don't avail themselves fully of the branding colour-sciences when it comes to selecting the colour of a specific pedal. I've noted before that the design and aesthetics of a pedal enclosure can and usually do have a significant impact on appeal and uptake - choose the wrong colour and you stand to loose out one way or another. Also don't try to pivot off a colour which is already wholly associated with someone else's brand or very specific functional pedals - unless you are specifically trying to hint at the origins / starting point of your pedal.


I will freely admit that I've deliberately not acquired a pedal or two because of the colour of their enclosure - while it's generally not an overriding factor for me - but when I see something I really don't like or associate with something entirely different - then it's likely as not that I won't fully get onboard with that pedal. Boss has made some very smart colour choices along the way - but if you consult the larger Pantone Colour Reference Library - there are still plenty of really interesting shades up for grabs.


Considering the dilemma of Daniel Thornhill again, I'm starting to feel that the Odin should have the same default yellow LED as the Gjallarhorn as they are both Octave Fuzzes of sorts and the Gjallarhorn needs to be yellow for source material reasons. There is a limit of available LED colours that work and are easily identified - so soon in your product release cycle you will need to start duplicating colour selection - so you may as well set off categorising those pedals and corresponding LEDs into the appropriate categories! Or at least that's what I think.

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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