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Pedal Design 101 - The Evolution of the Stompbox Footswitch

EarthQuaker DevicesEffects Pedal MakersGuitar Gear Improvements and PrototypesHamstead SoundworksJackson AudioNeural DSPPedalboard and Pedal-ChainTC ElectronicTheGigRig+-
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With my extended collection of pedals, I’ve always been fascinated by the very wide variety of different footswitches and their varying action/feel/function. Most of my pedals have hard-clicking switches - with my favourites within that category having a significantly softer clicking action while the lesser favourites are super-hard-resistant and stiff - and almost crunchy/brittle/hard-clicking when you stomp on them. I understand that the vast majority of pedal-makers, particularly smaller boutiques tend to use Alpha Taiwan footswitches - which are reliable and affordable, but not particularly smooth as far as I am aware.


Just as well then that in recent years there has been a move towards click-less noiseless soft-touch footswitches which do away with any clicking. Yet some of these have a high degree of resistance and are not as pleasant to use as the soft action soft touch footswitches. At the basic level these are still very standard binary switches while further recent innovations have led to multi-function switches which by default have latching and momentary function and some have even more utility to them.


This article was inspired by the new Neural DSP Quad Cortex Amp Modeller - which is the first I’ve seen that combines rotational knob function into the footswitches - this means that ingeniously each of the 11 footswitches are also the parameter knobs which work in tandem with the super-intuitive touch-screen so you immediately see which function is mapped to each footswitch/knob and what level they are at. Neural DSP simply call these ’Proprietary stainless steel stomp+rotary actuators’ which I’ve taken the liberty to name the more catchy ’RotoStomp’ Footswitches.


The other 3 pictured I consider leading examples of the chasing pack - which include TheGigRig OptoKick Optical Footswitch, TC Electronic MASH Pressure-Sensing Expression-enabled Footswitch and EarthQuaker Devices Soft Touch Latching/Momentary Flexi-Switch Footswitch - a little more about each below:


Update! : Note that I’ve added Jackson Audio to this list as below - they don’t really make too much of a feature of their footswitches - but they are essential to the core function of these pedals.

Neural DSP Quad Cortex Proprietary Stainless Steel Stomp+Rotary Actuators - AKA 'RotoStomp' Footswitches


This early Beta demo of the Quad Cortex ably demonstrates the use use of the 'RotoStomp' footswitches - and how they correspond to onscreen touchscreen activities - which display knob position and function. This is next level genius as far as I'm concerned and I hope they licence it out to non-competing devices. This type of footswitch entirely replaces the need for internal trimpots for instance. Moreover, this one feature alone makes me interested in checking out the Quad Cortex - and it might just be the very first Amp Modelling unit that has achieved the perfect control topology. In seeing this, I am also reminded of my favourite GFI System Synesthesia pedal which combines 4-vector control on each of its knobs - Turn, Press, Hold, and Hold+Twist simultaneously. I feel that these interfaces are finally getting to an optimal level of learnability and usability - these are exciting times indeed!

TheGigRig OptoKick Optical Noiseless Soft Touch Footswitch


I featured the above Hamstead Soundworks Odyssey Intergalactic Driver which I acquired as soon as it was announced, and which is the first non-TheGigRig product to feature this amazing soft and smooth optical footswitch first developed by Daniel Steinhardt (That Pedal Show also) for his GigRig G2 Looper and then other products in that range. The Odyssey is the only pedal I have with this footswitch which is my favourite one to use to date. I believe it's Momentary-capable while it's obviously not used in that way for the Odyssey. I find it odd two years later that other pedal-makers haven't also licensed the OptoKick footswtiches as they are generally the best, most reliable of the soft touch variants as far as I am aware.

TC Electronic MASH Magnetic Pressure Sensing Footswitches for Onboard Expression Control


I was actually really excited when TC Electronic first came out with this feature, and I have a number of pedals with this switch in place - including most recently the Brainwaves Pitch-Shifter - which was replacing another TCE MASH pedal - the Quintessence which I had failed to get along with particularly well. I had long been using the Digitech Whammy Ricochet for a Tom Morello style pitch-shit effect, and thought the Brainwaves would be able to replace that and provide a great alternative to an EHX Pitchfork - which I was also eyeing up at the time. Yet I never fully gelled with Brainwaves and the Whammy Ricochet was back by the end of the month of the Brainwaves arriving - the Meris Hedra now occupies that spot! I feel that the MASH function is really missing some sort of calibration dial/s on the side of the pedal - to adjust to player's own stomp action. I found the MASH footswitches slightly too stiff and unpredictable - where I would either be pressing too softly or too hard and instead of a simple and more capable replacement for the Ricochet it kind of wasn't working optimally for me - I somehow found I could exert more even control with the more basic Ricochet Momentary footswitch. I still think it's a great idea - but it needs refinement, and TC Electronic which use to lead in innovation is now falling somewhat behind. For instance not picking up on the increasing trend for dual footswitches on compact enclosures - which would really help the TC Electronics Flashback Delay in particular! It's not optimal really sacrificing tap-tempo for the sake of expression control - I just would not buy a delay which did not feature tap-tempo.

Earthquaker Devices Soft Touch Latching/Momentary Flexi-Switch Footswitch


Here I feature the new EQD Sunn O))) Life Pedal V2 as it indeed has Flexi-Switch footswitching onboard - which is particularly handy on the right-hand Amplitude Octave Voicing footswitch - for Momentary application thereof. This is my ever-delayed pedal which was supposed to be here a week ago but because of some sort of supplier snafu was not delivered from the USA in the numbers agreed - so I am having to wait until the middle of February for that delight to be resolved! I do think it's a great move of Earthquaker Devices to decree that all its recent / new pedals will have Flexi-Switch Footswitches by default - I wish other pedal-makers would follow Jamie Stillman's quality example.

Bonus Round! Jackson Audio Multi-Mode + Tandem Soft Touch Footswitches


I shamefully almost forgot to mention Jackson Audio here as they don't 'brand' or make specific mention of their soft-touch smart multi-mode footswitches - but they are a major part of the core of the Jackson Audio experience - including changing modes and the equally smart dual-footswitch Gain Cycling - where a dual-press steps up the level of gain in 25% increments of the maximum gain value set. The early steps first appeared in the amazing Bloom Multi-Mode Compressor + EQ + Blooming Boost, while those ingredients were somewhat further perfected in the Broken Arrow Programmable Overdrive + Boost referenced in the video above.


I've just gone through an exercise of clicking on all the pedals in my current pedal chain and the results are as follows :


Soft Touch Click-less = 26

Hard Clicking = 11

Soft Clicking = 4


Soft Touch is so much the better experience - more makers should make the resolution in 2020 to move across to smooth, noiseless, soft touch varieties!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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