The Birmingham Guitar Show this year was so much a better affair than the London / UK Guitar Show I attended at Olympia in September - particularly from an organisational and pedal perspective. But I’m kind of sad to report that it was a very pale shadow of the NAMM show that took place almost exactly one month ago. If I tally up all the best new pedals from the NAMM show - only the tiniest fraction of those were on display at the Birmingham Show.
It means that the Beetronics Swarm Harmonizer PLL Fuzz is therefore further from production than I thought as the main European distributor (Face MI) did not have an example to demonstrate - they did however have a copy of the forthcoming compact version of the recently miniaturised Walrus Audio Monument V2 Harmonic Tremolo - which Mario Van Helden informed me is due for an official mid-to-late-March release.
UK-based Zander Circuitry also had a trio of new pedals at the show - some more finalised than others - more of that later. Otherwise there was really no significant pedal ’news’ at the event. I did do the rounds though and popped in to see several friends - including more than an hour’s worth of conversation with the very creative Alex Ernandez of Anasounds - but more of that later.
I very much enjoyed the layout of this show - although we really had just the most basic of trestle-table style booths - but the floor layout was good and easy to navigate with generally good flow - but so very noisy too - just as well I had my noise-cancelling headphones on - I don’t know how anyone could stand it without proper ear protection.
So here follows an account of my brief and otherwise encounters, what I came away with - hits, misses etc. I have to say that I was equally mystified to see no Rainger FX at the show as I was to see no Chapman Guitars at the show - as both those companies attended NAMM in some manner, but stayed away from the main show in their domestic market - when both have new products to introduce and promote.
Pedal Makers / Brands are listed roughly in alphabetical order and by size - apologies to Alex at Zander Circuitry in advance - who is of course featured at the base of this list! I may do some future articles in reverse-alphabetical order for sake of balance...
I feel Alex Ernandez and I will become firm friends - we discussed everything pedals for well over an hour in a couple of sessions - and I'm really looking forward to seeing so many of Alex's inventions and innovations come to fruition in the near and distant future. Anasound's main push for the show was the new Element True Spring Tank Reverb - consisting of a compact 4 dial control pedal which connects by slim cable to one of 3 different sizes of Spring Tanks - two of which can easily be mounted under most pedalboards, Le Bon (The Good/Small) and La Brute (The Bad/Medium), while Le Truand (The Ugly/Large) really should be reserved for studio use as far as I'm concerned. I had a good 10 minute play-around with the Small and Medium versions and my own choice would be for the Medium La Brute version. As you go up in size you get more depth and texture through the springs as you might expect - as well as slightly more volume - at least that was my experience. I found the middle size La Brute version sufficiently distinctly improved over the smaller one to make it my overall recommendation. There are of course practicalities with size - and no doubt you get even more texture, depth and dynamics from the largest Le Truand Spring Tank - but it's not really practical for most. A really great innovation here also is the Spring Saturation/distortion/feedback switch which gives you a really satisfactory fuzz-style tone as far as I'm concerned - I would find that option really useful. I think if you are a surf-rocker - then this is your perfect solution - with the La Brute option. If you're after a genuine stand-alone spring reverb - i.e. one which is not a traditional Fender or Vox style Amp spring tank - then this really is your best choice. The immediate competition here might be the Crazy Tube Circuits White Whale Real Trem-Verb, and the now sold-out Spaceman Effects Orion. For lovers of the True Spring Reverb sound - I feel this is your smartest choice. I have two pedals from Anasounds to date - the fantastic limited Crankle edition of the Bitoun Fuzz - which I'm encouraging Alex to release as the default version, as well as the super-versatile Cerberus Custom Overdrive. Anasounds also feature a new combined Cerberus + Savage (Klone) pedal - with an external Germanium/Silicon clipping switch - I've told Alex that he needs to make the single Savage pedal default in this version too! Shout-out to Alex's colleague too whose name now escapes me - as he had to man the stand for long periods on his own.
I did not connect with anyone at the stand, but there was plenty going on here with plenty of pedal brands on the roster - featuring the cool new Peterson StroboStomp pedal (much cooler in person that the video demos), I think I saw a Rêver from Old Blood Noise Endeavors and the new Neuron from Neunaber - also the new and fantastic REVV G4 and new Two Notes products - not sure I saw the latest Caroline Guitar Pedals announced or the Catalinbread Coriolis - but there certainly was no lack of options on the stand - possibly a little bit option paralysis to a degree as so much in a relatively compact area. The trestle-table design of these basic booths does not really compare with the stand furniture of bigger events like NAMM - where it's generally easier to demo the products - here it's often tricky to see what's going on - and the cacophony of noise makes things really difficult - so do the typical headphones with really short leads! All in all a really impressive array of pedals - that could have done with a little more breathing space.
Boss actually had a really cool stand with all the old Roland Tape Echoes in a display case, along with all the amps, recent pedals and the new slightly pricey WAZA Tube Amp Expander - which currently holds little interest for me. There was plenty of traffic on the stand - to such an extent that I was wholly unable to pin down main UK Boss/Roland Rep/Ambassador Matt Knight - better luck next time I hope. Boss is the brand I have most pedals from although not necessarily on active duty, while I still have a number of Boss pedals on my wishlist including last year's heavy hitters - the new MT-2w and DC-2w which I will undoubtedly add to the collection this year.
I spent some time chatting away with the very informative Mario Van Helden of leading European Distributor for Beetronics and Walrus Audio Pedals. They had a much better stand here than at the UK Guitar Show - which was little more than the corner of a table. Here they had properly separate pedalboards / rigs for both brands - albeit no Beetronics Swarm - much to my disappointment, and one of the reasons for my being at the show! It sounded like the only two prototypes available were then ones at the NAMM show - and neither one made it over the Atlantic. The good news though was that the brand new / forthcoming Walrus Audio Monument V2 Harmonic Tremolo in sleeker compact enclosure was on full display - with all the features intact from its bigger predecessor. My criticism of the recent Lillian Phaser was that it did not have tap-tempo - not sure why Walrus chose not to emulate the greatly received format of ARP-87 and Fathom - which they have of course used again for the Monument - I feel all pedals with a time/speed element can benefit from a separate tap-tempo footswitch!
UK distributor for lots of great pedal brands - but no Empress Zoia or Wampler Terraform in evidence. I made a slight mis-step here in acquiring the Massive Unity TAE 1964 PreAmp - which is quite a hefty pedal, and I was expecting it to deliver slightly more dynamic range and harmonics than my already excellent Bearfoot FX Emerald Green - but I found that alas not to be the case - for me the TAE 1964 does not perform in my rig at either the level of the Catalinbread Galileo or the superior Emerald Green Distortion which remains my Boosted Vox / Brian May style pedal of choice. I had heard several decent demos of the pedal's predecessor, so I'm not sure what the issue with this version is - there's quite an output disparity between drive and boost stages, and the former does not seem to have quite enough juice on tap, nor the same degree of chewy harmonics as my other pedals of this type. In any case lots of great pedals on display, but some notable exceptions too.
I may have somewhat overlooked this stand but on the few pass-by's I did - I did not spot the recently launched trio of Black Country Custom pedals - all of which I rate - the Monolith, Secretpath and Steelpark. They may have been there though just not super obvious - I'm sure someone will let me know in the comments.
I was lucky to bump into head honcho Simon Keats right at the start of the show - before he had to head off for a family engagement. We briefly discussed my provocateur (suggestions!) piece on the forthcoming Compact RevivalDrive - he promised to formulate a full response, but did say that the Ghosting effect circuit took up so much space that it just wasn't practical for the smaller compact format. As for my Mids suggestion - I feel that may be something for a later custom version. The key clarification I was able to obtain though was that the Compact voicing is a mix of or somewhere between the Silicon and Valve Rectifier voicings - so there is no rear switch - or plans for separate pedals for each channel. The Compact prototype seen at NAMM was not in evidence here either - so obviously some further R&D is ongoing here. I ran out of time to ask Simon about the release date and what else may be coming down the pipeline - hopefully he will furnish those details himself fairly soon.
I feel like I've known Adrian for far longer than I really have - he is such a warm approachable soul. I of course featured his Deep Oggin Analog Chorus in my Best of NAMM overview - and he had the exceptional Chris Buck on hand to demonstrate just how great that pedal can sound - I still want a tap-tempo footswitch though! My Thorpy collection is up to three pedals - with the Peacekeeper next in line for acquisition, no doubt I will set a new target once I have acquired that. I was sorry not to see Georgia on booth duty - especially after her brilliant showing at NAMM - I intend to interview the happy couple at their workshop at some stage in the near future - Adrian and I just need to agree on timings. Adrian also let slip that there was plenty more coming from the Dan Coggins collaboration which birthed the Deep Oggin - so we have some further interesting modulations in the pipeline to look forward to.
I was delighted to touch base and properly meet Alex Millar for the first time - I've had my eye on Zander for a while now but not yet pulled the trigger on an acquisition - there are several pedals I am interested in including 3 of the full-range Fuzz pedals - American Geek, Foxxton Woods and SiClone. I love how Alex features 6-way clipping options and dual-footswitches on nearly all his pedals - that is so down my street. Moreover he had 3 new pedals to announce at the show - the Siva Dual-Gain OpAmp Fuzz, Terra Firma Dual-Gain Sunn Model T Style Power Amp Distortion, and Junipero 8 Mode Aqueous Soundscaper Modulation Workstation with 5 onboard presets. Much like Brian Wampler's Terraform pedal - Alex sill has to decide the final flavours and types of modulations for the Junipero - but the 4 footswitches give you plenty of control for live performance. It's interesting times for Modulation Workstation with Strymon's Mobius and Boss's MD-500 now being challenged by the like of this Junipero, Wampler's Terraform, Joyo's R-09 Vision, and GFI System's forthcoming and as yet unnamed Modulation Workstation - plenty of tasty options for pedal fans.
I have to admit that there are a few pedal brands I still need to get fully to grips with - including Flattley Guitar Pedals, Fredric Effects and TateFX. With Flattley in particular they always have a significant booth presence with so many pedals on display in beautiful sparkly enclosures, but beyond the aesthetics I'm not always clear what distinguishes those pedals from other similar effects / circuits. I have around 250 pedals in the collection - including 100 fuzzes - so it stands to reason that a new acquisition has to be unique and distinct to get any chance to be in on the 40 slot pedal-chain rotation.
I also feel that these UK guitar shows are ripe for the taking as very few brands apply the correct degree of branding sparkle to dominate the show. With my other company / other day-job when we attended trade shows we applied automotive show level design flourishes but in a relatively economic and highly effective manner - our glossy piano-black stands with neon accents always stood out and attracted significant audiences. Where we are currently with UK Guitar shows is often just one step above car boot sale production values. It would not take too much to make a real impact at one of these shows.
I've also been encouraging pedal companies to present more 'serving suggestions' for their pedals - i.e. presenting real-world style boards with a mix of pedals in the correct order and focusing mainly on one or two key pedals / new pedals rather than the whole range. Very few players will own a singularly homogenous pedalboard of just one company's pedals - and presenting every single pedal in a large grouping is not always the best environment for encouraging sales.
I still find there's much to delight in here - while there's pretty significant room for improvement in most departments. The refreshment areas at New Bingly Hall really weren't up to too much - with lots of crowding around the one bar and lots of people sitting on the floor leading up to the canteen. We could probably do with better venues with better facilities - but also a little more pizazz on the show floor. If you've ever been to an auto show you know how amazing those stands / booths can appear - the often ramshackle appearance of basic booths at these guitar shows obviously have a lot of unfulfilled potential.
The 2019 NAMM was one of the most exciting shows of all time for us pedal fans, yet the UK shows get so little of that flavour. I'm quite mystified why domestic brands with new products aren't present at these shows. There is so much choice out there and so much competition that personality is an important weapon in winning hearts and minds. As I said many times at this show - it's no longer enough to have a great sounding pedal - it must be distinctly and demonstrably different to be worthy of consideration. It's no longer enough to just do your own great version of a a key pedal / amp / modulation circuit - it needs to have unique attributes / voicings / effects / and other benefits - both tangible and intangible. As a marketing and brand strategist I am happy to advise and assist pedal brands on what considerations they should have in mind to forge ahead of the chasing pack.