It’s always amusing to set your pedal goals and targets right at the start of the year, and then have to amend them right after the various Winter NAMM announcements. In fact I did a status update at the end of last year, and at the start of this one - which is not a whole lot of days really, but so much as happened in the interim!
I kind of got inspired by heavier tones over Christmas - which prompted me to acquire another heavy distortion pedal - in the shape of the MI Audio Megalith Delta. Initially I thought it might just be an occasional swap-out for the Empress Heavy, but I liked it so much that it became a permanent feature alongside it - upping an already extreme pedal chain to 37 - but there was still more to come q.v.!
Firstly - I already have a looper at the end of the chain, but find it somehwat annoying tweaking the tone of a new pedal - in having to constantly stand up to play some notes / chords, crouch down to tweak the dials some more and repeat ad infinitum - or at least until satisfactory tone has been achieved. Having a looper in the new slot  means that you only have to play your notes once and then can tweak away with the input on repeat. There’s also a new slot near the end of the chain - number  which will house compact stereo modulation effects and is dependent to a degree on how much ground the Empress Zoia will eventually cover. I’ve long wanted to be able to accommodate more incidental / momentary effects - and since the Chase Bliss pedals are pretty much permanent fixtures - it’s good to have one more flexible slot - more details for which below.
Other than the 3 recent slot additions, this is always an exercise in getting the very best possible pedal for each slot - tone, versatility, practicality, form-factor, price and availability. My choices might not exactly match those of my readers, but I try to be as thorough and broad-ranging in my research and considerations.
There’s always some wishlist pedals that get put on the back burner - while others rise up unexpectedly. The Bearfoot FX Emerald Green came about then I read on their site that said pedal had already been discontinued owing to lack of available components - and so I was fortunate to snap one of the remaining ones up from Joe’s Pedals. These days I use a mix of different suppliers - depending largely on who has that pedal in stock. In the past Andertons, GAK and GuitarGuitar were my mainstays, but I find myself using Thomann and Musik Productiv quite a bit (Germany), as well as BAX, DV247, HotRoxUK - and of course plenty form Reverb.com.
The Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 is the first waiting list pedal I’ve actioned - so it will be interesting to see how that exercise goes as there are a few more of that ilk in my sights. Most of what I order on Reverb.com comes from USA and Canada - and the one major issue there is not really the custom duties as such - pedals can still be priced very reasonably, rather the amount of time it takes for pedals to clear customs in the UK - according to tracking data - several of my parcels have spent a week or more clearing UK customs - god help us if we ever leave the EU Customs Union!
For sure my Pedal Chain is crazy long and has several impractical aspects to it - but think of it more as studio chain - it was always devised to sit in just one location, and not travel like a pedalboard. Yet this chain could not work without having the very best patch cables in place or fully isolated power supply to each pedal. The latter part has been something I’ve very begrudingly invested in as decent power supplies are pricey - and I would of course much rather have an additional drive or fuzz pedal over a power supply. In fact until very recently I did have a single OneSpot daisy chain left in position - that has now finally been replaced by a Strymon Zuma - meaning I have 5 power-supplies to cover everything - 2 x 10-slot Friedman Power Grids, 1 x 9-slot Strymon Zuma, 1 x 7-slot T-Rex Fuel Tank Goliath, and 1 x 5-slot Strymon Ojai - for a total of 41 slots of which 1 is for AC power and I have 1 still spare!
Of course this Tone Quest will never end per se - but it will calm down significantly by year end. I’m still trying to cover most of the key effects types - and as always ensure that I have the most suitable pedal in each of the 39 slots - which has now been finally limited by available technology and floor-space. I probably have a few more slots than most would consider entirely necessary or practical - yet I use these all regularly and in cool combinations - and there is just nothing better than being able to instantly stomp on a pedal to wholly and significantly change the tone and texture of your rig. This particular setup has evolved with a mind of its own, but I currently would not have it any other way. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach - as you have to every now and again check the patch cable and power connection of every pedal in the chain - but 99.9% of the time it works brilliantly and sounds amazing.
Pedals are listed in slot order. A ’+’ in the above visual indicates multi-use slots with alternative swaps available on-tap, while + in the below listing indicates that said pedal is earmarked for imminent addition. These things don’t always go to plan though and not everything may end up as intended - but this is pretty much the game plan for 2018. What is less obvious from the visual is the current focus on Fuzz pedal types - but that should be clarified in the details below.
So the image at the top of this article is the status right now - as of today! The image above by contrast is the key pedal-chain goals for year-end. In the top image you can see a bright turquoise arrow above 6 of the pedals, denoting that they have been marked for imminent or future upgrade.
In pedal slot order:
Of the above, the Tumnus Deluxe is very imminent, and the Ethos TWE-1 is on order (waiting list > March). All the others are still to be released, although the JHS Bonsai should supposedly hit distribution at the end of this month - but that could mean USA, rather than Europe too though.
In another post I have declared that 2018 is the 'Year of Fuzz' so slots  and  will see some further additions for momentary swap-out. While there is of course a much broader list - as per below of further wishlist items I have a mind to acquire eventually. Much of that has to do with price and availability - but there are other priorities which impact too.
I have said in other posts also that I expect the pedal chain evolution to slow down significantly after year end - by which time I should have really decent primary and secondary pedals (where applicable) for every slot.
Below we have the full list of pedal slots indicating which pedal has been selected as primary, which are the secondary swaps, and which additional ones I have on my wishlist:
Great tuner - perfect for my needs - no desire to replace at the moment.
As mentioned in the intro - the looper at the front of the chain is an essential utility to help to you tune and tweak new pedals to the chain - so much easier than playing something, crouching, tweaking, more playing, more tweaking etc. - with a looper you get there far quicker and far more accurately - which is critical for certain pedals which have significant changes in tone with the tiniest degree of dial movement.
Just launched at this year's NAMM - this is the ultimate mini wah - with 5 added features over the original that I already have - a 4-way frequency range switch, mini volume and q-control dials, a boost button, and boost LED indicator. This is a significant improvement over its predecessor and one which I will be acquiring as soon as it hits distribution. I still have a couple more pedals to acquire for this slot - as listed under wishlist below:
Swaps : DigiTech Whammy Ricochet | Dunlop CryBaby Mini Wah | Dunlop CryBaby Q-Zone Fixed Wah
Wishlist : DigiTech FreqOut | Mu-FX Micro-Tron III/VFE Mini Mu | Subdecay Prometheus DLX
I was all prepped to get the TCE Quintessence next, but since I'm currently having so much fun with heavier tones - I decided to get DigitTech's The Drop first - the Quintessence is not too far off either.
Swaps : TC Electronic Sub ’N’ Up
Wishlist : Electro-Harmonix Pitchfork | TC Electronic Quintessence Harmonizer
I have nothing but good things to say about the Prism - I also have a very suitable backup in the Xotic EP - if I want to make things simpler or smaller. Not looking to get any further boosts any time soon - there is no direct competition to the Prism at the moment, and certainly nothing close in a mini format.
Swaps : Xotic EP Booster Alchemy Mod
I've recently changed my mind on compressors again - I was considering getting an Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe - but for what I use my compressor for, I don't see why I would ever need more than a mini - and the Wampler Mini Ego is still probably the best of those available, with the forthcoming Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone Mini Germanium next in line after that . I am also intrigued by the Bondi Effects 2026 Compressor - but on due reflection am going to stay with mini compressors for now - also in the hope that something still better comes along in that form factor - Wampler for instance could swap the toggle switches for dials - to make the pedal identical in functionality to the full size one.
Swaps : Xotic SP Compressor Alchemy Mod
Wishlist : Pigtronix Micro Philosopher's Tone Germanium Gold
Funnily enough - I've still to get this updated Tumnus - waiting for a restock at Regent Sounds so I can pick one up when next in town - they've failed on two previous trips. In the meantime I've acquired the Foxpedal Kingdom Combo V2 which occupies this slot currently - and benefits from independent tune-able boost. There are still a few alternatives that I aim to get for this slot - like the Rockaway Archer and Greer Lightspeed - I will probably de-prioritize these a touch once the new Tumnus has been added.
Swaps : Foxpedal Kingdom Combo V2 | Wampler Tumnus Mini
Wishlist : Greer Amps Lightspeed | J Rockett Rockaway Archer | Side Effects Il Mostro
A significantly multi-purpose slot for which I have also had a change of mind on post NAMM - I was considering getting the Pigtronix Mothership 2 for quite a while, but now I think I prefer its newer quirkier sibling - the new Ringmaster is a Ring Modulator as such, but functions quite well as a modulated analogue synth - with lots of added bells and whistles - there's still a significant wishlist here, but as 2018 is my 'Year of Fuzz' - this slot is a little on the back-burner for a while.
Swaps : DigiTech Dirty Robot | Dr Scientist BitQuest
Wishlist : Alexander Pedals Colour Therapy | Alexander Pedals Syntax Error | EQD Data Corrupter | Iron Ether FrantaBit | Malekko Scrutator Bitcrusher | Meris Ottobit Jr Bitcrusher/Sequencer | Pigtronix Mothership 2 | Subdecay OctaSynth
At the start of the year I was all set to get and try out the brand new Ibanez Nu Tubescreamer - which uses Korg's NuTube technology, but reviews have been slightly lukewarm, and then along comes JHS with its 9-Tubescreamers-in-one pedal - which any Tubescreamer fan would love to possess - so my Tubescreamer slot will alternate between the Foxpedal City and the Bonsai - the former has a useful separate boost footswitch too - so both those are brilliant options here.
Swaps : Foxpedal The City V2 | Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini | OneControl Persian Green Screamer
Wishlist : Nobels ODR-1
So the Ethos TWE-1 is the first waiting list pedal I've gone for - I'm told it will be ready for despatch March or April - so a while off yet. In the meantime I have acquired the really smart Sinvertek No.5 Distortion pedal - which I use at really low gain. There's a couple of wishlist items for this slot too:
Swaps : MadProfessor Golden Cello | Mad Professor Simble | Sinvertek No.5 Distortion | Wampler Euphoria
Wishlist : Mojo Hand FX Extra Special OD | OneControl Golden Acorn ODS
I'm very satisfied with the Angry Driver for now - and not looking to switch that out any time soon. There are still a few wishlist items here for occasional swap-out though.
Swaps : EWS Little Brute Drive | Mooer Blues Mood
Wishlist : Analog.Man Prince of Tones | EQD Acapulco Gold | MI Audio Super Blues Pro | Rockbox Baby Blues
There were two surprise launches at the tail end of last year - the first was the unexpected Wampler Tumnus Deluxe - and totally from leftfield came Hamstead Amplification's first ever drive pedal - and what a special pedal this is. I had not expected to be replacing my OCD which I have always liked, but the Odyssey gives me OCD-style tones and much much more - so it's definitely a 'better' and more versatile pedal for me.
Swaps : Fulltone OCD | Mooer Hustle Drive
Wishlist : Fulltone Plimsoul
I really love this pedal and it will remain the mainstay of this slot with a few swap-outs for occasional use. I have it set to a really useful fuzz-inflected overdrive, as well as a superb full range Plexi-style distortion.
Swaps : Elektron Analog Drive | Pigtronix Disnortion Micro
Wishlist : BYOC Crown Jewel | Truetone Jekyll & Hyde
Another great pedal which I use as both a very low gain boost and a high gain Marshall-esque Distortion - not looking to add or swap anything here. Note that as before I have a mini Strymon footswitch here too - to give me one more level of boost.
I was pretty happy with the Catalinbread Galileo, but I wanted a little more brightness and sparkle from it and a little more volume - which the Emerald Green gives me and more. The Emerald Green is just a much more versatile pedal with a huge range along its Drive and Voice dials - and it does that boosted Vox sound really well. I decided a wile back too that I would use this slot for a couple of other Catalinbread foundation drive pedals which I really like - and which are on the wishlist. I've also added the excellent Bearfoot FX Model Hs to this slot - which produces a combination of exceptional HiWatt and Dumble tones.
Swaps : Catalinbread Galileo | Bearfoot FX Model Hs (HiWatt / Dumble)
Wishlist : Catalinbread RAH | Catalinbread Sabra Cadabra
This is an incredibly versatile amp-like pedal which I love and which will remain part of my setup for perpetuity - has a huge range of great tones. There are a few wishlist items here for occasional swap-out - plus the incredibly warm and rich Bogner Burnley too:
Swaps : Bogner Burnley Distortion
Wishlist : Keeley Filaments | Subdecay Vector | Wampler Sovereign
I still think the Super Crunch Box is the most versatile compact EVH pedal you can get - it has so many different voicing and such tweakability - I know it can be annoying for some, but tiny tweaks can make a significant difference. This should remain my main EVH for a while - I have nothing in mind to replace it, although there are of course a few wishlist items for occasional swap-out:
Swaps : Mad Professor 1 | OneControl Anodized Brown | Suhr Riot | Xvive Golden Brownie
Wishlist : Dawner Prince RedRox Distortion | JHS @ Andy Timmons + | MXR EVH 5150 OD | Ramble FX Marvel Drive 3 | Zvex Vertical Box of Rock
Another pedal I really love and for which there is no alternative out there - it's fairly similar to the Strymon Sunset in some ways, but that has no fuzz voicing. For the Chase Bliss Brother - the fuzz voicings are front and centre for me - used individually and in various combinations across the two channels. This pedal has no swaps or wishlist alternatives.
I've got heavily into fuzz over the last couple of months and this is the most frequently swappable slot in the pedal chain - with a whole heap of alternatives. The kind of all-rounder is my Foxpedal Defector - but I tend to alternate a lot with the JHS Muffuletta and ProAnalog Devices MKIV Fuzz - which is the current mainstay - there are lots of alternative swaps here and an equal number of wishlist items - so I've split out the mini formats to make it more legible:
Swaps : Catalinbread (Moseley) Fuzzrite | Catalinbread Katzenkonig | DR Scientist BitQuest | Foxpedal Defector | JHS Muffuletta |SolidGoldFX 76 Fuzz | Subdecay Harmonic Antagonizer
Mini Swaps : EWS Little Fuzzy Drive | KO Amps KOSound Fuzz | Lovepedal Bonetender | Malekko Omicron Fuzz | OneControl Baltic Blue
Wishlist : Amptweaker Tight Fuzz Jr | Analog.Man Sun Face Red Dot NKT/275 | Blackout Effectors Fubar | Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation | EarthQuaker Devices Erupter | Electro-Harmonix OpAmp Big Muff Pi JHS Mod | JDM Union Fuzz | Magnetic Effects Solar Bender | Magnetic Effects White Atom | Matthews Effects The Whaler Fuzz | Monsterpiece MKI | Monsterpiece PNP DLX | Spaceman Effects Gemini III | Stone Deaf Fig Fumb | ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud | Vemuram Shanks 4K | Wampler Velvet Fuzz
Minis Wishlist : JHS Foot Fuzz | Mythos Golden Fleece | Pigtronix Octava Micro
My 'Super Rat' High Voltage Frazz Dazzler still owns this slot - but there are a number of tasty alternative here too.
Swaps : BYOC Lil’ Mouse Mini | Catalinbread Antichthon | Foxpedal Wrath V2 | Mooer Black Secret Mini | Side Effects Woolly Mammoth 7 Clone | Subdecay Harmonic Antagonizer | Zvex Vertical Fuzz Factory
Wishlist : Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz | Old Blood Noise Endeavours Haunt | Rainger FX Freakenstein Dwarf Bleep | VFE Alpha Dog V2 | Zvex Fuzzolo
Similar in some ways to the Chase Bliss Brothers but no Fuzz voicing here - a superb Dual-Channel Multidrive pedal with a plethoral of tonal options.
Wishlist : Keeley D&M Drive | Suhr Eclipse Dual-Channel Drive
Another slot I've changed my mind on - I had thought to swap this out with a Dawner Prince RedRox - which is really a brighter more EVH style distortion - I really like the Xotic SL Drive here, and its most likely swap-out / alternative would be actually the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret.
Swaps : OneControl Purple Plexifier
Wishlist : Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret
I had initiall intended to swap this with the Dirty Shirley and make that the mainstay in this slot, but while I've gone in a slightly heavier direction - I've deviced to keep the BE-OD as my primary.
Wishlist : Friedman Dirty Shirley
I originally had the Wampler Dracrys in this slot and replaced with the far more versatile and quite superb Empress Heavy. Having recently gone down a slightly heavier direction I acquired the MI Audio Megalith Delta initially as a further alternative on this slot, but I so liked it - that it has a slot of its own! I'm still missing some MESA/Boogie representation in my chain and am toying with adding either a MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ or Wampler Triple Wreck for occasional swap-out on this slot.
Swaps : Wampler Dracarys
Wishlist : MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ | Wampler Triple Wreck
This pedal started out as an occasional swap-out for the Empress Heavy, but I so liked it I gave it a slot of its own! Nothing on the radar as an alternative swap out here.
The 2-Channel VH4-2 is still my favourite Extreme Distortion / Metal pedal - although it has competition from the Rockfabrik Mind Abuse and forthcoming Diezel Herbert pedal. I am also of a mind to acquire some Boss metal pedals at some stage including the Metal Zone of course - whether stock or modified is still to be decided:
Wishlist : Boss MT-2 Metal Zone | Diezel Herbert | Rockfabrik Mind Abuse
I've had a change of mind here too compared to the original 2018 year plan - considering my now Fuzz-focus and how much else is on the wishlist - I've decided to put off the acquisition of a TC Electronic Sentry until next year - the Boss NS-2 is serving me pretty faithfully still even though the Sentry has a few more options and Toneprint.
Wishlist : TC Electronic Sentry
I still love by modded Boss EQ - it serves me well in every way - if someone could do a clever slide-based parametric EQ in compact form factor I may consider it - but this one just works instantly and seamlessly - no reason to change currently.
Wishlist : WMD Utility Parametric EQ
I really love Chase Bliss pedals and am very happy to have the full analogue line of their modulation pedals - they are all fantastic even though there are aspects that could be considered fiddly for some players. Joel Korte launched a new brighter re-voiced version of the Warped Vinyl at the end of last year - it changes the Volume dial to a Sag control in the new version - where I actually use the Volume / Level dial quite a bit - so I am undecided as to whether I should or need to update.
Swaps : TC Electronic John Petrucci Dreamscape
Wishlist : Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi | Dawner Prince Viberator | DigiTech Nautila | DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 | Jimi Hendrix Univibe | Mooer Soul Shiver | Strymon Ola
A great analog Flanger with a really decent backup in the shape of the A/DA PBF Flanger.
Swaps : A/DA PBF Flanger
Wishlist : Alexander Pedals F-13 Neo Flanger | Mooer E-Lady | Strymon Orbit | Subdecay Stalight V2
All 3 of my current tremolos are excellent in their own way, not really looking to make any imminent additions although I have long wanted a Strymon Flint, and quite fancy the recent TCE Pipeline.
Swaps : Mooer Trelicopter | Stone Deaf Tremotron
Wishlist : Strymon Flint | TC Electronic Pipeline
Again 3 great phaser pedals with no pressing need for additions or alternatives - would quite like a Quasar DLX or PM and a Helix some day.
Swaps : Alexander Pedals La Calavera | MXR Phase 95
Wishlist : Subdecay Quasar DLX | Subdecay Quasar Phase Modulator | TC Electronic Helix
I’m very happy with my 2 current rotary pedals, although I do have a mind to add a Neo Instruments Ventilator / Mini and Strymon Lex at some stage.
Swaps : DigiTech Ventura Vibe
Wishlist : Neo Instruments Ventilator II / Mini | Strymon Lex
This is the second of the new slots on the pedal chain - the intention here is to accommodate various compact modulation pedals - like the TCE Dreamscape / Flasback 2 / HOF 2 or the Neunaber Inspire Tri Chorus, Boss TE-2 Tera Echo etc. I've often wanted to be able to add some distinctive flavours into the chain and it depends to a degree as to how useful the forthcoming Empress Zoia turns out to be and which areas might not be properly or easily covered - the one catch here is that this pedal has to be stereo where it's positioned within the chain.
Swaps : DigiTech Ventura Vibe
Wishlist : Boss TE-2 Tera Echo | Dawner Prince Viberator | Neunaber Inspire Tri Chorus | TC Electronic Flashback 2 | TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2
There's still much to be revealed about exactly what the Empress Zoia will cover and how easy it will be to use. I would not have both the Zoia and the MD-500 in the chain - I really like what I've seen of the Zoia - but the question is exactly how well it will work and what its weaknesses will be.
Swaps : Boss MD-500 | Strymon Mobius
Wishlist : Eventide H9 Max | Keeley Super Mod Workstation
The Empress EchoSystem is still the best all-round delay pedal out there as far as I'm concerned, although the Boss DD-500 is now hugely improved following its firmware update and would be worth high-level consideration too.
Swap-outs : Strymon TimeLine
Wishlist : Boss DD-500 | Keeley Delay Workstation | Meris Polymoon | Source Audio Nemesis | Strymon Deco | Strymon El Capistan | TC Electronic Alter Ego X4
I reckon this is still the one to beat as far as Reverb Workstations go. I would quite like the GFI System Specular Tempus for occasional swap-out and would also snap up an Empress Dual-Effect Reverb if and when they bring that out - to match the function of the EchoSystem.
Swaps : Strymon Big Sky
Wishlist : Empress Reverb | GFI System Specular Tempus | Meris Mercury 7 | Source Audio Ventris
The looper at the start of the chain is useful for tone-tweaking - while this main one at the end is for layering up loops to jam to! Would prefer twin-footswitches in a more compact form factor - but this pedal really works fine.
Swaps : DigiTech Trio+
Wishlist : Boss RC-3 | EHX 22500 | Pigtronix Infinity Looper
There's nothing out there that has quite the same magic as the Mimiq - particularly on stereo rigs - where it's genuine pixie dust for your output - a thicker, richer, sparklier and more dynamic and multi-dimensional full-spectrum sound!
As I state in the intro, this particular arrangement of pedals is somewhat intricate and complex, and would not work without having high quality patch cables and isolated power supply for each pedal in place. This is categorically a studio-style 'Pedal Chain' versus a portable pedalboard type of solution. It gives me a huge range of flavours that I can mix up any way possibly and switch on and off easily and instantly. Having the multiple pedal slots allows for pedal-placement at different positions for different ordering of pedal and quick switch out for unique flavours and textures.
The main elements of the board are settling down now though with generally less movement and upheaval, and my deciding to stick with certain permutations. I am currently particularly delighted with my traffic-light-trio of Emerald Green, Elements and Crunch Box - but in truth there are really no weak slots on the board. Certain slots I've decided that the mini pedal is the best choice for me, while other swaps may be on the back-burner to accommodate the various recent Fuzz pedal additions.
I am still really happy with my 12+ degrees of saturation - and in general the range and depth of tones that the current pedal chain covers. There have already been several challenges, trials and tribulations to overcome and there will surely be more in the future. Yet infrastructure-wise everything is in place to cope with a chain of this complexity. One thing I forgot to mention is the use of buffering in the chain - which is currently served by the fabulous multi-featured Prism, which also doubles as the main boost and the starting EQ.
I'm really looking forward to see how this looks at the end of the year, and how in particular I will have accommodated the Empress Zoia. I will of course keep you all posted on major developments.