My pedal chain has never sounded better, and it’s the closest it’s been yet to achieving my end game of having the perfect pedal in every slot. Of course some slots are more multi-use than others, and some have a plethora of exceptional pedals available for rotation. While many slots have pretty much permanent residents now too.
There has been a lot of movement in the first 10 slots, with really only the Tuner at #1 and Compressor at #7 holding firm for now. Even though the almost always-on Wampler Mini Ego does a perfect job for me, I’ve still decided that I will switch up to the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe - it offers a touch more tweakability within a larger near-compact enclosure. Everything else in the first row has seen one or more changes this year - actually the Jackson Audio Prism has been solid there for a while too.
I’ve been reading so much stuff about ’proper pedal placement order’ - fuzz vs wah vs compressor vs boost etc. (which should come first) that I ran a whole load of experiments with multiple variations of pedals. I have somehow always had the compressor after the boost and it just makes everything sound more crisp really and is the preferred position for me. I also had the first Fuzz slot before the Wah, but now I’ve moved it after the Wah, Octaver and Envelope Filter.
I also mostly use the two Strymon pedals for two distinct purposes - as sort of differently voiced treble boosters, as well as separate distortion voicings. Between the 2 Strymons I can cover / boost most of the other drive & fuzz pedals upstream and downstream. Having all those pedals in mostly ’12 Degrees of Saturation’ order also allows for amazing stacking possibilities. In fact the pedal chain is specifically set up to combine as many different effects as is practically possible. And yes I’ve considered the Line 6 Helix HX, but still like playing within these defined categories for now! I also really like my current mix of analogue and digital!
As much stated here and elsewhere - 2018 has been largely about fuzz pedals for me, and those are the type of pedal that overall I have the most different varieties of. There are 4 Fuzz slots in the chain which have around 40 different pedals for rotation. In fact, the Chase Bliss Brothers and Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler are pretty much permanent fixtures now - so there are 2 Fuzz slots which see all the action. And I do rotate quite regularly even though I have distinct favourites there are listed and visualised.
As is ever the case it’s often a fight between overall tone/sound and versatility. Where I tend to prefer pedals which are more tweakable and can offer more voicings. Ideally the perfect pedal does both - has the ’best’ sound and does the most interesting things with that core. An example in point is where in the above visual I have the Spaceman Sputnik in #5 and Spaceman Titan II in #19, where I often prefer to have the more voicings versatility of the 6-mode CTC Constellation in #5 and the super-versatile fluid multi-mode Shift Line Termofuzz at #19 as illustrated.
As it is, we are at circa 98% stability now - actually meaning that I’m only really looking to swap out 2 more pedals - namely swapping the Wampler Mini Ego to the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, and swapping out the Boss MD-500 for the forthcoming Empress Zoia. As before, nothing is concrete until it happens and there may be new choices presented at the forthcoming Summer NAMM which may send me off in a different direction or recommend themselves as more suitable alternatives for what I am after. Generally though I am really delighted with this current assembly of pedals. Which is currently 100% reliable and noise-free as such.
A big part in all of this is connections and power supplies - and I currently favour EBS Gold Flat Patch Cables and make use of 5 isolated power supplies - a 5 port Strymon Ojai, 7 port T-Rex Goliath Fuel Tank, 2 x 10 port Friedman Power Grids and a 9 port Strymon Zuma. Here I am thinking I may swap out the Goliath for another Zuma at some stage as it gives me more overall flexibility.
And flexibility and versatility are a huge part of the pedal-chain methodology - the ability to chop and change things around quickly and efficiently as is required. It’s a touch challenging to maintain this all, but then end results kind of justify the means in this case, and as far as I’m concerned, and I’m fully aware that this particular setup is a minority sport!
Here I've simply swapped out the two Spaceman Effects pedals for slightly more versatile multi-mode Fuzzes - namely the 6-voicings Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation, and the fluid-multi-voice Shift Line Termofuzz. But of course there are numerous other Fuzz pedals on fairly regular rotation here too - these just tend to be the most used currently.
I really love the TCE PolyTune Mini - sure it could do with a fraction more accuracy and dependency, but generally it serves me well the vast majority of the time. If I need a thorough tune-up I usually defer to my Roadie 2 Automated Machine Head Tuner. I'm still interested in checking out the Mini Sonic Research Turbo Tuner at some stage - but it's so far down my list of priorities that it may never happen!
I like both my CryBaby Mini Wah's - and may still get a Hendrix one and Wilison Mini Q-Wah if I can get them at a decent price. This slot is also used for Dunlop Q-Zone Fixed Wah, and would be for the DigiTech FreqOut whenever I get around to getting that. There are no pressing acquisitions for this particular slot - I'm very satisfied with what I have in place currently.
I already had the Mu-Tron Micro-Tron III Envelope Filter and when I spotted that its companion Octave down plus Ring Modulation Octave up Octavider was out, I jumped on that too. The Pigtronix Mothership 2 is a very capable pedal, but it's also very fiddly to operate/tweak and I do on occasion get inconsistent results with it. No such issue with the ever reliable Octavider - which is simple to operate and consistently sounds great. I can and also do swap out occasionally for the Dirty Robot, BitQuest, Miku Stomp or Sub 'N' Up - and there are various related pedals I still have my eye on - in particular a Modded EHX Nano POG.
NOTE - that the Mu-Tron Compact Octavider is so new that there is not currently a video for it, I can vouch though that it sounds identical to the much larger original unit demo'd in the above video.
Since I acquired the Mu-Tron Micro-Tron III, this has pretty much sat permanently in this slot - it has a great natural analogue tone as expected, and for whatever reason I haven't particularly gelled with DigiTech's Drop - compared to the Mu-Trons it has a distinct artificial edge to my ears at least. I do intend to get an EHX Pitchfork at some stage and a TCE Quintessence, and may still be in line for another more advanced envelope filter pedal - if Joel Korte ever makes one!
This slot actually started off in position #2 with a TCE Mini Ditto, but now gets mostly used as a Germanium / Sensitive Fuzz slot. I have also on occasion slotted in the MXR Mini Phase 95 here - but as you can see from all the alternatives available, this is mostly about Fuzz! My mainstays here are either the 6-mode CTC Constellation, or the rather unique Spaceman Sputnik.
So I was really happy with the Xotic EP Mini Booster for a while - until the exceptional Jackson Audio Prism arrived on the scene - that pedal is still largely unchallenged in what it offers overall, although the new ThorpyFX Team Medic comes pretty close - and has a 3-band EQ versus the Prism's Treble and Bass. That would be the only update I would want on the Jackson Audio Prism, but I am encouraged to try out the Team Medic at some stage - far from a priority though.
Everyone tells you that the Compressor should go at the start of your chain, but I find it sits best after my always-on Boost - it just makes everything sound crisper and more harmonically rich. With the compressor before the boost the sound is somewhat looser and flubbier. Here I started with the Xotic SP Mini Compressor, but then switch up to the slightly more controllable Wampler Mini Ego. I thought for a while that I would be happy to stick with one of the many flavours of Mini Compressor - which also includes the Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone Micro Optical Compressor and the Philosopher's Tone Germanium Gold Micro. Yet based on my wonderful experience with the Origin Effects RevivalDrive, I've decided I should really get their Cali76 Compact Deluxe here - which is one of just two remaining pedal-chain goals for the year, alongside the Empress Zoia.
So this has always been my sort of 'Klon' style slot, starting with the TCE MojoMojo and EHX Soulfoof JHS Mod, then Mini Tumnus and now Wampler Tumnus Deluxe with the Foxpedal Kingdom Combo V2 as understudy. Yet I have my eye too set on a quad of other slightly different overdrive pedals too - the Greer Lightspeed, Side Effects Il Mostro, Spaceman Aphelion and ThorpyFX Gunshot - all of which would provide amazing alternatives here. All are readily available apart from the discontinued Spaceman Aphelion - where I just need to find the right edition for me at the right price!
I'm delighted with my 2 main Tubescreamers - the 9-in-1 JHS Bonsai, and the all-rounder Foxpedal The City V2 - between them they give me all the Tubescreamer I really need, although I am also intrigued by the KHDK Ghoul Screamer and its Ghoul Jr equivalent. And I would also quite like to check out the Nobels ODR-1 at some stage - no hurry at the moment though.
This slot started with the Simble for the longest time, then occasionally the Golden Cello, then the Wampler Euphoria took over, then I tried the Bearfoot Model Hs, next the Sinvertek no.5 Distortion before settling on the Bogner Burnley for a while. The current primary is the super versatile Ethos TWE-1 which I like in a sort of medium overdrive/distortion. I'm a huge fan of harmonically rich pedals here and most of my favourites here have that wonderful rich texture. It has to be said also that I've kind of moved up the saturation scale somewhat from typical Dumble tones!
My first 'Blues Driver' as such was the Mini Keely Phat Mod Clone which is the Mooer Blues Mood, I then had the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver, which I used almost entirely in just Blues Driver mode, and now I've got my hands on a super rare Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded Blues Driver which is my favourite to date.
Until the Hamstead Odyssey materialised I thought nothing would shift the OCD from the prime slot, but the Odyssey (ODC?) gives you a flavour of OCD and so much more - giving you much more versatility from the same form factor. I still think I may want to check out a Plimsoul at some stage, but there's no hurry here either.
This was one of the big surprises of this year as I already really loved my Empress MultiDrive. Yet the RevivalDrive is equally versatile (bar Fuzz) and has even more harmonic content and texture to it. It has a slightly more complex control topology, but once you get used to it it's just an amazingly dynamic and harmonically rich overdrive and distortion pedal. Of course the MultiDrive is still there as a backup, and I have the Elektron if I want to go bigger, and the Disnoriton Micro if I want to go smaller!
I wasn't that impressed with Riverside when I first got it, but it so super versatile that I use it all the time. I use the panel settings as a sort of treble boost, and the favourite preset as a high harmonic distoriton - not too far away from the Brown Sound. In real pedal-order terms it comes before the RevivalDrive, while on the 12 Degrees of Saturation scale it comes after! I actually use it mostly to boost both upstream and downstream and it works really well for me.
I really wanted that Brian May sound, and the Catalinbread brought me close, while the Emerald Green Distortion Machine got me closer still - where I also have an amazing Vox voicing on the RevivalDrive. There are a couple more Bearfoot FX alternatives for swap-outs, and I've considered getting the 2 Catalinbread ones at some stage, but again that's not super pressing currently - I have plenty of Overdrive and Distortion variety already.
This has ended up being one of my pretty much permanent fixtures and there are various other alternatives that can be slotted in here when needed, but it just hasn't happened yet - I just really like the natural very slightly fuzz-tinged tone. There are a few pedals on the wishlist again, but nothing particularly pressing - The Elements does not look like it's going anywhere.
The Super Crunch is pretty much unassailable here - it's so versatile, and I have an incredible understudy in the Suhr Riot, while I also like the look of the newly improved JHS @ Andy Timmons +. I had also considered the Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe and MXR EVH 5150, but have kind of decided to hold to the compact form factor here - after all my pedal-chain is pretty packed as it is.
The Chase Bliss Brothers is another of my semi-permanent pedals, and has not moved from its slot since I got it - the rotational Fuzz slots tend to be #5 and #19 which see a whole load of action. For the Brothers I use it entirely as a fuzz with a boost or overdrive or double fuzz mixed in. I've previously mentioned also that Joel Korte could do a really cool Germanium / Silicon version with those different transistors on each channel in not too dissimilar a manner to the Spaceman Effects Gemini III. There's nothing else available at this form factor which is close to the Brothers.
This slot has the most alternatives and sees a lot of rotation with serial flavours of the month and equal perennials here. I'm currently splitting frontline duties between the super-versatile Shift Line Termo Fuzz and the Spaceman Titan II. Other notables include the ProAnalog Devices MK IV, ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud and Foxpedal Defector - in fact there's not really a weak one amongst these - they all have interesting flavours.
The Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler has been holding the line here for the longest time, and I can't see any long-term replacement for that, in the meantime there are lots of cool rat-stye alternatives here and slightly more oddball silicon fuzzes.
Much like the Chase Bliss Brothers there are some superficial similarities with routing and dual-channel etc. but overall these are actually quite different propositions and neither is really a swap out for the other, and both are strong in their own right. There are a couple of wishlist alternatives I have my eye on here, but again there's no pressing reason to change or swap out.
I had thought to swap this out for either the Dawner Prince RedRox or Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, but I actually really like the kind of darker Plexi-style sound of this diminutive pedal - it still sounds great to me when driven with 18V. I'm in no hurry currently to replace or add to.
The Friedman BE-OD was the undisputed champion here for the longest time, but the REVV G3 offers up the same kind of tight percussive heavy sound with more versatility via 3-Band EQ and 3-way voicing toggle. I still fancy acquiring the Friedman Dirty Shirley, although it's less pressing now, as is the Amptweaker TightMetal Jr.
The Empress Heavy Distortion is phenomenal and covers a very broad range of heavier styles, though it does not go quite as heavy as the Megalith Delta or the Diezel VH4-2. There are several other heavy alternatives I have my eye on - including the Bogner Ecstacy Red, Mesa Throttle Box EQ and Wampler Triple Wreck - but these are nice to have rather than essentials, and would all be understudies to the Empress Heavy.
This wonderful and oft overlooked pedal started as an alternative to the Empress Heavy, but was so good I gave it a slot of its own. It has wonderfully responsive tonal controls and its low range frequencies take into places that few other pedals can go. I have no plan to replace or augment this slot at the moment.
I've always been a Diezel Amps fan, and so it was almost invetiable that I would get the VH4 and later dual-channel VH4-2 model. The VH4-2 in particular produces an exceptional powerful metal tone which I dial up a little higher than the Megalith Delta which could possibly go even more metal if I required it. I have just a Modded Metal Zone as an alternative here, but do fancy the Diezel Herbert pedal as an alternative when it finally comes out, and the Rockfabrik Mind Abuse is pretty special too, albeit not dual-channel like the new Diezels.
I've tried a couple of Noise Gates now, but the Alchemy Modded Boss still stands the test of time - I've also been considering the TC Electronic Sentry, but am in no hurry to check that out as the Boss serves me really well at the moment.
I've still not found a better EQ for my needs than the Alchemy Modded GE-7 - it does everything I need and so well. I would quite like to have presets at some stage, and wonder why TC Electronic hasn't done a TonePrint enabled EQ pedal yet - possibly it's on its way. I also like the Empress Parametric EQ, but it's too large, so if I decided to go down that route I would take the more compact WMD Utility Parametric EQ instead.
All Chase Bliss Audio pedals are unique and different to anything else, and they're never quite exactly what you think they should be, but slightly off kilter and with a tonne of quirky features thrown on top. I love these pedals, and this form factor is my favourite pedal type - I did my own idealised version evolved from these, which had a smarter system of presets with secondary functions on dials too - but as it stands, no one cramms more into a compact enclosure than Joel Korte - each one of these is a mini masterpiece and rewards those who spend time tweaking - but obviously too much of an acquired taste and too much effort for some players.
I have 3 great analogue flangers here, and all are spectacular in their own way. I really liked the new EQD Pyramids stereo flanger too, but it's too large really and would not sit well within the flow of my existing pedal chain.
4 useful tremolos here with two exceptional ones at the top of the tree, I can't see or hear any better Tremolo Pedals in the compact form factor next to the Chase Bliss Gravitas and Stone Deaf Tremotron. I've always wanted a Strymon Flint, although that's not really essential to my chain anymore - and possibly I would rather go for a Supro Tremolo or the forthcoming Flower Pedals one, in fact the Swindler Effects Stereo Red Mountain Tremolo is another decent option - too many choices really!
I have thee phasers, two compact and one mini - which I occasionally use in slots 3 or 5 depending on what manner of effect I'm after. The Chase Bliss Wombtone is my main one with the La Calavera a really cool and quirky understudy. There are a number of other appealing phasers out there, with Subdecay at the front of the line with those - yet I'm not really looking to add anything currently.
I did a whole bunch of research before I landed on the Tech 21 Roto Choir - it had the best combination of tones and features for me in that category, although I still really like the Ventilators, and the Strymon Lex. In fact the Lex has been one of the longest-standing pedals on my wishlist, alongside the Wampler Triple Wreck - neither of which I've got around to acquiring yet. The compact DigiTech Ventura Vibe does not really compete adequately with the other stereo rotary pedals as far as I am concerned.
There were various reasons I was late to this exceptional multi-fx workstation, with one of the reasons being the control topology which I did not particularly rate - with and over-reliance on the App. Also obviously the price is a factor, but for this form-factor there is nothing else close - and I solved some of my control issues by adding a Barn3 Oxy9 footswitch enclosure and an additional Barn3 Tesla mini footswitch - meaning I now have 5 footswitches to control the pedal with - which makes it exceptional. it's first in line of the workstation effects as it also has drives, distortions and fuzzes onboard and just about anything else you might want. Control-wise though it's not as clever as say the new Line 6 Helix HX or forthcoming Empress Zoia, which I am thinking of swapping out the Boss MD-500 for.
I started off with the Strymon Mobius here, but mostly prefer the Boss MD-500 - in particular for its various Choruses and Envelope Filters - there are areas where one is obviously better than the other, and despite significant overlap, there are significant differences too - the Boss also being dual-parallel-effect enabled. I am very much thinking of getting the Empress Zoia as mentioned, which might mean I am looking for an additional Chorus Pedal - possibly something like the Neunaber Inspire Stereo Tri-Chorus or the EWS modded Arion SCH-Z Stereo Chorus or some modded Boss original! In any case I will carry on with the MD-500 and Mobius and most likely add the Empress Zoia as a primary, with the Keeley Super Mod as another alternative for occasional swap-out.
I am so happy with my Empress Echo System that I am unlikely to ever want to change, it really is the complete packgage for me and it has simultaneous dual parallel effect - nothing really comes close at the moment - possibly the Boss DD-500, although I prefer the control topology and form factor of the Empress. There are several others here that pique my interest, but I would be unlikely to buy anything additionally unless it had dual signal processors liek the Echo System and Boss DD-500.
I loved the Strymon BigSky, but my favourite presets overall were next on the dual parallel effects Boss RV-500, and now the Source Audio Venris also with dual effects processing is my favourite / preferred reverb pedal. I reckon if Empress did a dual effects version of its Reverb, then that would be under consideration too. As it is, the Ventris and the Boss RV-500 are a little ahead of the chasing pack currently, and the Ventris is easier to use, and has slightly more appealing algorithms overall, even though it cannot fully compete with the Boss's Space Echo! I've also had my eye on the Specular Tempus and Mercury 7 although those are alternative additions and would not really challenge the supremacy of the other big 3.
I really don't use this too much at the moment, although I am broadly satisfied with it, I feel its form factor is just too large for the functionality it provides. Either go more EHX and include more functions onboard, or reduce this down to a Chase Bliss Audio like twin footswitch compact enclosure! I like the Boss RC-3 for its form factor - but would realy want twin footswitches for better control!
This is yet another pedal in the chain which is unassailable - it's just pixie dust for your stereo rig - for home players it adds a wonderful enriching texture which just makes everything sound better - it's akin to 'mastering' within the recording process. In mono the effect is passably there, but in stereo it's wholly extraordinary. Anyone who is rocking a stereo rig at home should have one of these - it really does take everything up a notch.
As indicated in the above visual there are only 2 slots really that I'm looking to switch out the primary pedals of - namely the #07 Compressor - to Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, and #035 Stereo Multi-Modulation to an Empress Zoia, I will also be a little in the afterglow of this Year of Fuzz - so there are a few more of those I would quite like to add. I also want to complete my Trifectas or Quadectas of Spaceman and ThorpyFX pedals. Also the Lightspeed OD has been on the wishlist for quite a while.
Other than those, everything else is just gravy really - as always I will get some, skip a few and get something else or pass on altogether. In the vast majority of areas of the board the improvement would be minuscule - so I improve that which makes the most difference. Where that is at the moment is very much as illustrated. I've been doing this now for just a couple of years, and all the knowledge I've picked up along the way - myths, hearsay, stereotypes, cliches etc. I've pretty much tried to avoid them. I always stay focused on the positives and remain open to pretty much everything! The next blog will be about 2 years of Tone-Questing and the pedals I acquired and passed on along the way...