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The 3 Pedal Challenge - Ultimate Range, Versatility and Variety at the key enclosure sizes

Big Ear PedalsBoost and OverdriveBossChase Bliss AudioDelayDistortionDriveEchoverbGFI SystemHorizon DevicesKeeley EngineeringModulationModulation WorkstationMooerMulti-DrivePigtronixReverbSource Audio+-
2021GPX3PedalChallenge700V3.jpg

The 3 Pedal Challenge was in constant circulation last year on a variety of discussion groups, and I’ve kind of been biding my time in the hope I would have more options to choose from by now, but there has been no significant addition this year to unseat any of my established selections.

 

There are various ways to go about the 3 Pedal Challenge - where some individuals simply just select their 3 favourite pedals - without any particular rhyme or reason. While for me it’s a matter of getting the most variety and versatility out of each pedal and combinations - to the maximum potential available at that size.

 

To those ends, I’ve selected 4 groupings of Multi-Drive + Multi-Modulator + EchoVerb pedals at the different enclosure size formats. I will also mention other valid alternatives that come to mind - as I detail each grouping in order of size :


Mini : Pigtronix Disnortion Micro + Mooer Mod Factory MKII Mini + Mooer EchoVerb Mini

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I was mostly hoping that Mooer would have a proper EchoVerb unit out by now in its 7 Series Mini Range - but that hasn't happened. I've gone for the Pigtronix Disnortion Micro as the Drive unit - with its 6 different EQ modes, and parallel and series routing for the most options for Fuzz, Drive and Distortion in a mini pedal. The Modulation unit here is the Mooer Mod Factory MKII - with its 11 Modes, and the Mooer EchoVerb is the shoe-in on Delay + Reverb duties. Truth is there's not that much action / alternatives at this level, most of the boutique mini brands concentrate on specialist rather than general applications - and obviously circuit complexity and scope of controls are limited by the mini enclosure form-factor. I feel that this group is pretty perfunctory - you can get some decent sounds out of these 3, but this mini chain can't really compete with the more capable larger units. I can't think of any suitable substitutions here - if you feel I've overlooked something - by all means let me know!


Compact : Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage + Big Ear Albie + Horizon Devices Flux Echo

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I start off here with a long-term favourite of mine - the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage Multi-drive - with its two blendable channels of Boost, Overdrive and Fuzz. As alternatives you can also consider the Dr Scientist The Elements, Sinvertek N5+, Subdecay Vector 11 Mode Preamp, Tsakalis Six Boost, Overdrive Distortion - and of course the Flamma FS06 Preamp all spring to mind, possibly the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver also - with its parallel Blues Driver and JCM800 voicings.

 

I still have a lot of love for the Big Ear Albie 80's Ambient Multi-Modulator - it's simply so easy and fun to deploy with just 2 control knobs. There are at least 6 more compact Multi-Modulator pedals that come to mind as alternatives here - including the Alexander Pedals Wavelength, Mad Professor Double Moon, Muza FD-800 Modulation, Nux Mod Core Deluxe, Southampton Pedals Utility Knife Modulator, TC Electronic The Dreamscape, ZCAT Q-Mod, and Flamma FS06 Modulation. Many of us had also hoped that Walrus Audio would have released a Mako Series Modulator by now. I'm pretty sure that will materialise at some point in the future - but not quite for a while yet.

 

As for a Stereo Delay + Reverb pedal with second Tap-Tempo footswitch, only the recent Horizon Devices FluxEcho springs to mind. There are other compacts which mix up Delay and Reverb - like the Boss TE-2 Tera Echo, EQD Dispatch Master, Keeley Caverns V1 and Wampler Ethereal, while those are mostly mono and/or lacking in onboard tap-tempo which is pretty much a must for me.


Medium : Boss OD-200 + GFI System Synesthesia + Source Audio Collider

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The Boss OD-200 is a great Multi-Drive pedal with lots of really decent voicings onboard and being able to combine 12 different drive types and 15 boost types in both parallel and series. Mine gets in fairly regularly on the rotation, albeit a little less since I acquired the GT-1000 Core which actually has overall more flavours that you can combine in similar fashion - but with even greater granularity. I did an article back in May of last year about suitable Multi-Drive alternatives - which include the Keeley D&M Drive, Lovepedal Box of Awesome (OD Eleven + Kalamazoo), Strymon Sunset Dual Overdrive, and the V1 edition fo the Wampler Dual Fusion (Paisley Drive + Euphoria) which is the same sort of vertical BB style form factor.

 

The key Medium Multi-Modulator Pedals include of course my favourite - the GFI System Synesthesia - with the Boss MD-200, Empress Nebulus, Eventide H9 Max, Keeley Super Mod Workstation, and Wampler Terraform as suitable alternatives. Generally I tend to favour the Synesthesia, Terraform and H9 in this selection. I do intend to snag a Terraform at some stage for sure - with its perfect combination of Modulation algorithms. There was always an expectation here that Source Audio would eventually deliver a Multi-Modulator in the same format as the Nemsis, Ventris and Collider, but that has not happened yet.

 

The Source Audio collider would seem the best candidate for mid-size-box EchoVerb - probably the EQD Avalanche Run just sequeezes in here, alongside the Flamma FS22 EkoVerb, Hungry Robot The Wash V2, KMA Audio Machines Cirrus, and NUX Atlantic Delay and Reverb - all of which have dual footswitches including tap-tempo. The Keeley V2 Caverns would be in my selection if it just had tap-tempo - while it's dual footswitches just simply activate the Delay and Reverb Channels. Note also that the Eventide H9 Max has some EchoVerb algorithms - but really just a couple or so - which may not be enough!


Large : Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII + Boss GT-1000 CORE + Keeley Delay Workstation

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We start off here with one of the most perfectly formed pedals of all time - the Chase Bliss Audio Autmatone Preamp MKII made in collaboration with Benson Amps. Super versatile, intuitive, highly visual and super fun to deploy and also with easy set and recall presets - accept no substitutes. In fact the only decent full-range alternative here is the BYOC Crown Jewel - but that has no presets at all.

 

The Large Multi-Modulion is really the story of my slot #34 where I've been though the Strymon Mobius, then Boss MD-500, then Empress Zoia, GFI System Synesthesia and currently Boss GT-1000 CORE. Pretty much all the key Modulation Workstations of note. I really hope that Boss issue a firmware update for the CORE - where they add in all those classic 500-series algorithms currently missing. It's an oversight I really don't understand as the main competitor - the Line 6 Helix HX Stomp is so far ahead in its number of Algorithms and Options - very strange for Boss to be deliberately limiting the appeal of this pedal!

 

For actually large-scale EchoVerb units - those are actually really very rare - which offer equal numbers of those Delay and Reverb algorithms for fully flexible combination - and with tap-tempo footswitch etc. The only ovbious candidate here is the Keeley Delay Workstation - which you could also argue was close enough to Medium size dimensions to be accommodated there. And while you have Reverb + Delay algorithms on say the Boss RV-500 and Empress EchoSystem, and EchoVerbs like the Boss RE-20 Space Echo and Strymon Volante - none of those are really equally split Delay + Reverb effects like say the Source Audio Collider. There is also the GFI System Specular Tempus - but that again doesn't really allow you to mix up entirely separate Delays and Reverbs any which way - definitely a gap in the market therefore.


Final Thoughts

When doing the due diligence on my selections there were certain key criteria in place where possible - and impossible in fact to apply those same ones at the Mini size - hence the limit in scope of those smallest units. I was generally ideally looking for some sort of presets for easy switching - stereo ins and outs where possible and practical, dual footswitches - including tap-tempo for the EchoVerb and easy granularity, reproducibility and quick start up.

 

I feel that each of my selections stands up to scrutiny, while some are obviously slightly stronger than others. I would love to hear what your choices would be in the same circumstance and the rationale behind those decisions.

 

Generally the pedal world keeps innovating and improving - yet there are still plenty of gaps in the market. In truth I did the visual several months ago in the hope that there may have been other choices that materialised - but as you can see - all those choices are from 2020 and before!

 

Let's hear about some of your 3 Pedal Challenge selections!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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