There’s no doubt that I’m a fan of the HM-2 format - and there are some very fine derivations of that circuit out there in all different shapes and sizes. Much like in many parts of my collection I try to assemble a carefully curated selection of the very best examples out there - and obviously there are plenty of new surprises evolving which keep you on your toes.
My original capsule collection was all set to have 7 classic pedals - while there have been a slew of great new entries - including most recently KMA Machines brand new Guardian of the Wurm. So I was encouraged to expand the selection to the 10 pictured - apologies to Carsten Pinkle for placing his Klirrton Grindstein on its side - but that was the only way I was going to be able to display all these within an optimal size arrangement.
The new additions are the Bardic Audio Devices HM Demon, Blackhawk Amplifiers Heimdall, and of course the recently featured KMA Guardian of the Wurm. I’ve still to finalise arrangements for those three new ones - while they’re all scheduled to be added to the collection pretty soon. I’ve been chasing Patrick Emmons for some months now to persuade him to release another batch of the Pedalboard-friendly Chaotic Evil Neds - while he’s obviously had other priorities. Hopefully the new batch will materialise soon enough - while it certainly did not make the cut-off point on this occasion - despite shifting the publication time back several times.
I’m down for getting the Blackhawk Heimdall - while I have various other priorities for Brooks Blackhawk’s pedals in advance of that. Finally, I’m still in talks with KMA Machines and Audio Distribution Group - to secure one of the Guardians of the Wurm.
Here follow the typical individual details below. Obviously in order of size and number of controls typically. While some accommodation has been made for symmetrical arrangement. A few people out there seem to be of the mind that the Boss HM-2W is no longer as valid - with so many extended-range versions currently on the market. While for me - the HM-2W is every bit as exciting as it ever was - and in its best version yet - no HM-2 format collection is complete without one - it’s still very much the beating heart of the genre - and should rightly be celebrated! :
Controls - Level, Distortion, Lows - Color - Highs, Clean-Blend.
Guillem Vilademunt is a dear friend of mine - a racing engineer by day, and a superior pedal circuit engineer by night. He really excels at creating identical sound-signature pedals in tiny enclosures - crammed to the brim with the highest quality THT components. I've often cited him as the state-of-the-art for Mini Pedals - alongside other good friend Dave 'Pickdropper' Friesema. And his excellent Mini HM-2 clone sounds every bit as visceral as the original. It's a real joy to stomp this one on and witness those immense killer twin peak distortion tones coming our of such a tiny box. The latest version adds a Clean Blend mini-knob onto the pedal's left-hand side - which makes it even more granular and versatile. This is a marvel of miniature engineering and for me near enough every bit as essential as the HM-2W. It's diminutive size makes it incredibly practical and versatile for fitting into the tiniest of footprints.
Controls - Level, Lows - Color Mix - Highs, Distortion, Mode : Standard / Custom.
This has been featured a lot recently both on its own, and as part of the Waza Craft Collection Selection. I feel this is an improvement over the original in every area - and the dimed-out Standard Mode is every bit as viscerally exciting as it ever was - the very epitome of that Swedish Death Metal / Chainsaw Distortion sound. The Custom Mode adds more range to each of the 4 knobs and beefs things up further - where I titled my chose preset there as 'Doom Thunder' - an incredible Bass-Heavy Wall of Sound for my preferences. Every proper HM-2 fan should have one of these at the core of their collection - without it your HM-2 Capsule just isn't fully representative! This is still a fantastic option for this sound.
Controls - Low, Mid, High, Level, Focus (Twin Peak Shift), Gain.
Dmitry Trofimov's take on the circuit has been in the collection for quite a while. It has a very clever mix of controls - including full 3-band EQ, and a Twin Peaks Focus / EQ-Shift knob which allows you to move the Twin Peaks Distortion Profile up and down the frequency scale - whether to accentuate it further or temper it somewhat. This is a really smart take on the genre and remains as a somewhat underground option based largely on how difficult these are to get hold of, as Dmitry makes them in fairly unfrequent small batches - well worth snagging one though ig you're lucky enough to come across it!
Controls - Frequency Low, Frequency Mid, Frequency High, Low, Mid, High, Volume, Distortion.
This is funnily enough the more compact pedalboard-friendly version of the Chaotic Evil Ned - where the limited-edition original was around 3 times the length with 3 further knobs - which allowed you to set Resonance also per each of the 3 frequency bands - for a total of 11 controls. The PBF CEN does without those 3 knobs and shaves off 2/3rds of its former length! I tried hard to persuade Patrick Emmons to make another batch by the cut-off date for this article - I've been checking in on him for the last 3-4 months - while he's not been of a mind to oblige yet. I will look to snap one of these up as soon as he consents to doing another batch. Having full 3-band Parametric EQ for the HM-2 is undeniably cool.
Controls - Gain, Distortion, Clean (Blend), Low, Mid, High, Low Freq, Mid Freq, Clean Blend Post/Pre.
It wasn't just my waiting for an Abominable PBF CEN to become available again - which was instrumental in delaying this article - I was also waiting for a demo of this excellent new HM-2 variety by relative newcomer Tim Nowak. In fact I've acquired two of his pedals recently - this one, and his forthcoming Thunderclap V3 which is essentially a Bass-player's Rat style circuit married to a Clean Preamp. It was fortunate that I held out - as the demo went live just the day before this scheduled publication! This has the most controls of all these compact versions featured - with no less than 9 - comprised of 6 knobs and 3 toggle-switches. The first switch of which 'Low Freq' allows you to select between 60 and 100Hz, then the Mid Freq is 250 or 500Hz, and the final switch sets where the Clean Blend comes in the circuit - Pre or Post gain stage. Each of the frequency bands is an active EQ with ±15 of boost/cut. Note also that the High frequency control boosts and cuts at 1.2kHz. This is another really smart execution of the circuit with really refined controls. The added bonus here is that great artwork and symmetrical arrangement, and the fact that the Demon's eyes light up! The demo really shows how versatile this particular variant is - with so many great tones onboard - besides the typical dimed-out Swedish Death Metal signature. This pedal is well worth seeking out - and I'm delighted to have snagged one from the very first batch!
Controls - Volume, Terror (Gain), Highs, High Mids, Low Mids, Lows, 4 x Frequency trim-pots and 3-way Mode dip-switches.
Even with its new larger and more feature-heavy Guardian of the Wurm sibling, the Wurm / WurHM is still very much a valid choice with its 4-Band EQ, and internal trim-pots which deliver 4-Band Parametric EQ essentially. It's obviously significantly more compact than its sibling - which makes it more versatile and easily placeable within a pedalboard or pedal-chain. Moreover you get 3 different voicing modes - an Authentic Replication, Enrico's Evolved Take on the signature profile, and a combination of the both. This has always been one of the finest HM-2 options out there - and is really in a different category to the super-sized Guardians of the Wurm and Klirrton Grindstein. Depending on how my rig - pedal-chain is set up - I may well have the CBA Preamp MKII back in its main slot - which means I cannot deploy the largest HM-2 variants - and where the mid-size box is he maximum that the pedal-chain can otherwise accommodate. I am so happy I landed the limited edition WurHM - and even though it does now sit somewhat in the shadow of its larger Guardian of the Wurm sibling - it will still remain the more practical go-to choice for many players.
Controls - Level, Silicon/Germanium Clipping, Gain, Presence, High, Low, Mid, Clean Mix, Vintage Footswitch, Modern Footswitch.
Many, and I among them, consider Joe Anastasio's Lone Wolf Audio Left Hand Wrath another total essential within this genre. I believe it's about the longest-lived clone, or at least the most celebrated these many years, and has graced various formats and configurations. Most players' favourite is this BB-size edition with now 7 standard knobs - where the earlier editions did not have the central Clean Mix knob - as in fact is the case for the attached demo. There are some really smart controls here which give you clipping options and Vintage and Modern playback modes selectable via the two footswitches. This pedal has changed format so many times, and in fact there was another new design on the drawing board just after I acquired this one. I still largely feel that no HM-2 collection is complete without one of these - while there are some detractors out there that don't seem to appreciate Joe's efforts quite enough. For me this is for sure another classic of this genre.
Controls - Treble, High-Mids, Midrange Boost/Cut, Bass, Volume, Clean Blend, Mid Frequency, Gain.
I've fast become friends with Brooks Blackhawk in my recent explorations of his range of killer pedals. He specialises in really textured, chunky, sludgy high gain fuzzes and distortions and I've acquired three of his already (Balrog, Basilisk, and Fellbeast), with the Heimdall still on my acquisitions list with at least another 3 or 4 key varieties. As is my way I explore deep within a builder's range and look to pickup all the most pertinent signature varieties - of which Brooks has a lot! This is a suitably full-on take of the HM-2 format - in his usual highly visually appealing tribal / runic style - where he hand-engraves all those designs with a customised version of Dremel type tool. Style wise this is a mix of Native American Symbolism and Viking Runes - which obviously appeals enormously to my ancestry - or at least the Icelandic half. I had long intended to get stuck into Brooks' pedals - but had other commitment and priorities to see to first - it's going to be really exciting exploring the range, and no doubt the Heimdall will be in place in due time - alongside likely an Asgard, Mithrandir, and Valhalla - and perhaps even a couple more. The Heimdall is another really superb take on the HM-2 format.
Controls - Gain, Low, Lo-Mid, Hi-Mid, High, Gate, Clip Diode : Asymmetrical / Silicon, EQ Style : HMII / Both / KMA, Master (Volume), Low Freq, Lo-Mid Freq, Hi-Mid Freq, High Freq, (Clean) Blend, Internal : Distortion Level, Clean Volume, Gate Response, Trigger Source, Input Filter.
It's great to see that Germany is responsible for the two most monster extended-range HM-2 pedals - which each has a very distinct approach to enhanced shaping of that celebrated Twin Peaks Distortion. The KMA Guardian of the Wurm - approaches it from the supreme Tone-Shaping angle - providing fully externalised and surface accessible 4-Band Parametric EQ - with added Clean Blend, and Dynamic input and side-chain trigger Noise Gate. It gets you to the same sorts of incredible textural results as the former singular reigning champ - the Kilrton Grindstein - while it achieves it by an entirely different means. I really love both approaches here. In terms of versatility and variability there is very little than can compete with the Guardian of the Wurm and its 14 exterior controls, 2 internal trimmers, and 3 dip-switches. You can simply go places here that you cannot acheive anywhere else and you have an incredible tone-shaping environment to get the exact tone and texture of Swedish Chainsaw per your own exacting demands. I love the artwork on this and all the features - of course I wish it could be smaller, and I may have preferred it in vertical orientation as the width / girth of a pedal will always be the major limiting factor in pedalboard / pedal-chain placement. Note that there have been some slight component supply issues which have though not majorly impacted the delivery time of this pedal - where pre-orders should start materialising in around 2-3 weeks. I had hoped to have one of these fully secured by now, but circumstance beyond my control have caused some interference to that process. It should be fully back on track within the next couple of weeks, and I should be able to report back on first impressions not long after if all goes according to plan.
Controls - Chainsaw : Midcut, Grind, High, Universal : Boost, (Channel) Mix, Master (Volume), Phase (Inversion), BottomShaker : Gain, Bass, Treble, Internal :Send Level, Return Level, Chainsaw Level, Boost On/Off.
This was the original super-size champ, and is the dearest in this selection. This was my first proper big box HM-2 and I really love its approach to ultimate texture generation - using two highly complementary gain channels - where one delivers the Twin Peaks Chainsaw distortion, while the Bottomshaker Preamp balances that with some considerable low-end heft. Essentially you set each channel to your preferences, and then blend to taste. Even though this has just 10 controls to the Guardian Of the Wurm's 14 and more expansive EQ, the Grindstein never the less delivers just as impressively textured distortion in its own way. Both approaches here are brilliant, and really work. This pedal for sure has a big footprint - in fact same size as the Guardian of the Wurm pretty much - just in a slightly better orientation, and therefore with more lateral compatibility. From my perspective there really is very little difference in how impressive the results of this are versus the Guardian of the Wurm - they both deliver exceptionally richly detailed distortions - where some players may very likely prefer one approach to the other. While for me both these approaches work superbly and deliver similarly high-end results. You will need to decide for yourself whether you prefer the Guardian to the Grindstein as I'm declaring them pretty much equals at the very top of the HM-2 tree. Of course most of you won't need both like me - while I feel I need to own both varieties to have a fully representative HM-2 Capsule Collection!
What you get here will typically depend on your own circumstances, and how much pedalboard real-estate you have ar your disposal. I really love having the different size of formats - as I chop and change my pedal-chain every week - and when you apply a new larger pedal to the chain - you loose lateral accommodation for other formats - so if you go with something larger on slot A, you often need a smaller variant to fit in on slot B. The more compact sizes give you a lot more flexibility too where you can place pedals more freely within your signal chain.
I feel each of these 10 is an essential benchmark for the capsule collection - and with all 10 here I would be wholly and fully representing the best of what's available in the HM-2 genre. The new HM-2W is most definitely valid as the heart and soul of the collection, and the other varieties significantly expand on that range, versatility, and variability.
I don't think anyone would be disappointed with any of these - obviously the larger ones take a little more patience and due diligence - but nothing here is particularly tricky to deploy.There are lots of other valid options out there too - these ones here are just my own preferred favourites - where I initially set out just trying to capture Black and Orange variants - wile that has slightly deviated as was sensible in the end.
7 here are fully absorbed into the rotation and all put in regular appearances - where the HM-2W, Left Hand Wrath, and Grindstein have had a lot of action recently - and with the HM Demon due to have a significant innings. I will aim to get the remaining three within the next few weeks or so - while I obviously need to wait for more Abominable PBF CEN's to become available - which may not happen any time soon!
Are any of your favourites amongst these. And are you planning to acquire some more in the near future?