I’ve been aware of the American Pedal Genie effects pedal rental service for a while now - chiefly because I follow Gearmanndude and he is often demoing pedals he got through Pedal Genie. I’m not sure if he’s got some sort of a special arrangement with them, but he obviously seems to land all the latest and greatest pedals with relative ease (perhaps he gets priority) - and I’ve taken many a steer from Gearmanndude including on the Spaceman Titan II Fuzz and the Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine.
So I’ve known about pedal rental services for several years, and have often checked on the Pedal Genie site in the hope that it would set up a UK offshoot at some stage. It seems now that ToneBuddy has beaten Pedal Genie to the punch on these isles, and it looks like it has likely something to do with Northern powerhouse Sound Affects Premier - which is also based in Ormskirk and on New Court Way - just a little further down the street!
Obviously ToneBuddy is a fledgling service, so it can’t be as all-singing and dancing as Pedal Genie is now - but there are some notable differences that should be mentioned.
The basic modus operandi is essentially the same - in that you create a wishlist of pedals you like the look of, and the basic service delivers one of those to you a month, and a replacement when you send it back via free return post. The main difference seems to be on the acquisition side - where some of the ToneBuddy pedals are ’Not for Sale’, and moreover if you like a pedal - you don’t get to pay and keep the one you have, but need to order a brand new one - at least that’s my read on it. By contrast - Pedal Genie allows you to buy all of its pedals at a discounted price - so you can very much buy the one you’ve played and you like the look/sound of it.
Here are the essential differences between the two services:
£30 per month or £300 for full year - for 1 pedal monthly delivery
Wishlist of 5 to 10 pedals, one pedal delivered each month, and another etc. upon included free-post return
ToneBuddy states over 500 pedals in collection
The site lists 426 pedals, across 48 brands
There does not appear to be an option to buy the pedal in your possession; several pedals are specifically 'Not for Sale' and prices quoted are RRP / full values. This to me seems both inefficient and inopportune.
$40 per month - Standard (£31) for 1 pedal delivery
Unlimited/undisclosed Wishlist of preferred pedals, one pedal delivered and returned / exchanged whenever you want to via included free-post - i.e. turnover of a few days possible
Pedal Genie also has 2 further options:
Pedal Genie site states near 2000 pedals from over 130 brands
Site lists 1975 pedals, across 132 brands
You can buy any of the pedals you try at a discounted rate - so if you like it - you just pay for it and keep it.
So obviously the older service here has a lot of advantages, and I feel that ToneBuddy is kind of missing a trick by not have the 'try-and-buy' mechanic in place like Pedal Genie does.
I am still encouraged by what's on offer by ToneBuddy - there are several pedals that I am interested in - but this obviously also competes with a different methodology - buying second-hand pedals on Reverb.com. In most instances there you can buy-and-try, and if it's not to your liking you can simply sell it on at the same price you acquired it at - meaning obviously some overhead costs in Reverb commission and P&P - but possibly comparable to what you would be spending on a pedal rental? Particularly at a rate of 1 per month equivalency. Some more unscrupulous sods actually try and do a Pedal Genie style exercise on Reverb.com by trialling pedals, and then concocting some excuse to return them so as not to incur further charges and overheads themselves - this is entirely despicable and should be punishable by eternal banishment - but it does happen - so beware!
For the more complex workstation style pedals you probably need a few weeks to do a proper analysis as to whether a certain pedal gels with you, but for fuzzes and overdrives - you should be able to discern within a few sessions - just a few days or hours even, so the 1 month turn-around rate does not make too much sense there - it's too long for most pedal transactions.
It is likely hat ToneBuddy has a limited range altogether - not just pedal types / models available but copies / numbers of each - they need to figure out what sort of inventory this service can sustain - so props to to them for giving it a go.
Where my thinking is right now - is that I'm still intrigued, but not quite sure that this is entirely something for me in its current incarnation. I still recall the days of Blockbuster Video - where you often had to wait several turns to get hold of some of the newest blockbusters - and this level of frustration is built into both Pedal Genie and ToneBuddy - if you have a wishlist of 10 fairly high-demand pedals, and if there are few quantities of each in stock - some people may get very frustrated indeed by never getting their pedal/s of choice - which is quite different to seeing something in stock at a store and available / accessible right now.
I still believe this sort of thing should be encouraged and supported - I'm still to decide whether this is the right approach for me. It would seem evident that with limited stock, ToneBuddy is kind of forced into 1 pedal per month - which is probably not sufficient for my needs.
I tend to do a lot of triangulation and research before I pin down a pedal, and I scan a wide variety of resources regularly with various tools - including of course Reverb.com and Ebay. Generally when I acquire a pedal I have put in the due diligence and I am very seldom disappointed with the outcome as I've primed myself to know what to expect. For those who are less scientifically inclined and would like to try before they buy - these pedal rental services are really useful - but I feel ToneBuddy really needs to adopt more of what Pedal Genie offers - so that you can buy the pedal you are trying - and at a discounted price...