It’s been well over a year now since I did my first head-to-head comparison between industry standard Pedal Rental / Subscription Service - Pedal Genie of the USA, and the then fledgling Tonebuddy sort of UK equivalent. I may have been a little harsh on Tonebuddy as it was really just starting out, and its scale of operation did not really allow it to provide as close a service to Pedal Genie as it might have liked.
I’ve actually been meaning to do this update for a while - as much has changed in the interim, and the Tonebuddy proposition is significantly stronger now than it was at the time of my first review.
Let me state first that the above visual is a confection of my own making - and I put Tonebuddy into a similar format to Pedal Genie so as to better compare the two services - while in reality their styling looks quite different on their respective sites. At their core though you would have to say these are now very similar services, although there are still some key differences.
For both of them you obviously start by selecting a service level / subscription type, and then you compose a wishlist of between 5 and 10 pedals you would like to get your hands on. Having not participated in this sort of thing I would imagine though that a sort of ’Blockbuster Video Rental’ paradigm reigns here - in that the popular new pedals will most likely be almost permanently out on loan and very difficult to get hold of - so you need to factor that into your considerations.
Also for each of those sites to be viable - they need suitably significant quantities of pedals to be in circulation - which can exclude some of the more select boutique brands form participation typically - while there are still some real finds and rarities to be had here that you might not have expected to see - but generally we are mostly talking about bigger brands and more generally available pedals.
So you compose your wishlist - and depending on whatever priority weighting is employed you then get put in a queue for a particular pedal or pedals - which will depend on the service tier you have signed up for.
Pedal Genie and Tonebuddy both have 3 not altogether dissimilar tiers but with some variation:
Pedal Genie Tiers :
Tonebuddy Tiers :
So essentially the standard and top tiers here are somewhat similar - with each service offering a different / distinct third choice as such. I guess the degree of satisfaction here depends on how long you have to wait for each of your properly preferred primary choices, and how long you are prepared to put up with getting mostly your secondary or tertiary and below choices.
Much of this has to do with the library of pedals available - not just the number of types - 2,000 vs 500, but how many copies of each are available - which is not really documented. Obviously there is also a transitional period - from when you send back your pedal back and until you get your new one sent out to you in return. This degree of latency will significantly impact on overall customer satisfaction, I would have thought there would be around 3 key criteria to consider :
Pedal Genie has some advantages here in volume of scale - but I would like to hear more from users of these services as to what they best like and dislike about these services. Tonebuddy has obviously come a long way in the interim and there’s nothing wrong with its service provision at the moment. The one key difference that still exists as far as I understand is that with Pedal Genie you get the choice to buy the pedal you actually have for trial - at a discount. While for Tonebuddy - if you like the pedal you are trialling, you need to still send that back, and buy one separately from the store - albeit for a 10% discount. We all know that Tonebuddy is another / different outlet for northern powerhouse - Sound Affects Premier - which I deal with quite regularly and have had nothing but great consumer experiences to report.
In terms of fluidity of service I feel that in some ways the Pedal Genie model may be slightly slicker - but there are pros and cons here on each side and some will prefer getting a brand spanking new box / unboxing experience, while others may prefer to hold onto what they’ve got - as for certainly pedals there can be a slight degree of difference as to how they are calibrated and therefore how they sound by default.
I had thought that these Pedal Rental Services would have been a great shout for these days of Coronavirus self-isolation - but they have to contend with ongoing delivery issues / slowdown. And I noted that Tonebuddy did not appear to be taking on any new customers for a while - but seems to be back to normal now. There is no doubt that Covid-19 has introduced some restrictions to business as normal. The US Postal Service and Royal Mail are taking far longer to deliver packages these days - so there are obviously issues with national postal services in most countries, while other courier services seem to be a lot less significantly impacted.
As my own personal pedal collection steadily creeps towards 500 specimens - it indicates really that these pedal services are not necessarily tailored to my own specific needs. I have a tendency to deal with quite a lot of boutique builders which are by and large not catered for by these services - although there are some notable exceptions to that rule.
I really think these sorts of services are actually best used by relative newbies - who are trying to find a direction / feel their way forward - and who really need to trial a number of different options without having to commit immediately or fully to any single one. Some other people simply make use of Reverb.com and in effect have their own commercial flipper workflow or swap-shop - while there are more risks to that approach - while also more freedom to a degree in selecting and receiving the exact pedal of your choice from absolutely any pedal-builder worldwide.
I still remember very well the old 'Blockbuster' / video-rental paradigm - where the most popular choices were always difficult to pin down for pretty much the first month or two of release - every copy would just be almost permanently out on rental - and you had to get friendly with the store-assistant to ensure you got a priority place on the alerts / waiting list. It's no wonder Netflix took off like it did - everyone can access the latest releases immediately and without enduring a queuing system - unlike for physical products.
Everyone I know who has used these pedal rental services to-date has had a fairly positive experience, while I don't know yet how Coronavirus is fully impacting these currently (with supposedly unreliable deliveries). I've said before that I've been aware that Gearmanndude has used Pedal Genie quite successfully over the years, but then again I don't know if he gets special consideration / priority - as he typically seems to get the latest and greatest pedals before most.
I feel these are generally great resources - and in particular for those players who are less sure of themselves and where they want to be going with their effects / pedalboard. For more experienced pedal aficionados it's a 50/50 sort of situation as to whether this is pertinent. Again you need to factor in that Pedal Genie has 4 times as many choices as Tonebuddy - which is significant, but then again Pedal Genie will always have an advantage as the vast majority of pedal brands still emanate from the USA - and the second largest producer - Japan is much closer to the USA than the UK.
I am heartened to see the improvements made by Tonebuddy - and in all but scope and scale I feel these are now fairly evenly matched services at their core. I'm not going to dwell on the pricing too much - it is near enough equivalent - given differences in local taxes etc. You need to decide for yourselves whether the numbers add up. You also need to factor in that you may be able to acquire the actual pedals you want for a better price than available even with the discounts on those two services. For someone at my level I would certainly be needing the 3 Pedals option - or say $70 / £75 per month - which actually adds up to a lot of potential pedal acquisitions over the year. I rarely make a mistake on my pedal acquisitions nowadays - in fact over the years there has only been one pedal really that I kind of regret acquiring - and that is something of a marginal call.
So in short - this will be an amazing tool / service / utility for some players - but probably more for newbie / less experienced types largely. I think there may be a gap in the market for a Pedal of the Month style members club too - like one of those record collector clubs of old - where you pay a monthly fee and get sent the monthly recommended choice - probably again makes no particular sense for the better networked individuals - as they will likely have a direct line to most of what they like / need.
I certainly feel that this is a fantastic solution for many players - and particularly useful if you're trying to figure out the best path forward. There's quite a lot of idiosyncrasy in pedal selection - where sometimes you prefer more knobs, and sometimes less - it really depends on the pedal and the context - which is why I think the Triple choice is pretty cool as you can do a proper head-to-head test in deciding what best suits your needs - winner stays on sort of - and you just keep matching up the alternatives until you have a clear winner!