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What Two Years of Tone-Questing Looks Like - Acquisitions, Passes and Still Probables

Big Muff Style FuzzBoostBoost and OverdriveBossChorus and VibratoCompressorCryBabyDelayDelay WorkstationDigital DelayDigital ReverbDistortionDriveDual-DriveDunlop EffectsDunlop UltexElectro-HarmonixFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGuitar AccessoriesGuitarsKatanaMarshall Style DistortionModulationModulation WorkstationMulti-DriveOverdrivePaul Reed SmithPicks and PlectrumsPitchPRSReverbReverb WorkstationS-Style and Double-Cut GuitarsStrymonUtilityVolumeWah and Fixed Wah+-
2016AfBlgToneQuest700-min

As stated elsewhere, I got back into guitar again in September 2016, and initially had decided to keep it simple with a great guitar and a cool modern modelling amp. Yet I soon found out that this was not delivering the goods for me and decided in November 2016 that I should pursue the pedal / stompbox route also known as ’pedal platform route’.

 

A very great number of YouTube videos I watched in those early days, as well as pedalboard pictures on Pinterest featured Strymon pedals - in particular the Stryfecta of Mobius, TimeLine and BigSky - so I was kind of exposed to those early on and won over by them.

 

When I started looking into pedals therefore Strymon was very much in the picture, and I read a number of their features and blogs - from where I first evolved the above infographic - featuring a PRS Limited Holcomb guitar, Dulop Ultex Pick, Boss Katana Amp, a number of Boss and Strymon Pedals, and an EHX Big Muff Pi Deluxe.

 

It was early days then, and I knew I wanted all the pedal types featured, but beyond guitar, amp and Stryfecta I had not really figured out exactly what I wanted yet.


The First Pedal-Chain Outline

The First Pedal-Chain Outline

Front and centre here as before are the Stryfecta of Mobius, TimeLine and BigSky - there's also another slew of pedals that I ended up acquiring - the Strymon Riverside and Boss GE-7 and NS-2. For the others here these were really just placeholders more than anything else as I was very much still in deep research and consideration mode.

 

I know I wanted / needed a Compressor, Fuzz, Overdrive and Distortion - I had been watching quite a lot of 'That Pedal Show' videos at that stage which put me onto the tube-powered Kingsley Jester and GigRig G2 Looper Switcher / Midi Controller. I also have a very large Boss Volume Pedal here and a full-size Dunlop CryBaby 535Q which considerations were relatively quickly dropped for more compact alternatives.

 

The EHX Deluxe Big Muff Pi is really just carried over from my original pedal plan / outline - I still knew very little about fuzzes in general. Of these 13 pedals I ended up acquiring just 6 - or slightly under half the number - while the Wampler Triple Wreck is still on my active wishlist and will likely happen at some stage in the future.

 

I still really like the sound of the Kingsley Jester, but am not convinced by its fragility in relying on 12AX7 tubes - and its distribution is very limited - also a relatively high price and custom dues liable for import from USA.

 

So from my original plan of 13 here, 6 were eventually acquired with 1 pending!


The First Proper Pedalboard Plan

The First Proper Pedalboard Plan

Following from my initial outline I started to firm things up based on more practical considerations like pricing, availability and form factor / footprint size. At this stage I had already started buying pedals, and my early acquisitions featured several that are not pictured here - like the Boss DS-1X and EHX Soul Food. My very first pedal to arrive though was the TC Electronic MojoMojo though which I preferred to the EHX Soulfood, but was not really taken too much by either! I was not then familiar with the different types of overdrives and distortions etc. - so I was looking on the basis of availability and affordability to a degree - as I did not wish to overspend when I did not yet properly know what sort of overdrive or distortion pedal I was after.

 

Of these 14 pedals, I have so far acquired 11 - in fact all bar the Boss CP-1X Compressor, Strymon Lex and Wampler Triple Wreck. The Boss CP-1X was somewhat delayed in launch / reaching distribution, and in the meantime I had gone with an Xotic SP Mini Compressor. While the Strymon Lex and Wampler Triple Wreck are still on the active wishlist. When it came to acquiring a stereo rotary effect it ended up as a 3-way between the Neo Instruments Mini Vent II, Strymon Lex and the Tech 21 NYC Roto Choir - which is the one I ended up getting.

 

Of those early drive and distortion pedals, I still wasn't exactly clear what I wanted, and was rather underwhelmed initially by the TCE MojoMojo, TCE Dark Matter and Strymon Riverside - while I really loved the Wampler Tumnus Mini!

 

 


Figuring out Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion Pedals - '12 Degrees of Saturation'

Figuring out Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion Pedals - '12 Degrees of Saturation'

I was still pretty naive about all the different types of Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion pedals - so I came up with my '12 Degrees of Saturation' methodology to suss out where different dirt pedals figured in the overall scale of things.

 

It has to be said really that this was more about overdrive and distortion, as I did not properly go into sufficient detail about fuzz until this year - '2018 Year of Fuzz' which you can read about in a later article.

 

In any case I came up with a 12 point scale as follows:

  1. Boost (Clean / Tube / Treble)
  2. Mild (Transparent / Klone)
  3. Squeal (Tubescreamer)
  4. Smooth (Dumble)
  5. Breakup (Blues Driver)
  6. Crunch (OCD)
  7. Fuzz (Regular Fuzz / Face / Tone Bender)
  8. Fuzzy Drive (Muff / Rat)
  9. Plexi (Marshall-esque)
  10. Brown (EVH Variac Sound)
  11. Heavy (JCM800+)
  12. Extreme (Metal)

I ended up acquiring near enough all these pedals listed here - I have still to get the Mini Dumble-esque OneControl Golden Acorn. Of all of these, there are funnily only two that still retain active duty in my current pedal-chain - the Xotic SL Drive in its Alchemy Audio Mod variety, and the Strymon Riverside.


First Official Pedal-Chain - 25 Slots! - April 2017

First Official Pedal-Chain - 25 Slots! - April 2017

According to the original plan I thought I might have 15 or so pedals in my pedal-chain, but following on from the '12 Degrees of Saturation' it was obvious that I would have a much larger number of drive pedals in the chain.

 

I was very conscious about pedal size - and mixed in a number of smaller pedals to make up for the ginormous presence of the Elektron Analog Drive. I still retain all these pedals and rotate many of them in fairly regularly, but as my experience broadened I evolved in various different directions.

 

Of the first official 25 pedals, 8 remain a fixture in the current chain:

  1. TCE PolyTune Mini
  2. Strymon Riverside
  3. Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler
  4. Strymon Sunset
  5. Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod
  6. Boss NS-2 Alchemy Audio Mod
  7. Boss GE-7 Alchemy Audio Mod
  8. TCE Mimic Stereo Doubler

That is not to say that the incumbents were no good, they are all still excellent - and many still sport the Strymon Stryfecta as a first choice, even though technology has moved on somewhat since their arrival.

 

A lot of thought, research, trial and testing went into each and every acquisition here - so none of these are wasted - they are all excellent pedals, and very much still valid.


2017 Mid-Year Pedal-Chain Deliberations

2017 Mid-Year Pedal-Chain Deliberations

Half way through 2017 I was thinking of substantially updating and upgrading the pedal-chain with more recent pedals that I had come across. The number of slots were now edging upwards with 5 more introduced to bring the number to 30.

 

For a number of slots I was considering my options, in fact a number of pedals featured here are still on the pending wishlist. They include:

  1. DigiTech FreqOut
  2. Fulltone Plimsoul
  3. Keeley Filaments
  4. Fulltone Octafuzz
  5. TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2

In fact the only one of those I am no longer actively seeking to add is the Octafuzz - as I have found more suitable alternatives along the way.

 

Of these 30 featured here, there are 15 active in the current chain:

  1. TC Electronic PolyTune Mini
  2. Wampler Mini Ego
  3. Strymon Riverside
  4. Chase Bliss Audio Brothers
  5. Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler
  6. Strymon Sunset
  7. Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod
  8. Diezel VH4-2
  9. Boss NS-2 Alchemy Audio Mod
  10. Boss GE-7 Alchemy Audio Mod
  11. Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas
  12. Boss MD-500
  13. Empress EchoSystem
  14. TC Electronic Stereo Mimiq Doubler
  15. TC Electronic Stereo Ditto X2

2017 End of Year Pedal-Chain Status = Spice Rack!

2017 End of Year Pedal-Chain Status = Spice Rack!

By the end of last year I was fully in my stride and into my now current methodology which mixes up both analogue and digital modulation effects with the '12 Degrees of Saturation'. To accommodate all the Chase Bliss Audio pedals the slot number count shot up further to 36!

 

The number of semi-permanent fixtures is ever on the increase now, with the pedal-chain increasingly more solidified and 23 of these still actively featured:

  1. TC Electronic PolyTune Mini
  2. Jackson Audio Prism
  3. Wampler Mini Ego
  4. Strymon Riverside
  5. Dr Scientist The Elements
  6. Mi Audio Super Crunch Box V2
  7. Chase Bliss Audio Brothers
  8. Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler
  9. Strymon Sunset
  10. Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod
  11. Empress Heavy
  12. Diezel VH4-2
  13. Boss NS-2 Alchemy Audio Mod
  14. Boss GE-7 Alchemy Audio Mod
  15. Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl II
  16. Chase Bliss Audio Spectre II
  17. Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas
  18. Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone II
  19. Tech 21 NYC Roto Choir
  20. Boss MD-500
  21. Empress EchoSystem
  22. TC Electronic Ditto X2
  23. TC Electronic Mimiq Doubler

2017 End of Year Plans

2017 End of Year Plans

At the end of 2017 I was already aware of some of the newer and improved pedals that I wanted to bring into the pedal-chain. In fact there were 8 such per the following slot numbers:

 

#03 : TC Electronic Quintessence Harmonizer

#05 : Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe Compressor

#06 : Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

#07 : Pigtronix Mothership 2 Analog Synth

#18 : Amptweaker TightFuzz Jr

#21 : Dawner Prince RedRox Distortion

#22 : Friedman Dirty Shirley

#25 : TC Electronic Sentry

 

Of those 8, the Wampler Tumnus and Pigtronix Mothership 2 have been added, while most of the others still remain on the wishlist.

 

I have kind of chopped and changed my opinion of the Compressor slot, deciding at one time that I would stick with mini pedals, and that the Wampler Mini Ego was the best of those. Then I thought I would definitely shift up to the Cali76, before deciding again that the Mini Ego would suit me fine. Where I am today though is considering he addition of the Cali76 again!


January 2018 Plans

January 2018 Plans

A couple of things happened over the extended Christmas period which already impacted my only recently completed December 2017 plans. Hamstead Soundworks launched their superbly versatile Odyssey Intergalactic Driver - which pushed aside the pretty much unassailable Fulltone OCD.

 

I was badly sick with some kind of flu over Christmas and ended up listening almost exclusively to 'In This Moment' which led to the first purchase of 2018 being the MI Audio Megalith Delta - to get that really percussive crunchy Metal tone.

 

I also put in an order for my first made-to-order or waiting-list pedal - the Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 - which took until April to arrive.

 

The Megalith Delta extended the pedal-chain by the count of 1 to 37! in total.

 

Pedal slots impacted were #8, #11 and #24.


February 2018 Post Winter NAMM Snapshot

February 2018 Post Winter NAMM Snapshot

There were lots of unexpected announcements at Winter NAMM, which put the primary slot choice up for grabs on 6 slots as indicated:

 

#03 : Dunlop CryBaby Mini

#07 : Foxpedal Kingdom Combo V2 (Klone)

#08 : DigiTech Dirty Robot Synth

#09 : Foxepdal The City V2 (Tubescreamer)

#10 : Sinvertek No.5 Distortion

#35 : Boss MD-500

 

In unseating the Boss MD-500 which I use a lot for its amazing chorus effects - I decided I needed an additional slot #34 which was occupied by the TC Electronic Dreamscape Chorus / Vibrato / Flanger. I also introduced a new slot #2 near the start of the chain - where I could have a looper to help me when tweaking pedal settings! That slot has changed role many times since then!

 

The above image is a snapshot of what was active in the chain in February 2018, the other major change of note here is the excellent Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine at #15.


February 2018 Post Winter NAMM Plans

February 2018 Post Winter NAMM Plans

As indicated as possible / probable changes in the previous post, these were the changes I was looking to make after Winter NAMM:

 

#03 : Dunlop CryBaby 535Q Mini Wah

#07 : Wampler Tumnus Deluxe (Klone)

#08 : Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier

#09 : JHS Bonsai 9-in-1 Multi-Overdrive (Tubescreamer)

#10 : Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1

#35 : Empress Zoia Multi-Effects Sequencer

 

Of those 6, 4 have come to fruition, and I am still waiting for the Empress Zoia to arrive - which should be July/August from what I understand.

 

I had at one stage decided that I preferred the Pigtronix Ringmaster over the Mothership 2, but then later changed my mind again and ended up getting the Mothership 2, which has since been relegated (q.v.) and I have definitely decided I won't be getting the Ringmaster!


June 2018 Pedal-Chain Snapshot

June 2018 Pedal-Chain Snapshot

As of this month, the active Pedal-Chain Status is per above - which has seen some significant reorganisation in the first five pedals, and a few not altogether unexpected swap-outs. I don't tend to get rid of pedals - much research has gone into all of them, and they remain viable understudies and alternatives.

 

In the above arrangement you can see most of the Post NAMM planned pedals are in place - with a few differences. There is actually a step missing here where I had Wah after fuzz, having used the #2 slot for Germanium Fuzzes. But I ended up on the above arrangement with 2 new vintage-inspired analogue Mu-Tron pedals - the Octavider Octaver with Ring Modulation and Micro-Tron III Envelope Filter.

 

Next, having chased the Spaceman Gemini III for a while, I rather set my sights on the Sputnik I and Titan II fuzzes - which occupy slots #5 and #19 respectively with Germanium and Silicon varieties.

 

Next I came across a rare Boss Blues Driver with Keeley Freak Fuzz Mod - which includes both Phat and Freak mods - so that is now sitting in #11 in place of the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver.

 

Biggest surprise of the year was the superb new tweaker's delight that is the Origin Effects RevivalDrive - which pushed aside the Empress MultiDrive in slot #13.

 

REVV Amplification also released its first pedal - a 3-way voiced 3-Band EQ amp-in-a box based on its flagship Generator 120's 3rd Channel.

 

After much consideration, I finally pulled the trigger on an Eventide H9 Max Stomp Box, which I would only have in its Barn3 Oxy9 enclosury and with Barn3 Mini Tesla Footswitch for overall 5 x footswitch control - which makes up for a lot of the pedals exiting control topology limitations!

 

The last significant change here is the Source Audio Ventris in slot #37. It's much delayed arrival led me to getting the Boss RV-500 first. But upon serious consideration I have deemed that the Ventris is the most usable and inspirational of my Reverb workstations versus previous incumbents Strymon BigSky and Boss RV-500. All three Reverbs are exceptional and each has amazing unique algorithms which makes it worth keeping all 3 - the Ventris is definitely the primary choice here though.


June 2018 Pedal-Chain Snapshot - Fuzz Alternatives

June 2018 Pedal-Chain Snapshot - Fuzz Alternatives

One thing I have mentioned a few times is that 2018 is my 'Year of Fuzz'. It has resulted in extending the Fuzz pedal slots options to 4 - to accommodate some 40 fuzz pedals I now have in circulation.

 

Slots #18 and #20 are pretty much permanently occupied as follows:

 

#18 : Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage (Fuzz-Drive)

#20 : Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler (Rat / Fuzzstortion)

 

Which means slots #5 and #19 get a lot of rotation:

 

#05 : Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation / Spaceman Effects Sputnik I (Vintage Style / Germanium / Tone Bender)

#19 : Shift Line Termofuzz / Spaceman Titan II || ProAnalog Devices MK IV Vintage | ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud | Foxpedal Defector (Modern Fuzz / Silicon / Muff)

 

So the ones that get most of the rotation are the Spaceman Sputnik I and CTC Constellation in slot #5, while slot #19 sees quite a lot of change with Spaceman Titan II, Shift Line Termofuzz, ProAnalog MKIV and Thorpy FX Fallout Cloud being the most recent occupants.


June 2018 Pre- Summer NAMM Plans

June 2018 Pre- Summer NAMM Plans

Much like I did with my start-of-year plans - I find it interesting to compare expectations before and after the NAMM events to see how they influence the ToneQuest.

 

My plans changed quite significantly from end-of-year 2017 to pre- and post- Winter NAMM 2018. As things stand I have only in mind to make a couple of swaps in the pedal-chain. I am now 100% certain I will be getting the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe. The question is just when really as I still have a couple or so Year of Fuzz pedals to get, and I also have my eye on some further Spaceman and ThorpyFX pedals.

 

The next most likely big acquisition is the Empress Zoia - which is due July / August now and will bump aside my Boss MD-500.

 

As we've seen from the various examples above is that plans rarely come entirely to fruition, and there may well be further unplanned changes along the way.

 

As I've stated several times now I am broadly very satisfied with the current snapshot of the pedal-chain and see slots #7 and #35 as the only ones where I can currently make improvements - everything else is already superb!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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