There’s a whole world of guitar effects pedals out there to explore. While many guitarists like to keep it simple and stick with one or two favourite distortion pedals, some are looking for the most advanced gear out there to add complex and interesting sonic variation to their sounds. In this article, we’ll take a look at the latest trends in effects pedals, recent technologies and the leading manufacturers in the market today.
Professional guitarists have been exploring new combinations of effects pedals for decades. Although classic vintage pedals remain popular choices, modern effects pedal trends focus more on unique sound sculpting and dynamic expression capabilities. Many of these same features are pursued by beginner guitarists as well, thanks to affordable, technology-loaded models that integrate with computer DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) for further tweaking and recording options.
Integration between effects pedal boards and digital music production tools is now commonplace - ‘smart’ stomp boxes or rack-mounted devices offer an array of sophisticated connectivity technology including Bluetooth wireless linking, USB data transfer protocols, MIDI compatibility and patch memory banks for storing multiple preset sounds. Aside from this kind of onboard gear and technology, interesting new forms of sonic expression are also available such as pitch shifters, modulators and amp/speaker simulators/modellers.
Rack Mount versus Pedal Board Effects
Some of the biggest names in electric guitar devices include Line 6 whose POD series multi-effects processors remain popular, Electro-harmonix (EHX), Boss Guitar Effects, JHS, Keeley Electronics and Xotic Effects, all of which continue to innovate and create unique tonal solutions tailored for guitarists with elaborate set ups and who demand high quality products. Many model ranges exist within each brand so you can decide what level of sophistication you need depending on how far you want to take your sound experiments and investment!
If you’re looking to take your guitar playing to the next level, boutique guitar effects pedals are a great way to get unique tones, new textures and to expand your sound. Boutique pedals have become increasingly popular amongst guitarists looking for that special something that off-the-shelf pedal cannot provide. Investing in boutique pedals can boost your creativity in the studio or performing live thereby really up your game! With so much variety and many brands available you can easily find the perfect effects pedals for achieving whatever sonic colouration you desire helping you unlock your musical potential. Following is an overview of boutique guitar effects pedals and why they are worth investing into.
Variety of Sounds
Boutique guitar effects pedals come in many forms – from delays, reverbs and drives to fuzzes, octavers and tremolo units. So whatever sound or style you’re going for there are plenty of options available. As well as offering classic sounds, many boutique pedal makers also create their own signature sounds which are difficult to get from standard pedals.
High Quality Components
The components used in boutique pedals tend to be of a higher quality than what you would find in standard mass-produced pedals. This means that your sound will be more consistent, with less noise and distortion due to interference from other electronics devices nearby. In addition, because boutique builders often specialize in a particular type of sound (such as distortion or modulation), their products can offer better performance than standard, lower cost products.
More Creative Control
Boutique pedals typically offer more control than lower cost units. For example, they might have extra parameters like tone/depth controls to hone in on specific sounds as well as a wider range of footswitch functions such as tap timing or hold mode for extra flexibility when performing live. On top of this, some boutique manufacturers offer customisable aspects such as LED colour choices or graphic design printing on the case.
The designs of boutique pedals can vary greatly from company to company, ranging from vintage inspired retro designs through to futuristic digital displays complete with bold colours and eye-catching graphics to make them stand out on a pedalboard! As well as looking cool they also help instantly identify a pedal at a glance during those intense solo jams!
Beautiful designs by Walrus Audio
Boutique pedal brands are quickly becoming the go-to option for experienced and amateur musicians alike due to their higher quality and affordable prices. In this article, we’ll discuss five of the leading boutique guitar effects pedal brands on the market today.
Leading Boutique Pedal Brands
Here's an overview of some of the leading manufacturers of boutique effects pedals.
Catalinbread effects pedals are known for their high-quality construction and vintage-inspired tone. They offer a wide range of pedals, including overdrive, distortion, delay, and reverb pedals, as well as pedals that emulate the sounds of classic amplifiers and tape machines. Some of their most popular pedals include the Belle Epoch Tape Echo, the SFT (Super Fuzz Tone), and the Dirty Little Secret. They are known for the use of high-quality components and a reputation for being hand-built in the USA.
Chase Bliss Audio
Chase Bliss Audio designs and manufactures high-end, hand-built guitar effects pedals. They are known for their unique and versatile pedals, which often feature multiple layers of controls and the ability to save and recall presets. They use analog circuits and digital controllers, which allow for a wide range of tonal options and a high level of customization. Some of their most popular pedals include the Warped Vinyl Chorus/Vibrato, the Gravitas Analog Tremolo and the Thermae. Chase Bliss pedals are considered high-end products and are used by many professional guitarists.
Keeley Electronics designs and manufactures boutique high-end guitar effects pedals. They are known for their wide range of pedals, including overdrive, distortion, delay and reverb pedals, as well as pedals that emulate the sounds of classic amplifiers and tape machines. They are also known for their modifications of classic pedals like the Ibanez TS9 and Boss DS1. Some of their most popular pedals include the Keeley Modded Boss DS-1, the Keeley Compressor Plus (considered to be the best guitar compressor on the market), the Keeley Super Phat Mod and Keeley Caverns dual Reverb-Delay. They are known for the use of high-quality components and a reputation for being hand-built in the USA. Keeley are also known for their use of unique and innovative circuit designs, which can provide a range of tonal options not found in other pedals.
EarthQuaker Devices are known for their creative, experimental sounds and for creating some of the most sought-after fuzz, distortion and modulation pedals on the market. They specialize in producing outboard class A boost overdrives as well as extremely accurate clone circuits with no parts wasted or unnecessary steps added during manufacture. Some of their most popular pedals include The Hoof fuzz V5 and the Afterneath reverb. They have an excellent reputation in the market and are used by many professional guitarists. Like many boutique pedal manufacturers, they use of high-quality components and are hand-built.
JHS Pedals is quickly becoming a leader in boutique guitar effects pedals. With quality craftsmanship and a wide array of options, JHS has something for every guitarist. They offer overdrive pedals, fuzz pedals, reverb units, chorus pedals, booster boosts and more. Each unit is hand built to order, ensuring excellent sound quality and perfect functionality each time. Some of their most popular pedals include the JHS Morning Glory, JHS Angry Charlie V3 and the JHS Superbolt.
Source Audio are known for building digital effects using modern digital signal processing (DSP) and advanced features such as MIDI control, expression pedal control and the ability to save and recall presets. They specialize in creating pedals that offer a wide range of effects and tonal options. Some of their most popular pedals include the Source Audio Ventris Reverb, the Soundblox 2 Orbital Modulator and the Collider Stereo Delay-Reverb. Source Audio products have a reputation for being user-friendly, and have a dedicated software that allows to control and customize the settings of the pedals.
Strymon is another effects pedal builder extensively using advanced DSP to build studio quality digital effects. Founded by two experienced music-industry technicians in northern California, Strymon is a leader in the production of boutique guitar pedals. They have a reputation for producing some of the most realistic and accurate emulations of classic effects and amplifiers. They offer a wide range of including reverb, delay, and modulation. There most popular pedals include the TimeLine Delay, Mobius Modulation and Big Sky Reverb. Strymon pedals comfortable suit both the live and studio environment.
Xotic Effects has become one of the leading names in boutique metal and modern indie tones alike. They have largely stuck to analog boutique pedals and are known for their wide range of boost and overdrive pedals. Their most notable products include the RC Booster, Xotic EP Booster, Soul Driven and the Xotic BB Series Preamp pedal which provides five vintage preamp styles along with full EQ control - perfect for achieving studio-ready tones out on the road. These analogue pedals are considered the best on the market. Many Xotic pedals are designed in half size case formats allowing them to fit on smaller pedalboards.
Wampler Pedals are known for their wide range of pedals, including overdrive, distortion, delay and reverb. They are also known for creating signature pedals for well-known guitarists and for their use of high-quality components and hand-built construction. Some of their most popular pedals include the Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Overdrive, the Wampler Ego Compressor and the Wampler Faux Tape Echo. Wampler pedals are known for their transparent and dynamic sound and for their responsiveness to the player's touch and technique.
Analog versus Digital
In the discussion on boutique pedals, you’ll notice that we mentioned both analog and digital effects. The timeless argument between analog and digital guitar effects pedals is one that has been going on for decades now. While analog effects still reign supreme when it comes to guitarists looking for classic tone, the advancement of technology has seen many opt for digital effects due to their greater features, flexibility and functionality. In some cases, digital effects pedals are more expensive but they provide bang for the buck when it comes to feature sets. For example, most analog reverb pedals feature one or a few different types of reverb where as a digital delay pedal can in theory offer dozens of reverbs.
Analog vs Digital Pedals: Which Is Better?
The primary difference between analog and digital guitar pedals is the way they process sound. Analog pedals manipulate the audio signal using basic electronic circuits, while digital pedals use a computer chip (Digital Signal Processor/DSP) to convert the audio signal into electrical signals that are then subjected to manipulation with algorithms and mathematical processing. Therefore, digital effects have far greater potential when it comes to creating sounds with more complexity and variation than analog ones. The downside of digital models is that some consider the output slightly artificial and “cold” compared to that generated by traditional small-box modules.
Both technologies have experienced dramatic advances in recent years so regardless of whether you prefer warm fuzzes or intricate delays, there's no shortage of options available on today's market allowing you to benefit from either type. Analog and digital guitar effects pedals offer unique sonic possibilities depending on what type of tone you’re after. Generally, digital effects offer greater complexity, feature set and functionality but come at a greater cost, whereas analog units provide specific, precise effects at a lower price point. It’s important to note that if you’re after a large range of effects, analog will cost you more in the long run because you’ll need to buy many analog effects to get variety. It can be argued that one isn’t better than the other and over time you’ll need to experiment and invest in many different effects units to eventually build a rig that suits your needs. From a personal perspective, I started my journey with a number of classic Boss effects units. When I started performing live, I found it more convenient to invest in a digital multi-effects unit so I invested in Boss GT-10 (later GT-100) and Line 6 Pod. Today, I have a few pedalboards from compact to large with a range of both analog and digital effects that meet my needs.
Modelled guitar effects pedals are a great way for musicians to create unique, custom sounds without the need for complicated and expensive hardware. These pedals provide digital simulations of guitar pedals, amplifiers and speakers giving you access to a wide range of sounds that would normally be impossible without having various physical components. Put simply, they allow you to transform your guitar into hundreds of different amp-speaker-pedal combinations in the same way that multi-effects processors do, but with the convenience of a single pedal. Some of the benefits of digital modelling pedals include:
- A wide range of sounds and tones that can be accessed from a single pedal
- The ability to easily switch between different sounds and effects
- Increased versatility and creativity
- The ability to store and recall different settings
When it comes to modelling effects units, there is a wide range of models available on the market ranging from budget entry-level products up to professional, studio grade ones that come with additional features such as Amp/Cab simulators. Some popular digital modelling effects include the Line 6 Helix, the Boss GT-100, the Kemper Profiling Amp, and the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx. These effects units are considered to be some of the best on the market and are used by many professional guitarists and musicians.
Line 6 and Kemper Modellers
Given the vast features and functionality of these units, it best to take them for a decent test run before deciding on which one to purchase. Nothing beats physically testing out these effects units with guitar in hand and hearing the sound coming out of an amp. Take some time to try out multiple settings on various amps and guitars before making a final decision on which one works best with your current guitar rig. This will help ensure that you’ll get the most out of the effects unit when you take it home.
Digital vs. Hardware Solutions
The versatility of modelling effects, which are largely software based, allows them to run on variety of hardware platforms. Therefore, they can run on standard computers (PC/Mac, etc.) or specialised hardware. The debate between computer-based software solutions versus specialised hardware solutions has been raging for years with each offering unique features and benefits. Software solutions are more affordable and can run on several computer platforms but can lack authenticity compared to hardware counterparts. On the other hand, while hardware solutions may provide more realistic audio reproduction by incorporating specialised DSP chips and analogue circuits, there is the added increase in complexity and price.
So, there you have it. There are many options and choices when it comes to guitar effects pedals. We hope this article has provided you with new knowledge on the range of effects and inspired you to play guitar and create music.