2016 was another banner year for guitar pedals. Just when you thought everything that could be done had been created, the fantastic minds at some of our favorite companies outdid themselves once again. We asked our in-house guitar heroes, Dustin McLaughlin and Eric Allen, to pick five of their favorites from the past year and talk about why they have been worthy additions to their pedalboards.
EHX are no strangers to pushing the boundaries of where to take your music and they’ve only become more ambitious with time. The MEL9 transforms your guitar into a legendary tape-based keyboard called the Mellotron. With nine adjustable algorithms, including Orchestra, Flute and Choir, the MEL9 nails those classic prog-rock tones from King Crimson, Genesis and The Beatles. It tracks completely polyphonic so you can play chords or even bend single notes! I’ve never heard of a Mellotron that you can bend notes on.
I grew up playing Boss pedals. It’s a sound, feel and look that is familiar to me. I never liked the chorus effect until I got my hands on my first MIJ CE-2. It’s simple 2-knob layout and subtle shimmer has been the pinnacle to adding dimension to your sound for nearly 40 years. Like all Waza Craft pedals, the CE-2w allows you to toggle between the CE-2 and the legendary CE-1 Chorus Ensemble’s chorus and vibrato effects. The silver screw and the fact that this is the first compact Boss pedal to be made in Japan in many years are just a few of the many reasons to love this pedal. It really is the little things.
In my opinion, this is Strymon’s most ambitious release to date. How does a company who has been so prolific in such a short time-frame release a foundation pedal in 2016? What don’t we have already? What else can be done? We have all been entirely too micro-focused on drive for far too long now and this is Strymon having the last word. The Riverside is a 4-stage drive that hits on everything from clean boost to transparent, saggy overdrive, to fully saturated, razor sharp leads. The feature set is massive. Expression control to be used as a volume pedal or to change your knob controls with a sweep of the foot. Up to +6dB of clean boost with a Strymon Favorite switch. Incredibly natural feeling noise gate. This is your one and done dirt box.
As an avid forum browser, I don’t believe any pedal released this year was more anticipated than Chase Bliss Audio’s Tonal Recall. “Is it a Deluxe Memory Man!? Is it a 104m!?” Although, there are attributes of both, the Tonal Recall is entirely its own thing. Like all of Joel Korte’s pedals, this features the “Digital Brain / Analog Heart” tagline. Two XVIVE MN3005 bucket-brigade chips provide the warmth and vintage grit that we all fawn over. But imagine taking that vintage delay to the outer limits of the galaxy. Tap tempo with subdivisions, three presets, true or buffered (with trails) bypass, a modulation section with three different waveforms, MIDI and the most elaborate expression control and dip switch grid you’ve ever encountered on a pedal.
Basically an arpeggiator section of a synthesizer but you can plug anything you want into it. It’s “1980s chemistry set” aesthetic just begs for your creative juices to flow. The Dream Sequence has 12 presets that cycle through octaves and rhythmic patterns. Tap tempo with detailed subdivisions, MIDI I/O, an analog drive circuit, two blendable waveforms and much more.
Joe Gore Filth Fuzz
Fuzzes come and fuzzes go in my world, but Joe Gore’s Filth Fuzz is a contender to stay on my board. I like that there is something raw and unpredictable about this pedal, especially when you are using the sliders. I’m not even 100% sure what they do (I think they control the biasing and gain), but love that the instructions simply read “Move the sliders till it sounds awesome.”
T. Rex Replicator
I had a chance to mess around with the T. Rex Replicator with Dustin when we were visiting the Nashville store. This pedal is legit and made me feel like I was Robert Fripp wailing away on some higher plane of Frippertronics than I could ever actually achieve with any other delay pedal. Also, a small cosmetic note, it’s really fun to watch the tape do its work as you play.
Earthquaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2
I typically play straightforward country rock, so I never really have a need for anything more than a compressor or delay pedal. However, when I get writer’s block or bored of playing my usual batch of songs, I love turning up, dropping out and playing some gnarly riffs with the Acapulco Gold. Styled after a Sunn Model T, this baby turns my basement-born riffs into something otherworldly.
I was reading a killer piece by She Shreds on Fran Blanche around the time we brought on Frantone Electronics at Vintage King and I got super excited that we’d be carrying her killer pedals. While the Peachfuzz has been around for awhile, I was glad to see Fran bring it back this year and with way more gain and power than the original. This is a fuzz must-have for sure!
Red Panda Raster
Detroit born and bred, Red Panda makes some killer pedals and I really love their latest release, the Raster. It’s a great digital delay that has a pitch shifter integrated into the feedback loop, which can lead to a wild array of sounds that takes your music all over the pace. Crazy harmonies, flanging and repeats make this a cool pedal for experimenting with new sounds.