2021 Review: Pedals

Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m going to do a rundown of what pedals I’m using, and why.

Previous posts in the series: [2019][2020]


This year, inspired by the MXR Sugar Drive, I’ve started using Klon klones as a primary overdrive pedal. It’s still early days on this for me.

I’ve also started running out of tweed-tone pedals to try. The horror! But that’s alright, because my friends did direct me to two utterly fantastic tweed-tone pedals. And yes, the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive is still king – but this time, it’s the Deluxe version that’s got top spot on my personal board.

I’ve actually ended the year with Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB for short) pedals on the board, thanks to my upgraded super Strat. Tweed-tone pedals will be going back on there in short order though 🙂

Beyond The Clean Boost Role

I’ve been using a Klon KTR in the classic clean boost role for over seven years now. In many ways, it’s been the inspiration behind my search for ‘my’ tone ever since. And it’s also the great differentiator between the real thing and almost all klones: klones simply suck at the clean boost thing.

What don’t they suck at? Overdrive.

I picked up a second-hand MXR Sugar Drive mid-year. Like most Klon klones, it was terrible at the clean boost thing. Instead of being a disappointment, through, it inspired me to finally start exploring what klones can do when I crank up the gain knob. And I found that I kinda like it.

I ended up with the JRAD Archer Ikon (the gold Archer pedal) on my board for quite a while, as an outright overdrive pedal. I do have to dial in the Marshall DSL20HR to suit, mind, and that is limiting how often I use it – but tbh that’s the main problem with using any pedal through that amp.

It’s a sound that’s still completely new to me. I’ve no idea yet if I’m going to make much use of it. Be assured though – I’m still using the KTR in the classic clean boost setting!

Mad Professor Remains King

The Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) has been my #1 overdrive pedal for many years now. Sure, I love to try other pedals out, and discover what options they give me, but I always come back to the SHOD.

Only now I have three of them to come back to.

At some point, I’ll sit down and compare all three versions properly. For now, broadly speaking:

  • the original SHOD is the thinnest sounding of the three, and benefits from being fattened up (I use the MP Audio Brit Blue for this)
  • the SHOD Custom is very fat, and sounds great in the room
  • the SHOD Deluxe is more flexible, thanks to having two extra EQ controls

The Sweet Honey Overdrive Deluxe isn’t a new release; I believe it came out at the start of 2016. I finally picked one up this year, and it might just be my favourite variant so far.

While the added Treble and Bass controls help me dial it in for different guitars, I think it’s actually the mid-range on the SHOD Deluxe that has won me over. It just seems to sit exactly where a Les Paul speaks.

Sadly, the SHOD Deluxe is no longer made, so if you want one for yourself, I’d urge you to keep an eye out for discounted clearance sales as retailers start to offload them.

Let’s Hear It For The Unsung Heroes

Towards the end of the year, I picked up one of my bucket-list pedals: the VS Audio Royal Flush … and it did not disappoint. It also got me thinking about another pedal that’s up on the shelf atm: the JRAD Animal Tour Edition.

Both of these pedals share an important characteristic. Neither of them sound jaw-dropping to me. They don’t immediately stand out in a crowd and demand attention. They don’t have that ‘hey, look at me’ quality that (say) the Wampler Pantheon has.

And that makes them damn fine rhythm guitar pedals.

Perhaps the most legendary pedal in this category has to be the Nobels ODR-1. This is a very generic-sounding overdrive that is said to be the go-to pedal of professional session guitarists in Nashville. It’s popular precisely because it doesn’t stick out at all.

Not every guitar tone has to be memorable. Sometimes, the right guitar tone is one that fits in with the rest of the performance, with the rest of the band. And that’s something that’s really hard to cover in YouTube demos and sponsored product reviews.

Marshall-in-a-Box Pedals Go Great With Super Strats

Towards the end of the year, I focused more on upgrading pickups in my two super Strats: my beloved Charvel got a Polymath bridge humbucker, and Starfire (the guitar formerly known as Dexter) got a whole new set of Bare Knuckle Pickups.

This led me to break out some of my MIAB pedals. As much as I love tweed tone, when it comes to super Strats it’s Marshall tones all the way for me.

Over-generalising, MIAB pedals fall into two large groups:

  • bluesbreaker pedals, such as the King of Tone, Royal Flush and Pantheon,
  • plexi pedals, such as the Marvel Drive and Superlead,

plus much (much!) smaller groups that chase the JTM, JCM 800 and Silver Jubilee tones.

I’ve found myself not just using these pedals for chunky rhythms or soaring (if badly butchered!) leads, but also for “clean” tones. That’s something that I want to explore a lot more.

Where Are All The Tweed-Tone Pedals?

That seems like a strange question to ask, seeing as nearly all the new (to me) pedals this year have been tweed-tone pedals.

But, if you look around, there are very few tweed-tone pedals currently in production. And apart from the SHOD and Catalinbread’s two tweedy pedals, tweed-tone pedals don’t tend to remain in production for years on end.

I had a similar observation when looking for a 5e3-based tweed amp this year. Like the pedals, they don’t seem to survive in amp makers’ catalogues for very long.

Why is that? We’re constantly told that tweed tone is the holy grail of amp tone, elevated to sit alongside the ’59 bursts … but that doesn’t seem to translate into successful, long-lived product lines.

Or is it simply a case that the SHOD is just so damn good that no-one can successfully compete with it? 😀

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