Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m writing up a rundown of what pedals I’m using, and why.
This year has been far quieter for new (to me) pedals, and yet, I’ve somehow ended up finding several pedals that all could be my #1 choice. Go figure!
I also got to try a couple of popular budget Klon klone options, along with a digital klone too. None of them are going to be knocking my KTR off the board any time soon.
Finally, I bought the Axe-FX 3 to be an FX processor first and foremost, and it’s knocked several pedals off my board as a result.
The Battle For #1 Was Real This Year
Regular readers will know just how much I love the legendary Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short). It’s been my #1 drive pedal for many years, and while there are other pedals that I switch to when I need something different, I always come back to my beloved SHOD.
This year, the PRS Horsemeat was released, and it’s quickly become as much a favourite as the SHOD. Although marketed as a Klon-killer (spoiler alert: it can’t do what I use my Klon KTR for), I was delighted to discover that it’s also a great-sounding tweed-tone pedal. Compared to the SHOD, the Horsemeat is a little flatter in the mids, and has a thicker overdrive that feels more amp-like.
Although I got it back in 2021, the Brantone Electronics Vintage Tweed Overdrive has also quietly been fighting for the #1 spot all year. It gives me the vibe of my Tweed Deluxe amp without the hassle of cabling up the real amp. While it doesn’t live on my home pedal board regularly, I’ve always got it within easy reach for when I want it.
Is there a clear #1, as I go into 2023? Right now, I’m not sure. And that’s a wonderful position to be in.
When Tweed Tone Just Won’t Do
The big surprise of the year for me was the Tone City Dry Martini overdrive pedal. I picked this up on a whim, and it has immediately become my first choice when I don’t want tweed tone.
In particular, when paired with my PRS Paul’s Guitar, the Dry Martini is absolutely perfect for me. It gives me a Marshall-inspired sound that I used to have many years ago. I never expected this to replace all the fantastic Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedals that I have, but it has.
The Walrus Audio 385 overdrive is perfect with a Strat neck pickup. Given that it’s based on an old projector amp, I was hoping for another classic tweed-tone pedal, but this one is more like an overdriven Deluxe Reverb to my ears. It’s also the only pedal I’ve played this year that made Kristi stick her head round the door to ask what I was using.
Digital Klon? The Real Thing Is Still King
If the Fractal Audio Axe-FX 3 has one weakness, it’s the drive pedals. It’s not that the models are bad, it’s that they can’t always recreate what happens when analogue circuits and cables munge your tone. And the Klon is the perfect example of that.
I’m currently of the belief that a big part of the sound of the Klon is that buffer; at least, when used in the classic clean boost configuration. It’s not sonically transparent. And it’s something that just seems to be missing, both from many klone pedals and from the digital model in the Axe-FX 3.
Speaking of klones …
Klon Tone On A Budget? No Success Yet
This year, I picked up two budget pedals that are often described as (and marketed as) Klon klone pedals.
The EHX Soul Food is an historically-important pedal. It wasn’t the very first klone, but it was the first klone that you could walk into any guitar shop and buy. It proved that there was a market for klones. Alas, it’s not an accurate klone. But it does make for a nice vintage-voiced overdrive, and worth looking at as an alternative to several classic Boss pedals.
The Tone City Bad Horse is one of those klones that flies under the radar. I was surprised to find that it’s one of the oldest klones that’s still in production. It’s probably also the cheapest one that you can buy from a traditional guitar store. Alas, while it’s close, it lacks the top-end sparkle of my Klon KTR. Perhaps it just needs the buffer adding?
The Axe-FX 3 Has Replaced My Delay And Reverb Pedals
I’ve been using the Neunaber Slate pedals for digital tape delay and digital spring reverb for … I don’t know, more years than I can remember. Fantastic pedals. They’ve been worth every penny I paid for them. Their one weakness is that they’re set-and-forget pedals. Although they’re digital, they don’t really have that digital convenience of being able to recall settings and then tweak them, because of the analogue controls on the front.
The Axe-FX 3, on the other hand, also has world-class delay and reverb sounds, and (imho) the world’s best desktop editor for tweaking settings. I’m no longer stuck with the one set of sounds, worried that I’ll never get them quite right if I change any of the settings. And you know what? I’ve learned that, sometimes, I do want a change.
The Axe-FX 3 has Replaced My Equaliser Pedals Too
At the start of the year, I was constantly switching my MXR 10-band eq from one EQ curve to the other, depending on whether I was using it to shape the sound of my PRS Paul’s Guitar, or my Fender Tweed Deluxe. That, more than anything, is what convinced me to find a digital FX processor … a journey that ended up with the Axe-FX 3.
Surplus to requirements, my Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer has already been moved on to a new home. The MXR pedal will surely go too next year.
Any Plans For 2023?
I’d like to revisit pedals that I’ve used before. There’s pedals that have been and gone over the last 30 years, and I’m curious: what can I get out of them now that I (sort of) know what I’m doing?
I’ve kind of already made a start on that: a couple of years ago, I picked up another Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer, and right at the end of the year, I managed to snag another Joyo Sweet Baby Overdrive.
I might pick up a Boss HM-2W Heavy Metal in the Christmas / January sales. It’s another pedal that I’ve had before, and I have a (possibly wrong) memory that it’s very interesting with Strat single coils. The Rockbox Boiling Point overdrive is another pedal on the same list. I remember it being competent but uninspiring. Maybe that’ll change second time around.
Beyond that list, I don’t know. I’ll still be looking for any tweed-tone pedals that aren’t in my collection, of course. But I’m mindful that the two new (to me) pedals that pleased me the most this year were both complete surprises. Sometimes, you just don’t know that you’ve needed a pedal until you’ve actually got it.