Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m writing up a rundown of what pedals I’m using, and why.
I’ve played some absolutely wonderful pedals this year. The blog has been going for six years now; I’ve enjoyed this year’s pedals more than any previous year.
I think this is at least in part down to growing more and more familiar with the Axe-FX 3. I’m getting better at making good use of this fantastic tool and audio platform.
The Marshall Reissues Are The Biggest Pedal Release Of The Year
Towards the start of the year, Marshall reissued all four of their classic drive pedals: the Bluesbreaker, the Guv’nor, the DriveMaster and the ShredMaster. These are iconic pedals, and two of them in particular (the Bluesbreaker and the Guv’nor) are outright legendary pedals.
I bought all four when they came out. The collector in me didn’t want to miss out, for sure, and at the time it wasn’t clear whether or not they’d remain in production.
When I got them, I was expecting that it would be the Guv’nor / DriveMaster (same drive circuit, different name) that I’d use the most. And, indeed, I think it’s the benchmark to measure all Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedals against. That hasn’t changed as the year has gone on.
What did change for me was when I plugged my Les Paul into the Bluesbreaker. Oh man. What a combination! It’s not enough to tempt me away from my love of tweed tone, but it’s definitely become my go-to sound when I want a change.
And you should hear that with a Klon. Speaking of which …
My New Favourite Klon Klone Pedal
For the last three years or so, I’ve been using the Ceriatone Centura as my Klon klone of choice. This year, it’s finally been supplanted. Well, sort of.
I’ve been using the Centura because, to my ears, it sounds identical to my Klon KTR. I can throw the Centura on my pedalboard and happily twiddle the knobs to suit whatever I’m doing, while keeping the Klon KTR with my favourite clean boost setting.
And keeping the KTR packed away in its box too, safe from dust.
I bought my Klon KTR almost a decade ago now. Since then, with the KTR having gone out of production too (just like the original Klon Centaur), second-hand prices have started rising. This seems to be fuelled by Bill Finnegan saying that he’s run out of the diodes that are marketed as being so important to the Klon sound. I bought my KTR to use. If prices continue to rise, I’ll need to start thinking of my KTR differently.
That’s why I’ve been trying a few more Klon klones this year. Two of them stood out. One of them is something special.
The NUX Horseman is the best budget Klon klone that I’ve tried to date. I’ve been using it all year as a drive pedal, to push other drive pedals on my pedalboard. I think it’s just as good for that role as the more expensive klones that are out there. The size is far more user-friendly than the Centura or the Centavo too.
The Warm Audio Centavo is the best Klon-style pedal I’ve ever tried. I think it’s even better than my Klon KTR. I can’t put my finger on exactly why. I’m not sure if it’s sound, or feel, or both. Either way, if you’re serious about the Klon sound, this one does not disappoint.
That said, regular readers will have seen that I’m still using the Centura most of the time. When I’m testing new (to me) pedals to see how well they work with a Klon-style pedal, I’m just more comfortable with the Centura because it matches the sound of my KTR.
NUX Pedals Have Impressed
It wasn’t just the Horseman that impressed this year from NUX’s line-up.
NUX’s Sixty-Five Overdrive (styled 6ixty-5ive Overdrive) might just be one of the best pedals out there for a general-purpose overdrive tone. Yes, it absolutely sounds just like a Timmy, but I found it far easier to dial in and get working with every type of guitar I tried. And it paired really well with the NUX Horseman too as a boost.
The NUX Morning Star was one of the better bluesbreaker clone pedals that I’ve tried to date at any price. I still think the original Marshall Bluesbreaker is the better choice, but if you can’t find one or can’t afford one, then the Morning Star will give you that sound.
My local guitar shop has become a NUX dealer. If they get any more NUX overdrive pedals in, I’ll probably try them out too.
Plenty of Tweed Tone Love Too
If I didn’t pick up some tweed tone pedals this year, regular readers would think that I’ve been replaced by an imposter. Well, I’m happy to report that I’m still me, and I managed to pickup some great tweed tone pedals.
The Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) remains my #1 drive pedal. So much so that when I picked up the Bearfoot FX Honey Bee X, I ended up dialling it in to sound almost identical to my beloved SHOD without realising it. I clearly know what I like!
Unless something comes along to totally change things, I think I’m now at the point where I’m looking for tweed tones to either complement the SHOD, or to mix things up a bit, or that have a voicing that works particularly well with a particular guitar.
Both the Bearfoot FX Model G and Bearfoot FX Honey Beest fall into those categories. The Honey Beest goes so well with my Telecaster’s bridge pickup. The Model G gives me an unrefined sound in the best possible way.
And the Lovepedal Les Lius? As an outright overdrive pedal, it didn’t do it for me. But as a tone-shaping pedal with something in front of it to provide the overdrive … mmm yes.
Several Left-Field Options Rocked
Once again, I picked up a few pedals that perhaps are a bit out of my normal wheelhouse. Each one of them rocked in their own way.
The Lazy J Cruiser Deuce is exactly what Lazy J market it as: a pedal to overdrive your real amp at lower volumes. I got mine at the start of the year, just as I was experimenting with playing my Synergy preamps through my Axe-FX 3, and I couldn’t have been happier with the tones that I got.
The Universal Audio UAFX Woodrow is more an amp simulator than traditional pedal. It provides effortless 5e3 Tweed Deluxe tones. I’m not kidding. If you want the sound of a Tweed Deluxe amp for home or recording use, it’s utterly plug-and-play.
But my favourite turned out to be the Hudson Broadcast. As a straight-up overdrive / distortion pedal, it produces a very primitive distortion sound. Run a fat-sounding guitar into it, and then run the Broadcast into a cooking amp, and the result is thick and sludgy and utterly delicious and unique.
I Did Revisit A Couple Of Pedals After All
Last year, I mentioned that I was interested in revisiting both the Boss HM-2 and Rockbox Boiling Point. I ended up picking up both pedals.
The Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal might just be the strangest choice I’ve made this year. I’ve picked one up to see if I can get a great lead tone for my Strat-style guitars. Do I know what I’m doing? Absolutely not. Am I having fun with it anyway? Very much so.
Same goes for the Rockpoint Boiling Point. Of the two, it’s the easier pedal to plug into my rig, so I did try it out a bit more. I liked what I heard, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from it next year.
The Mary Cries Compressor Is Permanently Part Of My Rig
Kristi bought me the PRS Mary Cries Compressor pedal for my birthday. As the year went on, I found the perfect spot for it, and it’s become as much of a constant in my rig as my Axe-FX 3 is.
Through trial and error, I discovered that I really like what the Mary Cries does to the overall tone when I use it between my overdrive pedals and the amp model in the Axe-FX 3. Some mild compression right there helps thicken up the sound a bit, without adding a noticeable amount of extra noise to the signal.
I like it so much, it’s almost always on whenever I’m playing guitar. I have to remember to switch it off when I’d recording audio demos for the blog. But you can be sure that, as soon as I’ve finished recording, I’m switching the Mary Cries back on.
Any Plans For 2024?
As always, I’m still looking for tweed-tone pedals that are new to me. I’ve definitely become a collector of this type of pedal. I’d love to try as many of them as possible.
I’ve got my eye out for the other amp simulator pedals in the UAFX lineup. If either of them turn up on the second hand market for the right price, I’ll bite. The Woodrow was so easy to get great tones from, I’m sure the Ruby and the Dream 65 will also prove to be tonal cheat codes too.
I’d like to add an MXR Duke of Tone to my collection. I played one when they first came out, and it suited my Telecaster perfectly. It’s not exactly the same as my King of Tone, either, so it would give me a different option (and I do love having options!).
Mostly, though, now that I’m comfortable with the recording process, I’d rather spend the time going back over pedals that I’ve mentioned before on the blog – but this time with audio demos. I want to know: can I get sounds out of them that I like, now that I’ve got the flexibility of the Axe-FX 3 to help? And should I be moving some of them on to people who’ll make far more use of them than I will?