Throughout my personal Tone Quest I have had a lot of guidance along the way - in terms of highlighting what choices and options are out there and which might best suit my particular setup and purposes. I must confess that I have not trialled a single pedal or amp in-store! For guitars I feel it is essential to get a feel for the neck shape and overall playability - and how it suits your own style. My pedal setup is really quite complex though and I feel I would not necessarily gain sufficient insight in-store to come to a proper decision.
I prefer to live with a pedal for several days / weeks, tweak and re-tune it until I can finally decide whether it is suitable for my needs. In all my pedal acquisitions I’ve only ever experienced 2 duds (not working) which were replaced by the relevant vendor, oh and I did not particularly get on with a Decimator II G-String Pedal and exchanged that at the store within a couple of days. Otherwise, I have had a complete success rate - and I am happy with all my pedal choices thus far.
Of course I don’t come to any of these decisions lightly, I rely on a huge variety of interconnected resources - directories, webzines, YouTube and social media. I call my process of discovery ’Triangulation’ and it involves cross-referencing pedal acquisitions against a variety of resources - until such a time I am 99% sure that I am making the correct decision. There have been times when I’ve dismissed pedals prematurely, but then come back to them later, done further research and come around to general approval. I am typically against acting in haste, but there are times when this is necessary - particularly in dealing with a relatively rare pedals which hardly ever appear for sale. In those instances you have to act quickly - the most important part of that decision is the price you are willing to pay, and whether the pedal condition / quality justifies it.
I usually err on the side of caution, and have several times missed out on certain pedals as someone beat me to the draw as such. So far though these have all only been temporary setbacks. There is no primary pedal that I have yet failed to acquire with sufficient perseverance. There are however certain ’Unobtanium’ pedals - which only ever appear for sale once or twice a year, and at £1K, £2K or more! A case in point is the Spaceman Effects Gemini III - which is being sold to close to £1,000 at the moment, or circa 3 times its original value. If I really wanted it, and had sufficiently less priority pedals on my wishlist, I might consider it, for now though I am waiting on Zak at Spaceman to bring out a newer version of said pedal at a more equitable price - otherwise I’m quite happy to wait, or go without even.
I am subscribed to several newsletters from a variety of different web resources, and there are other sites I regularly scan for updates - including MusicRadar.com/News and the EffectsDatabase - which is probably the most complete pedal resource available anywhere (over 25,000 pedals from more than 4,000 makers) - a highly detailed database covering nearly every pedal ever made and listing pedal families and clones / inspired-by - where relevant.
The following list is in no specific order, but starts with some of the resources I access more frequently.
DiscoFreq’s Guitar Effects Database
DiscoFreq’s Effects Database lists every or near every pedal released on a weekly basis, alongside new pedal-makers / brands. It is an excellent resource for general pedal research - in particular for getting a handle on what kind of pedal you are dealing with, what its provenance and inspiration might be, and where it is made. It has been invaluable to me in researching various pedal categories and families.
Kitrae / History of Fuzz / Big Muff Page / Tonebender
The Big Muff Page and Kitrae sub-pages have been amazing in providing me with a full history of Fuzz, all the different pedal variations along the way from Maestro to Face Fuzz, Tone Bender and Big Muff. This is an exceptional proper history resource with some fascinating insights and amazing references along the way.
I am full of admiration for Paolo De Gregorio and his team over at Delicious Audio and Stompbox Exhibit - in many ways they have a fairly similar philosophy on pedals - striving to find the best fit for purpose pedal for each occasion and on a comparative head-to-head basis. Their category guides are excellent, in particular the one on Klon pedals and derivations. They tend to take a slightly more macro view of proceedings, while I usually whittle the choices down to a much slimmer selection based on my own particular preferences, but mindful of the benchmarks at all times. In some ways DiscoFreq gives you everything in a myriad of tiny compartments, Kitrae gives you the history, Delicious Audio gives you the overview and I the curation or more distilled selection. If you don’t like my choices - the go up a level to Delicious Audio, and if you feel they have left some out - you can always check on the Effects Database.
Pedal of the Day
This is a combination of written and video reviews, where I tend to prefer the written ones, as there are superior pedal review and demo experts out there. I also take this one with a slight pinch of salt simply because of the volume of reviews that are required here - not all the pedals will be stand-outs, and there are many of course which don’t suit my preferences. As an overview resource though it’s excellent at giving you a big picture of what is available out there.
Best Guitar Effects
I used to use Jake Behr and Gabriel Tanaka’s site more regularly in the past, but content seems to have largely dried up of late outside of NAMM and end of year pedal roundups - and numerous competitions of late. Nevertheless this is a really handy resource across a huge number of pedal categories - and their picks pretty much all seem to be really decent.
Music Radar is part of the Future Publishing family and is a sister brand / resource / aggregator to Guitarist Magazine which is the only print magazine I still have a subscription to for some reason. This is the News Resource I dip in and out of most regularly - occasionally even on a daily basis.
Reverb keep upping their game - with their recent capture of Andy Martin from Pro Guitar Shop / Tone Report as a particularly genius move. I check their site almost daily in looking for elusive and hard-to-get-pedals, and the resources available just keep getting better an better - I still believe it could significantly improve its editorial content, but there are numerous nuggets still that appear quite frequently - especially the various sales reports and trends from the main marketplace.
This has become an increasingly influential pedal news platform - both website and the regular electronic magazine. Along with Music Radar and Reverb - this completes my trifect of top pedal news sites.
This is a pretty decent news resource - not quite as good as Music Radar or Reverb, but it has its moments.
The Music Zoo News
I came across this during this year’s winter NAMM, as Music Zoo had some really excellent coverage of product releases made for that show. This is an actual guitar gear vendor who puts some real effort into the written word. Obviously Andertons leads on the video-front, but this is probably my favourite vendor news section.
Another pretty decent news resource, somewhat in the shadow of Distortion Ltd now, but offers up interesting articles every now and again.
A more broadly based guitar gear news and features site which does occasionally have some pretty decent pedal articles.
I spend on average more time following YouTube pedal gurus than watching any other form of TV or video-on-demand service. The following selection is arranged roughly by degrees of influence - i.e. which show or channel has led to the most frequent gear / pedal acquisitions. I’ve obviously already done a feature on That Pedal Show, which are currently my top influencers - those listed after are approximately in order of influence, but that in itself can become quite nuanced:
I’m following scores of pedal-makers on Facebook and get frequent updates from them - Brian Wampler is particularly clever about how he does is social media. I also belong to 2 great Pedal discussion groups - Pedalboards of Doom and The Pedal Zone Group. Sure there’s a lot of kind of weird self-publicity and bragging going on as well as somewhat peculiar and ill-judged comments and questions. But overall it’s pretty decent. I’m sure there are lots more groups I could be participating in, but I get plenty from just these already.
If you’re a pedal aficionado, the quality of your decision-making is entirely dependent on the level of your street knowledge as such. When I acquire any pedal, I like to ensure as much as I can that it is definitely the best or at least one of the best choices I could be making. I hate to overlook anything in a selection - where a more suitable, more feature-rich, smarter, more versatile, ’better’ sounding etc pedal might be out there but I’m not aware of it. So every time I encounter a new pedal type or category - I try to immerse myself as much in that category as I can - via all the resources listed above - you can never know too much here - every little thing helps.
Regardless of how thorough I think I am there are always one or more pedals that I either dismiss prematurely or simply don’t comes across in my first few passes. I also think it has a lot to do with what you’re first exposed to. I see several players with entire pedalboards of mostly the same brand of pedal - e.g. EarthQuaker or Walrus Audio, every third pedalboard seems to have Strymon - which probably had a significant influence on me at the start. And then there are various factions in different discussion groups that wrongly and unnecessarily pour scorn and hate on certain pedal-makers for very peculiar reasons and mostly unreasonable reasons. There’s seemingly lots of people out there that have an irrational hate for Boss, JHS and/or Strymon. I guess some of it is just a backlash against ubiquity or typical popular choices - but just because you’ve decided not to like something there’s no need really to wage a militant campaign against something based often on no real experience at all.
All of us are guilty at times for dismissing something for spurious reasons, and I dare say it has happened to me too. I certainly have a bias against unnecessarily large enclosures or weird power requirements and in general noisy (noise-floor) and temperamental vintage pedals. I always try to keep an open mind and will include small, regular, medium and large pedals in most of my overviews. I am largely though mostly a fan of Regular a and Mini enclosures, but do understand Stymon’s need for Medium enclosures to accomodate full stereo jacks alongside dials, toggle switches and dual footswitches - there will always be a limit to what you can fit into and onto a regular enclosure. However a single footswitch pedal with 2 or 3 dials - like some of those vintage fuzzes are really totally unnecessarily in over-large enclosures. For the bigger workstation pedals I feel the big Strymon 3-footswitch format is nigh on perfect - they just need to work a little on the interface and controls-design to catch up with Boss’s 500 series.
Thing is - there is almost always a ’better’ pedal around the corner - one that integrates more easily and can be placed anywhere in the chain, has the best signal-to-noise ratio with no added colouration of the dry signal, maintains signal strength, plays nicely with other pedals - has an infinite range of usable sounds and saturation levels and modulations and clippings and voicings etc. Of course there is always room for improvement, but you need to have the knowledge to know also when things have reached a peak level, where you can take a breather for a while and luxuriate in the soundscape factory you have assembled. There actually really aren’t any ’best’ pedals out there as such - simply ’best for you’ for your Tone Quest, playing style and rig. Lots of people tell me my setup is madness and it shouldn’t work, but it really does work amazingly well - and sounds awesome in so many different ways ...