2020: A year like biting into a rotten apple. But as miserable as it was, it also witnessed the release of some fabulous effects pedals. Because the need to create is still burning bright with musicians around the world, and stompboxes are a source of inspiration for writing songs and sculpting tones. Meanwhile, guitarists have been tinkering with their pedalboards, ready for their first gig in 2021! Here’s our list of the Best Effects Pedals of the Year for electric guitar.
Chase Bliss Audio CXM 1978
The Chase Bliss Audio CXM 1978 HAS to be on this list. It is a thing of beauty, both visually and sonically. Moving faders, MIDI control, 32 Bit AD/DA and three classic reverb algorithms: this pedal is destined to become a classic. I look at it and think of all the hours of creativity it holds. I suspect it’s also a wonderful studio tool, one that will reward you time and time again.
Creating a box of sonic magic like this obviously involved an incredible amount of work. It puts a smile on my face when I hear musicians creating with this pedal!
In a similar vein to the Chase Bliss above, I think the new Strymon NightSky will have musicians itching to make music. Yes, it is yet another reverb, but it takes a totally different approach to the CXM 1978, but one that’s just as stimulating. If you want to generate some unusual spacial textures, NightSky could be the tool for you. This is way more than just a reverb pedal; it can do much, much more.
With onboard pitch shifting, modulation, distortion and more, this blue box has lots of ways to twist and turn your reverb effects. To me, it’s more like a full-on studio rack effect than a stompbox – just in a more friendly pedal format and minus all the annoying menus and sub menus. Check out our review here.
Spaceman Effects Sputnik III Germanium Fuzz
I do love a good fuzz pedal and if I had my own way, the top 10 best pedals would all be fuzz pedals – every year! But the Spaceman Effects Sputnik III Germanium Fuzz was just so tasty that it was always going to be a strong contender for a place on this year’s Best Pedals list. Spaceman Effects make some truly wonderful effects and this latest fuzz pedal is definitely one that will please lovers of fuzz.
The Sputnik III has NOS Soviet germanium diodes and transistors for some great fuzz tones that will fatten up your guitar lines and add some sustain. Every musician should have a good fuzz pedal in their arsenal and this is an extremely good one. Time to love the fuzz! Go and get one of these.
Hologram Electronics Microcosm Granular Pedal
This pedal is all about creative noise-making. It’s perfect for a rainy day writing session, and has a box of tools and tricks you can get lost in creating weird and wonderful new music. As the name suggests, the Hologram Electronics Microcosm Granular Pedal uses granular effects that are combined with a looping feature. Packing in a low-pass filter with resonance, a 60-second looper, MIDI control, 11 granular effects, a stereo reverb, pitch modulation and 16 memory slots, this baby has plenty to keep you busy with.
I love the sense of completeness and potential here, with all these lovely tools in one box. It’s inviting you to go off at musical tangents and make some delightful noises with, whether you play the guitar or another instrument.
Acorn Amps Mind Killer Dual Distortion
I know everyone was getting all hot under the collar about the limited edition runs of the Sunn O))) Life pedal. But I much preferred the tone of the Acorn Amps Mind Killer Dual Distortion. This dual distortion has plenty of girth that will help you smash your power chords into the skulls of your enemies!
If you’re looking for something a little different for your next boutique distortion, this must be on your list to check out. It ticks all my boxes, offering some gorgeously filthy dirt tones. And it’s drenched in Dune references, adding to the coolness factor. Delicious.
If you want that Marshall Plexi tone in a solid, no nonsense pedal, the Friedman Smallbox is the pedal for you. Dave Friedman knows all there is to know about this tone, which is why players like Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Cantrell and just about every other A-list guitar player has asked him to mod their amps and build them effects.
Having that gain structure switch on the side makes this pedal even more useful. I can see a lot of players using this Plexi-in-a-pedal to get those classic Marshall tones. Use the switch to go from classic Plexi-style gain to a more modern, higher-gain setting. This box will be a boon if you need to cover both tones with your band.
Origin Effects MAGMA57
The Origin Effects MAGMA57 pedal was designed to recreate some classic ’50s amp flavours and pack them into a compact pedal format. The amps modelled here are highly sought after retro amplifiers with amp and vibrato sections that generated some sumptuous tones.
Look, this thing is simply a winner: a high-quality preamp and luscious amp-like vibrato that cover a lot of bases. If you want to cop those tones without having to buy and lug around a vintage amp, this pedal should be on your radar.
SolidGoldFX NU-33 Vinyl Engine
This magical modulation pedal from SolidGoldFX NU-33 Vinyl Engine has you covered for both hi-fi and lo-fi modulated guitar tones. It’s got built-in vinyl noise and gives you options like ramping the speed up and down. It sounds glorious, with a warmth that just makes you want to play.
It’s a beautiful sounding chorus/vibrato pedal. I think the built in “vinyl engine” complements the effect perfectly, with a heavy retro flavour. This is a superb creative tool for any player looking to play with their listeners’ emotions. A must for this year’s list.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain V3 + Tap Tempo
This Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain V3 + Tap Tempo was a welcome update to the OBNE line. This box offers some wonderful delay sounds that become more accessible thanks to the added tap tempo function. It’s a digital recreation of an old oil can delay. It’s luscious, gooey and makes you want to hear more.
The pedal has three modes labelled Modern, Organ, and Vintage that each give a different timbre of delay voice. That flexibility makes are useful textural tool to have on your board. My favourite aspect of this effect is its organic, vintage sound and feel. It’s a world away from what you’d normally associate with a digital effects pedal. You have to hand it to OBNE. These guys build exceedingly desirable pedals, and this was one of my favourites this year.
Coppersound Pedals Triplegraph octave pedal
A collaboration between Coppersound Pedals and Jack White, this pedal was so over the top that I fell in love with it. The Triplegraph octave pedal looks like it’s a total blast to play with, putting it firmly on my list for 2020. It combines a digital octave effect with a momentary kill switch and an effects loop, giving you plenty to play around with.
Each of the three morse-code telegraph-style keys triggers a different part of this unique effect. It’s an amazing design with an overblown sense of the ridiculous that makes for a gloriously outrageous pedal!
What were your favourites from 2020? Let us know in the comments below!
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