K.I.S.S: Keep It Stock, Stupid! Boss, Ibanez, MXR… Are They Still Cool?
HOW CLASSIC PEDAL BRANDS STILL RULE
Now, this may be a somewhat counter productive argument to put forward for someone representing a store that specialises in the curation of (for lack of a better word) boutique pedals… but have you ever considered that maybe what you need is a ‘ye olde faithful’ pedal?
On more than one occasion in the last few months I’ve seen customers, who are less concerned with brand calibre or popularity, choose a totally ‘mainstream’ pedal over one lauded by gear connoisseurs. And you know what? I’m convinced they made the right choice.
Now I’m not for a second saying that you should abandon you’re pursuit or love of small batch, handmade, beautifully crafted pedals. There’s a time and a place for every sound out there, and let’s be honest, sometimes we just want something because it looks so damn cool (or is that just me?). But what I am saying, is don’t disregard a classic or common tool to fill a specific role in your rig.
REISSUE 808 TO THE RESCUE
So… the stories… One customer, with his personal amp and guitar in tow, was trying to achieve a very specific high gain sound. Largely the gain character was coming from his dimed amp. He was about 80% there, but the frequencies were harsh in the wrong way and the tonal spectrum was still too wide despite some aggressive amp EQ settings.
We threw a ton of low gain drives, equalisers, and booster in the amp room with him and he set to work. Some of the best names in the pedal world were represented in the bunch, but systematically one after another was eliminated until the stock standard Ibanez TS808 emerged victorious. And for good reason. Something about that pedal, even in comparison to other 808 derived circuits, stood out and delivered just what the customer wanted.
CARBON COPY: REPEAT DEFENDER
Another scenario was a player in pursuit of a delay to enhance and add the finishing touches to a solo tone. Once again everyone working in the shop that day chimed in with a couple of options till the amp room table was littered with the most worthy of delays for consideration. After near on an hour of careful comparison, the customer resurfaced with the MXR Carbon Copy as their clear victor.
MAXON, MAX OFF (BUT ACTUALLY STILL ON)
One more was a shopper who plays in a '90s grunge inspired band. She was on the hunt for something to tighten up the frequencies post big muff in her chain, and also something to get that '90s chorus tone, think Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins etc. The process was pretty much the same. I threw a handful of my faves and the lauded industry toppers her way, but for good measure made sure some classics were in the mix. Sure enough, after much deliberation, she presented two Maxon pedals to me. The OD-9 Overdrive and CS-9PRO Stereo Chorus, two stalwarts from the Japanese industry that are infamously known for their classic tones.
PEDAL TONE PROGENITORS
Let me explain what I think is happening here... it may be a bit of a gross generalisation, but I believe there's a significant element of truth to my thoughts. When I forget about the pedals (please forgive me) and think about the sounds that these customers were chasing, I have to admit that they were all seeking tones from an earlier time, loosely bracketing the early '80s to late '90s. No surprises really, those sounds are definitely making a resurgence in popular and independent music alike.
(Kurt Cobain rarely played without a Boss DS-1 & an EHX Small Clone at his feet)
If we were to take a snapshot of the pedal landscape over that time frame we would see that the demographic was much smaller with maybe 4-6 dominant brands. The bands only had access to the likes of Ibanez, MXR and Maxon. It's actually no surprise that the sounds these customers were seeking were most accurately found in the stock standard pedals they chose, chances are that they were the actual pedals used in their favourite songs.
NO JUDGEMENT UPON YOUR PEDAL CHOICES
Let’s be clear, every single one of the other pedals that weren’t chosen are still amazing. There’s no doubt a scenario where a TS808 won’t get the upper hand on a Wampler Clarksdale, or the Bondi Effect Art Van Delay would prove more useful than the CC. The fact remains though, that just because a pedal is a modified, reimagined or ‘improved’ version of a classic, doesn’t mean it will perform better in every possible application. Sometimes the stock version gets the job done best.
Thankfully, we’ve broadened the brand spectrum extremely wide at Pedal Empire and we offer a lot of the staple classic brands that started this pedal-verse. It's refreshing to carry these great brands and also seeing them still making their way into our patrons collections. Some of us are old enough to remember when there were only 3 or 4 options at the local shop, and those brands were Boss, MXR, EHX and Ibanez, maybe Maxon or TC Electronic and a couple more if your shop was particularly savvy.
There was a time in more recent years that 'boutique' (yuck... I'm not a fan of that word) pedals were much more expensive and harder to acquire than the industry staples, but now-a-days you can walk through our door and see all these pedals side by side, and the price difference in a lot of cases isn't very dramatic.
I guess the moral of the story is not to judge a board by its cover, one loaded with industry staples may just sound better than your cream-of-the-crop rig... in the right setting perhaps!
As a bonus, if you're interested, read a great run down of the Maxon pedals history and how Ibanez and Maxon are related.
Thanks for reading, stay peaceful!