Once most guitarists (or bassists) are bitten by the pedal bug, they are doomed to a nearly unending quest to find the “right tone”. My pedal journey started with a Zvex Box of Rock back in 2007 and, man, has it been a wild ride. Since starting the process of recording Skylines and the Horizon in 2017 the pedals I’ve used have changed considerably, with only one remaining.
When I first got serious about putting together a pedalboard, I had a custom 24×12 board made by a company called Solid Rock Customs. Unfortunately, shortly after finishing my board, Solid Rock Customs indicated they would no longer be making boards.
Eventually, I added a complimentary 12×12 board made by DFW-based SIG Custom (that I already owned) and, at one point, I ran 15-17 drive pedals, a couple of delays, a modulation pedal, and a Line 6 M5.
I realized that my board had grown too big and, eventually, I sold a number of pedals and the 24×12 board. I kept the 12×12 board loaded with my T2 and Metaverse, and simply swapped out drives in between tracks.
Recently, however, I realized I was grabbing the same handful of pedals and wanted to have ready access to all of them, so I bought a 20×12 board by Ghost Fire that now sits on my desk and the SIG Custom board on the floor.
When one is putting together a pedal board, there is an order that many agree on:
- A compressor or wah pedal is at the front
- Pitch bending pedals
- Overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals
- Delay and reverb pedals are the caboose to the pedal train.You can always play with the order, and let’s not get into stacking drive pedals together to get all sorts of interesting sounds.
What the Colors Mean
Down below, you will find numerous pedals listed. I’ve used the following colors to represent the different categories of pedals and what their use is.
- Overdrive – Overloads the signal to replicate the sound of a tube amp breaking up. Overdrive is generally a less saturated sound
- Distortion – Similar to overdrive but is more distorted/saturated. Think of 80s metal, 90s grunge, and 00s post-grunge rock
- Heavy Gain – This is the sound of harder rock, metal, and other “heavy” music. It’s a thick, searing drive sound that isn’t often used in my music, but it has it’s place in genres that I do not play
- Fuzz – Drive effect that is generally very saturated. Billy Corgan helped make this even more famous via the early Smashing Pumpkins albums
- Delay/Reverb – Delay takes the notes you’ve played and repeats them. Reverb is like an echo in a room, only more complicated.
- Utility – Other things, like pitching shifting, compression, wah, etc.
Modulation is another category of pedals, but I do not currently own any modulation pedals. Modulation changes the texture of the signal. Examples from famous songs include “Come As You Are” for chorus, “Lightning Crashes” for phaser, “Unchained” for flanger, and “Black Hole Sun” for a rotary effect.
My Current Pedals
Let’s group these pedals by maker, in ABC order. Colors are explained a bit further below
- Bearfoot FX: Honeybee X
- Benson: Preamp
- Blackout Effectors: Musket (Whiteout Edition)
- Boss: HM-2 Heavy Metal
- Catalinbread: Dirty Little Secret Deluxe
- CKLab: Purplex + SIOD
- Disaster Area: Micro Clock
- Dunlop: MC404 CAE Wah
- Electro Harmonix (EHX): POG 2
- EQD: Black Ash
- Jet Pedals: Lion Programmable Distortion
- Loophole Pedals: Grey Matter
- MXR: Timmy
- Pedal Jerk: Denton Drive
- Radial Engineering: Twin City ABY
- TC Electronic: Ditto X2, Polytune 3, and T2
- Wampler: Ego Compressor, Metaverse, Phenom, Triumph, and Tumnus Deluxe
- Zvex: Double Rock
The Ghost Fire board is powered by a Trutone CS12, the SIG Custom is powered by a Voodoo Labs ISO 5, and everything else is powered by adapters. I utilize Y-splitters as needed to power drive pedals and a daisy chain to power the Radial Engineering Twin City and Ego Compressor
The following two pedals sit up on a shelf waiting to be used
- Danelectro: CF-1 Fuzz (Frantone Peachfuzz clone)
- Kokko: Distortion
Why so many overdrive and distortion pedals!?!?
If we count them up all the names above, I have a whopping SEVENTEEN different drive pedals. One might be inclined to ask, “Why in the world would you need 17 different pedals that do the same thing?” and that’s a fair question. At the beginning of 2022, interestingly enough while in the middle of a stint in the ICU, I read what is probably the best comparison: Is one type of chocolate sufficient for someone that enjoys chocolate?
I’m not even a chocolate lover and I can think of at least four different chocolates that I enjoy, even more if you add in toffee, nougat, caramel, or rice crisps to the mix. Let’s do a quick Q&A of things I’ve been asked before.
Do I NEED all of them?
No. Even I cannot deny that I do not need all of them. At one point, when I first made this page, I had 15 drives. I sold a good number of them, got things down to nine, and then have acquired some through trades or incredible prices.
Do I know which ones I’d keep if I had to start selling them off?
Do I have favorites that I tend to use more than the others?
Why so many pedals then?
In a situation where all I do is record music, it’s nice to have the right sound for the job. Most of the drive pedals I have have unique voices, but there are some overlaps.
Let’s take a deeper dive into that last question and point and talk about these drive pedals, arranged by category.
These are the pedals that you use to recreate the sound of a tube amp starting to break up. If you play the guitar right, you can even keep the sound clean and then really dig into your playing to bring that overdriven sound out.
When I think of recognizable songs to reference, I immediately think of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Free Fallin'” , Genesis’ “The Way I Walk”, or Joe Cochran’s “Life is a Highway” as three examples of songs that, in my opinion, incorporate light overdrive.
Bearfoot FX: Honeybee X
- The Honeybee is a classic low-gain drive pedal that’s been around for ages but I’ve never owned. I recently traded for this model, which is a handpainted version made for the 10th anniversary of the pedal. It has additional gain on tap and a couple of extra controls: Nature for normal tone control, a mids control to add mids, and a treble control for tuning the top end
- Benson modeled this pedal after the preamp of their Chimera amp. It’s still a relatively new pedal, but it’s one I like enough that I didn’t immediately sell it when I got it in a trade. I’m still figuring out how to use it and often wonder if it shouldn’t be at the end of the pedal chain so I can treat it like you would the preamp of an actual amp: running drive pedals into it
Loophole Pedals: Grey Matter
- Loophole Pedals is another D/FW pedal maker. I have #3 ever produced. It is Loophole’s take on the grey DOD Preamp 250, but in a two-in-one pacakage. There’s a lot of flexibility within the pedal and even after owning it for some time now, I still go back to it. If you stack the two sides together, it wanders well into medium gain territory
- This is a mini version of one of the best light overdrive pedals ever made, the Paul C Timmy. It’s considered a “transparent overdrive” in that it doesn’t really add it’s own “color” to what your amp sounds like. It just amplifies it. The tone controls let you cut frequencies, so it gets really interesting to use. I used it quite a bit on the first two KCWM albums.The original Timmy was SO popular that a big pedal maker like Danelectro actually cloned the pedal (the CTO-1) and sold it for something $35, If I recall correctly, there was a post from Paul C (the Timmy maker) on The Gear Page that explained that the CTO-1 was so much of a clone that after learning the truth, the president of Danelectro reached out to the creator of the Timmy, had a conversation, and Danelectro paid the man.
Pedal Jerk: Denton Drive
- The Denton Drive is made by a local pedal maker here in the D/FW area and is his take on the Analogman King of Tone, a really popular pedal that has an extreme waiting list and an hyped up price because it. It is a really great rhythm sound for less aggressive songs
- In 2022, Wampler released a couple of $99 budget pedals, the Triumph and the Phenom. The Triumph is built around two circuits: a Digitech Bad Monkey (which is a Tubescreamer circuit) and a Boss SD-1, depending on which position the switch is in. Reverb was doing this crazy “$50 off of a $100 purchase” so my wife and I bought made purchases. I don’t use it often, but it’s nice to have the option, especially now that I understand why TS-circuits are so popular
Wampler Tumnus Deluxe
- Wampler’s take on the legendary Klon pedal. There’s a toggle that you can use to add some extra gain and push this into an almost medium overdrive sound, but I have other tools for that sound. It’s similar to the Timmy, but yet it’s different.Brian Wampler actually made a video that was recently a suggested video where he talked about folks saying the Klon is a “transparent” drive, but point out how the mids get boosted the more you turn the gain up, so it’s not, in fact, “transparent”. However, people tend to use it with the gain turned down, which colors the mids less, leading to many hearing it as transparent.Funny thing is, that video isn’t in my YouTube history even though I know I watched it.
To me, this is the meat of rock songs. The Who, Led Zepplin, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden…all great examples of the range of what I think of when I think of a good medium gain. Sure, did the latter two swing into harder rock sounds? Yeah, probably, but Pearl Jam has stayed in this ballpark for most of their studio releases.
This is the realm of overdriven Marshall sounds, which is why “Marshall-in-a-box” pedals are so popular. Having never owned a proper Marshall amp, and I’ll never be in a real position to push a Marshall amp to get those tones, these pedals are a godsend to me.
Honestly, for as much as I love the idea of a thick, heavy distortion, it doesn’t translate well to a recording. Even Nirvana’s Nevermind sounds heavier than it is because of how the producer, Butch Vig, layered four or five different guitar tracks. Think about their follow up album In Utero. It doesn’t sound nearly as heavy. Raw, maybe, but raw doesn’t equal heavy.
Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Deluxe
- I love Plexi pedals. I’ve owned a lot of them, especially ones made by Lovepedal. I’ve always had interest in the regular Dirty Little Secret, but watched a video that Anderton’s put out and the DLS didn’t fare well.However, in 2022, Catalinbread released the Deluxe version that included a couple of tweaks. I was super interested, but at $300 and no 48 month financing in sight, it wasn’t happening. Then, they did a 30% off B-stock sale and…well…I’m weak.I love this pedal. I feel, or convinced myself, that the Presence control really lets me adjust the pedal to the guitar I’m using
CKLab Purplex + SIOD
- When I first bought the Lovepedal Purple Plexi Plus and plugged it in, I was sold. THAT was the MIAB sound I’d been seeking. Around the same time, I’d acquired a few pedals from then local pedal maker CKLab. I saw that I’d just missed out on a pedal he’d made called the Purplex, which was his take on, and tweaks to, the Purple Plexi.I reached out to him and he built me a custom pedal that consisted of his Purplex and SIOD, which is very similar to a Lovepedal COT 50.Unfortunately, CKLab recently announced that he’s leaving the pedal-building business.
Zvex Double Rock
- This should PROBABLY be on the light overdrive section, but I use it as a light-medium drive most of the time. I’m telling you, when I first bought the Box of Rock I was in love with it. Sure, it’s known for having a bassier sound, and I love Les Paul style guitars which are, you guessed it, known for a bassier sound.I eventually had to sell my Box of Rock, but years later I was able to buy a Distortron, which was the drive side of the Box of Rock with a couple of switches to a) cut the bass and b) boost the drive. It was my foundational sound.Then I learned about the Double Rock. I was immediately sold. Two Box of Rocks in one enclosure with a bass cut? Score!
- The Phenom is kind of an evolution of the Wampler Plextortion, a discontinued pedal I’ve always been interested to try. As mentioned above, this is one of their $99 budget pedals that I was able to pick up for $50 on Reverb due to a Reverb coupon. It’s a really cool pedal that I’ve been using more recently
Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal
- For years, this was a joke pedal, right? Then, it somehow started to gain traction and the MIJ versions were going for something like $200. I bought this for $20, and for $20, I’ll try pretty much any pedal.Interestingly, I don’t use this as a high gain pedal. I keep the gain below 12 o’clock and the tone around the same or less, and it sounds pretty good. It’s definitely a sound, and not one I use a TON, but I use it.Interestingly, these older HM-2 operate at 12v instead of 9v. If you run them at 9v with a dedicated line, they become under-powered but sound pretty cool. Alternatively, you can use a daisy chain, or a Y-splitter in my case, and it does something to somehow fully power the pedal
While not the originators of the sound, it’s hard to talk about fuzz and not mention Smashing Pumpkins, especially their Siamese Dream album. The way that “Cherub Rock” or “Today” blast off (not to mention “Rocket”), the sound of the EHX Big Muff is all over that album. I own three different fuzzes and they are all very different from one another.
Danelectro CF-1 Fuzz
- A clone of the Frantone Peachfuzz. Like the CTO-1 mentioned above, the CF-1 sold for about $35 and was, and still is, a fraction of the cost of the pedal it was ripped from. Like the CTO-1 (and CO-1 that was a clone of the Fulltone OCD), the CF-1 was discontinued and redesigned under the CF-2 model number. While I’ve sold two CTO-1 and the CO-1 I bought, the CF-1 has remained. It is a thick fuzz sound. Some people think it’s along the same lines as the Big Muff. Either way, for the $35 I spent on it
EQD Black Ash
- A limited edition pedal where I think 1500 were produced. It cost $150 and I see them going for something like $450 now on Reverb. It’s a Bender-style fuzz that has a brighter sound to it. You can turn the gain down and get some gnarly overdriven sounds out of it. It’s a super flexible pedal. I believe I used it on “All the Feels” from Volume Three
Blackout Effectors The Twosome
- I used to own a Musket Fuzz, which was a Muff-style pedal that introduced three controls that address issues that people have with the Muffs: a Mids control, a pre-fuzz bass cut, and a preamp boost to give it some volume. I LOVED my Musket until I learned about this pedal, which combines the Musket with their Fix’d Fuzz, a unique fuzz that lets you select different circuits to shape the fuzz sound. There are a lot of combinations. Having two fuzzes in one is an excellent concept.
So, as you can see, each drive has its own story…its own flavor. There is definitely SOME crossover and there are some I could definitely see myself getting rid of, but it’s also fun to figure out which sound I want for which part, especially as I move into a more permanent area of having 3 separate guitar parts in the songs I record.
I”m always happy to talk gear, especially if someone has questions on a pedal I currently own. The pedal world has gotten HUGE and, frankly, a bit complicated for my feeble old man brain.
All the best!