Latitude Guitars SE-1819 Review & Demo

The new company, launched by the founder of the EART brand, gets off the ground with an affordable ES-style copy.

Cost: $379.99 from Amazon.com

Overview & Final Score: 6.1 out of 10

I first got turned onto Latitude Guitars by a Facebook group I stumbled upon one day. I was really quite interested in a brand that would launch an ES-335 clone as their flagship model, so I quickly worked out how to get one in my hands. The spec sheet is quite impressive, with a Roasted Maple semi-hollow body and a Roasted Mahogany neck that holds 22 stainless steel frets, an Indian Rosewood fretboard, and a bone nut as well. Latitude loades the SE-1819 with Alnico V pickups spec’d out to replicate ’59 Gibson tones, with standard controls of volume/tone for each pickup. A 3-way selector switch rounds out the electronic controls. Another unique feature is their C+U neck shape, which feels slim compared to the baseball necks of most Gibson-influenced hollow bodies. A tune-o-matic bridge holds roller saddles, a nice touch for tuning stability (at least on paper), and a feature you don’t often see on import guitars at this price point.

Sound: 6.5

The pickups in the Latitude SE-1819 are pretty impressive, with a chime and top end sparkle that isn’t always common on affordable humbuckers. They are allegedly designed after the ’59 Gibson humbucker sound that is favored by many guitarists, but they have a distinctly modern sound in my opinion. It is true that they are closer in output to the lower end, like vintage buckers would be. But Latitude’s SE-1819 has a very “indie rock”-like quality to the tonal fingerprint, with great clean tones and a very smooth neck pickup for rhythm patterns. It certainly sounds better than I anticipated it would, though I still feel like I can’t get a 100% read on it due to the playability issues. Perhaps it will come alive a bit more when I can actually use the first 3 frets to kick out some AC/DC riffs. Overall, the SE-1819 seems to sound a bit above average and is impressive to me in how quiet the pickups are (in terms of buzz or hum) and how sensitive the control knobs seem to be.

Playability: 4

While there are a lot of things to like about Latitude Guitar’s inaugural product, the truth is the set-up is just awful. The neck is way over adjusted, making the first 3 frets unplayable. Even after trying to correct this with the truss rod, the guitar showed serious evidence of high frets. The buzz is simply not going away with my easy at-home hacks. It’s a shame too, because the neck looks and feels really good in many other ways, with a slimmer feel than most Gibson or Epiphone-style copies. Even the hardware on the Latitude feels a bit more impressive than expected, meaning this guitar definitely has some real potential if you can sort out the fret buzz and dead notes in a timely manner. With these issues, it is a bit hard for me to get a good read on the tuning stability of the SE-1819.

Finish & Construction: 7

I would have easily given this category a much higher rating if the set-up wasn’t so poor. The overall fit, finish, and hardware installation is quite impressive for the cost. Latitude definitely makes the SE-1819 feel and look more on par with a high end Epiphone product, and I appreciate the detail in the sunburst finish and wood grain. The decision to use roasted Maple and Mahogany is really interesting, and quite nice. Latitude also delivers on the lightweight but comfortable reputation of this semi-hollow guitar design. It feels solid and like a real tool of the trade that can serve beginners or pros alike if properly dialed in.

Value: 7

One reason for the relatively high value score is that many of the fatal flaws here could be corrected by spending $50 on a professional set-up. If the pickups, wiring, or finish were equally disappointing it would be a different story. Those issues are especially hard to correct on a semi- or hollowbody instrument and thankfully check out very good on the SE-1819. You can turn this Latitude product into a very competent and solid ES-335 alternative with just a proper set-up. And the guitar isn’t too expensive that this extra $50 is too much of a burden. It is disappointing and frustrating, but not a death sentence on an otherwise nice feeling and sounding guitar for the sub-$400 price tag.

Good for: Players Who Want To Learn How To Set-Up A Guitar, ES-335 On A Budget, Modification Platform

Caline Devilfish Dual Chorus and Delay Review

Caline continues to dominate the affordable pedal marketplace with this functional and fun dual pedal.

Cost: $69.99 from Amazon.com

Overview:

In the world of affordable effects pedals there are few companies with a better reputation than Caline. They tend to have better enclosures, cleaner sounding circuits, and only slightly more expensive price tags than most budget pedal options. The Caline Devilfish is no different and houses both Caline Wave Machine Chorus and Caline Blue Ocean Delay circuits in one box. Having both in one box does save you a few patch cables, a power supply, and maybe even some board space. Both circuits have standard controls for their classic effects. Delay sports controls over the length and frequency of delay, while the “echo” control serves as a master volume. On the chorus side of things, you have your standard rate and depth controls with an overall master volume control as well. Manipulating the master volume can engage the vibrato portion of the chorus pedal as well.

Review & Opinion:

While the sounds of the Devilfish aren’t extraordinary, they are perfectly useable and cover a good bit of ground. Players who are looking for expansive and creative delay tones should not consider this an alternative to modern echos like the Mood or Meltdown. But for beginners or musicians who only require classic delay and chorus tones, this is a perfectly suitable tool for the stage or studio. The chorus side of things can go from warbly vibrato to very subtle shimmer and shine. I was impressed by the delay time, which is usually very short on affordable delay pedals like this. I wouldn’t describe it as too long or adventurous, but you can cover a lot of ground and induce some cool self-oscillations. The Devilfish is a great example of working musician’s pedal.

Final Conclusions & Score: 7.0 out of 10

Overall, Caline’s Devilfish is a perfectly serviceable and nice sounding pedal. It is unspectacular but the value for the money is impressive. It is never noisey, feels far more premium than it is, and covers a lot of ground. The market for the Devilfish should mostly center around beginners and guitar players who rarely use these effects as the basis of their rig. I also really like the idea of throwing this pedal on my live board, as it will save some real estate in terms of cables and provide me with a solid option for chorus/delay. It seems Caline has cracked the code on making affordable pedals that work great for many musicians.

Munnyman Pedals Panchito: A Small Batch RAT Clone To Know

Featuring the legendary LM308 chip, how will this take on the RAT circuit stand up to my beloved clones?

Cost: $200 from Munnymanpedals.com

Overview

Munnyman Pedals is a small pedal company who, funnily enough, was one of the first contacts I ever made on Instagram. Based out of Dallas, Texas, Munnyman has mostly dealt in fuzzes, overdrives, and distortion pedals, like this Panchito LM308. Unlike the more hyped Rat pedals to hit the market (Ratsbane, DRV, and Packrat) the Panchito is not looking to add flexibility or versatility to the circuit. It is instead a true recreation, with everything from overdrive to fuzz onboard as most Rat fans know. What I’ll be looking for here is how versatile the gain section is, and how it sounds in comparison to the other Rat pedals in my collection. Specifically, for the $200 price tag I would hope it compares favorably to my Pro Co Rat2 or Wampler Ratsbane.

Review & Opinion

The Panchito LM308 is a nice sounding pedal any way you slice it. With classic RAT distortion tones that are not hard to coax out of the pedal. I will say, it didn’t feel quite as versatile as a Pro Co RAT2 or the Wampler Ratsbane in terms of the gain control. It didn’t get quite as fuzzy with my Stanford Crossroad as I might have wanted. Likewise, the overdriven tones don’t go quite as low gain either. So while I do miss the flexibility, I take solace in how good the more straight up the middle distortion tones are. Munnyman Pedals definitely nailed the raw, uncompressed feeling of the RAT circuit.

As it stands now, I think this pedal is best suited for players who want a high quality distortion pedal but won’t be asking it to do too much else. It has very sensitive volume and filter controls which help widen the tonal spectrum you can reach, but it won’t be much more than what it sounds like in my demo.

Conclusion & Final Score: 7 out of 10

Overall I’m very pleased with the sounds that come out of the Munnyman Pedals Panchito LM308. It’s very much worthy of the space it occupies on any pedal board. The distortion tones are rich, open sounding, and have a ton of texture. It does feel a little bit like you are paying for the scarcity of the LM308 chip, which very well may be worth it for some guitar players. However for me, I would probably stick with the RAT options I already own. It earns its above average score for the quality of sound it does posses, the small footprint it takes up on a pedalboard, and the user friendliness.

The Panchito even got some time to hang out on my band board!

2021 Guitar Ranks: Everything We Reviewed This Year

While 2021 had a few less guitar reviews than we hoped, it did not lack in quality at all!

All I can say about 2021 is; you could really feel the long term impacts of the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain. Despite being a moderately well known reviewer at best (and that is generous), the number of guitars reviewed this year dropped to 19 from last year’s 41. However, the overall viewership and support for my work has increased in ways I never expected so there is much to be thankful for as well!

And while this year didn’t feature quite the vast number of brands and guitars, it had some incredible quality up and down the list. Some of my biggest surprises this year included how impressive the Sterling by Music Man guitars were as well as how far Fender has taken the Squier products. Vox’s Bobcat S66 was arguably the quirkiest guitar I’ve played in years as well, though it was flanked by some great reissues from Silvertone in 2021 as well.

Interestingly enough, signature models seemed to get a lot of attention this year, both from manufacturers and the media. In a year when it was hard to source loaner guitars to review, I got to try Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa LP, Sterling’s take on the Mariposa, and Manson’s affordable Matt Bellamy signature.

Some disappointments included the Gibson Explorer, my dream guitar that showed up damaged, and it wasn’t from shipping. On a more positive, two single-P90 guitars absolutely had me drooling from Grez Guitars and Fender, and I’m determined to one day own both of them. In terms of highlights, it is also impossible to put into words how fun the Acoustasonic Stratocaster has been. It is easily the most inspiring and musical instrument I own.

Superlatives:

Best Sub-$500 Guitar: Sterling By Music Man Cutlass CTH50 – read full review

Best Overall: Rubato Guitars Lassie – read full review

Best Import Guitar: Dunable DE Cyclops – read full review

Best Candidate For Mod Project: Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe – read full review

Most Versatile: PRS SE Custom 24-08 – read full review

Best Reissue: Vox Bobcat S66 – read full review

ModelRating (1-10)CostGrab Your Own
Rubato Guitars Lassie9.5 out of 10$4300.00rubato.guitars
Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster 9.4 out of 10$1999.99reverb.com
Grez Guitars Mendocino Junior8.9 out of 10$2700.00reverb.com
Dunable DE Cyclops8.8 out of 10$1099.00reverb.com
PRS SE Custom 24-088.6 out of 10$899.00reverb.com
Vox Bobcat S668.5 out of 10$1399reverb.com
Fender Noventa Series Telecaster 8.3 out of 10$949.99reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Cutlass CT50HSS 8.3 out of 10$499.99reverb.com
Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty Les Paul8.0 out of 10$799.00reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Mariposa 7.9 out of 10$549.99reverb.com
Silvertone Model 14497.8 out of 10$399.00reverb.com
Gibson Explorer Antique Natural 20217.8 out of 10$1699.00reverb.com
D’Angelico Premier Atlantic7.8 out of 10$699.99reverb.com
Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special7.4 out of 10$449.99reverb.com
Manson Guitar Works Meta MBM-1 7.4 out of 10$599.99reverb.com
Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe7.4 out of 10$279.99reverb.com
RWM Guitars Offset T-Style7.3 out of 10$1300.00rwmguitars.com
Silvertone Model 14787.3 out of 10$499.00reverb.com
Donner DJC-1000S6.5 out of 10$173.99donnerdeal

A Look Back In Time

2019’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: Guild Jetstar (9.7 out of 10, $599)

2019’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: Fender Ultra Stratocaster (9.5 out of 10, $1999)

2020’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: Schecter Ultra III (9.4 out of 10, $949)

2020’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: PRS Silver Sky (9.8 out of 10, $2299)

2021’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: PRS SE Custom 24-08 (8.6 out of 10, $899)

2021’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: Rubato Guitars Lassie

Rubato Guitars Lassie Takes A Bold Step Into The Future

A one piece carbon fibre instrument with premium features and more durability than any guitar on the market.

Cost: $4300 for base package, from Rubato.guitars

Overview & Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

The spec sheet of the Rubato Lassie is unlike one I’ve ever reviewed before. The Lassie sports a one piece body and neck, made from a carbon fibre monocoque that weighs in at a whopping 5.5 pounds. More familiar, but premium guitar specs round out the instrument including a zero fret string guide, mini rotomatic locking tuners, and medium jumbo stainless steel frets. Sporting a 25.5″ scale length, the Lassie should feel more familiar than foreign.

The electronics are stripped down and simple, highlighted by two Porter mini humbucking pickups that are controlled by a 3-way selector alongside single volume and tone knobs. The simple electronics are not lacking in quality either, with Orange drop capacitors, Bourns potentiometers, and a Switchcraft switch. A hipshot fixed bridge joins grover strap-locks in the quality hardware department as well.

Sound: 9

The Lassie is a surprisingly flexible beast, despite having only a 3-way selector to control the Porter mini humbucker pickups. These pickups were a great choice, as they balance that single coil top end with the thickness and body of humbuckers nicely. So while it doesn’t have fancy switching or coil splits to create diverse sounds, it is a very open sounding instrument that can easily be shaped by your amp or pedals.

Perhaps most importantly is just how great the guitar sounds. It doesn’t sound “non-guitar-like” in any major sense of the phrase despite such unique construction. This might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it is. Rubato have completely reworked how an electric guitar can be made yet it feels no different in terms of playing experience. If anything, it just feels and sounds slightly better.

You can further tweak the sonic capabilities of the Lassie by ordering different pickup combinations from Rubato during construction as well. But overall, it is tough to argue with the clean, lush sounds of these minihumbuckers. It’s just a great sounding guitar, through and through.

Playability: 10

I cannot emphasize enough how comfortable this carbon fibre neck is. It feels far more rigid than any guitar neck I’ve played but it’s still smooth, fast, and thin across the whole fretboard. The rigidity is actually somewhat comfortable, as I feel like I have complete control over the neck, with no chance of it fighting back. And of course, the tuning stability is supreme. So far, the Lassie has lived up to the hype of having a perfectly intonated neck that will never shift. With no moisture or temperature impacts on the carbon fibre, the guitar did arrive almost perfectly in tune and has stayed that way for about a month now. Other highlights include the great upper fret access and the quality fretwork, which is to be expected on a guitar of this price.

Finish & Construction: 10

Rubato guitars has considered every aspect of guitar construction with the Lassie. And even if some of it is overkill, it all combines to create a really thoughtful instrument. The one piece construction is solid as can be and all the hardware is premium in origin and feel. Even the pickup installation is innovative thanks to spring mounts on the bottom of the pickup that hold it secure to the body, preventing any wobble or drift over time. Mini-rotomatic locking tuners and a borderline too-heavy duty aluminium flight case wrap up the impressive construction and storage feature list.

It is interesting to have a guitar without a true “finish”. Though that isn’t to say that the symmetrical carbon fibre body isn’t gorgeous. It has this amazing pattern and sleek shine to it. The Lassie is also shockingly lightweight and comfortable, with a full scale length making sure it never feels foreign.

Value: 9

Yes, this is an incredibly expensive guitar. And that is something I normally have railed against in my career. However, this is one of the few instruments that is unique in more than just aesthetics or a neat wiring trick. It’s a one piece guitar that will be set up for life while accumulating far less scratches, dings, or dents than any other $4000+ instrument. So while I do acknowledge the ridiculous price compared to the $500-$1200 guitars I normally review, this is really the closest thing to a structurally “perfect” guitar on the market. It’s similar to the Morifone Quarzo in the sense that I appreciate when people bring an actual engineering and sustainability point of view to guitar building. The Lassie is an incredible instrument that will fail you far less than other guitars on the boutique market, and for that it deserves high value marks.

Good for: Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz, Gigging Musicians, Musicians Who Travel Frequently, Players Who Want To Replace 10 Guitars With One

Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe: The Best Cheap Tele Yet?

Fender and Squier’s latest foray into affordable guitars is seemingly another rousing success despite some muddy pickups.

Cost: $279.99 from Fender.com, Amazon.com, Sweetwater.com, and Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10

Announced earlier this summer, Squier’s Affinity range has been rapidly expanding to include more and more classic models at budget prices. While the Affinity Jazzmaster took the offset world by storm, I was more interested in the double humbucker set up of the Affinity Telecaster Deluxe.

A Poplar body is covered by a gloss polyurethane finish, with Burgundy Mist and Charcoal Frost Metallic featuring Indian Laurel fretboards contrasted by the classic Black finish with a Maple fretboard. The necks are the classic Fender C-shape, with 21 medium jumbo frets and a synthetic bone nut.

Two ceramic humbuckers power this LP-killing Tele, with each pickup assigned its own tone and volume control. The three pickup switch also allows for some wonderful Morello-like stuttering if you shut the volume down on one pickup. Fender and Squier also made this guitar with a string through body construction, which is a nice feature if you plan on modding this into a higher end instrument. You can think of the bridge as your standard Fender hardtail bridge, with six adjustable saddles and a classic chrome finish.

Sound: 6.5

For an Affinity series instrument, these pickups are quite pleasant, if not a bit plain. You know exactly what you’re getting here, a loud humbucker that will only sound as good as you EQ it. I did notice that it sounds considerably better through high end amps and amp sims, compared to my cheaper practice amps. But the Tele Deluxe is a bit muddy overall, especially when playing clean.

It’s not too dissimilar from the Donner Tele copy I recently reviewed, though these pickups certainly have a touch more character than those did. On the other hand, they did come alive with overdrive and gain pedals stacked on top, so you can definitely apply this guitar in a variety of situations and still get quality sounds.

The big advantage here is the tone/volume controls for each pickup, which provides a lot of flexibility for such an affordable guitar. You can dial in some subtle yet interesting mixes of the two pickups when in the middle position. As you might expect, this guitar thrives for loud, rock music and the adjacent genres (punk, metal, pop). You shouldn’t expect such pristine cleans, though the neck pickup does have a good bit of body to it, even if it is a touch too muddy for me.

Playability: 7

The feel of that C-shaped neck was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s thick, but not too thick, sort of in that classic Telecaster way that many players have grown to love through the years. On the back of the neck, the finish is thin and smooth, a nice contrast from the thick polyurethane on the body. I found the fret edges and tuning stability to all be slightly above average and certainly useable without any major tweaks. There was barely any fret buzz, with only a few frets popping up from time to time as troublemakers. Cheaper Teles always have better tuning stability than cheap Strats because of the obvious bridge discrepancy, and this one was no different. However, the string through body does add a bit more of a premium feel to the neck, with plenty of tension and resonance, even when played acoustically.

Finish & Construction: 7

There was a slight issue with how FedEx handled this guitar, in the sake of transparency, but it was clear the massive crack in the finish was not Fender’s fault. So that blemish aside, this is a solidly built instrument! I really like the look and feel of the Affinity Telecaster Deluxe, because it sacrifices some superficial, premium specs for feel, fit, and reliability. The finish is a bit thick, but is offset by how light the body of the guitar feels. It’s not overwhelming in any which way, but it is unmistakably a great candidate for modifications or a pickup swap. It’s another case of an instrument having “great bones”, so that it can grow alongside you. No matter how “cheap” any of the hardware or electronics may feel, they get some points for being very easily replaced.

Value: 9

Squier’s Affinity Telecaster Deluxe scores off the charts here, as it is simply greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not a perfect instrument, but it lacks any sort of flaw that makes it unplayable. It’s fun, accessible, and could easily be tweaked into a gigging monster with a new set of electronics and some upgraded tuners. This gives it a broad range of potential user as well, from beginners on their first guitar to pros who need a backup instrument, gigging instrument, or a DIY project for these cold winter months. While I generally hold the Affinity series guitars to be the “average” score for guitar reviews (5-6 out of 10), this Tele Deluxe is a notch above and a great product to check out in late 2021 or early 2022!

Good for: Rock, Punk, Blues, Les Paul Fans, Budget Telecaster Fans, DIY Mod Projects, Gigging Musicians

Ranking Every Pedal We Reviewed in 2021

2021 was a year of many firsts for me, none of which were more dramatic however than my headfirst dive into the world of pedal demos and reviews!

Image courtesy of Teemu Suomala

I did not think that pedal reviews would make up the majority of my website’s content this year, yet here we are. In 2021 we have reviewed almost 40 pedals including some major brands I never imagined would want to work with me! We covered everything from clones to original circuits and reissues as well. I have no doubt this will be one of the most diverse, and comprehensive collections of pedal reviews and demos you will read all year!

Part of heavy embrace of the pedal world this year was because of how scarce guitars were. Regardless of price, country of origin, or popularity, there were simply few guitars actually available to demo. I was constantly told that any stock was already sold off and that they were struggling to make more. But pedals, oh they were plentiful, even despite some well documented parts shortages.

I even switched my pedal review/demo format throughout the year to make them quicker reads and easier to digest. Through all this work to source, record, and edit pedal content I was lucky enough to find my new favorite pedal company, Interchange Noise Works, who even helped sponsor my first ever giveaway! Between them, the Shotmaker Instruments Heroine, and a handful of other great builders, my pedal board’s gain stages will never be boring again!

A quick word on the ratings, which have changed for some pedals from their original published score. I re-calculated the score to account for newly released competition, how long something stays on my board, and tried to account for if some pedals faded away quicker than others once the shine wore off. So in some ways, think of less as a rating of the individual pedal and more of a comparison of how they all fit alongside one another.

Superlatives:

Best Overall: Shotmaker Instruments Heroine FuzzDriver – read the full review

Best Value: JHS 3 Series Delay – read the full review

Most Creative: Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny – read the full review

Best Budget (Under $50) Option: Donner White Tape Delay – read the full review

My Personal Favorite: Interchange Noise Works Element 119 – read the full review

Most Useful Pedal: Walrus Audio Mako Series ACS-1 – read the full review

OVERALL REVIEW RANKINGS

PedalPedal TypeFinal Rating
(0-10)
CostGrab Your Own
Walrus Mako Series ACS-1Amp/Cab Sim9.7$400Reverb.com
Shotmaker Instruments HeroineGain9.6$125shotmaker.co
Strymon IridiumAmp/Cab Sim9.5$400Reverb.com
Earthquaker Devices Astral DestinyReverb9.1$199Reverb.com
IK Multimedia X-VIBEModulation9.0$300Reverb.com
Wampler RatsbaneDistortion9.0$150Reverb.com
JHS 3 Series DelayDelay8.9$99Reverb.com
October Audio NVMBR FuzzDistortion/Fuzz8.6$145octoberaudio.com
Interchange Noise Works Element 119Distortion8.6$175inw.com
Chase Bliss Audio MOODDelay8.5$349Reverb.com
Poison Noises The CrookOverdrive8.3$99poisonnoises.com
JHS 3 Series ReverbReverb8.3$99Reverb.com
Danelectro 3699 fUZZFuzz8.2$199Reverb.com
Time Box Instruments MeltdownDelay8.0$200
Music Box Pedals Lyla DriveOverdrive7.9$175musicboxpedals.com
Flamma Innovation FC-05Modulation7.8$40Amazon.com
Nux Duo TimeDelay7.7$149Reverb.com
Interchange Noise Works Streamline IOverdrive7.7$95inw.com
EHX Eddy Chorus/Vibrato7.6$112Reverb.com
Interchange Noise Works On AirFuzz7.6$175inw.com
Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little CoatFuzz7.5$99thirty7fx.com
Strip FX KC-94Overdrive7.4$125Reverb.com
Summer School Electronics Gus DriveOverdrive7.3$150Reverb.com
Thirty7fx TombstoneTreble Booster7.3$135thirty7fx.com
Nux FiremanDistortion7.3$119Reverb.com
Donner White TapeDelay7.3$50Donner.com
Supro Analog ChorusChorus/Vibrato7.1$249Reverb.com
Orange Acoustic PedalAmp/Cab Sim6.8$169Reverb.com
Musiclily FUZZFuzz6.7$47Amazon.com
Orange Terror StampAmp/Cab Sim6.6$200Reverb.com
SPS Pedals Local 2609Overdrive6.6$120Reverb.com
Flamma FC-02Reverb6.2$40Amazon.com
Mosky Black RatDistortion5.2$32Amazon.com
Musiclily AD-01Delay4.7$47Amazon.com

My Thoughts

Obviously this list is heavily tilted towards the gain side of the pedal spectrum. This is partially because gain (overdrive, distortion, boosters, fuzz) are generally the easiest circuits to make and are the most popular. In fact, everyone and their mother is now making some version of an overdrive pedal.

However, many of them are clones of older circuits and only a few actually have some unique characteristics. I think the Heroine is one of the most versatile and useful gain pedals I have ever played, with the Element 119, NVMBR Fuzz, and the Streamline Series I following in close behind. These all do unique and/or multiple gain sounds that took no time to fit into my rig and playing experience.

In terms of clones and clone-ish pedals, the Wampler Ratsbane is arguably the best RAT distortion pedal I’ve ever played. It’s not only incredibly versatile, but it is a very creative take on the classic circuit that is more clone-ish than pure clone. The Lyla Drive is a phenomenal Timmy-style pedal that will absolutely be sticking around my board as well. The Crook, from Poison Noises is also not a pure clone, but is one of the coolest overdrives I’ve played in a while, with LED or Mosfet clipping options.

When it comes to the more atmospheric side of things, where I love to hang out, the Astral Destiny was shockingly worth the hype generated by its 2021 release. It’s versatile, useable, and honestly a great value for the price tag. The MOOD is intimidating, and amazing, but even if you just use the reverb and delay features it is a blast. The granular delay and micro looping is still taking me some getting used to, but it is definitely a groundbreaking approach to sound generation.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the huge jump in amp/cab sim technology. The Iridium is perfect for me, with tons of onboard gain and three very distinct amplifier voices. I could easily replace my live and recording rigs with this pedal, and I plan on doing just that. The Walrus Audio ACS-1 is probably actually a better pedal, owing to its incredible feature set and hi-fi, crystal clear tones.

If we look over at Reverb’s best selling pedals released in 2021, gear I reviewed is well represented. Earthquaker Devices and their Astral Destiny check in at #1 overall, while the Walrus ACS-1 is close behind at #4. In the best selling pedals of 2021 list, which includes more than just new releases, the Iridium cracks the top 10 list as well, checking in as the 9th most purchased pedal on Reverb all year.

Another way to look at our reviews, by brand!

Established BrandsNew Builders Quality ClonesAffordable/Budget
Earthquaker DevicesShotmaker InstrumentsStrip FXNux
Strymon Interchange Noise WorksSPS PedalsMusiclily
Walrus AudioPoison Noises Music Box PedalsFlamma Innovation
JHS PedalsThirty7fx Summer School ElectronicsDonner
Chase Bliss AudioOctober Audio
Wampler IK Multimedia
EHXTime Box Instruments
Supro
Danelectro
Orange Amplifiers

Top Pedals Reviewed In 2021 By My Friends (Who You Should Follow)

Pedal PickEffect TypeGrab Your Own
Pedal HavenTX Pedals AnimalizzerFuzzReverb.com
Gear FeverUniversal Audio Golden ReverberatorReverbReverb.com
Matt FoyKOAmps Aunt Peg’s RamblerOctave FuzzReverb.com

And last but not least, some closing words by my good friend Sebastian from Var Guitar on his favorite pedals of the year, Tone Bender heartbreak, and effects modeling!

“I have two “pedals of the year”, for completely different reasons. The first is the Line 6 HX Effects. You’ve heard of the Helix family of modelers; the HX Effects has all their effects, it just omits the amp modeling. I wanted a flexible way to route delay, reverb, and modulation around my analog drives without needing to unplug my whole board every time I change my mind. I’m not enough of a mod connoisseur to feel like I need discrete analog pedals for everything – I was using a Boss MD-500 and DD-500 beforehand – and the HX Effects does everything I used them for, plus vastly more, in one box. The onboard editing is really easy, the effects are incredibly high quality, and I feel like I can now spend more time making music and experimenting than unplugging and re-connecting patch cables.   The Line 6 crew are constantly issuing firmware updates, but even if they never released another, the effects in the current version will do 90% of everything I’ll ever want. It’s the centerpiece of my pedalboard and I can’t wait to see what effects the Line 6 crew add next. 

My second pedal of the year is the Ramble FX Twin Bender. I had gotten really hyped up for the Boss TB-2W, and even managed to place an order for one, but when the place I ordered from ended up cancelling my order due to lack of supply, my fuzzy dreams came crashing down. I refuse to pay the secondary market premium for a TB-2W, so I did a lot of research into what would make for a suitable consolation prize; now that I have the Twin Bender, my search has come to an end. Like the TB-2W, it contains a Tone Bender MK II circuit, but it goes even further. For one, whereas the Boss has three bias settings, the Twin Bender has a fully adjustable bias knob, enabling you to starve the transistors for squelchy splattering tones or get ripping fuzz at full voltage. What’s more, it also contains a Tone Bender MK 1.5 circuit, has a few EQ options, and an adjustable input impede-r so that it plays nicely with buffers/wireless/et cetera. I’m extremely happy with it, and i don’t imagine you can get a fuller-featured Bender for the price. 

This all being said, if you are a Guitars For Idiots reader looking to sell a TB-2W at its original MSRP, please get in touch.”

Time Box Instruments Meltdown: A More Punk “Mood”

A micro looping delay with lo-fi modulation madness and a chaos switch built-in for good measure.

Overview & Cost: $200 from Timebox.ca or Reverb.com!

Time Box Instruments is one of the most incredible pedal companies I have found in the year 2021. Nicky Fuzzbox, the man behind the pedal company, is a circuit bender by trade who makes very unique pedals in all shapes and forms. The Meltdown, the subject of today’s review, is a lo-fi modulated delay with an aptly named Chaos switch. However, this delay is a very long, almost micro-looping delay, that is best suited for creating atmospheric swirls of chords and melodies rather than doing your best U2 impersonation.

You do have typical delay controls including volume (of the effect), feedback, and delay. However, they are paired with modulation controls like depth, rate, and wave shape, which all work together to transform the cacophony of sound that the Meltdown creates. As far as I can tell, the Chaos switch serves as a way to sort of max out all these controls, sending your tone into momentary overload. The Meltdown isn’t a perfect pedal, but what it might lack in some more traditional departments it more than makes up for in inspirational qualities. As I think you’ll see throughout this review, this is a pedal that makes you want to play guitar or bass when you’ve come home from a miserable work day. And that, much like my argument for the CBA Mood, is a wonderful feature!

Review & Opinion

While it took me a few minutes to figure out how to best use the Meltdown, it has been one of the most fun pedals in my arsenal the last few weeks. You can’t approach this pedal like you might approach another delay, as it is more of a sonic blender than what you and me think of as a “modulated delay”. It’s not a Memory Man, plain and simple.

What it is might be better described as a lo-fi filter, that adds some amount of fuzz and dirt to your clean tone, while delaying your signal a good bit of time so that you can often play over a loop. However, the ability to control the modulation and length of that loop is what makes this really interesting. You can essentially smear your riffs together in a washy, textural stream of sound while what you’re actively playing pierces through with much more clarity and bite.

I approach my use of the Meltdown a bit like a synthesizer. This is the pedal that creates pads and movement underneath more traditional guitar or bass tones. And while I’m sure someone far more creative than me could harness this is a lead instrument tone, I found it has endless possibilities in the rhythm section of my music. The Chaos switch specifically does give this a punk breakdown or noise solo potential unlike most pedals out there however. But really, that Chaos is better for specific moments of carefully chosen sonic bliss while the pedal is chugging along as a synth for guitarists who can’t play piano.

Conclusions & Final Score: 9 out of 10

There is a lot I could say about the Time Box Instruments Meltdown to justify why I love it. The obvious comparison is to the MOOD, which I don’t make lightly. I loved the CBA MOOD, but this is the type of pedal that a DIY, garbage guitar player like myself can more easily build into my rig. This has all the randomness and glitchiness that keeps a pedal from being too predictable, but it still far and away very musical. Time Box Instruments is doing some unique stuff, that doesn’t necessarily cost you a whole lot more than any other boutique builder out there. In some cases, the gear is even affordable in comparison. Stay tuned for more reviews, as I was sent another pedal that is somehow even more fun than the Meltdown!

IK Multimedia X-VIBE Multi Modulation Pedal Review and Demo

A 16-in-one solution to all your modulation needs comes at a high price, but with ample room for customization and flexibility.

Cost & Overview: $299.99 from Reverb.com, Amazon.com, or IKmultimedia.com! (some affiliate links)

Announced during the relatively quiet Summer NAMM, IK Multimedia has firmly entered the pedal world after dipping their toes in a few years back. The X-VIBE is an entirely new beast however, packing their popular AmpliTube software into this all-in-one solution for modulation effects. With 16 different effect algorithms, you can make use of 50 loaded presets from the factory, with storage for 300 total presets. These presets can be managed via your computer, making them much more user friendly, via the USB port. This USB port also doubles as a connection for using this X-VIBE as a recording interface.

There’s also MIDI functionality, letting you automate your modulation effects as much or as little as you prefer. While I myself will be using this a more simple multi-effect, the programming power of the X-VIBE is immense for stereo or mono rigs alike. There’s a wide range of effects, including different chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo, and rotary speaker modes. Some famous modulation models like the MXR Phase 90, EHX Electric Mistress, EHX Small Stone, and Roland RS chorus are built-in as well. Though you have total control thanks to typical speed and depth controls, which are paired with a 3-band EQ. Plus, the parameter knob controls a different factor for each effect that you’ve engaged, given you more flexibility when programming your X-VIBE.

Review & Opinion

The main calling card here is versatility, as the X-Vibe can totally replace the 4 modulation pedals I’ve been keeping on my board full time. My CH-1, TR-2, Phase 90, and Electric Mistress can be very easily replaced, thanks to the sound-alike AmpliTube alternatives. The Phase 90 and Electric Mistress models in the X-Vibe are dead ringers, and I’m not playing vintage, sought after versions of those pedals anyway. So this is a completely viable option where I’ve noticed no real difference in the sound of my standalone pedals versus these algorithms.

I’m sure that some more high end modulation effects might not be easily replicated via the X-VIBE, or at least I haven’t been able to dial those tones in myself yet. So if you’re board is loaded with things like a Polychrome Flanger, a Warped Vinyl, etc…you will have to work harder to get the X-VIBE locked in. However, if you’re like me and use pretty standard mods because you grew up listening to London Calling, Regatta de Blanc, or She Sells Sanctuary, this is a phenomenal sounding product.

What the X-VIBE excels in though is tweak-ability of these classic sounds, even adding in some unexpectedly useful modes like Step Filter and Step Slicer. The sound quality is all there, providing a bit more analog warmth than I expected for some of these classic effects. But to discuss each in detail would take up, well, 16 pedals worth of reviews. What does make a big difference is the ability to control the EQ of your modulation voice, which is uncommon on most standard pedals. The Bass, Mid, and Treble knobs open up a lot more texture within the Phase 90 voice or super chorus mode. This is where most musicians, myself included, will really spend time dialing in the X-VIBE to better suit their guitar or amps’ unique characteristics.

Conclusion & Final Score: 8.3 out of 10

Overall, the X-VIBE is a phenomenal solution to your guitar modulation needs if you’re willing to spend the time tweaking these classic algorithms to your specific liking. It will never be as novel as insane modulation pedals rolling out of boutique builders these days, but it will always supplant the old classics.

You should see this is as 16 modulation pedals for $400, which compares favorably to the $300+ I spent on my TR-2, CH-1, Phase 90, and Electric Mistress pedals. Which have far less tone shaping potential, no onboard programmability, and require 4 distinct 9v power supplies to the X-VIBES one. So you can see how this can be convenient solution for many players. It’s also worth noting you get a full virtual suite of these X-VIBE effects when you buy the hardware, pedal product. So essentially, you get the pedal and all the plug-in versions, providing solid value for the money.

Get To Know Summer School Electronics And Their Gus Drive Pedal

The inaugural pedal from Summer School Electronics prioritizes simple and clear overdrive above complex tone shaping.

Cost & Overview: $149.99 from SummerSchoolElectronics.com

Hailing from Syracuse, NY Summer School Electronics is led by a part time teacher/part time punk rocker whose first release to the world of pedals is an updated take on the DOD 250 and MXR Distortion+. The Gus-Drive, named after his loveable dog (as if there was an unlovable dog) is a two knob overdrive with volume (Bark) and gain (Howl) controls. With an impressive range from subtle to saturated, the Gus-Drive can be both distortion and overdrive, depending on how you want to use it. Convenient modern features like top mounted jacks help make the Gus Drive pedalboard friendly, and the pedal is powered by your standard 9v supply.

Review & Opinion:

I really favored the Gus Drive with the gain turned all the way up, leaving volume at unison with the amp. This creates a very crisp distortion that sounds full and amp-like, with no extraneous compression or muddiness. In fact, it is a relatively treble-rich gain, as opposed to the bass heavy sounds of many dirt boxes. I suppose that is where the DOD 250 gets its reputation as a “crispy” overdrive/distortion. But in this case, it works very well with humbuckers that I might otherwise find a bit too bass rich.

While I’m not very educated on the internal diode and clipping schematics, it seems this is one with quite a bit of headroom, as there is a lot of boost and light drive sounds in the Gus Drive. Specifically, it has a very wide range of overdrive just within the sweep of the Howl knob. I think many players would find this to be an exception treble boost even, though I definitely think it comes alive at the highest gain settings for garage and punk rock power chords. Another nice feature is the sensitivity of the volume knob, which doesn’t drastically jump up in output once you move past noon. While some people love their pedals loud, it does bother me when a pedal only has a “quiet-unison-way too loud” form factor. This is not the case, with a variety of subtle volume jumps to help dial in the right tone based on the pickup choice.

While I don’t have much experience with the circuits that inspired the Gus Drive, this feels like a very nice take on the idea of the smooth, preamp overdrive associated with ’70s music. The ability to add sustain with the flexible gain level also seems well suited to play nicely with tube amplifiers. And while I record my demos with amp/cab sims for simplicity, I was really loving how this accentuated the natural gain in my Vox AC15.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Overall I’m very impressed with the Gus Drive and only have mild comments on the pedal as a whole. I do love supporting local builders, or atleast domestic builders, but $150 is a bit steep when there is no shortage of 250s/MXR Distortion+ pedals ranging from $75-$100. However, a vintage one will definitely set you back quite a bit, and this feels like a bit more solid than whatever import reissue of the 250 is probably floating around right now. So if you want that classic, preamp gain with sizzle, I do think this is a worthy investment. Though it is overflowing with “value” points all the same.

You can definitely tell though that this pedal was built by a player, because it is convenient, quiet, and honestly just a lot of fun. I would say it really works best as a distortion, though it has a no shortage of room to find your favorite low gain/high volume tones for pushing a tube amp. And there is something to be said for pedals with stripped down controls, there’s no room to hide bad sounds or poor wiring! And fortunately, the Gus Drive possesses neither of those two features and is a really great introduction into the pedal world for Summer School Electronics.