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.
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
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 Brands||New Builders||Quality Clones||Affordable/Budget|
|Earthquaker Devices||Shotmaker Instruments||Strip FX||Nux|
|Strymon||Interchange Noise Works||SPS Pedals||Musiclily|
|Walrus Audio||Poison Noises||Music Box Pedals||Flamma Innovation|
|JHS Pedals||Thirty7fx||Summer School Electronics||Donner|
|Chase Bliss Audio||October Audio|
|EHX||Time Box Instruments|
Top Pedals Reviewed In 2021 By My Friends (Who You Should Follow)
|Pedal Pick||Effect Type||Grab Your Own|
|Pedal Haven||TX Pedals Animalizzer||Fuzz||Reverb.com|
|Gear Fever||Universal Audio Golden Reverberator||Reverb||Reverb.com|
|Matt Foy||KOAmps Aunt Peg’s Rambler||Octave Fuzz||Reverb.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.”