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.


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


PedalPedal TypeFinal Rating
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
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.

Donner White Tape Stereo Echo Review: $46 Is A Bargain

Control over left and right analog tape echo parameters that will run parallel to each other has never been so accessible.

Cost & Overview: $45.99 from Amazon

In one of the biggest surprises of the year, this $46 Donner tape delay has become one of my absolute favorite guitar pedals. The White Tape is a stereo analog tape delay pedal that lets you control the level, time, and feedback of a delay on the right side and another delay on the left side. This gives you the unique ability to “ping pong” delay sounds back and forth, or create some very interesting textural pads of sound. At first glance, you might be confused as to why you’d want to have two different delay signals in stereo, but once you hear the sound of one short delay cresting before a series of long repeats, it is hard to resist. Aside from your stereo ins and outs, a standard 9v power supply input, you’ll find very straightforward controls over the level (or mix), number of repeats, and length of delay for both left and right channels.

Review & Opinion:

Donner’s White Tape pedal should have been on my radar much earlier. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone out and purchased an Echoplex if I had tried this first. This analog delay pedal is based on simulating the classic tape echo sounds we all know and love. Except it not only does that incredibly well, it does it incredibly well in stereo.

The analog delay voice has a pretty decent in range in both the length and number of repeats. It also sounds a lot more authentic than I anticipated as well. The White Tape is also largely devoid of the two perils most cheap delay pedals face: short delay time and low output volume. Both of these problems are well displayed by another cheap analog delay, the Musiclily AD-01 I reviewed. So it was incredible to plug into this Donner box and feel right at home.

Then, just to add more to the fun, the White Tape can even get a little bit weird. With lots of tape echo saturation when you crank the mix and lots of tape echo oscillation when you crank the feedback! So while it isn’t the most beautiful, lush delay I’ve ever owned, it is like 80% of the way there, with a great price tag and unique feature set meant for stereo rigs. And in terms of the actual delay voicing here, there is more than enough quality to have this sit on your board as a go-to delay.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 8.4 out of 10

This is such a cool idea for a pedal, let alone an affordable and mass produced pedal. It’s actually really refreshing to see Donner invest some time and energy into making a cheap pedal that isn’t just a clone, copy, or clickbait circuit. But even more impressive is that the White Tape is not just a gimmick. In fact, this Donner White Tape dual delay sounds really freaking good for what it is. You get utility, function, and tonality for $46, and that is very deserving of the high marks awarded here. I do understand not everyone will want, have need for, or even have access to stereo guitar rigs, thus limiting the scope of this pedal in some ways. However, if you have something like a Walrus ACS-1, an HX Stomp or Pod Go, this is a real tool for you to create with. This might be the highest rating I’ve ever given out to a sub-$50 pedal, and it is definitely setting a very high standard for the affordable gear to follow!

Poison Noises The Crook Overdrive Review & Demo

A Mosfet-style overdrive with flexible EQ controls an additional diode selector sounds pretty sweet to someone who is always struggling with overdriven tones.

Overview & Cost: $99.99 from Poisonnoises.com or find your own Reverb.com!

Poison Noises is a relatively young pedal company, having only launched as a pedal company in January 2020. However, their previous history as an audio engineering group has no doubt helped them release an astounding 12 pedals (and counting) in under two years. Despite those 12 pedals containing many interesting takes on fuzz and modulation circuits, “The Crook” overdrive is their flagship pedal and seeks to replace any and all overdrive pedals that currently populate your board. And after a long year of reviewing overdrive pedals, I was shocked to find that this one beat the rest out!

The Crook is a Mosfet-style drive that can adjusted into an alternate diode mode (LED-based instead of Mosfet) using the “The Goods” toggle switch. You get a master tone control plus an extra low end control, the “Lay Low” knob, which functions like the bass knob on a Timmy overdrive (though this is NOT a Timmy pedal) to bring some bass back into the mix. You’re left then with just straightforward volume (Entering) and gain (Breaking) controls. Without giving away too much of the next section, there is a very clear difference between the two diode selections that make this pedal feel very versatile. The LED transistor clipping is much more open and amp-like, compared to the more compressed crunch of the Mosfet mode.

Review & Opinion:

I’ve never had any sort of run-in with an overdrive pedal of this flavor. I know the TS9 is pretty similar in some ways, though certainly not a direct sibling in any way. The more compressed Mosfet-mode definitely had some tube screamer-like tones, but with far more versatile EQ controls and less of that pure mid-hump. But while it didn’t sound the same, I use the TS9 as a good reference point for how this fit into my sound. When I needed that warm, compressed lead line, this comes in handy.

However the highlight and the majority of the praise will be heaped on the wide open sounding LED-diode clipping mode. This is an amp-like overdrive that sits somewhere between distortion and a lighter, airy drive. It’s perfect for creating a thick, punchy sound that brings power chords to life for punk, pop-punk, and hard rock. However, it can be pushed pretty hard over the edge into distortion and chug-worthy tones.

The calling card isn’t just that flexibility, but the overall quality of the overdrive for only $99. The ability to mix in extra low end is what helps keep this so tight and focused as an overdrive, but it never gets too muddy when you turn up the gain and volume. It’s a wonderful high gain overdrive, and it also played really nice with my single coil pickups, both Tele and P90 variety. It succeeds in making them sound almost humbucker-like, as in huge and rich.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 8.7 out of 10

Two different flavors of overdrive clipping pair nicely with the extra bass control to make this one tweakable pedal. But at the same time, it is very easy to coax wonderful tones out of it, making it user friendly. The value for the money is a big plus as well, with some of the comparable overdrive pedals costing $150+ as opposed to this $99 price tag. It’s also a nice change of pace to see someone try a new take on a Mosfet drive, instead of the transparent overdrive market that has been thoroughly saturated. I can strongly recommend this for anyone who wants a higher gain drive, with some versatility, but isn’t willing to spend $200 on a premium, boutique pedal that is trendier than it is functional.

Silvertone Model 1449 Reissue Review and Demo

I’ve wanted access to these reissues for years now, will they live up to my garage rock expectations?

Cost: $399.00 from Silvertoneclassic.com, Amazon.com, Reverb.com, or check out Sweetwater!

Overview & Final Score: 7.8 out of 10

The Silvertone 1449 may be best known as the guitar that came with the amp-in-case purchased from old Sears catalogs back in the day. It really come on my radar thanks to Beck and Cage The Elephant’s Brad Shultz who both heavily used these guitars in the Alt-rock scene I grew up in. Featuring dual lipstick pickups, you might recognize the stacked tone and control knobs, which are a Danelectro calling card. And this is a very Danelectro-adjacent guitar, even though I actually have no idea if this Silvertone predated the Danelectro company at all. The lipstick pickups are controlled via a 3-way pickup selector plus the aforementioned stacked control knobs.

Like the 1478, the Model 1449 features a Mahogany body with a bolt-on Mahogany neck and Rosewood fretboard. This C-shaped neck features 21 frets, pearl dot inlays, and a very interesting through-body bridge. Your eyes are always drawn to the unique paddle headstock that features all the sealed, die-cast tuners on the top side that creates a very painful looking break angle out of the nut.

Sound: 8.5

Lipstick pickups on a non-Danelectro guitar? Silvertone makes a mean lipstick pickup that sounds glassy, bright, and surprisingly rich. Even clean, the fingerpicked tones filled out nicely and had a real twang to them. It surprisingly even approaching Telecaster-like performance when plugged into a Vox-voiced amp simulator. It actually feels a fair bit more versatile than I anticipated, and that was an impressive discovery for me. My criticism of the last Silvertone was that it felt very narrow in the scope of sounds it could cover, and I don’t really feel that applies to this reissue at all. Country, Indie, even Jazz music are all within the realm of possibility here. But there is no denying this 1449 rocks.

Overdriven tones retain such a nice sparkle, giving them a bit more dimension than you might expect for a guitar associated with alternative and garage rock. In fact, I can see why this fits so nicely in Cage The Elephants musical style, it fills a ton of space and brings a punchy body despite no apparent mid-heavy quality. It cuts through the mix nicely, and is very sensitive to how you dial in the amp or pedal EQ. I appreciate this because with such a nice sounding clean guitar, I want to be able to preserve that tone without pedals, but then use it as sort of a clean platform to build off of. If the guitar’s tone overpowers all else, you’re sort of locked into that sound.

Playability: 6.5

Fret buzz strikes again, and this time it is made a bit worse by the wider neck shape of the Model 1449. Silvertone guitars should definitely get a once over and professional set up upon purchase, though that is not unfair considering this is only a $400 guitar. I do find this neck to be very comfortable, but the fret edges were not as keenly taken care of. Again, you’re going to expect some sort of quality issues at this price point, but I can’t ignore them all the same. Tuning stability was pretty solid however, and the guitar took a bit of a beating during downstrokes and heavy punk abuse. If you can get it setup, the rest of the playability will be up to snuff to take on stage or in the studio.

Finish & Construction: 8

The finish is stunning, and spotless, shining almost as bright as my old Schecter Ultra III’s bright blue. The construction also felt really solid, with a great bridge, good tuning stability, and significantly more premium feeling hardware than I expected. The one hugely annoying design choice here is the location of the strap button on the top of the guitar. It’s where the neck meets the body, on this little ledge, that is near impossible to get a strap on. Huge issue? Nope. Once again though, you think someone who plays guitar would have picked this up and said “nah”. Otherwise though, I was really impressed from top to bottom with the Model 1449, and would be tempted to keep this and use it regularly going forward to a variety of applications.

Value: 8

It’s hard for me to not give this a high value rating, as it feels like the better of the two Silvertones I tried. It also costs $100 less, while feeling that much better. The Model 1449 is also a good bit more versatile, and feels like it could settle in as someone’s go-to instrument. It’s part Danelectro, part Telecaster, and will turn heads on a stage for sure. It’s also a unique option on the sub-$500 market, that isn’t just another Strat, Tele, Les Paul copy that has been retread. Lipstick pickups, a design you’re not going to get anywhere else, there’s a lot to like about Silvertone’s stab at the old 1449.

Good for: Garage Rock, Surf, Indie/Alternative Rock, Retro Pawnshop Guitar Fans, Budget Minded Players, Danelectro Fans/Players, Telecaster Fans/Players

Donner DJC-1000S Guitar Review & Demo

Donner’s newest addition is their take on a thinline Telecaster with dual humbuckers, for only $174.

Cost: $173.99 from Amazon

Overview & Final Score: 6.5 out of 10

It’s been a good while since a Donner product strolled through this website, but I’m quite excited to see them return. My first experience with a Donner was a pleasant surprise, and this DJC-1000S guitar seems poised to continue that trend. A relatively new addition to Donner’s lineup, the DJC is basically a copy of a Fender ’70s Tele Thinline, complete with the fancy F-hole and dual humbucking pickups. Those pickups are controlled via the standard Tele set-up, a 3-way switch alongside volume/tone knobs.

The DJC-1000S features a Poplar body paired to a Maple neck and fretboard in a fan favorite finish, Fender’s three tone sunburst. The gloss finish on the neck is shockingly smooth, providing a glossy contrast to the classic and familiar look of the body. Fairly standard hardware rounds out the spec sheet, with the hardtail bridge, tuners, and knobs being pretty much replacement level in quality. Though I will note the string through body aspect of the bridge is quite nice on a guitar of this price.

Sound: 5.5

The most jarring feature of this guitar is the difference between the clean tones and the overdriven/distorted tones. These pickups actually have some life as long as there is plenty of overdrive or gain on top. The DJC-1000S won’t set the world on fire as a clean guitar, but it is certainly useable. It grades out as roughly average (5-6) and is commensurate with some Affinity Tele products you might be more familiar with. Based on sound alone, this is a guitar that can and will work for you, but will never wow you or prevent you from investing in an upgrade.

The clean tones in all three positions are a bit lower output than anticipated for a humbucker, but do have some warmth in there when fingerpicked. It’s very much a blank canvas, even through a relatively nice tube amp or modeler. And I think there is a noticeable disparity between the clean sounds and the effect-laden tones I conjured up for the demo.

Playability: 6

The neck on this Donner Tele copy was surprisingly impressive in terms of feel and craftsmanship. It is glossy, but never sticky or slow, and closer to a Classic Vibe Squier than I anticipated for the sub-$200 price. There was some noticeable fret buzz, probably thanks to the action being lower than most guitars I’ve picked up recently. There was even one or two dead note spots on the neck, which really betrays how premium the neck looks and feels in terms of the lower score here. Donner’s DJC still grades out around average though, as a quick set-up would turn this into a very good player. And while requiring a set-up is enough to knock points off, it is not enough to sink the score past “average”.

Finish & Construction: 7

While there were some clear corners cut with the set-up and pickup choices, the finish and construction of this Donner actually merit some high marks. It feels and looks a lot more expensive than $174, and blows the Donner Strat I previously reviewed out of the water in terms of cool factor. Finish-wise, there were really no signs of sloppy work or damage, though it is fairly obviously a cheap poly finish that doesn’t have a ton of depth or body in the wood grain below. But for a partscaster, beginner guitar, or gigging instrument it looks, feels, and operates at a high enough level to get a pass. Donner’s choice of hardware also seemed pretty solid, with the bridge providing solid tuning stability and adjustability.

Value: 7.5

The highest score of all falls in the value consideration, which is pretty self explanatory. It’s a $175 guitar that has more in common with $300-$400 products. You can spend $60 on a good set-up and still be under the cost of many competitors, outside of a Harley Benton guitar. It’s very beginner friendly despite a few flaws because it looks inspiring, isn’t just another LP/Strat copy, and does have some cool sounds hidden in there if you’ll stack a pedal or modeling amp on top. It’s lightweight and ready for modifications as well, which can’t help but buffer the score here as well. Plus you get a strap, a gig bag, and a cable included with the guitar. Overall it seems like a real step in the right direction for Donner and has me very interested in what else they’ll be releasing in the coming year!

Good for: DIY Mod Enthusiasts, Beginners, Tele Fans, Gigging Musicians, Les Paul Fans, Classic Rock

Check out Donner’s Halloween giveaway to win free gear!

Silvertone Model 1478 Reissue Review and Demo

A reissue of the classic, small scale offset is finally out in the world, with vintage tremolo arm and all!

Cost: $499.00 from Silvertoneclassic.com, Amazon.com, Reverb.com, or Sweetwater!

Overview & Final Score: 7.3 out of 10

I have had my eye on these Silvertone reissues for years now, even though most people only become aware of them during Summer NAMM this year. Silvertone has boasted these models for years on their website, that would alternative between being active and deleted, with zero contact points or marketing behind it. So their re-emergence this year isn’t without some context.

The Model 1478 is perhaps best known to some as the Harmony Bobkat guitar that St. Vincent played early in her career. It was actually first available in 1963, making part of the original offset craze that followed the Jazzmaster and Jaguar releases. This reissue features a Mahogany body and neck, with a Rosewood fingerboard and 20 frets on the 24.5″ scale length guitar. Two Silvertone single coil pickups each feature their own volume and tone control, a 3-way toggle, and a 5-layer tort pickguard. It’s a C-shaped neck, with a nickel silver frets, and gorgeous pearl block inlays. The bridge is a Tune-O-matic paired with a Bigsby tremolo arm. Other specs of note include chrome hardware, sealed tuners, and a unique Red Sunburst finish.

Sound: 8

There is no denying the unique, vintage tone of these single coil pickups. They have a lot more body than your standard Fender-style single coil, as they almost sound P90-ish. Silvertone’s 1478 reissue really comes to life with various gain stages layered on top. It’s a bit cliche to just plug this into a fuzz and play The Black Keys, but honestly, that is what this is made for. Blues, garage rock, anything in that vein is within easy reach. Specifically, the single coils get a good bit of sustain which really lets lead lines, be it slide or finger-style guitar even as long as distortion is present.

Silvertone also surprised me with how quiet these single coils are. Even with my Ratsbane pedal or Element 119 on top, there isn’t too much hiss or squeal when I’m not hitting the strings. The clean sounds weren’t quite as impressive, though still above average and useable. There is a bit of chime and a very metallic, razor-like body that is inline with what you get from a vintage Silvertone. But it is fairly low output without any amp or pedal gain, which is a bit disappointing. You’re definitely limited in the scope of what you can accomplish, clean jazz is arguably going to be a tough sell, and the pickups aren’t defined enough for metal or precise playing. It’s definitely meant for a more imprecise, soulful performance, but that is what most people want from this type of guitar anyway!

Playability: 7

I was a bit less enthused with the fret buzz on the Model 1478, but Silvertone is on to something with the neck here. It’s very small, and smooth, with a comfy C-shaped neck that feels very Jaguar or Mustang-like to me. It’s also a pretty fast player, though you’re probably not going to be shredding with only the 20 frets and tight fretboard. You can see why older blues players and fuzzed out alternative rockers favor this style of vintage guitar. The 1478 feels very friendly, almost toy-like, with the smooth polish on the neck and thin width. Thin frets, when executed well as they are here, actually feel very favorable even though we tend to drool over jumbo frets on spec sheets. But as I opened with, the fret buzz is a bit a problem for me. Tuning stability isn’t actually a problem, even after I worked the Bigsby a good bit, so I’m not sure it needs a full setup, probably just some frets filed.

Finish & Construction: 7

Overall, I’m very impressed with the look and feel of this $500 Silvertone reissue. It feels and look high end enough to convince you to invest in one. The fret buzz issues are a QA/QC failure for sure, and I’m not crazy about all the hardware, as some of it feels cheap. Another point is knocked off for the fact that you can’t use the Bigsby and access the control knobs at the same time. You have to move it pretty far out of the way if you want to adjust any of the knobs. While I love trem arms, and having a multitude of controls, you have to tell me know one noticed this in the design phase at all??? This poor choice does not tank the overall impressive finish & construction that Silvertone and their parent company, Samick, have achieved at this price.

Value: 7

The bulk of the value score comes from the fact that there isn’t a ton of vintage, “pawnshop” style reissues laying around for $500. Harmony makes really nice, modern versions of vintage guitars. Tiesco isn’t popping back on the radar, and Guyatone is existing in this semi-alive state. So if you want something that screams Jack White/Hound Dog Taylor/Dan Auerbach or early St. Vincent, this is the most affordable option you have, by a good margin. So high marks are deserved, though the fret buzz and odd design options are what keeps this from being a true budget killer.

Good for: The Black Keys, Garage Rock, Slide Guitar, Lo-Fi Blues, Alternative Rock, Vintage Offset Fans, Short-scale Fans, Distorted Guitar Tones

October Audio NVMBR: An Octave Fuzz, Punk Distortion, and Green Ringer In One?

Based around a classic octave fuzz design, the NVMBR Fuzz is so much more than it seems.

Cost: $145.00 from Octoberaudio.com or Reverb.com


There are few things that get my attention more than single knob pedals. I’m a huge fan of any pedal that can pack multiple sounds and uses into limited control form factors. I would say I even live for finding great one knob pedals. So with that in mind, this October Audio NVMBR Fuzz may be the most versatile single knob pedal I have ever spent time with. The basic idea here is that you have an octave fuzz on one side of the toggle switch (bolt mode) and a ’70s punk-style distortion on the other (wave mode).

The ’70s punk distortion is worthy of being a pedal itself if I’m being honest, providing a rich, raucous sound that plays shockingly nice with single coil pickups. The single knob on this pedal serves as a master gain/level control, almost like how an amp’s master volume does more than just change the volume level. NVMBR also makes up for the bigger enclosure size with convenient top mounted jacks that help with your pedalboard management. October Audio has many other killer sounding one knob pedals, I’d highly recommend checking out the Richmond, VA-based company if you’re into treble boosters, fuzzes, and garage rock gain stages.

Review & Opinion:

The minute you plug the NVMBR in you’re going to have fun. Its best characteristic is just how smooth both the fuzz and punk distortion tones are. They really worked to remove some of those higher, sharp frequencies that can create those ear shattering fuzz tones. Instead, the octave fuzz is exceptionally rich in the mids. This really was apparent in the recorded sound of the pedal when I was looping it over rhythm tracks. There is a super fuzz-like signature in the sound, but far more controlled and warm to my ears.

As I said before, the punk distortion is something so special. And I’m really surprised at how much better it sounds on my P90-loaded guitars and my Telecaster than any humbucker-laden instruments. It has little to no hum or buzz that you wouldn’t already have, and it just creates this wall of sound that is very amp-like. Any gain stage that sounds like a cranked amp will always be a high scorer on this site, as it doesn’t feature that studio compression or EQ manipulation you get from more “traditional” gain circuits.

Having the ability to flip between these two, beautiful sounding gain stages is well worth the pedalboard space and the price of the pedal. In fact, the $145 price tag is quite affordable in the boutique fuzz world. Where the pedal really won me over though was the cranked octave-fuzz setting but with your guitar’s volume knob rolled down. You get a Green Ringer-style ring mod sound and it is awesome! Roll off your volume and it literally takes you to a whole new world that is highly useable and unique. So with basically one toggle switch, you get access to three pedals. How can you beat that?

Conclusion & Final Rating: 9.2 out of 10

When calculating the final score, I had to consider that this pedal has absolutely replaced the Danelectro 3699 fUZZ in my rig. It does the octave fuzz thing just as well, if not better, and the punk distortion and ring mod sounds just add so much flexibility at a lower price point. Plus, I feel that it sacrificed zero quality in build, sound, or aesthetics. So as amazing as the 3699 was and is, this is just a higher ranked pedal when all is said and done. October Audio absolutely impressed me with the NVMBR Fuzz in many categories I consider essential in my scoring rubric, including value for price, versatility, and ease of use. There is a slight amount of curation that goes into single knob pedals, meaning you are leaving lots of sonic choices up to the builder instead of dialing them in yourself. But here, they made all the right choices, leaving nothing more for me to do besides plug in a good guitar and run it into a good amp. This is probably my favorite octave-fuzz at the moment and is a phenomenal addition to any pedalboard!