WINNER: Blackstar Dept 10 Dual Drive
The Dual Drive might not be as cheap as some of the pedals in this list, but there’s an argument that no other stompbox released in 2021 offers more bang for your buck than this standout from Blackstar’s remarkable Dept 10 line. Somehow, the Dual Drive is a pedalboard amp, guitar recording interface, overdrive pedal, virtual speaker simulation suite and an emergency gig-saver all in one compact box – and it sounds great with it. It offers a level of functionality that was previously reserved for units with four-figure price tags, and for that reason alone, everyone should want one.
Greuter Audio Fokus
The Fokus is a hand-wired clean boost which promises 20dB of transparent power coupled with strong EQ capabilities. Boost pedals have been growing in popularity in recent years, and there are plenty of options out there, but when they’re as good as this Swiss-made stompbox, there’s always room for one more. An extremely high-quality and expressive unit.
Thimble Wasp Space Camp
In a pedal world that’s overflowing with clones and iterations of classic circuit designs, it’s nice to see brands going their own way, and the Space Camp is certainly that. The pedal combines a two-mode fuzz (standard or octave) with a digital element that can be switched between pure pitch-vibrato and reverb, and the results are truly ingenious. A innocent fuzz box with digital additions that bring all sorts of mayhem.
Stone Deaf QBoost
The QBoost’s recipe is deceptively flexible: combining a full-range booster/preamp with switchable vintage saturation and a separate frequency-tunable boost circuit. That tweakability is so useful in practice, resulting in a pedal that’s about as versatile as a compact tone-shaping and gain-boosting pedal could possibly be.
A collaboration between the Romanian pedal builder and Ratt guitarist Jordan Ziff, this is a typically tiny take on the venerable Tube Screamer with a series of bonus controls that enhance the classic TS formula in ways that are both clever and useful.
Redbeard Angry Rhubarb
Redbeard is a collaborative venture between Skindred guitarist Mikey Demus and ThorpyFX supremo Adrian Thorpe, which has borne impressive er, fruit, in the last year or two. An overdrive with three separate gain controls, one of them focused on an adjustable frequency band, the Angry Rhubarb is simple, yet its super-tweakability means it’s about as good as a modern overdrive gets. Deserves to become a classic.
Walrus Audio Polychrome
The Polychrome Analog Flanger is Walrus’ latest entry into the world of modulation effects, and it’s positively bristling with features inherited from the acclaimed Julia chorus and Lillian phaser. It’s rare we can honestly say that a pedal gives us something we’ve never heard before, but the superb core sounds and a wild array of tonal options make this an inspirational and unique pedal for us to explore.
JHS Legends Of Fuzz Bender
Part of Josh Scott’s tribute to some iconic but hard to find fuzz tones, the Bender is a tribute to the 1973 Sola Sound Tone Bender MkIII. But far from being a one-trick pony, the Bender is a deceptively versatile pedal. It’s powerful but manageable with the ‘attack’ control maxed out, and every bit as likeable at minimum, giving a surprisingly broad palette of beautifully rich Tone Bender sounds.
Walrus Audio Eras
Described by Walrus as a “no apologies high-gain distortion” the Eras certainly is no shrinking violet, with five selectable clipping modes to tailor your filth to taste, plus a handy blend control to keep the clarity of your clean tone there if you need it. This is a quality noise-bringer with plenty of gain on tap and some interesting tone-tweaking options.
EarthQuaker Devices Astral Destiny
Plenty of digital reverb pedals have one or two options for adding an ethereal upper octave, but this eight-mode beast is a dedicated shimmer machine. Shim-verb might have been around since the 80s, but this might be the first time shimmer has had a whole multi-mode stompbox to itself. That might mean the tonal variety is somewhat limited, but if you want to get spacey and cosmic, this is the pedal for you.