From boxes of weird-and-wonderful noise to faithful recreations of iconic vintage units, the world of stompboxes has never been more exciting and varied. With so many pedals out there to choose from in 2019, it’s hard to know which box of joy will be the one for you, but the chances are you’ll find it in our in-depth roundup.
In this edition, we take a look at the best overdrive, distortion, boost, fuzz and compressor pedals available. In no order of merit…
Overdrive, distortion and boost
Hudson Electronics Broadcast
Hand-built on stripboard using top-of-the-line components in Hudson Electronics’ Yorkshire workshop, the Broadcast might look like it’s come straight out of a 1960s recording studio, but the ideas displayed inside are innovative and original. Effectively a preamp based on the classic Neve recording consoles of the 1960s, the Broadcast can behave as both a tone-enhancing clean boost, or a raucous overdrive pedal depending on whether you choose the high- or low-gain option. At its most extreme, it’ll even sound a bit like an old fuzzbox, but without ever losing its refined sonic enhancement and superb touch dynamics.
Xotic EP Booster
The Echoplex EP-3 is one of the most beloved vintage tape-echo pedals around, but while its solid-state echoes might have been the main event, many guitar players were equally charmed by the tone-enhancing effect of the unit’s FET preamp, and the likes of Brian May, Andy Summers, Jimmy Page and even Eddie Van Halen were all fans of running the EP-3 without any echo at all, for just this reason. The EP Booster takes that boost circuit and puts it in a mini-pedal housing that delivers up to +20dB of boost, giving you shimmering highs, powerful lows, and all the warmth and sparkle you could ever need. No wonder it’s become a pro-pedalboard staple in recent years.
Also try: Jim Dunlop EP101 Echoplex Preamp, Chase Tone Secret Preamp
Adrian Thorpe’s pedals have rapidly acquired a reputation for rigorous build quality andmonster tones, and the Warthog might be the most uncompromising of the lot. Effectively Thorpe’s take on the classic ProCo RAT, the Warthog takes those fabulous overdrive-meets-fuzz tonalities, but ditches the RAT’s over-compressed response that means you’re in danger of disappearing in the mix when playing live. Instead, you get raw, loud and obnoxious rock tones by the bucketload, which will leave 90s alternative-rock fans wishing they’d owned one in 1994.
Also try: Catalinbread Katzenkönig, TC Electronic Dark Matter
Analog Man King Of Tone
The King Of Tone’s reputation is as much about its scarcity as it is the undeniable quality of the pedal itself. If you want one of Mike Piera’s creations, you’d better not be in a rush – the waiting list is approaching two years and if you can find one second-hand, expect to pay at least double the price of a new one. Why all the fuss? Well, the likes of Brad Whitford and Jimmy Herring have long prized the King Of Tone for its clear, uncoloured overdrive that enhances, rather than masks, the tone of your signal chain. The difference between the KoT and that other mythical transparent overdrive, the Klon Centaur, is you can still buy one, though that might not be the case for long, as Piera admits once his stock of required diodes and capacitors are exhausted, he won’t be able to make any more…
Also try: Fulltone OCD, J Rockett Audio Designs Archer
EarthQuaker Devices Westwood
It takes a lot to really stand out in the world of overdrive pedals, but the EarthQuaker Devices Westwood certainly has done since its launch last year. Taking the Tube Screamer as its basis, the Westwood sets itself apart from other green overdrive pedals, offering a wonderfully flattering and subtle natural overdrive sound that compresses like you’d want thanks to its superbly effective tonestack, but without colouring the EQ in any discernible way. There are plenty of ‘transparent overdrives’ out there, but the Westwood is designed to be ‘translucent’ – and with its sweet, smooth and responsive sound, it’s one of the finest drive pedals on the market today.
Also try: Fulltone OCD, Paul Cochrane Timmy
Michael Fuller debuted the Obsessive Compulsive Drive all the way back in 1994. It’s gone on to become one of the biggest-selling boutique overdrives on the planet, and a go-to for professional players of every stripe. Its party trick is to essentially recreate the sound and (importantly) the feel and response of a cranked amplifier in a pedal. The OCD has a large dynamic range and offers a continuum of usable sounds – from clean boost to gritty, harmonic-laden fuzzy distortion. The clarity of the OCD has seen players as varied as Robin Trower, Keith Urban, Joey Santiago and Paul Gilbert attracted to its addictive charm and crunch – we’re pretty sure you will be, too.
Also try: Analog Man King Of Tone, EarthQuaker Devices Westwood
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
Earlier in this decade, the pedal market experienced what can only be described as a mini-pedal craze, with loads of different brands offering bite-sized versions of their most renowned circuits. Ibanez’s first entry into the format was the Tube Screamer Mini, which crams the classic overdrive circuit into a bijou box for a ridiculously good price. The best part is, it sounds pretty damn close to a TS808, too. So whether you’re using it as a boost or full-on overdrive, if you’ve ever wanted to find out what all the fuss is about with Tube Screamers, this is a must-buy.
Also try: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food, Boss SD-1
J Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon
For sensible money, the Archer Ikon is about the closest you’re going to get to the hallowed sounds of the Klon Centaur, discontinued in 2009. That’s partly because it was created by Chris Van Tassel and Jay Rockett, who worked with Bill Finnegan on his Klon KTR – the follow-up to the Centaur. As a result, it has a wonderful clean boost that adds a stellar high-end sheen and there’s also plenty of grit on tap if you want it. It’s not cheap, but it offers 95 per cent of the Klon experience for 10 per cent of the price.
Also try: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food, RYRA The Klone
RYRA The Klone
The Klone is the brainchild of Texan solo builder Shane Logan (aka Rock Your Repaired Amp), and as its rather transparent name suggests, its intent is to replicate the famous Klon Centaur overdrive pedal. The Klone gets closer than pretty much all the others, however, perhaps because it’s painstakingly crafted using identical components to the legendary original. For an overdrive pedal, it’s not cheap, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a real Klon will cost you these days.
Also try: J Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon, Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
JHS Pedals Morning Glory V4
The Morning Glory is JHS Pedals’ most popular pedal, and the one that first made Josh Scott’s name as a boutique builder to watch when it was created all the way back in 2009. It’s since won Scott a bucketload of awards on the back of its wonderfully transparent quality, which adds everything you’d want to your amp’s sound – sweet overdrive, improved tonal nuance and responsiveness – while retaining the fundamental character of the amp that made you buy it in the first place. The current fourth iteration also adds a gain-boost toggle to ramp up your solos and lead parts, which can be independently switched with the addition of JHS’ Red Remote.
Also try: J Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon, RYRA The Klone
Boss JB-2 Angry Driver
Boss has been making compact effects pedals for 40 years now, and while the company’s iconic stompboxes continue to be a staple of boards the world over, the rise of the boutique builder has made the compact pedal seem a little bland by comparison. In 2018, however, the Japanese giant decided to capture a bit of boutique kudos itself by teaming up with Josh Scott of JHS Pedals to create the Angry Driver. Effectively a hybrid of Scott’s Angry Charlie and the iconic Boss Blues Driver, the JB-2 is a dual-mode drive pedal that offers a huge palette of overdrive sounds thanks to independent tone-shaping controls for both voices, and the ability to run them independently, in series or parallel.
Also try: Boss BD-2W, Paul Cochrane Timmy
Keeley D&M Drive
Created with the input of That Pedal Show hosts Mick Taylor and Daniel Steinhardt, the D&M Drive is a twin-voiced overdrive and boost that offers remarkable tonal versatility in a relatively compact two-switch pedal. The boost side of things offers everything from a rich, midrange bluesy boost all the way to a dynamic overdrive with wonderful touch sensitivity, while the drive side of the equation runs the gamut from valve-like overdrive to searing rock leads. With the ability to alter their signal order as you run them together adding even more sonic options to the mix, the D&M Drive could replace two or even three pedals on your board.
Also try: EarthQuaker Devices Palisades, ThorpyFX The Dane
ThorpyFX The Dane
Created with the input of YouTube star and session guitarist ‘Danish Pete’ Honoré, The Dane is a combined overdrive and boost pedal that offers fabulous tones with Thorpy’s usual level of military-grade build quality. The overdrive is a low/mid-gain affair, but offers plenty of tonal flexibility, while the powerful boost channel also benefits from a tweakable bass control. All in all, it offers fantastic tones and impressive versatility from just five knobs.
Also try: Keeley D&M Drive, EarthQuaker Devices Palisades
Beetronics Royal Jelly
If you were rating pedals on looks alone, the Royal Jelly would top our list, but happily its beauty is more than skin-deep. The pedal’s overdrive and fuzz circuits run in parallel, giving you the potential to create a massive array of dirty tones by blending them together using the ‘Queen’ and ‘King’ controls. Both are footswitchable, meaning that you can have two blended sounds on tap, or have all fuzz on one, all overdrive on the other, and all stations in between. It offers a positively massive level of versatility, and when you factor in the ability to blend in your dry sound as well, it makes the Royal Jelly something very special indeed.
Also try: Way Huge Red Llama, EWS Little Fuzzy
Bigfoot Engineering King Fuzz
With just big ol’ gain and volume dials on its canary-yellow chassis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a fuzzbox with a limited range, but you’d be wrong. Hand-built in West Sussex by Bigfoot main man Rhys Stubbs, the King Fuzz was inspired partly by the vintage fuzz tones of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Step on the pedal and ride your guitar’s volume control for everything from small-valve-amp-style break-up to visceral, Jimi-style fuzz that’s rich in midrange attitude. You won’t want to switch it off.
Also try: Analog Man Sun Face, Electro-Harmonix Green Russian Big Muff
Death By Audio Fuzz War
When you call your pedal ‘Fuzz War’, you’re letting people know that you’re not messing around – and as soon as you plug in, Death By Audio’s creation is taking no prisoners. There’s no space for subtlety and nuance in this three-knob box of dirt: instead, what you get is a bludgeoning onslaught of glorious noise. It’s a versatile beast, however – every minor tweak of the knobs jolts you into a new world of aural aggression. Okay, it’s not the most polite pedal around, but for purveyors of uncomplicated havoc, this wins the battle every time.
Also try: Zvex Effects Fuzz Factory, Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gainstage
Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Pi
The original 1970s EHX Op-Amp Big Muff has long been revered by fans of grunge and alternative rock for its uniquely aggressive and biting fuzz style compared to transistor-based Muffs – as used famously and devastatingly by Billy Corgan on some of the Smashing Pumpkins’ biggest hits. Now, however, EHX has revived the pedal in compact form, and even got Mr Corgan onboard to ensure that this new model delivers all those classic 90s alt-rock sounds – and a whole lot more besides.
Also try: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, JHS Pedals Muffuletta
Fender The Pelt
It’s always seemed strange that Fender never quite managed to nail the effects-pedal thing, but its latest range of effects – first released in early 2018 and expanded later in the year and again at NAMM 2019 – has (finally) established the company as a major player. The cream of the second drop was The Pelt – an affordable one-stop solution for a wide variety of contemporary fuzz sounds, paired with excellent build quality and clever design.
Also try: JHS Pedals Muffuletta, ZVex Effects Fuzz Factory
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Alpha Haunt
OBNE isn’t the first indie pedal company to specialise in weird and esoteric artwork mixed with wigged-out product descriptions, but the Oklahomans do it better than most, and the sounds that are produced by the Alpha Haunt are equally potent. With EQ sliders and a low-pass filter, the Alpha Haunt gives you massive flexibility for tone sculpting, which in turns leads to lashings and lashings of smooth fuzz sounds – from fluffy to fiendish.
Also try: Fuzzrocious Pedals Cat King, ZVex Effects Fuzz Factory
Thorpy FX Fallout Cloud
Adrian Thorpe’s second bomb-proof pedal release was a take on the early ‘triangle’ Big Muffs built between 1969 and 1973. Because it doesn’t suffer from the overcooked distortion levels of some modern Big Muffs and Muff-derived circuits, the Fallout Cloud makes it possible to retain a great deal more control, and stays responsive to picking-hand dynamics. The active treble and bass controls also make it much more versatile, making this a beast that can do anything from Floyd to QOTSA and everything in between.
Zvex Effects Fuzz Factory Vexter
For over two decades now, the Fuzz Factory has been the crowning achievement of Minneapolis effects wizard Zachary Vex and has since been adopted by scores of experimental guitarists with a passion for chaos, including Matt Bellamy, Stephen Malkmus, Nels Cline and J Mascis. What makes the Fuzz Factory special is its ability to warp the classic fuzz effect via a series of highly interactive controls, and conjure up unique and unholy chimeras of greasy oscillating demonic distortion, too. The Vexter version retains everything that made the classic Fuzz Factory special while dropping the price – an unbeatable combo.
Also try: Fuzzrocious Pedals Cat King, Stone Deaf Fig Fumb
Wampler Ego Compressor
Widely regarded as one of the best new compressors in the business, Wampler’s Ego Compressor brings new levels of control to the Ross/Dyna Comp style of compression with the inclusion of an ingenious blend knob. With the ability to cover all types of compression, from country squish to tube sag and studio-grade parallel compression, the Ego ensures your playing dynamics are retained without colouring your tone. With comprehensive controls and a tonal purity thanks to its OTA compression circuit, you’ll be hard pressed to find another pedal that works just as well as an ‘always on’ effect as it does a traditional squeeze box.
Also try: Keeley Compressor Plus, Boss CS-3
Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe
Origin Effects has handily created an impressively convincing tribute to the classic UREI 1176 studio compressor in the form of the Cali76. With miniaturised components and stacked circuit boards, the Cali manages to deliver Class-A circuitry and low-noise transistors, for true FET compression. It can run at nine or 18 volts, with the latter recommended for greater headroom, and features an added ‘Dry’ knob for even more tweakability. It’s an outstanding compressor that seems to work with you rather than against you and almost every time you switch it off, it’s to the detriment of your tone.
Also try: Empress Compressor, Keeley Compressor Pro
Keeley Compressor Plus
Arguably responsible for igniting the boutique-pedal revolution, Robert Keeley’s two-knob compressor is a pro-level stompbox that some argue is better than the original Ross compressor it’s based upon. Also available in a four-knob format, which includes the same metal-film capacitors as its younger brother, the addition of Attack and Input Gain controls gives you even more control over the now infamous Keeley squish. Keeley’s line of compressors has now developed into a robust range, featuring Pro and Plus versions, the latter including a switch to tailor your comp to single-coil or humbucker guitars. With over 52,000 compressors now made by the Oklahoma brand, it definitely knows a thing or two about squish.
Also try: MXR Dyna Comp, Xotic SP Compressor
Diamond CPR-1 Compressor
Released back in 2004, Diamond’s goal when creating a guitar compressor was to emulate a studio vocal channel for the six-string: a ‘guitar channel’ with dynamics and simple tone-shaping tools to front your signal chain. The EQ knob is extremely versatile, musically shifting frequency balance, allowing you to tailor your sound to your guitar more accurately. The optical compression is smooth and organic, so much so that they’ve even made a Jr version, a version for audiophiles called the SE, and an affordable version of the SE called the SL. Also, it’s yellow. Gloriously yellow.
Also try: TC Electronic HyperGravity, Free The Tone SC-1 Silky Comp
Check out the second part of our guide on the best effects pedals in the world today.