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13 must-have stompboxes for 2021

Universal Audio UAFX
(Image credit: Universal Audio)

13 must-have stompboxes for 2021

We live in the golden age of guitar effects pedals. The level of innovation we are seeing on a daily basis is staggering – vintage-inspired fuzz boxes, future-forward reverbs, weird delays... Today's player has a cornucopia of options when it comes to augmenting their tone.

Here we have pulled together all the hot new stompboxes for our definitive Gear Expo guide for 2021. This could be a big one. We've got new pedals from Dunlop, Walrus Audio, EarthQuaker Devices, plus the new UAFX series from Universal Audio. Also, this might be the year when the Analog Weirding Module goes mainstream... Maybe.

Universal Audio

Universal Audio's effects pedal debut sees it bringing all of its analog sound tech expertise into play to spec out a trio of super-premium effects that offer three core voices each and a heap of controls to play with.

The UAFX series comprises the Starlight Echo Station, Golden Reverberator and Astra Modulation Machine. All the pedals have Live/Preset modes for saving down tones, silent switching, and judging by the quality of Universal Audio's audio interfaces, we'd be confident in saying these are build to last.

Golden Reverberator

Universal Audio Golden Reverberator

Universal Audio Golden Reverberator (Image credit: Universal Audio)

The Golden Reverberator's classy enclosure features six knobs to control decay, pre-delay, mix, bass and treble, and modulation.

Choose your mode from Spring 65, Plate 140, and Hall 224 via toggle switch. A further two two toggle switches and a second footswitch lets you set your presets.

As for the tones, the Spring 65 reverb emulates vintage tube-driven spring reverbs, the Plate 140 reanimates studio plate reverb, while the Hall 224 has a vintage digital flavour.


Starlight Echo Station

Universal Audio Starlight Echo Station

Universal Audio Starlight Echo Station (Image credit: Universal Audio)

The Starlight Echo Station's three modes of echo and delay were inspired by 60s hardware units – Tape EP-III, Analog DMM, and Precision.

Alongside the standard controls for wet/dry, feedback and delay you can adjust preamp color, tape wear and modulation. Again, the type of delay and presets are selected via mini-toggle switches, with dual-footswitches assigning presets and tap-tempo.


Astra Modulation Machine

Universal Audio Astra Modulation Machine

(Image credit: Universal Audio)

Universal Audio describes the Astra as “a complete sonic workstation“ and it offers a wealth of classic modulation.

There is 70s studio flanger, bucket-brigade chorus and opto-tube tremolo. The Chorus Brigade, Flanger DBLR, and Trem 65 modes have secondary modes such as vibrato and doubling accessed via a two-position rotary dial. 

There are controls for speed, depth and intensity of the modulation, with Shape and Shade controls presumably on-hand to adjust the waveform and brightness of the modulated signal.

You can switch between true or buffered bypass on each of the UAFX pedals via the bundled software, while both the Golden and Starlight are equipped with a trails mode.

Expect the UAFX series to be with retailers in March 2021.


Way Huge

Way Huge Atreides Analog Weirding Module

Way Huge Atreides

Way Huge Atreides (Image credit: Way Huge)

In practical terms, the Atreides is a synth, fuzz, octave, phaser pedal and more, but it is an effect that Way Huge calls an “Analog Weirding Module.“

The first of its kind? Most certainly, but the sounds that you can conjure from the Atreides skew retro, with 80s analog synth tones inspired by the Eddie Van Halen favourite EHX Mini Synthesizer keyboard, sub-octave low end, phase shifting and envelope filter effects.

To add another dimension of weird, the controls all operate on sliders. It's crazy, right? In such instances it is wise to let the pedal speak for itself, so definitely check out the video below with JHS Pedals' supremo Josh Scott explaining the unexplainable.

The Atreides is priced £215 / $199. See Dunlop for more.

Dunlop

Dunlop Custom Badass Cry Baby wah

Dunlop Custom Badass Cry Baby wah

Dunlop Custom Badass Cry Baby wah (Image credit: Dunlop)

Dunlop's limited edition dual-inductor Custom Badass updates the Cry Baby wah pedal with the choice of two distinct wah voices.

Tap the mushroom-shaped kickswitch on the side of the unit to select the Halo Inductor or Fasel Inductor, and with a pair of toe-down frequency selectors, you can fine-tune either to give you the harmonic response and sweep you are looking for.

"Expressive and throaty" is how Dunlop describes the Halo Inductor. So step on that for a darker, British blues wah tone. The Fasel, meanwhile, is a little more 2021, and will work well in high-gain, high-volume situations, bringing out a precise, talky wah rich in harmonics. 

The Cry Baby Custom Badass is available now, priced £212 / $199 street. See Dunlop for more details.

Walrus Audio

Walrus Audio Mako ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator

Walrus Audio has expanded its premium Mako pedal series with the ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator and the announcement comes just days after the ridiculously exciting R1 High-Fidelity Stereo Reverb.

The ACS1 promises premium grade tube amp tones for your pedalboard.

There are three flavours of vintage valve amplifier on the ACS1: There is the Fullerton, which models the Fender Deluxe Reverb, the London, which puts the raw heat of a  1962 Marshall Bluesbreaker at your feet, while a 60s VOX AC30 is brought to life on the Dartford mode.

The ACS1 also ships with six custom cabinet impulse responses, and players can upload their own to the pedal via USB using the dedicated web app. 

It is available to preorder now, priced £365 / $399. See Walrus Audio for more details.

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Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator

Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator (Image credit: Walrus Audio)
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Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator

Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator (Image credit: Walrus Audio)
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Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator

(Image credit: Walrus Audio)
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Walrus Audio ACS1 Amp + Cab Simulator

(Image credit: Walrus Audio)

Walrus Audio Mako 

The R1 is part of Walrus Audio's premium Mako line and will surely do for reverb what the D1 did for delay. That is, it'll use an Analog Devices Sharc processor to offer  studio-quality ambience.

Walrus says you can go from "small intimate room sounds to massive washes of experimental euphoria." via its six reverb modes. There is Spring, Hall, Plate, BFR (Big F***ing Reverb), RFRCT (Refract), and Air. 

Sure, it's not cheap – £319 / $349, but it's six reverbs, and the build quality and feature sets on these Mako pedals is tip-top.

Check out the phenomenal Yvette Young demo this unit above. 

See Walrus Audio for more details.

Walrus Audio

(Image credit: Walrus Audio)

EarthQuaker Devices

Earthquaker Astral Destiny pedal

Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny modulated octave reverb looks like another category defying sonic experience, with eight reverb modes, eight editable presets and assignable expression control.

You can add tails to the reverb sounds for natural reverb decay to linger even when the effect is bypassed, and there's an intriguing 'stretch' feature that doubles the length of the reverb while adding an adjustable pitch bending effect. 

This is one you can lose a long weekend in soundscaping adventure, chasing weird textures. No question, the Astral Destiny is one to file under the "And I've got this weird one, I'm not even to sure how to describe it" category of effects pedal, the kind that makes your pedalboard infinitely more interesting.

The Astral Destiny is priced £205 / $199. See EarthQuaker Devices for more details.

Boss TB-2W Tone Bender

TB-2W Tone Bender

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Boss Waza Craft TB-2W Tone Bender

(Image credit: Boss)
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Boss Waza Craft TB-2W Tone Bender

(Image credit: Boss)
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Boss Waza Craft TB-2W Tone Bender

(Image credit: Boss)
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Boss Waza Craft TB-2W Tone Bender

(Image credit: Boss)

Unquestionably, the Boss x Sola Sound collaboration for the TB-2W Tone Bender is the most-anticipated fuzz pedal of 2021. 

This collaboration has been mooted for years, kept hush-hush, and finally is being realised via Boss's deluxe Japanese-built Waza Craft Series.

It is a straightforward effect. There are controls for Level and Attack, plus a three-way voltage selector for adding headroom or choking the fuzz for more extreme tone. But it's the detail in replicating a classic that is so exciting.

For the project, Boss sourced rare, NOS germanium transistors and worked with Sola Sound to design TB-2W around a “masterpiece” Tone Bender MK II (serial number 500).

No word on a price or official release date yet (spring/summer). But think classic Jimmy Page-style dirt in your tone, and another very cool build from Boss. This will be a limited run because those germanium transistors? They don't make 'em like they used to.

See Boss for more details.


Tech 21

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic

Not an effects pedal per se, at least, not in the strictest sense, but a veritable classic returns in the form of Tech 21's SansAmp Classic. An all-analogue guitar amp and speaker simulator in pedal form, over the years it has blessed many a DI recording with the organic warmth of a tube amp.

It has the same compact enclosure, the same circuit under the hood as the original model, with a series of dip-switches on the front for selecting the character of your tone, plus three input switches for selecting the flavour of preamp gain.

How did you ever DI without it?

See Tech 21 for more details.

Jackson Audio

Jackson Audio modular FUZZ

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Jackson Audio Modular FUZZ

(Image credit: Jackson Audio)
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Jackson Audio Modular FUZZ

(Image credit: Jackson Audio)

The Jackson FUZZ pedal delivers multiple classic fuzz sounds from a single pedal, which is great, but what is remarkable about the Jackson design is that it is a modular pedal.

Bored with one fuzz? Swap it out via a plug-in board. The enclosure itself offers plenty of control also, with output volume joined by a 3-band parametric EQ and a top-panel mid frequency control, with additional frequency Q trim pots under the hood , . 

Additionally, there’s an octave circuit built-into the Fuzz with volume, blend and drive for the octave sound. 

Choose your module from: Modern Fuzz Deluxe (adding additional clipping options), Fuzz Classic/Modern (blue Fuzz Face), Fuzz Page MKII (Tone Bender MKII), and Goat Head (Big Muff). And more are in the works.

The Jackson Audio FUZZ is available now, priced $279, and $49 per module.

Ibanez

Ibanez Mini Booster and Phaser Mini

Last, and the smallest, but by no means the least, we have Ibanez's latest mini pedals, the Phaser and Booster Mini.

The analogue Phaser Mini features a mounted control to access six-stage swirls while the Phaser Mini's Depth, Feedback and Speed knobs offer addition controls over your tone. 

The Booster Mini packs a Japanese JRC MUSES 8820 op amp to give you clarity even when pushing amps into higher gain overdrive territory. There's up to 24dB of boost with Bass, Treble and Level controls. Cranking the Bass and Treble offers players a wide range boost with enhanced volume and presence, just the thing for making your amplifier sing.

The Phaser Mini is priced £99 / $119, the Booster Mini £69 / $99.

See Ibanez for more details.