Whenever we see some retail stats on top-selling guitar effects pedals it is always an eye-opener, telling us something about where we are with guitar culture and our playing habits.
In 2020, the year of the pandemic, Reverb’s number one seller was a TC Electronic Ditto looper pedal, and that made perfect sense – a stompbox that allowed guitarists to create their own accompaniment at a time when playing with others was off-limits thanks to the virus.
Once society reopened in 2021, Reverb's biggest-seller of the year was the Keeley Compressor Plus – an industry standard compressor pedal – climbed to top spot (nudging the evergreen Ditto into second). A sign, perhaps, that nature was healing.
But looking at all-time stats yields even more surprises, as it did when Josh Scott, supremo of JHS Pedals, sat down to shoot a video segment for Sweetwater's YouTube channel. Here he was going to look at the US retail giant’s sales data for stompboxes to see which were the top sellers of all time.
And he was not just going to run through a quick Top 10, offering stray thoughts as he goes. No, Scott sits before us with the Top 1000 selling guitar effects pedals in Sweetwater history. After deciding a thousand was insane, he starts at number 510, with the Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron – “one of the foundational developments of envelope filter in the guitar world. It’s awesome” – and then stops at notable entries along the way.
There are a lot of pedals here. This is a 90-minute segment. But if you are looking for a pedalboard inspiration it is all gold. And there are surprises aplenty, slept-on pedals such as Tech21’s SansAmp GT2.
“Tech21 is one of my favourite companies, ever, in the pedal world, but they are kind of thrown into the direct box category – something that really bothers me. This pedal is amazing because it is the first – I think it’s the first… I’ll say it it is. I feel confidence saying it’s the first – cab/amp simulator pedal, and here’s what ironic, with all this fancy dance-y stuff that’s come out in the last bajillion years since this, this is still equally good. It’s all analogue. It’s genius”
As Scott notes, the SansAmp units surged in popularity in the early ‘90s when Kurt Cobain was using them alongside his trusty Boss DS-2 Distortion pedal.
“If you like Nirvana, you could own one of these,” says Scott. “Or, if you just like guitar tone and want to try something different from the run-of-the-mill stuff people that love on the forums, try the GT2.”
Unsurprisingly, many of Scott’s own designs are on the list. Number 465 is its Haunting Mids, a pedal that was made as a Halloween joke, a limited edition that made its way into the regular lineup offering an active EQ for midrange only.
“Put it before or after your drive pedals and you can reshape your favourite drives. It’s really simple. There’s nothing to compare it to because it’s basically just a mids control in a box, but apparently people like it. I’m proud of it.”
Other pedals are stick-ons, like the Xotic EP Booster, the EHX Holy Grail reverb pedal (both regular and nano-sized units), and at Number 212 there is the familiar green box of an Ibanez TS-9DX Tube Screamer. “This is my favourite stock TS-9 that you can buy,” says Scott.
There’s the Boss CE-2W Chorus, the ProCo Rat… The hits keep coming. But if the dominance of EHX and Boss comes as little surprise – with many familiar stompboxes charting highly – number one is something of a shocker, and as Scott admits, maybe he had something to do with it.
[Warning: Spoilers follow – watch the below video first if you want to avoid the reveal.]
So, what is Sweetwaters top-selling stompbox of all time? Yup, the often derided, super-budget Behringer SF300 Super Fuzz – a fuzz pedal that presently retails on Sweetwater’s site for $29, with a street price in the UK of £21. Effects pedals don’t really get any cheaper. Guitar gear doesn’t get much cheaper; some might pay that for a set of Elixir Nanoweb acoustic guitar strings.
But besides being similarly priced to a takeaway pizza, what makes the SF300 so special? And how did it climb so high? Scott has a theory, a hunch that the JHS Pedal Show’s What’s The Deal With Behringer Episode? has something to do with it.
That episode from three years ago has had 2.1 million views. Furthermore, it explained that, despite the lack of, or rather the absence of kudos, there was much to like in the Behringer lineup, not least the SF300, which as Scott explains here is a clone of a Boss clone of a classic Univox Super Fuzz.
While Scott could explain the appeal of the pedal, he was at a loss when it came to the economics, joking that Sweetwater only made 10 bucks over all the many thousands of them they have sold because the margins are so small. “When you are buying those, it’s like they are paying you to take them,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
Does this tell us that pedal sales are contrary to market fashions? Behringer has never enjoyed cult appeal, and yet maybe the SF300, with its trio of modes, the 2-band EQ, and its potential for wild, off-the-chain sounds, speaks louder than cultural cachet.