This has been a banner year for effects pedal. Not only are they getting their own movie, coffee table books dedicated to them, but sales are booming.
Guitar players can't get enough of them, and manufacturers have been only too happy to oblige, either mining age-old designs for long-forgotten circuits and putting them back into service, or harnessing the transformative power of DSP technology to create something all-new.
Exhibit A: your number one pick – a pedal modelling pedal that houses convincing amp and cab sims in a tiny enclosure for a fly-rig for going direct onstage or in the studio. Yes, your number one pedal – and by some distance, too – was not an overdrive, looper or fuzz.
It was an amp/cab sim. If your number one was the clear winner, the rest of the voting was tight, with a tie for second place, and only seven votes separated those in second with fifth place.
Elsewhere, it is no surprise to see the top 10 populated by so many overdrives. For most of us, a pedalboard without an overdrive is a pub without beer. Many here are using technology that has been with us for decades, but it's how effects designers are using this tech that is breaking new grounds in functionality, with multiple clipping options extending the possibilities of one drive box.
Exciting times, indeed.
1. Strymon Iridium
Packing uncannily accurate models of classic Vox, Fender and Marshall amplifiers plus onboard cabinet simulations into one compact enclosure, Strymon's Iridium tops this year's poll with the promise that the idea of the guitar rig has changed as we know it.
Part of the appeal has got to be the simplicity of operation. There might be all kinds of clever DSP voodoo under the hood (that's what Strymon does), but the controls couldn't be easier, offering an amp-like experience.
Upload your own IR cab sims via Strymon's Impulse Manager software. Add depth and space to your tone with the hybrid room reverb. The Iridium is designed to go direct into a PA system or recording interface. It is designed to be the future of the portable guitar rig – a future that combines convenience with exceptional tone.
=2. EarthQuaker Devices Plumes
The Plumes Small Signal Shredder could be thrown into the TS-style family of overdrives. It has that gift of sprinkling some low to medium-gain hot sauce on your tone and turning up the heat for bluesy crunch.
But with three selectable clipping options, you have the options. Engage the symmetrical silicone diode for your green box vibe, the symmetrical LED clipping for a more defined crunch, or no-diode OpAmp clipping a transparent boost/overdrive.
The controls are simple – Level, Gain, Tone – and there are top-mounted jacks to make your life easier when placing it on your 'board. Once one, the chances are it won't come off. This is one that can be always on, heating your tone up in the background, and it shares this year's second-top spot with the JHS PG-14.
=2. JHS Pedals PG-14
Tied in second place with EarthQuaker Devices Plumes, Paul Gilbert's signature overdrive/preamp pedal is like having a hot-rodded amp in a box. The PG-14 is super dynamic. You could use it as an always-on effect, but it is packing some heat under that sky blue enclosure.
Offering ample control over those all-important midrange frequencies, with a Push control that sets the amount of gain that circulates through the circuit's FET amplifier. Indeed, the amount of control the PG-14 affords the player means that some time is needed before you find all the sweet spots that work just right for you.
The good news is that there are plenty of them. Whether you are fattening up single-coils or adding some extra width to your tone so a solo can stand on its own two legs, the PG-14 has got you covered. And when Push comes to shove, it can sound hotter than the hot-punk controls.
4. Boss RC-10R Rhythm Loop Station
Just how fully featured is the Boss RC-10R Rhythm Loop Station? Well, it has got a looper with 99 memory slots and six hours of stereo recording time, an onboard drum machine with 16 virtual kits, MIDI connectivity, USB, and an expression pedal input. You can even create your own rhythms on a computer and upload them to the unit.
And yet, the beauty of the unit is how easy it is to use. Run it through your guitar amplifier and you'll find an EQ/Filter on hand so it doesn't push the six-string out of the mix, or send it direct to a PA system. The choice is yours.
In many respects 2020 was the year of the looper. TC Electronic's Ditto Looper was Reverb's overall bestseller, while the RC-10Rs fully functioning rhythm section sees it expand the loop station into your all-in-one accompaniment for a fearsome tool for practice, performance and songwriting.
5. Wampler Terraform
The Wampler Terraform is quite possibly the only modulation pedal you will ever need, and we don't say that lightly. It is an epic proposition, with a ton of features, including 11 effects and eight programmable presets, tap tempo, MIDI, an assignable expression pedal input... All mod cons.
Effects-wise, there is auto wah, envelope filter, flanger, phaser, U Vibe, rotary, Auto Swell, tremolo, harmonic tremolo, chorus and Dimension. You can even place your gain stage before or after some of these effects. There are so many options.
Sure, all this does not come cheap, but if you use a lot of modulation in your tone, 300 bucks for everything in one unit is not a bad deal at all. The quality of the sounds is second to none.
6. MXR CSP027 Timmy Overdrive Pedal
Here's little transparent Timmy, all fresh-faced and shiny. Who could resist such a sparkling little overdrive pedal? Especially now it is affordably and – crucially – available in stores worldwide, thanks to its creator, Paul Cochrane, hooking up with MXR for the reissue.
Whether used as a boost or drive, there's every chance Timmy won't leave your pedalboard. There are three clipping options to choose from, two symmetrical and one asymmetrical.
The dynamics are exceptional. If you need an overdrive that doesn't get in the way of your guitar and amp's special relationship, this is the one.
7. Electro-Harmonix Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi
A retro-fuzz reissue to leave you comfortably numb? You bet, the Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi returns for 2020 without the eye-watering price tag that accompanies vintage units. Indeed, this is a very affordable, very accessible proposition if you are chasing that 70s tone.
Famed for its association with David Gilmour, the Ram's Head Muff Pi is one tasty piece of hogget. You'll have tasted this flavour of fuzz before. At lower settings, it's got a musical mid-range drive, but ramp up that Sustain to graze upon those blissed-out pastures of fuzz. It's lovely.
8. Nobels ODR-Mini Overdrive Pedal
A cult classic in miniature, the Nobels ODR-Mini is kind on pedalboard real estate, gentle on the wallet, and remains a treat for your ears. Like the Timmy, the ODR made its name in the transparent overdrive market.
This will push your amp in all the right ways. And it is dynamic, too. At extreme settings, rolling back your guitar's volume control will clean it up nicely. While the ODR-Mini does not have the Bass Cut of its larger sibling, many players won't care, preferring the full, warmth of the pedal's default voicing.
Other cool touches include luminous knob markings but its tone – loved by many a Nashville session player – should have won you over before the sun goes down.
9. Walrus Audio Ages Five-State Audio
As the name suggests, the Walrus Audio Ages Five-State Overdrive offers five clipping options for five flavours of drive – allowing you to run it as a clean boost or as a fire-breather of heavy, saturated gain.
The Ages is so incredibly tweakable. Its EQ is very well tuned, with plenty of travel on those dials. There's even a wet/dry mix knob for blending in overdriven/clean textures. It'll do the job of several overdrives and comes in a regular Walrus Audio enclosure, so it won't bogart pedalboard space.
Just feed this mammoth 9V of DC power and watch it go.
10. Green Carrot Comfortably Plum
So you've bought the black Strat, you've practised those bends, now it's time to find the final piece in the jigsaw so that – tonight, Matthew – you too can be David Gilmour.
Well, you could grab the Ram's Head Muff from above, but if you've got a little extra cash to spare, Green Carrot's Comfortably Plum might just be the fuzz/overdrive/boost all-in-one solution for Gilmour-esque gain.
It houses Coloursound Power Boost overdrive and Ram's Head fuzz circuits in one enclosure, with independent footswitches for each allowing you to switch between them, or set controls for the heart of wherever with both engaged. Pushing the fuzz with the overdrive is very Gilmour, but there is just so much sumptuous terrain to explore.