NAMM 2018: Trying to cover every effect at NAMM remains a truly Herculean task, such is the breadth and depth of pedal launches in the past few years, but by Zeus’s beard, we’ve given it our best shot.
There’s everything from the practical and desirable (Line 6 HX Effects, Mooer Preamp Live, Boss GT-1000) to the weird and very wonderful (Empress Zoia, Gamechanger Audio’s Plasma Pedal).
So, without further ado, we present our pick of the stompboxes we spent time with at this year’s show.
For more of NAMM 2018’s finest, head over to MusicRadar’s best of NAMM awards.
WINNER: Line 6 HX Effects
For 2018, Line 6 has stripped out the amp modelling from its successful Helix format, downsized it and dropped the price ($599/£540), yielding the hugely enticing HX Effects.
The unit itself is stacked with more than 100 of Line 6's Helix hardware and software-powered effects including, excitingly, 77 legacy effects, ranging all the way back to the company's venerable DL4.
Chase Bliss Audio Thermae
It’s not available until May, but Chase Bliss Audio's Thermae has changed the analogue delay game by offering digital manipulation of analogue bucket-brigade repeats.
That means players can change delay times in musical ways, offering the potential for harmonization and sequencing. Genius.
Seymour Duncan Silver Lake Dynamic Reverb
Following in the footsteps of last year’s Andromeda digital delay, the Silver Lake offers similar dynamic expression ability, with parameters altered based on your pick attack.
Eight reverb types are onboard, spanning spring to shimmer, as well as a delay verb, plus modulation and full MIDI control.
Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal
The latest from PLUS Pedal developers Gamechanger Audio is a stompbox that transforms your instrument’s live signal into a series of continuous high-voltage discharges within a xenon-filled tube.
The theory behind Plasma is that these discharges, converted back into audio will produce a 'quick, responsive, and extremely heavy distortion with TONS of character'. It certainly looks the business.
The XT-1 from Italian company Sim1 is the first pedal to transform any guitar into any other electric or acoustic - a bit like Kemper profiling for guitars.
12 guitars are preloaded, from Strats and Les Pauls to 335s, ’64 Telecasters and acoustics such as the Martin D-35 and Gibson J-200.
Judging from what we heard at the show, this one could be a game-changer.
Boss GT-1000 Guitar Effects Processor
Built around its new AIRD (Augmented Impulse Response Dynamics) technology, Boss’s new flagship multi-FX claims to produce amp models that 'live and breathe'.
As you'd expect, the unit is also pre-loaded with a slew of Boss's effects, including algorithms from the DD-500 Digital Delay, MD-500 Modulation, and RV-500 Reverb pedals.
One of this year’s hot talking points, the Zoia is a mind-bending multi-effects/modular synth that melds guitar and tech worlds to create pretty much anything.
A load of coloured ‘modules’ can be connected in any combination, which yields just about any sound imaginable. Operation looks daunting to say the least, but patches can be saved to SD cards for easy recall.
Mooer Preamp Live
Mooer’s Micro Preamps have been a resounding success, but more exciting still is its forthcoming Preamp Live, a multi-footswitched pedal that can run a whole host of preamps.
Four preamps can be accessed at a time, while three banks result in a total of 12 - the whole lot is updateable as Mooer releases more models, while a built-in tone match feature allows you to get close to a target sound.
Believe it: the UK amp co is looking to the floor for its forthcoming releases.
The Kraken, Sheriff and Countess are all set for release in the summer, and pack switchable channels just like their amp forebears. Colour us excited.
Catalinbread Epoch Pre
Catalinbread's long-awaited Epoch Pre is finally here, promising the exact same circuit as the original EP-3.
There are also settings to simulate earlier and later Echoplex variants, plus a booster and different EQ settings dependent on the pedal’s position in your signal chain.
The Big F made a proper entry into the pedal market this year with the launch of six pedals: the Pugilist Distortion, Level Set Buffer, The Bends Compressor, Marine Layer Reverb, Mirror Image Delay and Santa Ana Overdrive.
All possess back-lit controls and amp-jewel LEDs, but based on our experiences at the show, the Pugilist might just be our pick of the bunch: its blendable dual-gain stages make for utterly convincing multi-amp-style tones.
Death By Audio Deep Animation
The sonic destruction is strong with Death By Audio this year, and the Deep Animation is one of the more intriguing filters we’ve heard lately.
At its heart, it’s a typical dynamic job, but it features both rising and falling filters, as well as a rotary for the frequency response, depending on what you’re running through it.
Not another Tube Screamer, we hear you cry… Well, not exactly: JHS’s Bonsai is nine Tube Screamers in one.
Ranging from the classic TS808 to Keeley and JHS mods, and the Boss OD-1, the Bonsai delivers exact replications of the originals' circuits.
Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo
Keeley Aria Compressor + Distortion
Pairing the famed Keeley Compressor with the company’s Red Dirt has yielded this flexible double-header.
Like Keeley’s D&M Drive, the order of the effects can be switched around, too. We hope this brings more attention to one of the effects world’s more underrated combos.
MXR Sugar Drive Mini
It may be another Klone, but MXR isn’t just flogging a dead horseyman with this mini stomper.
Fresh updates include a built-in charge pump for increased headroom, gradual clean blend as you turn up the drive knob, and switchable buffer/true bypass switching.
Walrus Audio Fathom Multi-Function Reverb
Four algorithms are onboard Walrus’s latest - hall, plate, lo-fi and sonar, the latter of which features a blendable shimmer/octave.
An algorithm-dependent ‘X’ knob adjusts pre-delay, filter width or mixes low and high octaves, while a three-way toggle adds modulation to the trails. There’s also a trails mode and sustain momentary footswitch function.
Ah, we love a witty pedal moniker, and Wampler’s EQuator was one of our favourites this year.
Asides from the name, we also appreciate the straightforward approach to EQ tweaking the pedal provides, with the ability to adjust the all-important mids in two separate, user-definable frequencies.
Rainger FX Reverb-X Mini
The Reverb-X’s USP is a post-reverb overdrive circuit complete with noise gate, which allows the pedal to conjure colossal atmospheric textures, aided by up to six seconds of reverb.
An input knob and overload LED are also included, as is Rainger’s trademark Igor dual-sensitivity pressure pad, which controls the pedal on the fly.
EHX’s most advanced looper to date, the 95000 has some serious specs.
Each loop can contain six mono tracks and one stereo mixdown track, and you can record up to 375 minutes and 100 loops to a 16GB Micro SD card.
Crucially, switching between loops is said to be quick and easy; the interface has been optimised for both tabletop and desktop use.
Pigtronix Bob Weir’s Real Deal Acoustic Preamp
This collaboration between the Grateful Dead guitarist and Bob Weir is designed to retain natural unplugged acoustic sound while cranking volume onstage.
A pair of filters split the sound into high and low-frequency paths with preamp gain tweaked for each before they’re mastered into a single mono output.
This one isn’t out until later on in the year, but judging from Weir’s acoustic tone at D’Angelico’s exclusive gig with the man himself, it’s one to watch.
Ibanez NTS Tube Screamer
This new take on the venerable Tube Screamer marks the first pedal-based use of Korg’s Nutube tech, as seen in Vox’s impressive MV50 amp range.
Besides the valve-enriched tone, the NTS also adds a mix control to blend clean sound with overdrive, as well as relay true bypass switching.
EarthQuaker Westwood Translucent Drive Manipulator
As well as five updated V2 pedals, EarthQuaker delivered this low-to-mid-gain, touch-sensitive overdrive.
Equally adept at boosting and standalone gain, the Westwood also promises “enough output on tap to alert the proper authorities. Even the FBI.”
Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive
This is still in its early stages, but knowing Brian Neunaber’s work, the XD-1 is bound to be incredible.
Neunaber’s aim for the pedal is to deliver a drive that works well at any gain setting, cleans up well and ‘gives’ without sounding compressed.
It offers red and blue channels, switched between via a short push on the footswitch, and the final pedal voicing will be based on player feedback.
ThorpyFX Team Medic
Adrian Thorpe describes the Team Medic as ‘first aid for your pedalboard’, a cure-all for your EQ and boost problems.
It combines a Class A buffer, three-band active EQ, boost and another boost on top to put out up to 40dB of tone-fixing magic.
Darkglass Electronics Alpha-Omega Ultra
The bass specialists’ most versatile preamp yet boasts two distortion circuits, high dynamic range and a six-band active graphic EQ.
Most enticing is the switchable digital impulse-response cabinet emulation, while balanced direct output and headphone out are also onboard. Oh, and it all looks cool as hell.