When guitar players think of boutique effects pedals, one word always seems to come to mind -- expensive. And while it's often true that these effects tend to retail at a higher price point than those from massive pedal makers (often not by much), what is lost in the dollar amount is the unique, high-quality experiences they bring. If you've been ignoring these lesser known brands, you're doing yourself and your sound a disservice as boutique effects pedals tend to be meticulously designed and feature a unique take that the big guys just don't offer. With that said, we'd like to share a few of our favorite boutique pedal brands that show their gear is well worth the price.
Morgan Amplification isn't a name you hear often when discussing guitar effects pedals, boutique or otherwise. As their name suggests, the company's main focus is guitar tube amps. But that didn't stop the California-based manufacturer from using their tube expertise to create a series of guitar pedals with fuzz and overdrive in mind. Personally, I've always been a fan of effects created by manufacturers who typically dwell in other guitar gear areas as their pedals tend to feature some unique wrinkles that you might not see with your average stompbox maker. Long story short, Morgan Amplification guitar effects don't disappoint.
One of my favorites has to be their Morgan Fuzz, their original pedal creation -- a fuzz made specifically for players who don't typically like fuzz. At a close second comes the Morgan Overdrive, an OD pedal that can give your amp a good amount of extra boost along with a rich, warm tube like response and feel. Other heavy hitters that deserve a closer look include the both the NKT275 Fuzz and MKII Fuzz.
Although they might not be as well-known as some of the other boutique effects manufacturers out there, Catalinbread is far from an afterthought when it comes to making amazing pedals. With years of experience and a team of highly skilled engineers, Catalinbread has amassed an impressive lineup of great effects. It's only a matter of time before they become a household name with guitar players.
There are a ton of pedals out there made to deliver the legendary "Marshall" tone, with varying degrees of success. And while there are a ton of great ones out there, one of my personal favorites is Catalinbread's take on that formula -- the Dirty Little Secret. Consisting of two circuits that were crafted to emulate two classic Marshall Amp tones – the Super Lead and the Super Bass – the Dirty Little Secret is essentially two great effects in one pedal. Another favorite of mine is the Adineko Oil Can, a pedal all about the ambiance, made to deliver the perfect combination of reverb and delay. If you've never heard of Catalinbread, do yourself a favor and check out their stuff right now!
Based on the desire to recapture the legendary analog tones of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Analog Alien pedals are made to deliver the quality, dependability, amazing tone and hands-on touch that is essential for today's recording or performing musician. Founded in 2009 by Joe and Jack Napoli, Analog Alien has built an impressive following of professional users including Joe Walsh, Stevie Wonder, James Burton, Joan Jett and more. While these effects tend to have a good number of knobs and settings, they are designed to be straight forward and easy to use yet highly versatile.
While I tend to think of myself as an open minded guitar player, I have a particular sweet spot for rockabilly. So when I had a chance to try out the Analog Alien Rumble Seat, it was love at first stomp. Designed with Rockabilly players in mind, it easily delivers that well-known twang and then some, able to accentuate your guitar's sonic textures with a high degree of precision. If classic rock is more your thing, look no further than the Joe Walsh Double Classic. Designed with the man himself, this pedal comes packed with everything you need to recreate his signature sound including EQ controls, compression, gain, and more.
Packing great tone, superb versatility, and top quality hand-built craftsmanship, Walrus Audio pedals don’t just offer ways to color your instrument’s sound, but an assortment of tools that push your tone to the next level. From the Janus Fuzz/Tremolo and its unique yet intuitive dual joystick controls to the insane amount of sonic possibilities packed into the Descent Reverb, Walrus Audio effects never fail to impress or surprise us. We really can’t recommend them enough.
While there are a number of Walrus Audio effects pedals I would gladly place on my board, the Voyager Preamp/OD would be my first choice. It's three knob configuration might make it seem like a limited type of pedal but underneath is a versatile powerhouse. Not only is it capable of plenty of overdrive tones, it does so while offering an articulate, crystal clear sound without a hint of muddiness. And right next to it would be the Deep Six, a compressor pedal made to combine the legendary performance of the Universal Audio 1176 with the simplicity of the Ross and Dynacomp. I could go on and on but instead, I suggest you check them out for yourself.
Even though they have grown to become one of the top pedal manufacturers in the world, they still retain the heart and soul of a boutique brand due to their commitment to carefully selecting every component in their effects. Born out of founder Robert Keeley’s garage in 2001, Keeley Electronics first made a name for themselves by rebuilding and modifying old effects units – starting with a Ross compressor – until finally hitting it big with their version of the Ibanez TS9 which was quickly adopted by several artists such as Peter Frampton, Jon Herington and Ike Willis. Aside from modded versions of well-known pedals, Keeley Electronics has a number of great original creation as well.
Out of all of their mods, their take on the Ibanez TS-9 DX Tube Screamer is by far my favorite. While the original tone of the TS-9 DX has been the basis of several guitarists, this Keeley mod turns this famous OD into a versatile powerhouse with numerous options. As for an original creation, you can't go wrong with their Katana Boost -- a fat, harmonically rich boost that you can keep it on all the time to push your amp harder, or as an occasional booster to cut through the mix. However you decide to use it, you won't be disappointed.
While there are a great number of fantastic boutique guitar effects pedal manufacturers out there churning out amazing pieces of gear, the five brands above stand as some of my favorites. If you've heard of them than you already know the high-quality effects they can bring to your sound. If this is the first time you've heard of them, stop right now and check them out! You won't be disappointed.
If you have any questions regarding the purchase of an effects pedal mentioned above or any other piece of gear we carry, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!
What's your favorite boutique guitar effects pedal brand?