A Guitar Pedal So Pretty You May Not Want to Stomp on It

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- The sound of an electric guitar is born in a range of places: its strings, its pickups, the amplifier, and, of course, the guitar itself. (The player has a lot to do with it, too.) But the most distinctive elements of a guitar’s tone can be traced to effects pedals: Take Satisfaction—that’s Keith Richard’s Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1 in your head. Jonny Greenwood’s guitar on OK Computer sounds barely tethered to Earth thanks in part to a Boss RE-20 Space Echo. Pedals are to a guitarist what spices are to a chef—a means of creating sensations that technique alone cannot. Like the hottest chiles, some pedals are rarely used. On the other hand, the $179 Retro Super Germanium Phat Mod, from Robert Keeley Electronics in Edmond, Okla., is like high-grade black pepper that gives a buzz to everything it touches.


· The Clover ($199) from JHS reimagines the Boss FA-1 FET preamplifier that was so critical to The Edge’s crystalline sound on The Unforgettable Fire. With tone and volume controls, as well as XLR outputs to use with acoustic instruments, the Clover is designed to give your sound a saturated yet clear boost.

· First released in 1979, the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer became an instant classic, thanks in part to the embrace of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. This year, Ibanez is releasing the 40th Anniversary TS808 Tube Screamer ($285), with a glittering red case as bright as the pedal’s sound.

· The irresistibly named Total Sonic Annihilation 2 from Death by Audio ($250) is a pedal for your pedals, creating controllable feedback loops of whatever you play into it.


Keeley’s devices have been under the boots of musicians ranging from country superstar Brad Paisley (an early supporter) to Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead to John Mayer. This pedal, though, looks almost too nice to dirty up. The case is screenprinted with a stylized rocket that creative director Robby Harris says was “inspired by vintage Japanese robot art.” The silver knobs, meanwhile, control volume, tone, and “nitro” (or gain). Key to the sound of the Retro Super Germanium Phat Mod is a Germanium transistor, which gives the ineffable tone of a vintage amp at the ragged edge, even if you’re playing at don’t-wake-the-baby volume. $179

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Gaddy at jgaddy@bloomberg.net

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