The Best of British #1
I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the pedal market, the US builders get a lot of the attention. And rightly so in some ways! They have the biggest domestic market over there and there are more guitarists in the US than anywhere else in the world. There are also some of the best and most successful builders in the US. However, I think there are some really special builders out there if you’re willing to look outside of America. I’m from the UK and we have an amazing community of up-and-coming pedal/gear companies. Not only do we have these smaller companies but also a rich history of guitar gear manufacturing. Some of the first pedals ever made were built here in the 1960s!
So I am going to start a series of blogs focussing on a handful of my favourite builders from the British Isles. I don’t know if this is worth saying but I am not a patriotic person at all. The reason for this series is that I have some great friends in the industry here and I want to share the love! Moving on I will also take a look at more pedal brands, British amps, luthiers and some independent shops. I’d love to look at other counties’ builders stuff too. I know there’s some great stuff coming out of France, Greece and Italy to name a few. But let's get the ball rolling at home first.
Let’s start at the beginning. Zander Circuitry was the first company I worked with when I started Dipswitch Demos back in 2016. It really feels like our two brands have grown together so I have a big connection with what is going on over at Zander. Alex (Zander) is also a marvellous graphic designer and not only designs all his pedals’ graphics but is responsible for all of the Dipswitch branding too. My logo, the fonts, colours, animations all come from Alex.
So what can I say about Zander Circuitry? To me it feels like Alex is always trying to adapt and push the boundaries of what is expected from a small British builder. Because of this he has reinvented the look and functionality of his pedals a couple of times. Zander is only just entering a new and exciting phase for his company, starting with the Junipero. No other small British builder has taken on a task like the Junipero. It is a multi-modulation beast with MIDI, presets, 8 different modulations, sub-divisions and more. Not only is it super versatile but Alex’s goal was to bring something completely unique to the table and in that he has indeed succeeded. It was an absolute pleasure to be involved (in the smallest way) in the development of the Junipero.
While the Junipero is the star of the show at the moment, the rest of Zander’s range are no slouches either. Mostly consisting of different flavours of drives and fuzzes, his pedals are a tweaker's dream. Specifically giving you the ability to explore different clipping diode options with a centre rotary knob, this drastically changes the sound and feel of the pedals. Check out his Cafetière fuzz, it’s one of my all time favourites.
Stone Deaf FX
Stone Deaf FX may be the company that I know the least about in this first instalment of “Best of British”, but they’re absolutely worth mentioning due to a certain Josh Homme. Homme was once spotting using one of Stone Deaf’s PDF pedals on his pedalboard either on tour or in the studio and since then I think it's fair to say that the PDF has become an underground cult classic. Queens of the Stone Age fans went mad for this pedal as it nailed Josh’s strange middley tone. I have the newest version of the pedal, the PDF-1X, and it is truly the most unique drive/EQ circuit that I have ever experienced. Using a sweepable parametric EQ to sculpt your tone and a high/low gain foot switch instead of a gain knob for extra on-the-fly versatility, this pedal is right up there with some of the greats. If you want something completely different on your board then look no further.
Stone Deaf FX have also ventured into the world of hybrid analog/digital pedals. Analog circuitry controlled digitally seems to be the way forward for a lot of companies and the benefits are obvious. Stone Deaf FX have a delay and tremolo using this technology and both can get crazy out-there sounds while remaining analog/vintage sounding.
Where do I start with Tate FX? If you’re a regular in Facebook group guitar forums then you’ve probably seen Stuart Tate (Tate FX) chiming in on various topics, most of the time in a funny and sarcastic way! However, behind the jokey exterior, Tate FX is a really important up-and-coming British pedal builder. From the high gain Raise the Dead fuzz to the classic Antares overdrive, Stuart focusses on combing and putting twists on classic circuits. It's obvious that Tate has no ulterior motive. He is truly making pedals for the love of great sounding circuits and loves pedals from other brands just as much as his own. I am jealous of a couple of pedals in his collection!
The stand-out pedal from his range for me would have to be the Antares overdrive. No one says a bad word about this pedal and I can confirm its a beautiful sounding drive. Taking influence from a couple of classic mid-pushed Japanese overdrives and combining the best of both of them with a higher quality buffer and a genius clean-blend knob. The easiest way I have found to explain this pedal is that its like the front half of a Tubescreamer with the back half of an SD-1 (or the other way around, I can’t remember!). This pedal has become a staple in my collection as it’s just so easy to get great sounds and works with every rig I try it with.
You can’t talk about British pedal builders without mentioning Thorpy FX. Arguably the most successful and well-respected modern small British pedal company. Indestructible enclosures accompanied by flawless tones. Initially Thorpy had a mighty range of drives and fuzzes but has now joined forces with Dan Coggins of Lovetone fame to release some luscious modulations and eventually will be re-releasing the whole Lovetone range. Will we even see Thorpy venture into the digital realm?
Sometimes spending years on development and the tweaking of circuits you know that you are going to get the best possible quality when buying anything Thorpy. A standout pedal from their range for me has to be The Dane. On the face of it, Pete Honore’s (Danish Pete’s) signature drive may seem like a boring, run-of-the-mill overdrive but there is something special in the tones that this thing gives. Its so natural sounding with a really pleasing textured break-up that stacks amazingly with anything I can throw at it. Thats before we step on the boost side! The boost side became so popular that Adrian (Thorpy) decided to make it into its own pedal, the Heavy Water. The Dane is definitely one to check out.
As if Thorpy FX and the Lovetone project wasn’t enough for Adrian, he also has a hand in Mikey Demus’ new venture RedBeard Effects. But we will talk about them in another blog.
Let’s round this up…
So there you have it! Some really exciting British pedal brands for you guys. Like I said at the start of this blog, I am not a patriotic person but it does make me proud that some of the best pedals in the world are made right here in the UK and I can’t believe I am in a position to call some of the people behind those pedals my friends. Obviously there are a ton more UK builders but I will talk about them in coming instalments. For now I highly recommend that you go check out these builders especially if you live outside the UK. It would be amazing to start seeing these guys’ pedals crop up on pedalboards on a more international scale.
Until next time…. Cheers!