Despite the explosion of the pedal market and the appearance of countless small manufacturers, the big names in the effects world continue to implacably dominate the business. Here's a list of the main players in the pedal world. Be it huge corporations or somewhat smaller enterprises, they all share a common trait: a large production capacity. We asked our French readers to vote for their favorite "big name" pedal manufacturers and we thought you might be interested in the results...
The poll gave rise to a heated debate. Many of the voters decried the absence of some brands or the presence of some others. It's impossible to please everybody, but the list could certainly be improved. In the end we decided to run another poll dedicated to smaller brands with the goal of creating a more coherent list. Nevertheless, we can all learn something from the four prevailing brands, one of which blatantly reigns over the rest. Here are the results:
EHX is more than anything the story of a man: Mike Matthews. In 1968, this Bronx native quit his salesman job at IBM to dedicate his life to the conception of electronic musical gear. Being a musician himself, it wouldn't take him long to understand the passion for rock 'n' roll and its distorted sounds. All guitarists wanted to sound like Hendrix or replicate the Satisfaction riff. And one effect in particular saw a boom during these years, the fuzz! Matthews created Electro-Harmonix and started manufacturing a fuzz that he sold to the Guild Guitar Company. What followed seems to have been taken from a Martin Scorcese film: The company started to grow together with the profits and the problems. The success of the mythical Big Muff Pi, Small Stone and Memory Man were not enough to scare off the competition, especially Boss, in the '70s. At the same time, violent union conflicts exploded. As a result, in 1984, Electro-Harmonix collapsed and the company was sold. Mike Matthews then focused on his second business which basically consisted in buying Russian components and reselling them to the major players in the guitar world. That's how he created the Sovtek brand.
The 1990s saw a revival of vintage pedals and the old Electro-Hamonix gear started to sell well again. Matthews restarted production in Russia and bought back the old name only to end up bringing everything back to the USA. Today, the pedals are manufactured in the US, but mainly with components from abroad. The brand offers hundreds of models, including the famous Mini and Nano formats, and they can be found on the pedalboards of artists like Jack White, The Edge, and even Josh Homme.
Boss is a division of the Japanese Roland Corporation. While Roland is associated to synthesizers and drum machines, Boss is clearly linked to the guitar world. The first Boss pedal was no other than the CE-1 chorus introduced in 1976 and 1977, taken from the Roland JC-120 amp. But the brand really took off a couple of months later with the introduction of one of its first models in compact format: the OD-1 Overdrive.
The hits would keep on coming: the DD-2 delay, the Metal Zone, and even the DS-2 distortion pedal. But in 1990 the production was moved from Japan to Taiwan. Many components and materials were modified and some users started to notice a decrease in quality. Nevertheless, Boss has kept its hegemony thanks to the good value for money of its products. After many years, the brand is marketing again some models made in Japan, especially under the Waza series.
Pedals are by no means only made in the USA and Japan. Just ask the Danes at TC Electronic! The company was established in Denmark in 1976 and came out strong right from the start with the SCF Stereo Chorus Flanger. Although analog pedals are part of their DNA, the two brothers leading the company didn't take long to venture into the digital world. This step had probably something to do with one of their obsessions: the noise produced by electronic equipment. Whatever the reason, TC happily embraced the digital revolution in the '80s and made a lasting impression with the TC2290 rack in 1985.
Ever since they have been offering mainly digital effects pedals, although they haven't neglected analog fans, especially thanks to their distortion and boost pedals. The Danish company constantly brings out original effects at prices that defy competition. And they are at the feet of almost every guitar player around thanks particularly to the Polytune tuners and Ditto loopers.
Once again we cross the Atlantic to the fourth brand in our top 4 of big pedal brands! MXR is one of the many satellites in the Jim Dunlop universe, but it wasn't only 1987 that the giant bought the three-letter brand. Originally, MXR was founded by two young men who had a small audio repair shop back in the '70s. Outraged by the quality of the pedals that their clients brought in for repair, they created their first model. And so came to life a true masterwork: the Phase 90. Little by little they started selling more and more units… The two repairman started enjoying success after success with the Distortion +, the Dyna Comp Compressor and the Blue Box Octave Fuzz. Several years later MXR could be heard on albums by Van Halen, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Despite all of this, the music gear market wasn't too profitable. More models came but the company couldn't weather the hard times and ended up closing its doors. However, aware of the potential of the company, Jim Dunlop – famous for his Cry Baby pedals – decided to buy it.
And so, in 2014 MXR celebrated 40 years of existence. After the buy-out, several models were added to the brand's catalog, including some reissues of vintage effects and signature pedals. Anyway, the manufacturer can boast about having conceived several classics like the Carbon Copy and the Custom Badass.
Other brands included in the poll were:
- Line 6
- Tech 21
- Seymour Duncan
- Way Huge
- JHS Pedals
- Ernie Ball