I Recently made a list of all the effects pedals i’ve owned. In total, I remembered just shy of 200, and Then – because i’m a nerd, i started to try and rank them; from Boss’s apparent attempts to recreate the sound of a wasp trapped in a tin can of the DS1, to the magnificent, joyous clang of the Electro Harmonix Frequency Analyzer.
And so I thought this research, or whatever it was. Nostalgia maybe… well this qualified me to whittle that original list down to a measly 5%, and present a new, more dynamic streamlined list of my ‘top 10 effects pedals for sound design’ (in no particular order so as to relieve any unnecessary tension or anxiety).
It should be noted, before we get into it, that most of these pedals favour the brave – they’re not just really nice delays, and subtle but convincing reverbs. If that’s what you’re after, by some Strymons – that saves you reading right to the bottom. No, what we have below are the kind of pedals I enjoy using to create unexpected, eerie, distorted and disrupted sounds. And occasional whale noises (See: 9 and 2)
Oh and FYI, this probably isn’t a list for the faint of budget either, but you don’t need to buy them all at once – you’ve got christmas coming up. Send this to your mum.
Moog have been good enough to release a couple of lines of pedals, designed with both guitarists and electronic musicians in mind, and this is why I’ve included at least one – although in truth I could also have picked the Clusterflux or 12 Stage Phaser. Loaded with CV control, both in and out, and featuring a drive control which adds much needed body and grit (to what can often be a fairly weak, nasal effect). Perfect for FM like bell tones and robotic clangs. As an alternative, check out the MF102’s smaller sibling, the MF Ring, or EHX’s Ring Thing.
Montreal Assembly don’t make many pedals, but what pedals they do make are perfect for the more experimental musicians and sound designers. The Count To 5 is in essence a looper, but with a number of quirks and features not found in other more conventional loopers and delays. With the ability to manipulate pitch, loop length and tempo (in realtime) the Count To 5 becomes a flexible granular pitch shifting looper and delay, capable of turning bass lines into swirling, distorted hi hats, and dynamic, staccato guitars into evolving, ambient pads. If you want additional channels of looping, and even more weirdness, check out the newer, bigger addition to Montreal Assembly’s product line, the 856 for Zellersasn.
8. MWFX Judder
The Judder makes it into this list due it being probably my favourite pedal and definitely one designed with guitarists in mind. For most sound designers, the Judder probably lacks a bit of flexibility, or is a little one-dimensional, BUT, what it does do, it does like nothing else. (Ed: Actually, it’s been ripped off a number of times now, but never particularly well…)
The Judder is an ‘infinite momentary repeat effect’ which means it has a continuously recording buffer, which can be triggered using the onboard momentary switch – this in turn plays a short sample from the recording buffer – infinitely – or until you take your foot/hand off the switch. The newer versions can also be triggered through internal LFO or envelope, and have a layer function which allows for building short, glitchy layered loops. There are also some interesting lofi sounds available when setting the buffer length to as long as it will go, and speeding up the repeats by hand, or via expression pedal.
As With the Moog pedals, I really just had to make a decision on which of the Eventide pedals to include in this list. I’ve decided on the Pitchfactor due to it’s ability to provide modulation, reverb and delays in addition to its primary task of pitch shifting, octave based stuff. The Pitchfactor is a bit of an effects toolbox, whether you want 3 octave dive-bomb changes in pitch, adding a bit of chorus to some hats, or wide stereo pitch shifting delays – it has plenty of them for you to pick from. The audio quality is second to none, as is the amount of control over every parameter. The only upgrade, in pedal format, I can think of is Eventide’s H9 Max, but you lose most of the front panel control,
which may be less attractive to those of you who also play live
The SDD3000 is a reproduction of Korg’s rackmount 80s digital delay, unsurprisingly called the SDD-3000, also known by eBay sellers as “The Edge’s delay” or something along those lines. Regardless ine and your views on U2, the SDD-3000 (pedal) is a brilliant delay. Along with a variety of delay types, including tape, SDD, analogue, kosmic and pitch, the SDD-3000 has stereo ins/outs, input and output attenuation for line or instrument levels, very flexible modulation and filtering, and midi control .
5. Boss SY300
To anyone with a massive array of synthesizers or plugins, this might seem like an odd inclusion, but for those sound designers and artists who’s primary instrument is a guitar or bass, Boss have created something quite special. The SY300 tracks chords perfectly, and is able to convert them into some of the most authentic synth sounds you’ll hear from a pedal. In addition to the seemingly endless array of synths, the pedal has pretty much all of Boss’s effects included, a very usable signal flow matrix, and an excellent software editor.
There are a number of good analogue modulated delays on the market, which is handy because Way Huge discontinued the Supa Puss a couple of years ago. If you can get your hands on one, you’ll probably be glad you did though. The Supa Puss, an extended version of Way Huge’s Aqua Puss, boasts a few fancy features which you wont find on a lot of other delays – switchable trails, beat subdivion, and sequenced beat subdivions being the main ones. The latter can add some very interesting, psychadelic swirls and digital sounding glitches to your playing. The Supa Puss has a fairly short maximum repeat time of around 800ms, but it is very warm, and when coupled with a solid digital delay, like the SDD3000, can add some wonderful texture to your music.
Another discontinued pedal, the Second Voice Deluxe expands on Infanem’s original ‘Harmony Synth’, by separating the effect into three distinct sections, all of which are independently footswtichable, and CV controlled. This is very much a fuzz-synth – with a fuzz circuit, a harmony circuit (+1oct – -1oct including 5ths) and finally a Sub Octave. There is also a separate clean boost control, and noise gate. When not being used as a guitar effect, the Second Voice Deluxe is particularly good with basslines, and adding dirt to snares and claps – it has a wide range, so unlike many similar pedals, it maintains the low end, whilst retaining clarity and definition.
Electro Harmonix pedals are something you’ll find in plenty of studies, owing to their sound as much as their versatility. The HOG and HOG II are shining examples of this, providing a wealth of different pitch, harmony, legato and freeze effects, all of which can be manipulated via expression pedal. The HOG is probably the most analogue sounding digital pedal I’ve used – It can be used as for subtle harmonics, long icy pads or stepped-filter type effects, and tracks brilliantly whilst being ooccasionally unpredictable. The HOG also features user saveable presets (via separate pedal) dry and blended outputs and midi control.
Red Panda make a few pedals, all of which are good enough to make this list, but the Particle is probably their flagship device. Billed as a pitch-shifting delay (a few of those have made the list, I know…), the Particle does offers some very interesting granular delays – similar to Mutable Instruments Clouds (for my modular friends). The density, LFO, reverse and random settings will throw out some crazy waveforms, some very usable, some more experimental!
Other top tips and brands to check out: Dwarfcraft Devices, Fairfield Circuitry, Earthquaker Devices, Hologram Electronics, Lateral Sound, Chase Bliss, Alexander Pedals, Industrial Electric and Malekko Heavy Industry.