Somehow, I’ve become a “cheap pedal” enthusiast. As a bedroom/kitchen table guitarist, a pedal board is not something I’ve used or even needed. For playing, I just went through my Mustang amplifier and used its pre-sets. For home recording, I used my Zoom Multi-Stomp, which emulates a number of pedals.
However, there is something to be said for stand-alone pedals. You don’t have to go through menus to change the settings or change the order of pedals. You turn a real, physical knob. You hear and feel the “click” of the true bypass switch.
I may be late to the party, but I’ve discovered several companies that make very good pedals for reasonable, sometimes amazing prices. Those companies include Joyo, Mooer, Moen, and Caline. Features that their pedals have in common are metal enclosures and mechanical true bypass stomp switches.
I’ve owned some nice, low-priced Behringer pedals through the years. They are a good option for an inexpensive pedal. However, they are made of plastic and have electronic switching. The ones I’m gas’ing for have the metal enclosures and true bypass switch.
If you don’t know what true bypass is, it’s a means of taking the pedal out of the signal path and letting the signal pass through unchanged. With electronic switching, sometimes the signal goes through the circuitry even when the device is bypassed. This can produce the dreaded “tone suck.”
A true bypass circuit runs the signal through a wire that is not part of the pedal’s circuitry. This preserves the signal. Be careful, though, that if your signal is going through several pedals, even true bypass pedals. There may be some loss of high frequencies due to the increased capacitance of long wire runs.
So, how does one learn about these pedals and buy them? For learning about them, I suggest the www.cheaperpedals.com site. They offer a variety of pedals, each with a description and sometimes a link to a video review. This is also a good site from which to buy if you want to buy from an American-based business, get your pedal quickly, and be assured of good service.
Youtube.com has numerous video reviews of these pedals. Search for “intheblues” with Shane. He does fairly straightforward reviews. Another reviewer, EytschPi42, is a bit eccentric. He knows his stuff, plays well, but is, well … a bit crazy. If you get his sense of humor, you’ll like his reviews. Agufish does nice reviews. He leans a bit toward the metal end of the playing spectrum, but that doesn’t make his reviews any less useful.
You can find other reviews by searching on youtube.com for the name of the product.
You can check out products at the web sites of various pedal makers:
Joyo – www.joyaudio.com
Donner – www.donnerdeal.com
Caline – www.calinemusic.com
Nux – www.nufexf.com
Monoprice – http://goo.gl/L7mRVa
Biyang – http://goo.gl/vF8rkp
This is not intended to be a complete list of “cheap pedal” makers. There are undoubtedly many others out there. Part of the fun is hunting and finding these pedal makers!
I took the plunge by ordering some Joyo pedals. They are among the least expensive of the cheap pedals, but they get good reviews.
So, how did I buy the pedals? There were four options that I considered: eBay, cheaperpedals.com, amazon.com and reverb.com. Undoubtedly, there are other options as well.
The prices for the same pedal may vary greatly from one seller to another. This doesn’t mean the higher-priced vendors are trying to rip you off. There’s a trade-off between high and low prices for pedals.
For a discussion on pedal prices, take a look at this video:
Now, this is a one-hour video. I watched about 30 minutes of it before I decided there were better ways to use 30 minutes of my life than watching Henning Pauly sit in a chair drinking coffee and saying the same thing over and over.
The higher the price, the better service that you get and the more quickly you get the pedal. In my first three cheap pedal purchases, I went to the extremes. I bought a Joyo Crunch Distortion and a Joyo Vintage Phase directly from a Chinese distributor on eBay. I bought a Joyo American Sound from www.cheaperpedals.com.
It took nine days from the day of the order to when the Vintage Phase showed up in my mailbox. The Crunch Distortion took two weeks. I expected this. The eBay listing gives you a range of delivery dates. I have bought guitar parts from China and knew it would take awhile. In one case, it took two months for me to get some shielded cable that I ordered from a Chinese vendor!
So, there was some risk in buying from China. If the pedals arrived damaged or defective, then a return and exchange could be problematic.
The benefit of buying from China is price. The Vintage Phase and Crunch Distortion each cost about $25, with shipping included. Cheaperpedals.com has the Crunch Distortion priced at $33.99. Shipping would run you either $3 or $6, depending on how fast you wanted to receive it. For six dollars, you get two-day Priority Mail service. Cheaperpedals.com loses money on these shipping deals. The Vintage Phase is $34.99 at Cheaper Pedals.
So, I saved $15 on each pedal by taking the risk of ordering from China and being willing to wait for them.
However, I ordered the American Sound amp emulator pedal from cheaperpedals.com I wanted to get it quickly and wanted to check out cheaperpedals.com’s customer service.
The pedal ran $39.99 plus $6 shipping for around $45. There are several eBay listings selling the pedal at around $30 shipped. So again, there’s the $15 savings. However, it’s a tradeoff.
Cheaperpedals.com shipped the American Sound pedal on the same day I ordered it. I had it three days later. It would’ve been two days if the Postal Service had not mis-routed it.
Both of my Chinese-sourced pedals arrived in good shape and in working condition. The “e-packet” delivery consists of putting the pedal (in its manufacturer’s box) in a bag. The bag offers no shipping protection that I can see. So, there’s a damage risk in buying from China.
The pedal from cheaperpedals.com came in a padded bag. The bag, while not as good as an exterior box, offered more protection than the e-packet.
Reverb.com prices may be higher than eBay because their vendors are based in the U.S. Like cheaperpedals.com, they have to buy the pedals from a distributor, pay the shipping, put them in their store or warehouse, and tie up their money while waiting for the pedals to sell. There also are seller fees, PayPal fees and credit card fees to consider.
The Chinese distributors who sell on eBay are big enough to buy zillions of pedals directly from the manufacturer, so they get a very favorable price. A U.S. music store can’t get that kind of volume discount.
Another option to consider is an eBay seller who ships from the U.S. whose prices comparable to the prices of pedals shipped from China. I recently ordered a Caline CP-15 heavy metal pedal. As of this writing, it has not arrived. (I ordered a couple of hours before I did this update.)
The item location is a California address. The range of delivery dates starts two days from now and extends a week beyond that date. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to arrive. The price was only a dollar or two higher than the other CP-15 pedals that were coming from China.
Now, if you can find a U.S. music store that stocks these pedals, you will pay a higher price. However, you will be able to try them out in the store. Some stores will let you return the pedal if you don’t like it. You might find those features are worth the higher price. You pay for service.
By buying the pedals directly from China, you are taking a risk. If I keep buying from China, some day I may end up getting a defective pedal, waiting two months for it, or not getting it at all. For that reason, I will buy mostly lower-priced pedals on eBay. Losing $25 would hurt, but it wouldn’t be catastrophic.
In my case, I have experience building pedals, so it’s possible that I could repair a damaged pedal. However, most pedal buyers don’t have that skill.
How do they sound?
One would hope that with the youtube.com pedal reviews available, the sound of your new pedal would not be a surprise – or would be a good surprise.
Of the three pedals, the Crunch Distortion met expectations. The Vintage Phase and American Sound exceeded expectations.
I love distorted guitar tones. That’s why I went for the Crunch Distortion. It sounded great on the video reviews. Now, one must consider that in at least some of the video reviews, you are hearing the pedal going through an amplifier, which is recorded by a camera microphone. Camera microphones are not known for their audio quality.
EytschPi42 runs the signal from the pedal through a high-grade amp head and into an isolated speaker cabinet. The cabinet sound is recorded by a dedicated guitar microphone. That setup ensures that the pedal sound is not degraded by the recording system. Some would contend that the chain is so good that it makes the pedal sound better than it really is.
Everyone uses a different signal chain, so your mileage may vary.
I ran the pedals through a Fender Mustang I amp set on a clean setting. I also ran them into a MacBook Pro running Reason Essentials. A Line 6 GX did the digital conversion. If I were to be thorough, I suppose I should run them through my Crate V18 tube amp. However, it’s partially disassembled at the moment, and I’m too lazy to put it together for this article. It’s also sitting in my workshop/barn, which is not a pleasant place to be in the summer heat.
I’ve loved the sound of a phaser for a long time. Many years ago, I built a DIY phase shifter from the project in Craig Anderton’s Electronic Projects for Musicians book. I still have it, but it’s in the process of being rebuilt.
I also was considering building another DIY phaser, but the Vintage Phase, at $25, was too tempting.
It appears to be based on the legendary MXR Phase 90. Like that classic unit, it has just one knob, which controls the speed of the effect. Eddie Van Halen used the MXR pedal on many recordings.
A demo that I recorded of the pedal may be found here:
The clean sound is great. It works OK on the distorted sound as well. All in all, the pedal was well worth the price (and the wait).
The Crunch Distortion met expectations. It delivers the goods as far as distortion is concerned. I ran it through the American Sound pedal with all knobs at 12 o’clock.
I had read that there was a trimpot inside the pedal that could be adjusted to improve the sound. I took off the back of the pedal and found the trimpot. I tried adjusting it, but I couldn’t tell any difference in the sound.
Here’s the pedal with the gain almost all of the way up:
The American Sound is designed to emulate the sound of a ‘57 Fender Tweed amp. Its cleans are nice, but it also dirties up nicely.
The voicing control offers a variety of sounds. The EQ also is versatile, giving the player many choices of tone.
This clip includes both distorted and clean sounds, using just the American Sound pedal with the guitar going straight into it.
Here’s what it sounds like:
So, there’s my take on cheaper pedals. There are so many from which to choose. Too many pedals, so little time!
So, try out a “cheap pedal.” You may find the price is the only thing cheap about them.