20 Underrated, Cheap, and Discontinued Pedals, Part 2

Greetings again, readers, and allow me to introduce myself a second time. My name is Nicholas, and I am sure I’ve played almost every pedal ever made. Today, I will introduce you to the long-forgotten pedals in your local guitar shop that keep markedly away from their popular boutique brethren.

Unfortunately, pedals change hands so quick that last generation’s fringe pedals have fallen by the wayside. Pedals we’ve never heard of clog up the shelves of pawn shops and mom-and-pop stores across the countryside, and most players have lives that don’t permit trying out every pedal in the world, be it monetary, time or availability constraints, and perhaps any number of those.

Thankfully, I’ve worked in a variety of guitar shops and have played a great deal of pedals with a wanton disregard for brand preconceptions or lack of information. As such, I present to you the eye of my “underrated, cheap and discontinued” Venn diagram.

DigiTech Expression Factory

Since the XP300 Space Station was discontinued, the effects scene has been in a progressive uproar. Devotees of the unit were sad to see it go, and thanks to a bounty of user demos on YouTube, word has steadily spread about the its eccentric capabilities. While DigiTech has been mum about a reissue of the unit, the company quietly snuck some of the most beloved Space Station patches (and whole bunch of others) onto the EX-7 Expression Factory. However, let's be honest—nobody is buying the Expression Factory for anything other than the Space Station stuff. As an added bonus, the bypass on the Expression Factory is good, unlike the dreadfully tone-sucking bypass of the original unit.

Danelectro Fish and Chips EQ

The only member of the Danelectro “Food” series making an appearance across the list, the Danelectro Fish and Chips EQ has been a very well-kept secret among more budget-oriented players. Of course, the humble equalizer isn’t a very flashy pedalboard component, but much like a power supply, it’s a utilitarian necessity in one’s sonic arsenal. There are some concerns with the enclosure and switch, as both appear to be somewhat flimsy, but this is an EQ pedal we’re talking about here—the likely application is to be an always-on device that needn’t be stepped on for any reason. And because the Fish and Chips is dead-quiet, it excels in that role. Of course, like many graphic equalizers, it can be used as an ultra-transparent clean boost if need be. For all the concerns with the construction, the switch holds up quite well, and the pedal is so small, its enclosure is sturdier than one might think. Plus, it’s cheap—around $30.

Alesis Microverb I

I know, this isn't a pedal. However, it can be! There's a "Defeat" jack on the back of the unit that accepts a footswitch, this becomes the unit's bypass function. The Microverb was released in 1986, and this decade exemplified the height of digital reverb units. For how much space the unit occupies, there sure is a lot crammed in here: there are knobs for Input gain, Mix and Output, as well as a rotary switch where the user may select 16 different reverb types. There are six "Small" settings, seven "Large" settings, two gated reverbs and one awesome reverse reverb, which isn't found on the Microverb II, the unit’s next incarnation. Trey Anastasio uses one of these, and while his is in a rack, the housing is certainly robust enough to where another pedal (or the Microverb's own defeat switch, or both) can be placed atop it with little concern or difficulty. The only drawback is the strange power plug. It's a nine-volt AC “headphone plug” type. Thankfully, there are many replacements available should a unit not come with one.

Ibanez BPL Bi-Stage Phaser

I am a sucker for modulation pedals with feedback knobs, and by that measure, the Ibanez BPL is intriguing. However, when switchable stages are thrown into the mix, the BPL becomes a bona-fide winner. Switchable from 6-stage (Phase 100) to a then-unheard-of 10 stages, the BPL delivers a versatile range of phasing, from warm and subtle to ridiculously non-musical. Even the universally lauded Mu-Tron II Phasor couldn't compete with its six stages, and only the gargantuan Mu-Tron Bi Phase, in an enclosure the size of a Buick, could muster up only 12 stages at eight times the price. Truly, the BPL gave aspiring psych-rockers of the time something to crow about in a pedal that could fit in their pockets. Pricing on these can start at around $50 but they usually sell for closer to $65.

Boss CS-1 Compressor

Words can not express how much I love this pedal. Yes, it might be a little noisy (it's a compressor from 1978) but man can this thing squish. It’s unbelievable for chicken pickin' and all that, but there is nary a compressor on the market today that can step into the squish ring with this one and come out victorious. In fact, many users complain that it's too squishy even on minimal settings—the squish is inherent to the design. It features a Treble mode to gain back some dynamics post-squish, but in my opinion, nobody buys this pedal for that type of thing, they buy it for the flatlining smoosh that only a vintage optical compressor can deliver. Like some other pedals on this list, a large number of people on typical gear resale sites equate age with value, but hold your ground. This was a compressor released in the late ‘70s, at a time with few available options, and Boss sold a ton. They are out there. And they can be had for cheap.

Guyatone VT3 Vintage Tremolo

Even though Guyatone made a staggering 44 pedals in the micro series, I've only decided to feature a couple. Unfortunately, that's the limit! All the other pedals in the line either have enough exposure or simply aren't readily available enough in the states to garner any sort of rating—good or bad. In a perfect world, no Guyatone pedals would be on this list, they're all so good! The VT3 Vintage Tremolo is no exception. Amazingly, and in such a small space, Guyatone has managed to come up with a through-hole version of a beautifully deep and warm blackface tremolo sound. And if you're into this sort of thing, the Guyatone buffer is the stuff of dreams. I've heard my share of buffers but something about the Guyatone just warms everything it touches. Combine that with an already warm sounding tremolo, and magic happens. As a bonus, this thing goes slow, much slower than almost all trems on the market.

Ibanez Cyberdrive

Sadly, this is the only member of the "Soundtank" series to make it onto the list; the other cool ones are already grabbing (relatively) ridiculous sums, the Echomachine and Crunchyrhythm. Anyway, there's no way around it: the Cyberdrive resembles an MXR Distortion+ circuit with a wah circuit and LED clipping. Usually when a circuit is laid before you, the reader, in no uncertain terms, it makes the circuit sounds boring. It's much like when someone says "X pedal is a Tube Screamer," or "Y pedal is a Fuzz Face," and it sounds pulse-slowingly boring. Did any of that kind of thing happen with the Cyberdrive description? Of course not, because the idea sounds awesome and makes you want to play it badly. Rest assured that if you choose that route, the way of the Cyberdrive, you will be handsomely rewarded. This is the rare pedal whose demos don't exist, but use your imagination. Then imagine it's a little cooler than that. This is the Cyberdrive.

Akai Variwah

Akai Variwah

Ever wanted to use a wah as an LFO-driven modulation effect? As far as I know, only three wahs offer it: the Korg Mr. Multi, the Voodoo Lab Wahzoo (you have to program it and do a little math) and this, the Akai Variwah. In fact, Akai pushes the proverbial envelope in the Variwah, which I consider to be the effects world's only real stab at this sound—the pedal boasts four knobs, all expression-controllable and assignable via a rotary switch. The controls are Speed, Width, Offset, Sensitivity, and Attack Time (not controllable via the treadle). There is also a separate Pedal Wah setting for traditional use. The Variwah has a ridiculously wide sweep for some really throaty growls and takes dirt boxes like a champ. Thankfully, because the switch isn't located under the treadle, any spot in the wide sweep can be set and engaged whenever. Nailing the "Money for Nothing" tone takes all of 15 seconds to find and three seconds to recall. The enclosure is a monster but there’s a lot of pedal in here for the money—which is normally around $60.

Danelectro Fab Tone

If there's one "wolf in sheep's clothing" on this entire list, this is it. Danelectro made some pretty silly pedals throughout history: They made pedals shaped like cars and pedals named after an entire diner's worth of food. They made a line of pedals called the "Cool Cat" series with pompadour-clad silhouettes on the labels, yet the pedals looked like small spacecraft. It's safe to say that something very weird was going on at Dano headquarters for a lengthy period, and there is perhaps no bigger marker of this era than the Fab Tone distortion. Shaped like some manner of weird 1950's knick-knack that sort-of resembles a car part, the Fab Tone sounds nothing like one would expect neither in aesthetics nor in name. In actuality, the Fab Tone is a gnarly distortion that has more low-end than almost any other pedal out there. Honestly, the Fab Tone gets unbelievable heavy and snotty at the same time—it goes from crunchy to borderline unusable with a few minor knob adjustments. But don't take my word for it: notorious eardrum-splitting bands like Mono, Mogwai and Oceansize all use the Fab Tone to great effect. In fact, Mono's guitarist Goto, in all his walls of feedback and chest-caving distortion, uses only a Boss OD-3 Overdrive and the Fab Tone as dirt boxes. Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, a band whose live shows are said to deafen entire arenas, relies on three dirt boxes: a regular NYC Big Muff, a RAT, and—you guessed it—the Fab Tone. They're around $20.

DOD FX96 Echo FX Delay

The FX96 was DOD’s last analog line of defense against the digital delay intruders that followed. The unit featured the same MN3005 chip as all the classic analog delays of yore, and because it was the last revision of the DOD analog delay, it contained a feature that wasn’t found on any previous iteration—the low-pass filter. DOD called this control “Tape Quality” and it shaves more high end from the repeats the more it is cranked. This gives the feeling of a real tape delay whose color is in various states of chroma. As expected, turning the knob fully clockwise creates quite a shadowy wash of delay that is barely usable but very cool. Another upgrade from the FX90 is the delay time—the original unit maxed out at 300 milliseconds, whereas the FX96 boasts a much higher 800. This pedal is also a bit historic: DOD dared to tow the analog line while others went digital; the FX96 was the only contemporary analog delay of its time, and it proved that analog wasn’t dead.

I hope you enjoyed my guidance into the unexplored world of dusty, forgotten gems of the pedal world. Much like anything else, you get out what you put in, and some time spent hunting for these inexpensive beauties can pay dividends in creativity. Who knows—you just might find your new favorite box for very little scratch!

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