5 Awesome ABYs for Your Routing Needs

A good ABY pedal is one of those invaluable, yet incredibly un-sexy, tools that should be in every guitarist's toolbox. Few gear nerds develop lustful feelings towards these typically unadorned little boxes, but overlooking the power of such a simple, utilitarian device is a big mistake.

The basic function of an ABY is to split an audio signal, such as the output of an electric guitar, sending it to two different destinations at once, and letting the user select between using one at a time, or both in tandem. If you already have more than one amp, an ABY can allow you to easily switch between them, or use them both at once in stereo, which not only sounds better than using a single amp, but also opens up a whole universe of creative effects possibilities.

If you use multiple guitars on stage or in the studio, an ABY can let you quickly switch between axes without unplugging. Multiple effects rigs? No problem. An ABY can also perform handy, yet somewhat less exciting utilities, like acting as a mute switch, or just keeping your tuner out of the signal chain while allowing for silent tuning on stage.

Back in the day there weren't many options for switcher pedals. A few companies made very basic passive models, which are perfectly suitable for simple jobs, but when used in more complex rigs, the old-school passive boxes could become susceptible to noise and grounding issues, unpleasant sonic artifacts, and loud popping sounds when the switches were activated. Modern switchers solve all of these issues however, and music stores of today are practically overflowing with amazing, beautifully engineered ABY boxes that are quiet, smooth, packed with thoughtful features, and immune to tone suck. Here are a few of our favorites.

Radial BigShot ABY True Bypass Switcher

Vancouver, B.C.'s Radial Engineering is all about the switching. This company's niche is figuring out inventive ways to split, route, connect, and swap between audio signals, all while preserving the original sound. On top of that, Radial stuff is always rugged with very confidence-inspiring build quality.

One of the company's most useful creations is the all-passive BigShot ABY. Designed to address all the problems that could befall the primitive passive boxes of yesteryear, the BigShot features true bypass switching, so as not to alter the user's tone, and on-board isolation transformers, as well as a ground lift switch to instantly rectify noise and hum issues.

On top of that, it has a polarity reversal switch, which solves the phase cancellation problems that sometimes arise when two amplifiers of different make and model are being used simultaneously. Toss in an "always on" dedicated tuner output, and the Radial BigShot ABY is an ideal solution for players with dual amp rigs.

Radial Tonebone Twin-City Active ABY Switcher

Yep, another Radial switcher. Like I said, these dudes are all about switching. The Twin-City ABY, from the company's Tonebone line, has many of the same features as the BigShot, but in an active design that employs a high quality, Class A buffer circuit in tandem with Radial's famous Drag Control.

The Drag Control corrects the load on the guitar's pickups, eliminating the disconnect that can result from too many boxes and feet of cable between the player and the amp, while the buffer is perfect for warding off noise and driving long cable runs without signal degradation.

The Twin-City also features the ground lift and phase flip switches of the BigShot, as well as an internal isolation transformer on the B output. One of the best features of the Twin-City, though, is its lovely, bright LED's, which let the player know which outputs are currently activated.

MXR M196 A/B Box

MXR calls this an A/B box, but in that it allows the player to use both A and B outputs simultaneously, its function is more like that of an ABY.

The difference, I suppose, is that the M196 has two separate, dedicated footswitches, one for each output, rather than one footswitch that toggles between A and B, and another that engages both A and B at once, like many other designs. It also features quiet, pop-free, true hardwire bypass, and a thru output that is designed for tuning purposes.

Each channel also has its own LED as well, letting the user easily determine which ones are active, even on the darkest, loudest, and most disorienting stages. The MXR M196 is a road-worthy and economical choice for the guitarist that wants to use two separate amplifiers or signal chains simultaneously.

Electro-Harmonix Switchblade Plus

This compact, functional ABY from EHX is ideal for the player with fairly basic switching needs, and not much room on their pedalboard. At around 4.5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide, the entirely passive Switchblade Plus is easy to work into a crowded pile of stompboxes.

It has two switches, one for toggling between A and B outputs, and one for selecting both A and B outputs at once. It also features a tuner out that can be used in the standard fashion, or as a separate effects send to another pedal or pedals. Handy LEDs indicate which switch is activated. With its convenient size and very economical price point, the EHX Switchblade Plus is great for the guitarist on a budget that regularly needs to have several signal chains going at once.

Lehle Little Dual

Germany's Lehle has elevated the formerly utilitarian switcher pedal to high art, with a product line that boasts an awe-inspiring array of switchers for every purpose and routing scenario under the sun. On top of that, Lehle's switchers are genuinely beautiful, with matte silver mushroom cap switches and elegant, colorful enclosure designs that seem to be strongly influenced by Nordic minimalism.

Gear nerds can definitely lust after a Lehle. As I mentioned, the company is a true innovator in the switching world, with brilliant designs that integrate amp switching, effects loops, MIDI, and all sorts of other wonderful things, but they also make a relatively basic and very robust ABY called the Little Dual.

The Little Dual functions like a standard ABY, with two switches, one for toggling between A and B, and another for engaging both A and B at once. It has a pair of bright LEDs, phase reverse and ground lift switches, and Lehle's superb LTHZ transformer, which isolates the outputs from each other for maximum noise and hum rejection capabilities.

Unlike other ABY's, though, the Little Dual also features two inputs, allowing it to be used in true stereo fashion, and all of its switches have gold-plated contacts for unparalleled sonic and functional integrity. For players with slightly larger gear budgets and a need for a switcher that places a premium on tonal integrity, Lehle is where it's at.

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