Ask Analog Mike: A Look At Vintage Pedals

Last week on the Tank, mod master and guru of all things tone Analog Mike Piera offered us an intimate view of the Marshall The Guv'nor pedal. Mike was kind enough to field some of our questions about gear for the first of what we're calling "Ask Analog Mike" -- a series where you'll be able to pose questions about the pedaling world to one of its icons.

If you have questions of your own for Analog Mike, leave them in the comment section below and we'll try to get them into a future post.

What's the most influential pedal that no one knows about?

There are a few very old ones come to the top of my head. The Dan Armstrong Blue Clipper was a tiny square Distortion box that plugged into the guitar. Their Orange Squeezer was more popular, and lives on in our [Analog Man] JUICER plus several other similar compressors. MXR copied the Blue Clipper but made it more "normal" sounding, and sold them like hotcakes as the Distortion+, which also birthed the Ross Distortion and countless others. That was the sound of the mid '70s. I think they were distributed in our mailboxes along with Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups to anyone with long hair.

Another circuit was the second ToneBender, the rare "MK1.5" which was used as the basis for the circuit of the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and numerous other fuzz pedals. The MK1.5 however, was a bigger, fuzzier sound, and did not clean up like the germanium Fuzz Face pedals. Dunlop is still making both the Distortion+ and the Fuzz face with the same circuits, as they own the brand names now.

We're seeing lots of older pedals go up in price lately -- can you think of any used effects that are still under the radar enough for people to land deals on?

Most of the really cool pedals are getting up there as people learn about them, especially those from certain popular old effects companies. But there are some great sounding, small, cheap analog delay pedals still out there, mostly from the 1980s when the best bucket brigade chips were available. Some off the top of my head are the DOD FX90 and FX96, Pearl, Ibanez ADL, and many other off-brand Japanese pedals (Yamaha, KORG, Arion, etc). If it has an MN3005 chip, it's a deal at $100 as the chip alone (if working) is worth half of that.

But beware, most of these are not hand-wired, everything is soldered to the circuit board and they use cheap, fragile, non-available parts like pots, jacks, switches, power jacks etc (Google image "Arion Analog Delay guts"), so if it breaks you may be out of luck, though you can still sell the chip. Or we can use it to upgrade your recent EHX DMM and add 25% more delay time per MN3005. These cheap pedals are best for use on pedalboards and particularly with switching systems. Later versions of these may have the MN3205 but they still sound pretty good. If you have an MN3005 in your delay, try running it at 12V and it will sound better.

What's a new-comer pedal company that you're excited about? Someone who's doing something really interesting or unique.

There is a new one every week so it's tough to keep track, but I really like seeing new ideas in user interfaces and controls. Many of the pedals are really cool, but what excites me is seeing a new company that is serious about their products' quality and customer support, and honest on their designs. That keeps them around so they can make more really unique pedals. Let the pedals speak for themselves, people can smell hype from miles away now.

Is there a type of effect or pedal you think is poised for a comeback in popularity soon?

Chorus (I hope!). It got a bad rap due to the era it was new and most popular. Many people think that was a low point in music with hair metal. But when used correctly and in moderation (and analog), it's something I love. I don't want to play without a chorus pedal on my board. Chorus is basically a short delay (everyone loves delay) with a bit of modulation (everyone loves modulation). I don't want cilantro on all of my food, but I need it in my Tom Yum soup and Mexican food. Sure, some people hate cilantro and chorus, I understand that, but give it a chance.

What's the most absurd custom pedal request you've ever received?

We get a lot of them. I don't think any spec is too absurd, but what is is thinking we can build one custom pedal for someone who can't afford the model that they really want. Or a custom pedal to sound like "X". But it costs a fortune to make one pedal if we don't currently make something quite similar. This is due to the time involved in getting the correct schematic, sourcing the parts, making a board, and then tuning it to sound good. If I think there would be a good amount of interest, we can do that and eat the R&D costs by spreading it out in the production models we sell later on.

We did a one-off custom last year: a custom Fuzz pedal for Beck, ordered by Arcade Fire as a gift. We lost money on it, but it was fun and we may make the pedal available in the future.

Custom Morning Phase pedal by Analogman ordered by Arcade Fire as a gift for Beck.


Analog Mike is the founder of the Analog Man pedals as well as a world leading authority on vintage pedals and mods. Stay tuned for more posts from Analog Mike soon, and be sure to check Analog Man effects on Reverb.

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