Pedal Lines that Failed Miserably

When a company rolls out a line of boxes, it represents a lot more than new gear for us to fiddle with. These lines represent the livelihood of a company; they represent months—even years—of engineering exploits. They represent the struggle to fit many different effect types into one form factor under intense deadlines. They represent a collaborative effort between solder jockeys, number crunchers and creative producers. Graphics, marketing, ad copy; all of these things have to play out in order for a pedal company to release an entire line. Needless to say, there's a lot of work involved.

That said, big companies can't really afford to pull the proverbial ripcord on a product if things go south. Oftentimes, “the line” will be the only thing a company will release for a year or more, and the aforementioned number crunchers figure this line to be a financial success if all the gears in the machine turn like they're supposed to. What if they’re not? The effects can cause financial ripples that echo into years to come, or the failure can be immense enough to capsize an otherwise healthy pedal company. What follows is a laundry list of these failures, some resulted in only a fender bender, and some tore the companies asunder.

MXR 2000 Series

MXR Time Delay

I take almost every opportunity I can to talk about the MXR Commande series, because it’s a constant reminder of just how wrong things can go when the rudder falls off the ship. The Commande series was MXR’s ill-fated response to Japan sending boats full of cheap pedals to the states in the ‘80s. MXR’s response: Crank out a few uninspired circuits and put them in shoddy plastic housings with horrendously fragile switches. Clearly, this plan was destined for failure—and it failed. However, the Commande series was only the iceberg struck by the SS MXR, while the 2000 Series was the band that played while the once-proud brand unceremoniously sunk deep into the abyss.

The 2000 Series was supposed to be the saving throw, but it wound up being the death knell. There’s a strong possibility that you, the reader, have never heard of the 2000 Series. It certainly took a step forward from the lowly Commande series by trading in the plastic housing for metal. However, the 2000 Series was a rush job through and through; with names like “Time Delay” it didn’t take long for the public to catch on to the fact that nothing good was to come of the 2000 Series. The one-two punch of the Commande and 2000 Series was enough to KO MXR—that is until Dunlop did the world a favor and bought MXR, restoring the compant to its former glory.

DOD Performer Series

On one hand, you really have to give it up for Boss, bastions of sticking to one’s guns, for keeping the same design for forty years and coming out on top. On the other hand, Boss so handily cornered the market that companies attempted to emulate them for decades, often resulting in more misses than hits. DOD is one of those companies who had its share of hits AND misses within this formula. The Performer Series from DOD was the miss, and thankfully, it didn’t send the company into a tailspin. Some 40 years later, just looking at any DOD Performer Series pedal dredges up feelings of confusion. The switch on these pedals looks extremely chintzy and not suited to being stomped on by an actual performer. A later Performer revision saw this switch change to a more durable-looking fixture, and between these two revisions, DOD released a staggering 20 pedals.

The biggest downfall of the Performer Series, however, is the silly power requirement—each pedal required a proprietary 18-volt power supply; sometimes included, sometimes not. Buying a Performer second-hand was always an adventure, because the power supply was hardly ever included and much time was spent trying to kludge together a replacement to satisfy our curiosity. That said, once powered and properly curated, the series sounds great, but the line flopped mightily out of the gate.

Pearl/Vorg F-600/Sound Spice/Sound Choice

Pedals were such a hot commodity that many improbable companies tried their hands at building them in the ‘80s; companies like Martin Guitars and Vestax attempted to cash in. While those companies tried, failed and bowed out, Pearl—yes, the drum company—rolled out FOUR separate lines and failed four consecutive times. Unfortunately, every single one of these lines contained some truly underrated boxes that continue to serve as some of the best examples of at least two effect types (analog phaser and octave).

The first two lines—the Vorg and F-600 series—failed so miserably that finding a specimen in the wild may prove to be a feat unto itself. The third and fourth lines were the Sound Choice and the Sound Spice series, with the Choice pedals often double-wide versions of their Spice counterparts but with a couple extra features and a second footswitch. Unlike some other pedals on the list, many pedals from across all four lines are, or should be, considered classics. The Warp Sound, Phaser, Analog Delay and especially the Octaver are incredible effects that are highly collectible in today’s marketplace. The Octaver in particular is an all-analog octave box with knobs for “Normal” (wet signal), +1, -1 and -2 octave blends. Most octave pedals from this era only do -1 and -2, so the addition of an analog crystal-clear octave up is quite a pleasant surprise.

1980s Peavey pedals

Also from the “THEY made pedals?” file, Peavey released a line of pedals in the midst of the great pedal rush of the ‘80s. Like Pearl, some of these pedals were very good. Some were extremely ambitious also; Peavey had a full-on digital multi-effect unit in the same form factor as its Distortion and Compressor. In this unit—the DEP-16—there are two flanger patches, two chorus patches and 12 (!!!) delay settings ranging from 50 to 800 milliseconds in mostly 50-second intervals. Like many pedals of this era, the Peavey distortion was a RAT, its compressor was a Ross and its overdrive a Tube Screamer, but each was tweaked just enough to keep things interesting. The two biggest triumphs are its Companded Chorus and Dual Clock Stereo Chorus. The Dual Clock is built on the back of the Companded Chorus and utilizes two separate chorus lines for some truly whacked-out intermodulation. The Companded Chorus is an amazing sounding chorus—one of my favorites for sure. With all Peavey had going for it, why did the line fail?

Until now, I have refrained from mentioning the looks. Although the pedals are certainly built well, they look just plain ridiculous. The switch is mounted under a huge rubber nipple that looks hollow, but most assuredly is not. The result is coming down hard on the pedal equivalent of a Botts’ dot every time a player wants to engage his or her pedals. Each pedal requires a funky eighth-inch plug for power, and whoever thought that a good idea? Add it all up, and this is not a winning formula.

Multivox Big Jam line

There’s a great chance that you, the reader, has never heard of Big Jam pedals in your entire life. While this is unfortunate (because they’re all awesome), it’s a textbook example of a failed line. Many people well-versed in pedal lore have seen Big Jam pedals floating around in dusty corners of the Internet, but for those of us who have used them, the underside states these pedals were made by Multivox.

Multivox Big Jam SE-3 Compressor

Multivox made almost everything musical one could imagine, including synthesizers, amplifiers, tape echoes, and these Big Jam pedals. Each Big Jam pedal looked exactly the same except for the colors. 15 of these pedals were made in all, including an analog delay, quartz tuner, noise gate and several other revolutionary boxes for the time. Big Jam’s line also included the first Leslie simulator, though this wasn’t housed in the same form factor. There was even a power supply in the line—the Pulse Regulator—in the same form factor, which supplied power to eight pedals. Anecdotally, the Big Jam line also contains my absolute favorite envelope filter—the Spit Wah.

Unfortunately, the line may have just been too radical for markets in the mid-‘70s. Not only was the Big Jam line one of the first to integrate an LED indicator, it was always on and changed color when the switch was engaged. The switch itself resembled the Peavey rubber hump, but this one was an extremely pressure-sensitive suction cup-type apparatus. In full disclosure, it feels great to step on, but consumers of the time found it to be flimsy, and not suited to the rigors of the stage or road.

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