Wild Things: Why the Ibanez Tone-Lok Pedals were Gone too Soon

Sometimes, something comes along and challenges our entire perception of the world in which we live. Wind the clock back a few years. I’m enjoying a boutique delay pedal, full of vast capabilities and wonderful sounds. I’m in love—or so I think. One day, I step into the neighborhood guitar shop, as I often do, and notice a new pedal in the display case. It’s used, and it’s cheap, so expectations are low, but curiosity takes over and I decide to give it a spin. Curiosity gives way to listening intently. Listening intently leads to disbelief. Disbelief leads to trying out the pedal with multiple guitars and amplifiers. Various test-drives lead to immediate infatuation which gives way to pedal purchase. The pedal in question is an Ibanez DE7 Delay/Echo.

Introduced just before the turn of the 21st Century, the Ibanez Tone-Lok line was an attempt to connect with a new generation of players. Marketed with the help of bands like Korn, the lineup featured standard fare such as overdrives and choruses as well as more adventurous units like the SB7 Synthesizer Bass, LF7 Lo-Fi and SM7 Smashbox. Featuring seventeen pedals overall, Ibanez left no stone unturned in trying to become a player in the pedal market. Eventually the line was phased out, but these funky gems can be found on the Interwebs, and most of the time they can be had for less than fifty bucks.

Now, back to my DE7. To be sure I wasn’t crazy, I put it up against my boutique delay, which was considerably more expensive. Granted, the delays were designed with different purposes in mind, but I wanted to do a direct comparison of the core sound. After going back and forth for about an hour, I came to the conclusion that I greatly favored the DE7. I was distraught. How could I have spent so much money on the delay that came before it? Am I a sucker for marketing gimmicks and guitar jargon? Was I hearing things wrong? I ended up selling the fancy delay, and I still have the DE7 to this day. I became obsessed with it. At one point I even found a store online that had a new old stock stash and I bought them all. I gave a couple to friends and kept a few for backup. I love everything about it, from the old school Boss-style switch to the push-in Tone-Lok knobs. I love that it has a wet and dry output. But most of all, I love the glorious sound in Echo mode. It’s not as murky as an analog delay, but it is much more smooth than a digital delay. My love for the DE7 led me to other members of the Tone-Lok family, and I do solemnly swear that they are awesome, useable pedals.

My next foray into cheap pedal bliss was the FZ7, a fuzz. With a standard configuration of Drive, Tone, and Level, it also has a ‘Damage’ switch that adds lo-fi fizzled out weirdness. The fuzz sounds are cool, and the Damage function makes it easy to dial in apocalyptic, end-of-the-world waves of doom. On lower fuzz settings, the FZ7 delivers unrefined overdrive. It’s one of the most fun pedals I’ve played and one that all my guitar-playing friends have always enjoyed messing with.

Continuing on with my journey, I acquired the TS7, which, as you may guess, is the Tone-Lok Tube Screamer. Similar to other Screamers, it features Drive, Tone, and Level, with a switch that changes the operating mode from “TS9” to “Hot.” I didn’t have another Tube Screamer to compare it to at the time, but it delivered midrange-rich overdrive and cleanish boosts with ease. TS9 and 808 aficionados may balk at its pawnshop looks and price, but it shares a lot of DNA with its fancier brethren and is a very respectable overdrive.

After that, I gave the AP7 a try. A three-knob phaser with Speed, Depth, and Feedback controls, it also has a switch that enables 4, 6, or 8-stage phasing. The sounds are right on par with the best phasers I’ve tried, and players can most likely get the phase they are after with the combination of the feedback knob and the staging switch. From subtle vintage modulation to over the top whoosh, it’s all there, and can probably be scored for around thirty bucks.

The final pedals in the Tone-Lok line that I tried were the CF7 Chorus/Flanger and the WD7 Weeping Demon Wah. The CF7 was as advertised, but I was particularly impressed with the wah. Compared to a standard wah, it looks pretty crazy, but with a name like Weeping Demon, I suppose that should come as no surprise. I was recently out of town for a gig, and one of the songs required the use of a wah pedal. I didn’t have my trusty Vox wah on me, so the lead singer acquired one from a friend that I could borrow for the show. When he said “it’s an Ibanez Weeping Demon wah,” with a chuckle, I smiled. I knew that it was part of the Tone-Lok line, and because of that, I knew it would deliver. The WD7 features tone shaping controls and the choice of spring-loaded or regular action. A separate switch engages the effect instead of the usual click via the expression pedal. It took some getting used to, but I came to appreciate the unique setup of the wah along with the fact that I was using a pedal called the Weeping Demon to play upbeat pop music.

Many moons ago, on a summer night sometime between my sophomore and junior years of high school, a friend and I were in a grocery store parking lot. A couple of girls drove by and we hollered at them like idiots. To our surprise, they stopped, turned around, and talked to us. They were very friendly and fun to talk to. It went so well that they decided we should all hang out the next evening. One of them ended up taking a shining to me. She worked at a thrift store, and her father happened to be the manager. One day she let me fill a cart with cool t-shirts and random gadgets and she only charged me a dollar for the whole thing (who knows if that was an authorized transaction, but the statute of limitations on whatever criminal charge that falls under has run its course). She was cute, genuine, and very weird. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get past the weirdness. I wasn’t secure enough with myself at the time to go out with her in public, and I truly let a precious jewel slip through my fingers. Why am I telling you this?

The Ibanez Tone-Lok series is that girl in pedal form, and I’m here to tell you that they should not be taken for granted. These tone tools are not to be overlooked. For the price of one typical boutique stompbox, you can snag four, five, maybe six of these bad boys. If players are worried about functionality, they can rehouse them in a more reliable case—JHS has rehoused several DE7 units. In the guitar world, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is often true. Sometimes, cheap pedals are just cheap. But sometimes, tone seekers find a winner for less than dinner, and the DE7 is one of the finest pedals ever heard, and many of its Tone-Lok siblings are just as worthy. If found, buy them, and to those who ever sell them—sell them to me.

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