ProGuitarShop

Six Companies That Made Pedals That Probably Shouldn’t Have

December 30, 2016
Written by: PGS Staff
 
It’s nice to have some feeling of exclusivity in the gear world. Most companies largely stick to their guns, i.e. guitar companies generally stick to guitar accoutrements. Some such companies have successfully made the leap to other gear realms without much difficulty. Then there are companies like Boss: unquestioned leader of modern effects pedals. However, who among us would play a guitar built by Boss? Could an amplifier made by Planet Waves be trusted? Clearly, there are boundaries in play—yet throughout history, companies have overstepped them and muscled into the effects world, often to little or no fanfare. What follows may surprise you: Six companies that made pedals that probably shouldn’t have.
 
C.F. Martin & Co.
Known for: Acoustic guitars
Created: Stinger pedals
The first offending company might be one of the most shocking on the list—C.F. Martin, known colloquially as “Martin” launched not just one pedal, but an entire line in the ‘80s. I know what you’re thinking, and yes—Martin, acoustic stalwart, made pedals for electric guitar. Not only that, the good folks at Martin also released electric guitars and amplifiers in this time period. “Wait a sec,” you might say, “if Martin made all this stuff, why haven’t I seen a Martin digital delay or a Martin amp at my local pawn?” The problem here is not the lack of answers, but rather that you, hypothetical questioner, are not asking the correct questions. The line is called “Stinger,” and it was launched in 1988. The Stinger imprint went through a couple of cosmetic changes, but the most abundant variant is the pale blue pinstriped enclosure that looked like a cross between a McDonalds toy and a bizarre piece of early-‘90s office equipment. As for the pedals themselves, they were largely uninspired copies of whatever was popular among other manufacturers of the time. They quickly faded into obscurity.
 
Ludwig-Musser
Known for: Drums
Created: Phase II Synthesizer
The ‘80s were punctuated by several manufacturers getting into the pedal game; companies would put out whatever to whoever would listen. The “afterthought pedals” of this era were largely that; several boxes were built by “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) and slapped with labels produced by the highest bidder. It isn’t uncommon to see the same enclosure with several different names—Coron, Cutec and Loco Box come to mind. That said, this same pedal renaissance occurred a decade earlier, but the outcomes were far more ambitious. Ludwig-Musser was one such cog in this machine. Ludwig only produced one pedal in a very limited quantity, but it was a doozy: the Phase II Synthesizer. Although it looks like a little piece of furniture, complete with period-correct wooden panels, the Phase II wasn’t based on anything before it, and it hasn’t been cloned for mass production yet either. It’s an incredibly complicated circuit with an incredibly complicated sound, but the most intriguing part of this is that Ludwig, a company produced nothing but drums, dedicated an entire new wing of business to engineer this pedal. Unfortunately, it was the only thing ever produced.
 
 
C.G. Conn
Known for: Brass, woodwind instruments
Created: Multi-Vider
The Conn company’s story is far more bizarre and lengthy than many might expect, but its eccentricity certainly paved the way for the Multi-Vider, an analog octave and fuzz pedal for—you guessed it—horns. Technically, this doesn’t make the Multi-Vider a piece of guitar gear—or a pedal, as the unit is meant to clip to a music stand. However, something remains to be said for the idea that Conn thought bands wanted to have fuzzed-out octave-drenched horn sections in the late ‘60s. Like clockwork, the Mothers of Invention quickly latched onto the Multi-Vider, and they’ve become scarce ever since. A couple variants were produced, and the most notable difference is the transition from transistors in one model to integrated circuits in the next. For what it’s worth, the integrated circuit model looks far cooler than the transistor version until you pop the hood.
 
Pearl
Known for: Drums, percussion accessories
Created: Sound Spice, Sound Choice, Vorg pedals
Like Ludwig before them, Pearl actually broke the “rules” of the era and situation by offering up unique-looking pedals with original circuits inside. Perhaps it’s because the “Spice” series was released in the midst of the foreign import clutter that quashed their would-be popularity. As it stands, every pedal in this line is incredibly well thought out and sonically impeccable, save for perhaps the Distortion and strangely-named “Thriller.” The Sound Choice series only contained three pedals—barely a series. However, these two boxes are in fact very “choice” as their names imply. One box, the PH-44 Phaser has been hailed by some—including Z. Vex’s Zachary Vex—as the finest phaser ever made. One of the other “Choice” offerings—the AD-33 Analog Delay—is a great sounding full-featured analog box with two footswitchable channels. What’s more, Pearl also launched pedals in the ‘70s under the name Vorg, and a Vorg Warp Sound has been a staple of Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine’s rig for decades.
 
 
Vestax
Known for: Turntables, recording interfaces
Created: Several pedals, including the awesome MDX
Easily the most bewildering entry on the list, Vestax had only a mild interest in guitars, which was tenuous at best. The common link between its four-track recorders and guitars was the quarter-inch inputs on their units. Needless to say, the choice to offer guitar pedals bearing the Vestax logo was a head-scratcher. Vestax officially changed its name to Vesta Fire Corporation in 1982, yet both Vesta Fire and Vestax branded pedals hit the market after that time. Even stranger: both Vesta Fire and Vestax pedals came in dozens of varieties, and many (the Vestax “Old Series” and Vesta Fire “New Series”) were the exact same circuits in different boxes. Two standout pieces are the MDX and DDX, digital delays with and without modulation, respectively. These pedals were mostly garden-variety, but allow users to select a time range as low as two milliseconds, which generates haunting metallic tunnel-like noises when the feedback is cranked. Both Vesta Fire and Vestax pedals in the aforementioned series were markedly original; unfortunately, they’re very, very rare nowadays.
 
Freekish Blues
Known for: Alpha Drive
Created: A scandal
There’s no company in this article that embodies the title more than Freekish Blues. The year was 2011, and a fresh new upstart, Freekish Blues, burst onto the scene with the Alpha Drive, a pedal happily embraced by the community at large. Freekish Blues actually “made” several other pedals, such as the Betty Boost and Coily Fuzz. The problem: the pedals were not actually manufactured by Freekish Blues. DIY forums discovered the Alpha Drive—by far the company’s best seller—to be a modified-then-repainted Joyo Ultimate Drive which costs 30 dollars. Takedowns of the other Freekish offerings soon followed, but it was the Alpha Drive that bore the brunt of the blame and became synonymous with effectual chicanery. The pedal world’s self-policing ushered in a new era of accountability in the effects industry and helped raise consumer awareness about ethics within our niche, which is actually a good thing. In order to be more informed consumers, guitarists quickly trained themselves to identify such scams by getting to know effects on a more elemental level, which both enhanced the overall quality of pedals while simultaneously heaping praise on truly original builders.

Comments

  1. Nicholas J Dillie says:

    Cmon you guys forgot to mention the vertex effects scandal with the bbe wahs!

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 10:17 am
  2. CBJ says:

    I had the Pearl PE10. Great build quality and exceptional performance.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 10:29 am
  3. Michael H. says:

    Pics or it didn’t happen. ;P

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 10:54 am
  4. DC says:

    I owned a couple Pearl pedals back in the day. They were great.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 10:55 am
  5. Juanjo Abad says:

    It would be nice if some company did a clone of the Ludwig but… meanwhile… won’t you PGS staff get your hands on one and leave it in the capable hands of Andy to do a demo, just for fun?
    Almost every demo I find is crap. Uninspired playing at best.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 11:10 am
  6. Charlie Fiftywatts says:

    Those companies dismissed an important tenet of business: don’t commit line extension! ‘Line extension’ is when a company known for making snowmobiles, let’s say, decides to get into the toothpaste and brazierre markets (because the corporation felt the need to diversify what products it produces, which is a way of protecting itself from going extinct if the only one thing they sell currently becomes obsolete over time.) So diversifying is a need for corporations, but for Pete’s sake, if your product is so popular the name of your company describes the product (like how you can say “I got a new Diehard.”, and everyone will know you mean a car battery, because that’s what the Diehard company is known for.  Or how you can say Xerox instead of copy, or Timex instead of watch…  Companies get KNOWN for what they do and do well. Yet still the needed for diversifying exists, so how corporations generally handle that is they branch out into other product lines, BUT THEY DON’T USE THEIR BRAND NAME on them. They coin a new brand name, and start making THAT known for what IT is. So yea, a Pearl or a Ludwig guitar pedal??! First thing that goes through the mind is: “What would a drum maker know about pedals? NOTHING!” ..They should have branded their efforts with a new name. Or at least stay within their own field of expertise if they want to capitalize on their existing brand name. (There are an awful lot of accessories for drums that can be sold, and there are electronic drums, and the need to wire to them and record from them and amplify them and follow where the technology is going etc. There’s a LOT of room for diversifying there, while still using their own name. 

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 11:26 am
  7. Jon says:

    I had a couple Pearl pedals on my board back in the day, a parametric EQ and delay, they were great pedals!  Sounded good, quiet and relatively cheap.  Plus they were all the local music store sold.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 11:30 am
  8. Roberto says:

    I own a Pearl phaser. Sounds great and the pedal is super well built.
    It is a pity that this article doesn’t show pictures!

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 11:40 am
  9. 54 StratMan says:

    All the companies that manufacture effect pedals now have reputations not because of their names but because of the quality produced in their line of products. Even the most successful companies have turned out some duds, like the Boss Distortion Feedbacker. It was an interesting concept, the problem was how much can you really use a single sustained note of feedback? The real thing I take away from this article is the obscure offerings these companies offered were either too big of a step away from their customer base’s tastes and/or the products themselves simply were either copies of what was already out there in the market from other more successful makers, or the products were too limited or were just plain junk.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 12:07 pm
  10. Sal Molinare says:

    This video suggests otherwise….check it out.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 12:20 pm
  11. 54 StratMan says:

    Sal, I don’t find a link.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 12:54 pm
  12. Stringbender53 says:

    I didn’t find out about the Freekish Blues “Alpha Drive” scandal until 2016, when the buzz over Joyo’s JF-02 “Ultimate Drive” FINALLY came across my radar and I curious I ordered a new one off e-Bay for under $25 w/shipping prepaid. Already having around 16 various overdrives and distortions, both boutique and major brands, I wasn’t really expecting too much for the money; in fact I’d dug up some reviews indicating build quality and reliability around the time of the scandal were somewhat dicey. Therefore I was pretty jazzed when the pedal showed up and, while it wasn’t quite as heavy duty as some of the majors, overall it exuded a nice level of quality with it’s metal case, solid knobs and switches, and well done paint job (the only “so-so” item is a somewhat wanky plastic battery “door”,but I use a “One Spot” and no batteries). Other than that, if treated with a modicum of respect, it should last damn near forever.The real shocker though was plugging it in: right off the bat it sounded good and with some tweaking wasn’t hard to find various settings that sounded GREAT and complimented every guitar I tried it with. No wonder Freekish had managed to pull the wool over people’s eyes; the damned thing’s the best deal in a pedal I’ve made in years- LOL!

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 3:20 pm
  13. Sal Molinare says:

    @54 StratMan
    Dammitt! I definitely posted it in the text box…must be disallowed by the management here :(

    It was a back to back test of the two pedals in question and while they looked alike, they definitely didn’t sound alike and after disassembly were definitely not the same pedal. They had several of them and tested them all. Not the same pedal as described above. Now I don’t know anything about it….I just googled it and found the vid on youtube. Found it interesting is all.

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 4:08 pm
  14. Sal Molinare says:

    Vid link?

    https://youtu.be/EkebhYMOpcI

    posted on December 30, 2016 at 4:12 pm
  15. David Salzman says:

    While the article points out companies that should have produced pedals, I’d suggest they hadn’t written the article, and perhaps written something else instead.

    posted on December 31, 2016 at 1:00 am
  16. CBJ says:

    Well, Charlie Fiftywatts,
    One company comes to mind . . . Yamaha.
    Snowmobiles, Drum Kits, Guitars, pianos etc. At one time they even made Tennis gear.
    I’m guessing the one rule is to make every endeavor count and treat every product line as if it is of prime importance to the business itself . . . or don’t do it.

    posted on December 31, 2016 at 1:31 am
  17. Evel Knievel says:

    @David Salzman, actually that’s not what the article was about AT ALL.

    posted on December 31, 2016 at 2:07 am
  18. marc says:

    hah-HAHH! Freekish Blues! Never forget!!!!!

    posted on January 1, 2017 at 5:59 am
  19. Andre says:

    I picked up a Pearl guitar tuner in 1982 in Mankato MN.  It had the expected 6 reference switches, the only problem was that I discovered it was not referenced to A-440 but rather 334.  Oops.

    posted on January 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

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