Worst Effects from the 80s & 90s
An Off the Cuff Editorial By PGS Fitz
Okay, so maybe the word “worst” is a little subjective.
None of the products or companies below have made the “worst” pedal (chiefly because it would be impossible to name “the one”), but there are definitely some mis-steps that happened back in the day. Not every pedal can be a TS-9 or a Big Muff—as with all manufacturing and marketing, there’s always a dud or two in the house. Today in the corner we’re revisiting some of these “what were they thinking” products just for nostalgia’s sake—with the endless stacks of pedals around the office here, we wanted to take a trip down memory lane to when we were all fighting the good fight to find our tone with what was available to us…
Despite being the proud parent of one of the world’s best effects of all time (I don’t really need to tell you what I’m talking about here, do I?) – Ibanez stumbled somewhat in the 80s/90s with their weird Soundtank series. Check out the tank-styled enclosure; they were serious! With the Soundtanks, the only question is which is actually the worst: the Black Noise? The Cyberdrive? The Slam Punk? The Thrashmetal? Based on ‘tone’ plus its controls for Blast, Spike, and Anarchy? I’m calling it for the Slam Punk.
Players seem split on Dano’s original pedal line of the era featuring the original metal enclosure Cool Cat Chorus, Fab Tone, and Daddy-O; some players swear by them (with or without mods) and some players curse them. However, rare is the player who hung onto any of the Danelectro Mini Effects—and not simply because of the silly naming scheme that found every pedal named after a food you’d typically score in a greasy diner (though a cursory look through the list does make me feel suddenly hungry). Though a few of these pedals have come away with a positive rep intact (see Chicken Salad Vibrato, Tuna Melt Tremolo, FishnChips EQ), the Pastrami Overdrive, Slap Echo, and Black Coffee Metal Distortion & Black Licorice Beyond Metal pedals have not fared so well over the years. These pedals came in plastic heat seal, not even in boxes. The cheap construction wasn’t known to take a beating, either—I know people on their third or fourth Tuna Melt (tremolo, not the food). 1
I’m going to nominate a couple DOD pedals for this distinction. Despite their strong start in the 70s (the 250 overdrive is a classic!), DOD in the 80s and 90s churned out a couple uninspired boxes and a couple whose marketing really fell short : the Punkifier, Gonkulator, and Meat Box all come to mind. However, word on the street is pitting the Supra Distortion, American Metal, Super American Metal, Metal Maniac, Thrash Master, and Death Metal boxes in a tie—with all being, at some point, compared to sounding like a box of bees.2
And who can forget the DOD Grunge pedal?! Though some claim that it was one of DOD’s best selling pedals of the era, it was never embraced or taken seriously by the guitar community. I didn’t even know they made a bass version.
The Grunge pedal, in its early configuration, literally had controls for “Butt” and “Face”)… Subsequent versions were changed to a more acceptable “Low” and “High,” but I don’t even really know if that (or anything) could help this pedal.
Though they’re legendary for being the first giant, mass-produced pedal maker with more than one legendary pedal under their belt(s)—Boss has also gambled on some boxes that have literally and figuratively fizzled… For example, have you even heard of the Xtortion or seen one in the flesh? The XT-2 Xtortion pedal purportedly was manufactured for only 11 months starting in summer of 1996 and from the looks of the internet, is resolutely tolerated at best and generally considered to be a flat, harsh distortion with little to no depth.3
WASHBURN took a swing at making pedals back in the day, with several forgettable effects including the Stack in a Box:
PEAVEY also threw their hat into the pedal ring, making an entire line of pedals that did not stack up against anything else of the era. The Dual Clock Stereo Chorus is as icy as any chorus that came out in the 80s while the Hotfoot Distortion is buzzy and one-dimensional.
And who can forget ROCKTEK?! These pedals have become playgrounds for modders and mad scientists to circuit-bend within an inch of their lives because the pedals themselves have value mostly only as enclosures. Check out this Chorus and re-live the worst of the 80s:
There are a million forgotten pedals of the era (does anyone even remember KMD pedals?), but these pedals are the ones I remember as being ones I wish I could forget!
This isn’t an effects pedal, but I’m throwing the dirty channel on the Roland JC-120 under the bus RIGHT NOW. For an amp that is otherwise so perfect—no one I know can understand how this amp left R&D with a dirty channel in the first place. Distortion so anemic and gutless that it almost sounds like what a video game thinks distortion sounds like. Thankfully, no one used that channel. Ever.4
Now that everyone is all fired up, what we’re really looking for here is to find out who’s still using stuff like this to desired effect! We know that there’s no such thing as a bad pedal, just the wrong rig combination. Your Klon would sound terrible in my guitar rig and my old Ibanez Bi-Chorus probably won’t sound good in yours (but it sounds awesome in my Cocteau Twins tribute band!). With that said, we’d love to hear about your surprising successes with pedals that didn’t stand the test of time. That's the great thing about gear-- *someone* always finds a way to make it work.
Thanks as always for reading the blog this week and hope to see you next time!
FULL AUTHOR DISCLOSURES
1I still own a Dano Hash Browns Flanger which I get out from time to time when I cover Catherine Wheel’s “Black Metallic” or when I just want to feel awesome and stadium-y.
2The first two effects pedals I ever owned were an FX59 Thrash Master + FX60 Stereo Chorus. Additional disclosure? They sounded horrible. Yet another disclosure? I was playing them through a Peavey Rage solid state amp with an 8" speaker. My bad.
3 I owned an Xtortion for 4 hours once in 2002, pairing it poorly with my ’72 Tele Deluxe and a Fender Twin and found it, in this set up, to be a flat, harsh distortion with little to no depth. I sold it on eBay and it got lost in the mail, causing a kerfuffle between me and the mom who bought it for her son for $40. Not only did I hate the pedal, but it got me my only negative eBay feedback ever. Thanks a lot, Xtortion.
4 This is hyperbole. I assume someone used the dirty channel. Once.