Mixdown’s 2020 Christmas Gift Guide: Pedals

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Mixdown’s 2020 Christmas Gift Guide: Pedals

Words by Mixdown Staff

Our picks for all the best stompboxes to get your mitts on this festive season.

Ho ho ho – where did the year go? All of a sudden, the festive season has snuck up onto us once again, and if you’re anything like us here at Mixdown, there’s a good chance that you’re probably incredibly disorganised.

To prevent you from having to endure the agony of Michael Bublé churning out another frostbitten rendition of a Christmas carol down the aisles of your local department store, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of all the hottest musical gifts to keep your eyes peeled for this festive season.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s no better gift for a muso than the humble effects pedal. Compact, affordable and abundant in entertainment value, a good stompbox will never go astray under the tree this Christmas – or any time of the year, for that matter.

Whether you’re a fervent pedal-head on the hunt for some niche op-amp overdrive to add to your copious inventory or you’re a first-time buyer on the lookout for that special stompbox to get you started on your effects endeavours, here’s our picks for the best units to keep an eye out for this year.

EarthQuaker Devices Plumes

Distributor: Yamaha Music Australia | Expect to Pay: $169

Recommended for: Overdrive overlords, Mid-humped pedal pushers, Tube tone hounds, EQD enthusiasts.

Features: There’s nothing like the organic, harmonically rich tones of a tube amplifier becoming saturated and pushed into natural overdrive. Pair this with a certain “mid humped” pedal circuit and you’ve got an unmistakable tone like no other!

Those uninitiated to such tonal nirvana or for those who wish to further explore the realms of these luscious tonal landscapes, the legends at EarthQuaker Devices have continued on from where this classic circuit was left, adding numerous tasty features sure to leave even the most esteemed tone hounds salivating. 

Plumes packs archetypal op-amp style clipping, with three modes available, from LED symmetrical, to a clean boost and a silicon asymmetrical style overdrive, each delivery a wide variety of tone options. Used in conjunction with the gain, level and tone controls, Plumes dishes up a plethora of overdrive choices from more saturated to a clean boost, perfect for pushing the front end of a lower wattage amp into harmonically rich overdrive.

Boasting eons of clean headroom, Plumes is easily one of the more malleable and versatile overdrive pedals available, especially of this style of circuit, with intuitive and easy to navigate controls, providing a myriad of tonal possibilities. 

Overall: A unique take on the classic “screamer” circuit, pushing the boundaries and opening up new possibilities for a tone shaping, especially when paired with a tasty tube amp.

NRG Effects Gnawer-308 

Distributed by: Mocha Earth | Expect to Pay: $319

Recommended for: Distortion demigods, low to high gain growlers, RAT racers 

Features: There’s nothing like seeing a jam packed 1590a pedal enclosure that doesn’t make you think “how the hell do they fit it all in there?” and the Gnawer-308 is no exception. On first glance, the pedal from NRG Effects barks with authority with its simple, elegant design and aesthetic, with one larger knob and two slightly smaller knobs recessed above either side giving it a beautifully engineered look. 

Based on a heavily modified late 1980’s ProCo RAT 2, the Gnawer-308 kicks on from where that pedal left off. The coveted LM-308 op-amp takes care of the clipping duties, producing an incredibly meticulously detailed sound, with tones ranging from wide open low gain goodness to saturated and gorgeously compressed high gain madness, handling both with absolute ease and precision. 

Controls include GNAW –simply gain/distortion, LOUD – you guessed it, volume control, and BITE – the treble/presence control. There’s also a NOSE trim control located internally for frequency and gain response. This high headroom, rich, full pedal offers clarity and detail like no other, and its small size is not representative of its monstrous distortion capability.   

Overall: A meticulously engineered work of art pushing out a wide range of gain and distortion tones for days. Designed, handcrafted and hand wired by Neil R. Grimes in Eastbourne, England, the Gnawer-308 is a true masterpiece distortion pedal, worthy of placement on any pedalboard. 

Fender Marine Layer Reverb

Distributed by: Fender Music Australia | RRP: $299

Recommended for: Lovers of both classic and modern reverb types with just the right amount of parameters to dial in the most alluring and (at when required) aquatically reverberant soundscapes.

Features:  The Fender Marine Layer Reverb brings a refreshingly simple yet incredibly versatile palette of reverb sounds to any pedalboard searching for anything from classic tight verbs through to deep and luscious soundscapes. 

Controls include pre-delay to create a small delay between the dry signal and reverb effect for subtler or more obvious effects. The damping knob controls the high frequency role off and the reverb decays and and of course a level control. Three reverb types are available including classic “Hall” and “Room” and a more modern “Special” type, which when used in conjunction with the variation switch in the 2 position creates a tasty “shimmer” reverb. 

A standout feature are the backlit LED knobs (switchable on/off), great to identifying pedal parameters, especially useful in low lit settings. The magnetic battery door is a welcomed feature for those needing a fast battery change without the often fiddly process of taking a pedal apart. The lightweight aluminium chassis is made for gigging on even the most raucous of stages and the amp jewel status LED rounds things off, exuding classic Fender vibe.

Overall: A simple, elegant, equally classic and modern approach to reverb.

Product Name: Fender Tread-Light Wah Pedal

Distributed by: Fender Music Australia | RRP: $239

Recommended for: Those wah hungry fiends – be they novice or pro – who want a little more tonal control and visual flair. 

Features: Upon immediate inspection, the Fender Tread-Light Wah Pedal  just oozes Fender class, with its wood grain treadle pad and sleek ergonomic design. Boasting some very smart and useful features including adjustable treble, variable mid frequency, a buffer on/off switch and LED on/off switch, this wah packs a feature packed punch. 

If ever there was a problem with many a classic wahs out there, it would be the absence of an LED, not to mention often being rather troublesome to find on a poorly lit stage. This is where Fenders clever LED design really shines (excuse the pun), being an under-treadle LED allows for instant and easy pedal location and status feedback on any stage. 

As you’d expect from anything Fender, the circuit under the hood is all original which sounds full and lush, and paired with the variable mid frequency switch allows for further sculpting of one’s “cry”, without the need for modification or a heftier price tag. 

Overall: The Fender Tread-Light wah will be right at home on any guitar player’s pedalboard, be that a seasoned wah-king pro or a budding up and comer. If the awesome sounding circuit wasn’t enough on its own, there’s more than enough tonal shaping capabilities to keep even the most meticulous tone tweakers satisfied, not to mention it won’t be easily lost on stage.  

Lehle Mono Volume Pedal 

Distributed by: EGM Distribution | Expect to Pay: $469

Recommended for: Lapsteel wizards, Volume swellers, Expressive guitar players.

Features: Volume pedals aren’t exactly anything new, nor are the anywhere near as exciting to talk about as say the amount of overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals one has one their pedalboard this week. 

But, if there was ever a time to get excited about a volume it would be when checking out the Lehle Mono Volume pedal. Whilst most volume pedals operate with mechanical potentiometers, optical sensors and other physical moving parts such as springs and wires, which the Lehle avoids by working on purely magnetic principle and design. 

Without getting too technical, a “Hall” sensor measures the distance of the pedal movement, which controls a VCA (Voltage Control Amplifier). It then varies the voltage censored by the Hall sensor, giving pinpoint accurate measurements and removes the requirement for other such traditional move parts. 

The input voltage of the pedal is rectified, filtered and increased to 18 volts, giving the Lehle a mammoth 110dB of dynamic range. With laser point accuracy of even the smallest of foot movements, the Lehle Mono Volume pedal gives unmatched control, feel and precision, all whilst retaining every element of a guitars frequency response and tone.  

Overall: A supreme gift for those who require only but the finest of volume control, with an incredibly unique and painstakingly methodical design under the hood, which remains completely un-intrusive to one’s guitar tone.

Maxon Overdrive OD808 40th Anniversary Edition 

Distributed by: EGM Distribution | Expect to pay: $419

Recommended for: Any guitarist seeking to treat their tone to one of the most pristine low-to-medium gain overdrives the market’s got to give. 

Features: Created in 1979 by legendary electronics engineer Susumu Tamura, the Maxon OD808 laid the blueprint for one of the most iconic overdrive pedals of all time with the Ibanez TS808. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of its original design, Maxon have given the OD808 a special reissue, sharing the exact same specs as Tamura’s original design to provide both a crucial tone-shaping tool and a historic keepsake for eager guitarists. 

While this 40th Anniversary Edition unit mightn’t look like much on the surface, it’s the inside of the pedal that makes it as special as it is. The inclusion of an authentic JRC4558 IC chip delivers the same warm, coveted overdriven tone favoured by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer, with a trio of Balance, Tone and Drive controls letting you achieve everything from a subtle clean boost to all-out crunchy drive for steady riffing. 

Each of these 40th Anniversary Edition Maxon’s feature a commemorative plate to signify their status as a collectors item, with side-mounted input and outputs and a top-mounted power supply inputs rounding out its classic design.

Overall: Real tone fiends know that the Maxon OD808 is the go-to for situations that require low-to-medium gain, and this commemorative edition is a perfect collector’s item for fans of the iconic green machine. 

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