Over the past few years, guitar pedal companies have been breaking the norm of what a guitar pedal is and does. These new pedals have thrown away the exclusivity of a guitar player’s pedal board, and have found their way into other artists’ hands. Bass players are using them, synth fanatics are throwing them onto their effects chain, and producers are playing with them on their drum channel or full track.
Effects pedals are no longer just a basic overdrive or delay. Now they are an overdrive/delay/reverb pedal. With this growth, new companies have been formed and existing ones have further established their product line.
Some of the best pedals to come from this new era are brands from Canada’s own backyard. We have Southampton Pedals, Radial Engineering, Empress Effects, Jonny Rock Gear and many more. With so many quality Canadian brands, it might be difficult to figure out which pedal to choose. Thankfully, we’re here to help you with a list (in no specific order) of 5 essential guitar pedals to consider - no matter what kind of music you’re making.
EMPRESS EFFECTS ZOIA
Steve Bragg and the Empress Effects team have been recently gaining world recognition with their hi-fi sound quality guitar pedals. This is due to their initiative of inspiring musicians and giving them the tools needed to create any sound they can dream of (and even some they can't).
Their ZOIA pedal is a perfect representation of this idea. If you have been on the internet looking at pedals this past year, it is very likely you have seen this button-heavy pedal recommended.
The ZOIA at first glance is intimidating, but it can be as simple or as complex as you like. It is a multi effects unit with 20+ ready-made effects and has the ability to download thousands of user-made effects from the internet. Some examples of the built-in effects are; Lo-Fi vibrato, fuzz, reverb, modulated filter, looper, flanger, ring modulation, VHS effect, plate reverb, overdrive, ping pong delay, and the ability to play it as a synthesizer! If you are more adventurous, ZOIA has 80+ modules that you can use to build your own custom effects and instruments.
Empress Effects describes the ZOIA as a modular synthesizer in pedal form. Instead of being a delay effect or tremolo, the ZOIA provides the modules necessary to build a delay or tremolo from the ground up. But since you're the one building it, you can make it do whatever you want. With the ZOIA you are not limited to just effects, as you also have synthesizers, midi controllers, and virtual pedal boards you can play with. If you needed a desert island pedal this would be it, as you would not need anything else (not even a guitar or sound source).
Too often, musicians will find themselves lusting over the latest and greatest effects, causing significant damage to their bank account. The ZOIA can prevent this. The desired effect is most likely already part of the pedal library or can be made by you. Once you get the hang of the ZOIA’s programming capabilities any pedal is within your reach! Since its introduction in 2019, the ZOIA has been on the “must have'' lists of many artists. We see it as an essential guitar pedal.
Fairfield Circuitry is an easy company to overlook when browsing guitar pedals, as their aesthetics are about as plain as you can get. Remember, looks can be deceiving. Behind these unfinished aluminum Hammond enclosures, lies unique and robust effects.
Lo Fi music has become very popular recently, and most musicians are confused on how to achieve this sound. At first you think “I need a reel-to-reel recorder”, but, the cost and maintenance of this method can be quite cumbersome. From here you move onto software effects, but you will soon realize your sound is missing that “organic” touch.
This is where Fairfield Circuitry’s Shallow Water comes in to save the day. Shallow Water’s essence could be characterized as uncertain, subtle and nostalgic. This pedal takes your typical analogue chorus/vibrato but with a twist of k-field modulation. K-field (Simulation mathematics), is described as an undefined, two-dimensional, non-linear field where past and future forces interact at irregular intervals. Shallow Water generates this k-field by randomly modulating a short time delay to create unexpected shifts in pitch. The result is a non-cyclical vibrato/chorus/flanger reminiscent of an old tape.
The random quality of the modulation begins in a simple program residing on a microcontroller. Its output resembles steps of random voltages, separated by random time intervals.
The RATE control effectively sets the overall range of these time intervals. These random stepped voltages are processed through a filter/integrator, giving control over the slope at which the steps will reach their new values. As DAMP is increased, the random steps become slow and sluggish, instead of sharp and abrupt. The DEPTH knob defines the amount of modulation that will be used to modulate the time delay of your input signal.
There is a strong interaction between all three controls affecting modulation; that is, RATE, DAMP and DEPTH. Once the input signal has passed through the delay line, a recovery filter and some kind of gate is necessary to remove unwanted noise generated by the bucket brigade device. To achieve this, the input’s envelope is followed and used to modulate the frequency of a low pass filter. The amount of envelope is set by the LPG control, yielding bouncy, lo-fi responses to quick and snappy gate-like behaviours.
The beauty of this pedal is that it can be used on any sound source, making it a worthwhile investment - and an essential guitar pedal.
Southampton Pedals is a relatively new and smaller guitar pedal company which leads to the question “how do they have an essential pedal?”
With Avant-pop on the rise thanks to artists like Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers, Lana Del Rey and recently Taylor Swift, musicians are finding themselves wanting to recreate this ambience.
Southampton pedals have answered this with their ironically named “Indie Dream” pedal.
This pedal uses two effects in combination to achieve this highly sought-after sound. On the left we have a delay & reverb effect and on the right, we have an overdrive. Southampton pedals made sure that you can use these two effects separately or in series, making it an extremely valuable pedal in such a small package. The company states that the Indie Dream “has everything you need for a gig or a jam (except a tuner!)”. After using it for 15 minutes you will understand why.
Taking a closer look at the Indie Dream’s overdrive, you will notice it has a large sweep on the tone control. This was done on purpose allowing it to be EQ’d for guitar, bass, synth, and pretty much any other electric instrument.
For the delay/reverb side of the pedal you can dial in your delay time with the FEEDBACK knob, and choose between spring or hall reverb modes with the toggle switch. The MIX knob controls the level of the modulation signal, while the dry level is not affected.
The Indie Dream is a perfect match for the solo singer-songwriter who has never purchased a pedal before. This is due to the fact that three effects are already wired up for you behind its enclosure. It will still take some time to learn, but is much less daunting than having to figure out individual pedals and deciding how to run the signal flow. The Indie Dream is a direct path to creativity without any roadblocks.
RADIAL JDI STEREO STEREO PASSIVE DI
One pedal you should have at all times is a DI (Direct Inject) Box. Radial Engineering is the leader in this, with a long standing reputation for bringing a diverse range of reliable and tough-as-nails DI Boxes to the market.
Founded by Peter Janis in 1992, the company is responsible for what are, without a doubt, two of the best direct boxes on the market: The JDI and the J48.
Radial products can be found on stages and studios of music's biggest acts including Rush, U2, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Al Schmitt, and Elliot Scheiner, among many others. Radial products are also a go-to for non-music audio & video integration applications, where pristine audio is required.
You may be asking yourself “what is a DI Box”? In short, it gives the capability of plugging in instruments and audio sources directly to preamplifiers (PA system or studio soundcard/mixer). DI Boxes also allow you to send audio signals over extended cable runs without losing volume and high-frequency information.
DI Boxes are mostly found in mono, but with guitar pedals more commonly becoming stereo, we would suggest the JDI Stereo. The Radial JDI Stereo is a passive two-channel direct box designed to handle extreme signal levels without distortion, phase deviation, and audio artifacts.
If you are only using a mono signal, the JDI Stereo is still recommended as you have the flexibility of running two mono sources. The JDI Stereo will allow you to easily send instrument signals directly to the venue’s pa system as well as your amp. It can handle extreme transients from your digital piano, laptop or DJ mixer, without choking your sound. The effect of the JDI Stereo may be subtle, but is needed to give your sound a professional touch, making it a must have essential for every artist.
DR SCIENTIST THE ELEMENTS
The Elements by Dr Scientist is a dual-channel overdrive/distortion with a wide gain range and a full 3 band equalizer. To increase its versatility, we’ve added toggle switch options for clipping modes, bass cut frequencies, and midrange frequencies. Whether you’re looking for high gain metal distortion or a clean equalizer, The Elements can fulfill a role on any pedalboard. Like all Dr. Scientist pedals, the Elements can be used with guitar, bass, synths, and many other instruments.
Each of these five essential Canadian guitar pedals are great for all types of artists and are ideal representatives of this new age of pedals. Radial and Diamond Pedals have further developed their tried-and-true classics. Fairfield Circuitry and Southampton Pedals have embraced the present by mixing the old with new. Empress Effects is ushering us into the future.
With these pedals being as unique as they are, it can be difficult to find and purchase them. Moog Audio is the place for Canadian pedal makers. Right now, more than ever, buying local is at the forefront of many people’s minds and these essential pedals can help with this initiative. For those outside of Canada, it’s worth your time and effort to acquire these pedals and bring a new essential dimension to your sound.