Time to dig out the rock and roll crystal ball and see what 2016 will offer in the world of effect trends. The following is 80 percent speculation, 10 percent insider information, and 10 percent wishful thinking.
So here goes; the 2016 effects predictions are:
The Next Big Thing in Overdrive
It's hard to imagine that we haven't hit “peak Klone.” From Wampler’s Tumnus and Rockett’s Archer, to Mojo Hand’s Sacred Cow, 2015 saw the release of quite a few outstanding Klones. There aren’t many players left to get in on the Klone craze, and the market must be close to saturated at this point. I'm not sure what the next magical or mystical circuit will be but hopefully, whatever it is will break outside of the good old gold, sand-cast enclosure. Personally, I enjoyed the strategy that Robert Keeley took in the Klone Wars—designing a new circuit with new features to meet the same sonic end. The result was a pedal that can achieve those sought after tones and more.
I’ve noticed many players returning to the simple and great tones of the Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, both the standard and the Waza Craft versions. Based on this, I’m predicting that we’re going to start to see more boutique takes on the SD-1.
From Collaboration to Consolidation
If 2015 was all about collaboration I'm going out on a limb and saying that 2016 might be looking more at consolidation. On the 2015 collaboration front, we had small builders like Fuzzrocious and Black Arts Toneworks building collaborative pedals with MXR and DOD. Maybe it's just because craft beer and guitar effects are my two loves, but I see a lot of parallels between the two industries. We've recently witnessed many craft breweries start to sell all or a portion of their business to larger breweries. Sometimes it has been to increase distribution, and other times it has happened because a founder is ready to retire and the family doesn’t want to continue. I'm predicting the same sort of thing will be happening with effects in the coming years. Many effects companies are small businesses with tight margins that take a lot of heart and soul out of the founders. A lot of builders will see the value in getting out on top and reaping rewards from their hard work.
We've already seen Bearfoot Effects take on and start re-creating some fantastic designs from Frantone and ProAnalog Devices. Granted, in these cases, Bearfoot resurrected both companies. But just a few weeks ago, we saw Brad Fee of Mojo Hand FX sell his company to Cusack Music. I won't be surprised to see more small companies and smaller builders starting to work together or even be bought out by larger companies.
My next prediction is that while I don't think we've seen anywhere near the peak of mini pedals, I do think that we're slowly going to start to see a return to bigger more traditional-sized pedals. It won’t be across the board, but it will certainly be a growing niche. Not all players are looking to fit 40 pedals on a standard-sized pedalboard. There are a lot of players that are only using three or four pedals, and they want big pedals, with easy-to-hit switches. You already have builders like John Lyons of Basic Audio who are doing some pretty good business with larger boxes and custom fabrication. And then you have brands like Rotosound who aren’t at all trying for small enclosures.
Another feature I think we're going to start to seeing a lot more of is digital control of analog effect parameters. Moog has been a pioneer in this area and Chase Bliss has taken it even further. Building pedals with “digital brain and an analog heart,” Chase Bliss is pushing the boundaries of what can be done with analog effects. The Chase Bliss pedals use microprocessors to control bucket brigade chips, light dependent resistors, and more. I can't wait to see what happens when it gets around to releasing a delay. It's going to be insane.
Another cool example is the Kickstarter that Henretta engineering just launched for the Six-Speed Pro Multi-Effect. The Six-Speed is basically a six, eight, or ten pedal multi-effect built from its small box pedals but it will be programmable via smartphone or computer. In other words, while digital modeling gets better, analog effects aren’t going away. But there's no reason we shouldn't be embracing digital alternatives for dialing in our sounds.
Malekko also recently released a new “controllable pedal platform.” The Scrutator and Charlie Foxtrot are the first Malekko effects to feature these controls. In short, you can quickly assign and save Expression/CV control for any and all potentiometers on the pedals. You simply hold down the stomp switch, turn the dials to where you want them to go, and then release the switch. Your expression pedal or other CV control will now sweep through these positions. Even better, the settings remain in the memory even when the pedal is powered off. It’s a very cool feature on these two pedals and it would be equally cool employed on a delay or other pedals. Heck, it would be great on a dirt pedal if employed with something like the Strymon favorite switch—you could switch between two presets with a switch of a button.
2015 saw the release of some really cool effects that further blur the lines between guitars and synthesizers. The Boss SY-300 took a full-featured guitar synth, dropped it into pedal form, and figured out how to track polyphonically without a special pickup. Just as awesome, but at a smaller scale, Malekko introduced the Scrutator Sample Rate and Bit Reducer and the Charlie Foxtrot, a digital buffer/granular sampler. Both of the pedals apply synth-type effects to your guitar signal as they slice, dice, degrade, and re-imagine. In 2016, I expect that we’ll see more pedals like these and I know I’m not the only one waiting for a synth entry in the Electro-Harmonix B9, C9, Key9 lineage.
For my final prediction/trend, we’re going back in time. Tape delay was the first means of creating an echo effect electronically. Tape delays were big, expensive, a little clunky, and prone to breaking down. But they also sound unbelievably cool. We’ve seen some pretty amazing emulations of tape delays in recent years (Catalinbread and Strymon, I’m looking in your direction). And of course, Fulltone has manufactured the Tube Tape Echo for years and recently introduced the Solid State Tape Echo. But in 2016, our tape echo options are going to expand in a big way. First, T. Rex Engineering is about to unleash the Replicator—a pedal-based tape echo. Yes, you read that correctly. The Replicator is a tape echo that will sit on your pedalboard. And, wait for it—it has tap tempo! Pretty crazy, right? It also offers multiple playback heads, expression pedal control, saturation control, and just about anything else you could want. It’s going to be pretty amazing. As if that weren’t enough, there’s an audio engineer in New York building the Space Case Tape Echo which uses an old tape recorder as the platform for a tape echo. You read that correctly, the Space Case uses standard cassette tapes and you can switch to a 90 or 120 minute tape to increase the wow and flutter. It also offers a remote foot pedal so you can control it from your pedalboard. Pretty cool stuff.
That’s it—my predictions for effects in 2016. The future is now and the sky is the limit. I hope this all pans out. And I really hope that Electro-Harmonix adds a synth option to the 9-series pedals. I’m literally holding a space on my pedalboard for it.