The unparalleled opportunity to share information and promote new businesses online has led to a proliferation in Australian pedal enthusiasts putting out their own innovative products. For guitarists and other gear buffs alike, there’s a growing multitude of local innovators hand crafting word class tech.
To learn more about this thriving trade we dropped in on resident pedal shaman Ben Shaw at Brisbane’s Pedal Empire. Not only did Shaw help us navigate the landscape of Australia’s boutique pedal scene, he also provided his own insights into recent developments in local industry.
The world of boutique guitar pedals is a deep, deep hole to dive into, so we enlisted the help of a local expert to guide us.
“The Australian Boutique Pedal trade has definitely undergone change in recent times,” Ben shared. It seems that a key challenge for local newcomers is recognition. The guitar guru’s educated guess was that our more established boutique brands are actually making the majority of their sales overseas.
“The culture overseas is more boutique-centric,” he mused. “There’s more willingness [from retailers] to put the spotlight on a product or brand that hasn’t gained mass exposure.”
Another contributing factor for local brands being overlooked is simply the ubiquity of the market’s biggest names.
“Lots of Australian stores still only stock the juggernaut brands like Boss, MXR and Digitech,” he continued. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these brands are mass produced and distributed around the country in such huge volumes that everyone who stocks them is trying to compete with each other on price”
“Brands built by hand in small workshops just can’t afford to have their products sold in such a way; the American market understands that better and promotes the small guy.”
Pedal Empire is a kaleidoscopic jumble of makes and models. Admirably the passionate individuals staffing Pedal Empire have tasked themselves with shining more light on the Australian pedal trade’s DIY innovators. In Shaw’s view, the effort that goes into producing lesser known local pedals and the quality products resulting of these labours is nothing short of remarkable.
“We want customers to enjoy all these great products but we also want the guys behind the brands to feel like we honour all the hard work and sacrifice that goes into designing and crafting the pedals we love,” he stated with resolution.
“As a customer myself I value being able to watch a YouTube video presented by the guy that’s actually putting the solder to the iron. It allows me to become emotionally invested in the product and I personally want to pay the full ticket price on a pedal because I know is built with such integrity.”
Despite the struggle faced by smaller operators, the purveyor of pedals remains optimistic about the future. Shaw has confidence that Australian interest in local pedals will continue to grow.
Yet at the end of the day for him the most important thing is pairing the world’s best pedals with local musicians. To this end, he talked us through his personal shortlist of the seven Australian boutique pedal producers that currently stand out above the rest.
Ben: Although these Tasmanian guys don’t have a huge product line they’re definitely making a mark both here and overseas. Their Scarlett Love V3 Overdrive is impossible to keep in stock and their Quartz Timer V2 is just about the most comprehensive beat clock money can buy.
Ben: This is another brand with a small range that has a huge reach around the globe due to their attention to detail and an undying desire to make pedals that inspire. It’s not uncommon to see one or more of their Mulholland Drives on a pedalboard. Keep your eyes peeled for an exciting analogue delay release from them in the coming months.
Ben: This is a bit of a cheat because these guys are actually based in Dunedin New Zealand, but without a doubt they are one of the most progressive thinkers in the boutique pedal scene. Their very new range of modulation effects boasts an unprecedented amount of control.
Lightning Wave has blurred the line between guitar and synth effects. They’re making us guitarists think differently about how we apply them. Their Ghost Tremolo is so much fun.
Ben: Gold Coast based, Dr Acid builds fuzz pedals that pay homage to the greats but also push the boundaries of their circuits. The iconic SkateFuzz can’t be mistaken (it’s footswitch is a skateboard wheel mounted in the middle of the pedal!)
Ben: This small builder from Adelaide makes some astonishingly cool phasers; probably the most well-known is the Pi-Phase MK2. It’s an insanely accurate reproduction of the vintage Mu-tron Bi-Phase but with modern sensibilities. It’s great for live use.
Ben: Perth gets in on the action with Anarchy Audio. With a great line up of pedals ranging from conventional overdrives to uncontrollable noise to tripped out ambience. Their most recent release is The Hereafter, an ambient dream filled with gorgeous delay sounds and lush chorusing tones.
Ben: Jon Ashley has become a good friend of our store since relocating to Sydney from the US. His Sick As Overdrive has absolutely taken the world by storm! It’s been incredibly hard to keep on our shelves no matter how many we stock!
Naturally not every player in the pedal business could make the final cut. This said, Ben was at pains to emphasise that there were plenty more great names out there for those who would care to look.
In his view Tym Guitars, Dazatronyx, Clinch FX, Toyroom Guitar Effects and Codtone were brands well worth investigation. It might be tough for small-time start-ups, but it seems that there are a growing number who are making themselves known.
While you’re here, check out our list of the 9 most famous guitars in the world.