You've heard the term "boutique" but can't work out what on earth it means...surely a guitar pedal is a guitar pedal, right?
To some it is, yes. But if you're reading this article then chances are you have some appreciation that not all pedals are equal - and that's where boutique guitar pedals come in.
What are the defining characteristics of a boutique guitar pedal?
Boutique guitar pedals are made in small batches - almost always by hand - by an independent builder, rather than on a large scale by an international company.
The highest quality components are often sourced for tone and reliability.
Boutique guitar pedals can afford to be experimental and pretty crazy as the market is much smaller and more niche.
Boutique pedals are known for their eye-catching artwork - although just as many utilise a plain, industrial look.
Boutique guitar pedals by definition are very exclusive, as only small numbers are made. They are often handbuilt in small batches (or even built to order) by an independent builder - often just one or two people.
As Josh Scott from JHS explains in one of his excellent videos, his company WAS boutique but has grown so much that it can't be described as boutique anymore.
Small-batch production by hand has several implications. Firstly, attention to detail is incredibly high, as the pedals are built in small numbers and are therefore able to be thoroughly tested. Build quality is also very high, with builders opting to choose high quality footswitches, pots and jacks. Their reputations rely on their pedals working well for a long time and sounding great, so they put a huge amount of research and development time into ensuring everything works as it should, and some go as far as offering a lifetime guarantee for their pedals.
Boutique pedal builders invest time and money searching for the best components. If the pedal is based on a vintage circuit, this might involve tracking down the exact same diodes, transistors and resistors. If the design is completely new, it may involve tirelessly matching pairs of diodes for optimum tonal characteristics.
The Fredric Effects Regent 150 is a replica of the preamp section of a rare East-German amplifier. In order to faithfully replicate the characteristics of this amp, not only did Tim track down vintage-correct NOS transistors, he also took the additional step of using an internal charge-pump to convert 9V into 15V DC that the original amp ran on.
Mainstream guitar pedals rarely step outside of "safe" territory. In order to sell high volumes they need to appeal to the widest audience possible. In contrast, boutique guitar pedals often feature unusual tonal options as they know the pedals will find the audience they are designed for.
The Greenhouse Effects Deity Reverb is a multi-mode reverb pedal, which allows users to experiment with immersive LFO modulation or lush octave effects, as well as traditional room/hall reverb.
Many boutique guitar pedals not only feature top-end components and great build quality - they complete the package with unique artwork that really stands out on a pedalboard. Screen printing, UV printing, hand painting and acid etching are the most common methods used for finishing pedal enclosures.
The Red Noise Stone Blender started out as a hand painted-design (still offered by Ariel as a premium option), but has since moved to screen printing. The eye-catching artwork not only looks awesome, but the control labels are clearly visible on a dark stage.
Are Boutique Guitar Pedals Worth The Money?
You're not going to get a boutique guitar pedal on an AmazonBasics budget. Listen, if you need to populate your pedalboard with several effects without breaking the bank then the budget route is a worthy option.
But equally, you'll find that many boutique pedals work best with a valve amp. Components are top notch and it's the sum of these parts that makes the difference - especially when paired with a decent amp and guitar.
Boost & overdrive pedals in particular will interact brilliantly with the valves, helping to take your sound to a new level. Modulation and time effects are a bit more forgiving and are perfectly at home with a solid-state amp too - especially if it has an effects loop.
If you prefer to invest in the best of tone, build quality, exclusivity and graphics then boutique guitar pedals may be for you. If you have an ear that's tuned to every nuance of your sound, and understand that feel is also a big factor, then it's worth considering a boutique pedal.
If you can tell the difference between germanium and silicon diodes, or feel the difference with high-headroom 18V pedals, then we have some bad news: there's no escape from the rabbit hole that is boutique guitar pedals!
You may find that the extensive tonal options offered by many boutique pedals allow for more flexibility during the creative process; or that you can only get the sound in your head from a left-field pedal design.
That's not to say that all boutique guitar pedals have to be expensive and complicated: take the Raygun FX Vintage Booster, for example. This handwired boost pedal has +24dB of gain and sounds great in front of a valve amp. It sounds even sweeter when you realise it's just £40!
Ultimately, it's the feel that counts. A rig that doesn't inspire the player will result in flat playing and an underwhelmed audience. Even if the differences seem negligible to non-players and even guitar players who haven't experienced a range of high quality pedals - for example germanium versus silicon Fuzz Face - the difference in feel alone can make or break a performance. And it's the feel and response of boutique guitar pedals that really make them worthwhile upgrades.
Some parts were hard to find even before the chip shortage we're currently experiencing. The supply chain issues are affecting the entire electronics industry, and that includes us guitar pedal builders.
The fate of the Boss Heavy Metal HM-2 looked certain to fade into history, but remarkably it has gained a cult-like following in recent years...
Recently viewed products
Let customers speak for us
from 109 reviews
The Bleak District Tapescape is one of the best delay and ambience style pedals ever invented. The controls are all intuitive but highly flexible, the sounds are rich and detailed, the modulation can go from dreamy to nightmarish very quickly, and all of that inside a small footprint with a low power requirement. It's difficult to get a bad sound out of it, honestly.
Add in that Boost shipped it out quickly and it arrived with a nice note written on the invoice, is there anything else you could ask for? Definitely will be buying more from both Boost and Bleak District in future.
I ordered a set of strings from Boost, that did not initially turn up. After contacting Boost via the website they immediately sent out another set (no questions asked). Both sets arrived a few days later (Thanks Royal Mail!). Boost were prompt in dealing with the issue (gave) me a set of strings and got things sorted out. Highly recommend you use these guys.
I didn’t know that particular manufacturer from Italy, but I definitely recommend their "Vintage Vibe”. It’s simple, intuitive, it looks awesome, the build quality seems impeccable, and most importantly, it sounds fantastic.
Really loving the range of organic tape sounds from the tapescape. Great build quality and a world of wobbly good times. Instant atmosphere as soon as you turn it in. Great small company from the UK, worth every penny