What Is A Boutique Guitar Pedal?

by Jim Button
What Is A Boutique Pedal? | Boost Guitar Pedals

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.

Independent Builders

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 offer a lifetime guarantee on their pedals.

Guitar Pedal Buying Guide | Boost Guitar Pedals

Read: Guitar Pedal Buying Guide

High quality components

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.

FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp front transparent - Boost Guitar Pedals
FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp front transparent - Boost Guitar Pedals
FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp Right Context - Boost Guitar Pedals
FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp Left Context - Boost Guitar Pedals
FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp Front Context - Boost Guitar Pedals

FREDRIC EFFECTS Regent 150 Preamp

£120.00

"A Magic-Dust Sprinkler"...

The Fredric Effects Regent 150 Preamp pedal is a faithful recreation of the preamp and EQ sections from a cold war-era East German amp, the Vermona Regent 150K. It features vintage-correct NOS transistors and sturdy construction to keep you playing all night long!

The Regent 150 Preamp can sweeten your core sound like a traditional preamp, or turn into a boost or distortion pedal by using the controls more aggressively. The Volume control adds gain as you turn it up, taking you into gritty distortion territory, while the Bass and Treble controls allow you to get classic mid-boost or mid-scooped sounds as well as more modern tones with plenty of top-end sparkle.

The internal charge pump IC converts 9V into the 15V DC that the original amp ran on. This gives the pedal tons of headroom with the ability to produce extraordinary clarity. 

"There’s more, but we don’t have room to describe it all. Basically this is a magic-dust sprinkler" - Guitarist Magazine (Editor's Choice) December 2019

This deserves to be an always-on pedal on your pedalboard. It stacks really well and  offers loads of flexibility. The build quality is exceptional too, with a folded steel chassis. The icing on the cake is that as this is based on a rare East German amp rather than the ubiquitous Fender or Marshall circuit, you will definitely stand out from the masses!

Features:

  • Preamp pedal based on a rare East German cold war-era amplifier
  • Handmade in London, UK
  • Volume, Bass & Treble controls
  • Power: 9V centre-negative or 9V battery (neither included)

 

 

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Tonal Options

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.

GREENHOUSE EFFECTS Deity Reverb Front Transparent | Boost Guitar Pedals
GREENHOUSE EFFECTS Deity Reverb Front Transparent | Boost Guitar Pedals
GREENHOUSE EFFECTS Deity Reverb Left | Boost Guitar Pedals
GREENHOUSE EFFECTS Deity Reverb Front Context | Boost Guitar Pedals

GREENHOUSE EFFECTS Deity Reverb

£158.00

Multi-Mode Reverb...

The Greenhouse Effects Deity reverb is an ambient effect pedal like no other. Choose from either true bypass or buffered signal with trails, as well as 3 different reverb modes (Natural, Sentient & Ethereal).

The Natural mode is a room/hall-type reverb with controls for Decay, Tone, Pre Delay & Mix. Turn the Decay control fully clockwise and the reverb begins to oscillate to create a rotating room effect. This can be adjusted using the Tone control.

Sentient mode is an immersive reverb with dynamic modulation, combining tremolo and filter effects which can be adjusted using the Depth/LFO & Sensitivity/Rate controls.

Ethereal mode is a lush reverb with high and low octaves which can be blended in independently using the Octave Down & Octave Up controls.

Features:

  • Decay, Tone/Depth/Octave Down, Pre Delay/Sensitivity/Octave Up, Mix & Mode controls.
  • Select between true bypass or buffered with trails modes
  • Multi-talented reverb with three modes
  • Power: 9V power adaptor, centre-negative (not included)

 

 

 

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Artwork

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.

Red Noise Stone Blender Fuzz Front Transparent | Boost Guitar Pedals
Red Noise Stone Blender Fuzz Front Transparent | Boost Guitar Pedals
Red Noise Stone Blender Fuzz Front Context | Boost Guitar Pedals
RED NOISE Stone Blender Fuzz Context Angle | Boost Guitar Pedals
Red Noise Stone Blender Fuzz Context Angle 2 | Boost Guitar Pedals

RED NOISE Stone Blender

£210.00

Sounds As Good As It Looks!

The Red Noise Stone Blender is a modern take on the Sola Sound Tone Bender, one of the most famous names in the world of fuzz pedals.

But far from being a one-trick pony, the Stone Blender features a neat 4-way Diode Switch which lets you select one of four different clipping diodes for diverse voicing options:

1N60 (Green) - Purry, germanium overdrive-like fuzz, offering oodles of saturation and crunch.

1N4148 (Red) - Sizzling up top while punching you in the gut, this is the MkIV Sola Sound Tone Bender sound - a classic fuzz tone.

Yellow LED (Yellow) - A loud and aggressive character which adds volume as well as gain and bite.

Blue LED (Blue) - Extremely distorted and high gain in character, this is full-on and in your face. You could say it goes to 11...

Built around NOS Toshiba 2SC2240 transistors, with sturdy Alpha pots and that addictive NOS germanium diode, the Red Noise Stone Blender screams quality and tonal authority.

De-Clip

The innovative De-Clip control adjusts the tonal balance and presence of the mids, enabling you to get your sound sitting perfectly in a busy recording or live scenario - alleviate those mid-scoop issues once and for all!

It can help you increase pick attack, and works wonders with bass guitar (Founder Ariel is a bassist and this pedal is more than capable of some 4-string thunder!).

Features:

  • Based on the MKIV Sola Sound Tone Bender
  • 4-way diode selection (1N60, 1N4148, Yellow LED, Blue LED)
  • NOS Japanese Transistors (Toshiba 2SC2240)
  • NOS Germanium Diode (1N60)
  • High quality Alpha Pots
  • Volume, Tone, Fuzz, Diode and De-Clip controls
  • True Bypass
  • Handwired in Atlanta, GA, USA
  • Power: 9V power supply, centre-negative (not included)
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Are Boutique Guitar Pedals Worth The Money?

You're not going to get a boutique guitar pedal on an AmazonBasics budget. If you need to populate your pedalboard with several effects without breaking the bank then the budget route is a worthy option.

Equally, you'll find that many boutique pedals work best with a valve amp. Boost, overdrive and distortion pedals 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.

RAYGUN FX Vintage Booster front transparent - Boost Guitar Pedals
RAYGUN FX Vintage Booster front transparent - Boost Guitar Pedals
RAYGUN FX Vintage Booster Right - Boost Guitar Pedals
Raygun FX Vintage Booster Context - Boost Guitar Pedals

RAYGUN FX Vintage Booster

£40.00

Awesome Analogue Power!

The Raygun FX Vintage Booster is a single-dial boost pedal that can add just a touch of meatiness to your core tone or push your valves into beautiful overdrive with +24dB of boost on tap.

Great as a clean or slightly dirty solo boost, the Vintage Booster looks and sounds like it belongs alongside some of those vintage amps we all revere. It has a beautifully organic character that's really addictive to play with.

Loosely based on the ZVEX Super Hard-On circuit, this boost is driven by a MOSFET transistor.

Raygun FX are based in Southend-On-Sea in the UK. High profile users of their pedals include Grant Nicholas of Feeder, Jez Williams of Doves, Tim Smith of Noel Gallaghers’ High Flying Birds, and Tim Wheeler of Ash.

Features:

  • Single-dial Boost
  • +24dB gain available
  • True bypass
  • Handwired in the UK
  • Power: 9V DC, centre-negative (not included)

 


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Artisan

We like to differentiate between boutique and artisan. The Boost Guitar Pedals slogan is "Artisan Pedals | Boutique Tones", and here is why: artisan is defined as "made in a traditional way by someone who is skilled with their hands", which we believe sums up the builders we work with and the pedals they build.

Boutique is defined as "a small fashionable business that sells a particular product or service". Although used widely in the music industry to describe these high end pedals, we believe "boutique" is best used to describe the very high quality tones these pedals are capable of producing.

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. Ans it's the feel and response of boutique guitar pedals that really make them worthwhile upgrades.

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