10 Reasons Boutique Pedals Are Overrated
Excuse me if I'm going to offend you. You may be someone who really really likes boutique pedals. (But then you probably wouldn't be on CheaperPedals.com!) I actually like some of them too. I just spent too much money on too many boutique pedals that were not worth it. I started to question all the hype and trust my own ears and judgement
1. Where's The Value?
Off the bat boutique pedals are ridiculously expensive. Ranging from $200-400, the money used to buy one of them can get you an excellent beginner guitar. Two of them will buy you an amp. Three of them will buy you a professional grade electric guitar. If someone on the street asked you to pay a couple of hundred bucks for a small painted metal box with a bunch of transistors inside you'd give him a funny look and walk a bit faster.
2. Low Tech High Prices
Manufacturing and technology have made staggering leaps in the last half century. Today we are able to fit a phone, computer, music player, and camera inside a small hand held device and walk around with it and interact with people all over the the world using it. An absolutely amazing invention! But have pedals advanced significantly since the 1960s? No. Essentially we're still paying the same amount of money for a new iPhone as we are for a 50 year old piece of technology: a cake sized piece of metal and knobs with a circuit board powered by a 9V battery. A freaking 9V battery! Technologically speaking, an effect pedal is an ancient low tech product. So why are we paying so much for them?
3. Lack of Innovation
How many boutique pedal brands out there are truly innovating? Does the world really need another Tube Screamer mod? Or do we need a fancy $200 "boost" pedal whose only job is to lift your signal? The truth is the majority of boutique pedal makers are regurgitating the same kinds of guitar effects that have been around for 50 years. The truth is that there are only a few boutique manufacturers pushing the boundaries of what pedals can do. If we are going to pay so much for a pedal, let's at least expect them to create some new sounds once in a while!
4. Marketing Machinations
It's the business of business to create new reasons for consumers to buy their products. Pedal manufacturers are no exception. In my own lifetime, the pedal market has gone through a series of trend changes. In the 80's newer digital technology was considered much better sounding than old analog ones. (see image on left) Then suddenly that got old. Someone had the bright idea to say the old analog models actually sounded better than the new ones. Vintage analog! Ok then the old models' prices shot up as people bought them all up. Companies dredged up these old designs and reissued them. Tube Screamers and Big Muffs being the most obvious offenders. So their total lack of innovation was/is actually being used as a selling point!
Fast forward to today. Let's take the old designs, copy them, mod it, give it a really cool paint job, call it boutique and charge an extra hundred bucks for it. Can you imagine this happening in any other industry like cars or PC's?
When an item is scarce, the law of supply and demand dictates that its cost should rise. For the same reason that vintage gear is more expensive than new gear, boutique pedal suppliers charge more because their products are scarce. They sometimes even produce limited numbers of their pedals to drive up demand even more via low supply. Take the case of the infamous Klon pedal. The owner lowered supply in the name of "quality control" and the public ate it up. The rarer and more expensive they got, the more people wanted to own one. They are now going for over $1000 dollars on Ebay. Proof that some people are too dumb and too rich for their own good. On the other hand, mass producers are trying to sell their products to the most people possible which drives down costs in manufacturing and margins.
6. Gear Snobbery
Snobs are everywhere. We probably all know people who are wine snobs, art snobs, music snobs, and of course gear snobs. There will always be those people whose chosen role it is to define what is good and bad for other people. In the end, if you gave Jimi Hendrix a crappy pedal to play through, he'd still be...well Jimi Hendrix. And give a gear snob the best pedal ever made and they would still be...a gear snob. Is it the music that matters or is it the gear?
7. That Missing Something
As guitar players we're never quite satisfied. (Actually this is part of the human condition.) We're forever trying to scratch a tone itch that never goes away. Boutique pedals are convenient brick sized pieces of hope that we're plugging into everytime we buy one. The truth is no pedal will truly solve all our tone issues. The problem may lie in our gear or our own playing. Buying the right pedal, whether a boutique or a budget Joyo will only help us get closer to an elusive goal.
8. Judging A Book By It's Cover
As a red blooded man, I'm a sucker for a pretty face. I like beautiful hand painted boxes that make me fall in love with my eyes. Mass produced pedals are usually not much to look at. Remember the old frumpy DODs or Ibanez pedals? Compared to a sexy little boutique number, they are hard to get excited about...visually speaking. I'll freely admit to making many a bad guitar or pedal purchase based just on appearances and regretting it later. I'm sure I'm not alone.
9. Expensive Does Not Mean Good
It's a natural judgement to believe something that costs more is better. Nobody wants to buy the cheapest thing in the showroom. The truth is there are great boutique pedals. There are also great budget pedals. There are terrible boutique pedals. There are also terrible budget pedals. Each stompbox should be judged on whether sounds good and is built reliably. Many famous guitarists still use cheap pedals such as the Boss DS-1 (~$50) in their pedalboard. So just because a pedal is inexpensive doesn't make it bad, and vice versa. I challenge anyone to take a Tone Gauge Overdrive or Biyang OD-8 pedal and test it next to a boutique overdrive pedal and tell me there is any quality gap. You may even find they are better...
10. Let's Be Unique! Ok Boutique!
An unfortunate consequence of being in a consumer based society is we often define our identity from our belongings. Nobody wants to be part of the herd, especially artistic creative folk like musicians. Face it, a guitar player with a pedalboard full of generic Boss pedals doesn't seem quite as cool as the one with cool rare vintage and boutique gear. We want our gear to give us some identity, and not sound like everyone else. I know I definitely feel way cooler when I tell my friend about my limited-edition vintage hand soldered point-to-point russian germanium transistor fuzzbox versus my $50 Chinese mass produced pedal. Sound familiar?
In closing, my intent is not to disparage all boutique pedals. There are some manufactures who are making innovative guitar and bass effects (see Devi Ever) and creating value by truly earning their keep. And there are also some lesser known budget brands like Mooer and Biyang creating great quality effect pedals for a lot less. Amid the hype, if we use our own better judgement then we know what we are getting ourselves into.
Let's spend our money wisely and have fun doing it.
--And here's a link to an impartial third party with some similar thoughts