Recently a customer wrote me an email asking whether companies like Joyo were paying royalties to the companies their pedals seem to be copying  Here's the original email:

I have a question for you. I was discussing the Joyo pedals and someone brought up the point that if they are ripping off someone's design without paying that there is an ethical problem here. Do you know if Joyo has an arrangement with MXR or the others they are cloning? If they are simply a subsidiary that is good but if they are stealing design then I will not likely buy another pedal from them. 

I think this is a very valid question for a lot of customers and want to finally address my take on this issue.

Most Pedals are Clones

The big secret in the pedal business that most manufacturers never want you to know is that most pedal companies are cloning existing designs. Ever notice how each company has at least one of each kind of pedal? Do you really think these companies are starting with a blank slate each time they produce a new pedal? No. Most of them use some existing design or schematic freely available on the internet. I would hedge that at least 50% of the overdrive pedals on the market are some sort of classic Tube Screamer copy. Most standard pedal effects have been figured out. There's only so many ways to make an analog delay repeat your original guitar signal. So many of the companies who are making a big fuss about cloning, if you open up their pedals and truly look at the circuitry, you'll find it remarkably similar to someone else's before them.

The Line Between Cloning and Modding

There is a very fine hazy line between cloning and modding pedals. For example, the Fulltone OCD pedal is simply a hot rodded Tube Screamer with more gain and different EQ. Does Fulltone or any other company pay Ibanez? No. Keely Mods are another example. They take an existing classic pedal and make a small modification to it, which they claim to improve it. Good business model, and perfectly valid. So what if a company like Biyang does the same thing? Their OD-10 overdrive takes a Tube Screamer, adds a toggle switch to give three modes of overdrive, and changes the EQ bit. Is this a mod or a copy? Why are people so clear to distinguish what Robert Keeley does as "good" versus Chinese pedal company? Because it is Chinese or because it is inexpensive? In fact many boutique manufacturers do the exact same thing and charge you $200 for that privilege.

Only with Pedals is Copying Even an Issue

With most consumer goods, cloning isn't even an issue. For example, look at guitars; there are a million Fender Stratocaster copies out on the market. Same body shape, same single coil pickups, 5 way toggle switch. But do people ever make an ethical fuss about this? No. Because Fender is still the original and makes a lot of money because they still make great guitars, and the resale value of the original is better. Likewise, in the pedal world Ibanez still makes a ton of money from their "reissues" of the Tube Screamer. Each year there are more and more of these reissues, and collectors and enthusiasts continue to throw money at them. And how can you even claim exclusive rights to something like an EQ pedal? 

Where Does Your Money Go?

So what mostly what one is paying for with originals is the brand name and resale value. With boutique pedals you pay for the added cool factor, fancy pedal case, and possibly point to point wiring. You may be paying for some added value such as smaller sized pedals like Mooer pedals or some component upgrade. You are paying for many things, but very little of it is for use in designing the pedal. With some exceptions such as Devi Ever who creates some unique pedals and gives away her designs freely, most pedal manufacturers do little R&D.


Understandably, my opinions can be claimed as biased or at least a conflict of interest. But just consider my points. If you still disagree that's fine. It's a free country. It's a free market. You spend your money where you want. I think it's important for all of us to vote with our pocketbooks.

Written by Wolf . — October 21, 2013


Blues Overdrive:

Cool blog! I really enjoy reading it.

I suggest some information to put on Shipping link, here it goes:

*All International Sales are final. <— What does it mean, what if I buy a pedal and it never arrives at my international address? Let’s say after 3 months of waiting..

*Are international shipping packs sent in a box or envelope?

*Does it provide a working tracking number?

*Sent by USPS First Class or Priority International?

I think these are some questions every international customer would like to know the answers. Hope to buy from you soon.

February 24 2014


Circuits are truly caveat emptor. If anything, the unique design or whatever other hipster-ism is what people pay for. If a person feels ripped off by paying for a so called clone or mod, they don’t understand effect pedal circuitry to begin with. If they paid a huge price markup for such a thing, the ethics and morality lie with the seller, and in the end even that argument may be on shaky grounds because just look at the clothing industry.

People willingly pay 200-500-1000 dollars or more for CLOTHES, which all perform a few very limited functions; keep a person warm or cool while also protecting them from harsh elements and/or simply covering up their naked body so society doesn’t get angry at seeing nudity.

Most people don’t even think of clothes in such a utilitarian fashion. We buy clothes to express our individuality or how rich we are or whatever else, even if that expression is just personal and has no physical benefit. Noone gets upset that they paid an extra 200$ for a custom design handbag or shirt, and then turn around and say “hey, wait a minute! You’re telling me this thing which looks superficially different or is slightly improved in one minute detail is based off the cheapie 10$ off the rack stuff”?

Given that both are nearly mods or clones of each other, it’s extraordinarily hilarious to see the hypocrisy of pedal mfgs and pedal buyers when they are outraged over a product. Now, I can see a certain sense of indignation when someone buys a pedal, goops the insides, then customizes the box and resells it for much higher value. It’d be like if someone bought cheapie jeans, ripped off the tags and identifying markings, and then put their own brand name and “cool” logo on there, and marked up the price. People would essentially be paying for the logo and so on.

Some people might not give a damn, and feel that the logo and tags that make their pants look special are worth the extra price, because someone else went to the trouble to make it for them and they aren’t going to learn sewing or design in order to create it themselves, and they actually want to look different. Others might be outraged that they paid double or triple the cost of the actual pants material if it came from the original manufacturer, and others will say that because the person who reskinned these jeans took already existing jeans off a rack and then resold it with their own custom designs, that they’re profiting off someone else’s work and therefore legally liable, if not at least morally derelict.

I would have been firmly in the latter camp years ago, but the more anyone thinks about the situation, the more one must ask “does it really matter”? If I saw the value in buying pants that had been made by another company, bought retail price (so that company is NOT actually losing money or customers at all), and customized and resold to me for a higher cost, and I had the money to spend on it to look cool and different in fashion terms, I would probably buy it. How many people here would definitely buy some current market pedals if they came in a totally unique and “bad-ass” case with color scheme and knobs and design that you can’t get from a mass market mfg? If a “boutique” pedal maker spent their time doing only that, putting a boss distortion circuit into a custom box with pretty colors and a wild design, so that your pedal board looks different from everyone else, and you get more personal enjoyment out of it than you would a mass market drab color boring thing, then why is that bad?

If the pedal maker makes it clear that it’s a circuit which was built by another company’s production line, does that make them more or less liable legally speaking? Does that make customers feel more or less okay with buying it when its on the up and up? If it’s a true clone that was personally built, the maker must not attach any semblance to the original which might lead the lowest common denominator of intelligence in customers to believe that it’s from the original mfg. That makes the pedal maker liable, so they can clone and sell it in their own unique box, and must call it something else and not reference the deisgn it came from.

In the end, both big scale pedal makers and tiny ones, as well as the peanut gallery, who complain about all this stealing and theft make about as much sense as people complaining about clothes. If it’s a pedal bought at retail price, and then reskinned and sold for more, I really don’t see what harm it does. Everyone is in this trade is getting what they want.

The thing I think we can all universally disagree with is passing something not genuine off as something genuine, such as making cheap fall apart pedals that are called boss distortions when they weren’t ever made by the boss company. This does hurt both the mfg who’s name is being used illegally, and the customer. The former when it breaks and the customer gets pissed and doesn’t buy any true boss products, the latter simply because it breaks and also because there’s no support for them for a terrible product. Even then, we can still say that buyers need to not be lazy in doing their homework and using a few gray cells to make smart decisions, but that still doesn’t leave the fake maker in the clear.

Passing something genuine off as something non-genuine, on the other hand, unless there was theft or some other illegal activity involved, it should really be up to both the individual seller and buyer to decide if the transaction is fair and reasonable. Most people are terrible at understanding economics anyway, and make awful business trades with employers who pay their salary, yet these optional pieces of personal entertainment equipment draw the most ire from customers who paid first and then used their brain later.

What’s really wrong with any of the circuit cloning business? Maybe it’s because ignorant customer expectations are incongruous to circuit design realities.

September 25 2014

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