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.
Just in! We know a lot of our customers are looking for new pedals, new sounds. We also know you don't want the best possible deal. Joyo delivers again to help you get the most out of your dollar. Fresh off the boat, here's two pedals to get excited about.
We have a limited supply of the new Joyo D-Seed Digital Delay, a really amazing digital pedal that has 4 different delays, tap tempo, and memory presets. This is the kind of pedal other companies would charge you $200 for. Get it at CheaperPedals for less than half the price.
We also have the Joyo JF-31 Noise Gate, which lots of customers have asked about. Joyo recently redesigned these to be quieter, so they were out of stock for a long time. If you suffer from audible loud hum from all the all those pedals blasting away in your signal chain, this pedal will put a kabosh on that so that when the song stops, so does your hum.
Great pedals, great prices. That's what we're all about.
Oh yeah. We've scoured the world looking for some great new pedal manufacturers who do things right and keep costs low. Our main goal was to find innovative companies that aren't satisfied with just spitting out expensive clones. New sounds, fresh approaches that's what we were looking for. AND they had to make pedals that sell for less than $100.
We're proudly adding three new makers to our store and we're sure you'll love what they're doing.
- We added Devi Ever a really cool lady based in Oregon who specializes in fuzz. She produces all of the them by hand with the coolness and quality that she brings to her own life. Since starting her company in 2003 she's made pedals for Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, ZZ Top, Nels Cline, Wilco, The Black Keys, Playstation Music Group at Sony, and My Bloody Valentine to name a few famous names.
- We also added Red Witch a New Zealand company that has made the world's first line of rechargeable pedals: the Seven Sisters. Small and beautiful, the Seven Sisters are world class tone boxes. Despite being from a small island in the middle of the south Pacific, they've managed to spread the word on their commitment to making the best quality pedals. They carry a more expensive line of premium pedals that we'd love to add if reception for their flagship Seven Sisters is good. And Tracey and Ben (founder) are just really cool people.
- And lastly we have Electro Faustus, a New York based company that makes "noise machines" by their own description. If it bleeps, blurts, warps, and squeals, these guys are hard working on how to put it in your pedal chain. They've gone and put a Theremin in a pedal. They make something called a Drum Thing that you bang away or scream at. It's all a bit much for conservative guitar players. Don't say we didn't try to give you some new things to play with.
So go ahead, check them out. Have your minds blown. Let us know what you think.
Cheaper is better...
Do those pedals look familiar?
Being in the pedal business, I encounter some pretty weird and funny stuff sometimes. But nothing quite tops the case of Freekish Blues Pedals that I heard about from a customer yesterday on the phone. In a nutshell, Freekish Blues was a brand of effect pedals that marketed themselves on the internet as being small independently designed effects. Some now poor (in both senses of the word) customers started opening up the pedals one day and discovered much to their surprise that the fancy $170 overdrive pedal they paid for was really a $40 Joyo with a new spiffy paint job! The paint job is pretty nice though. It better be. It's a $130 paint job!
So now we've REALLY REALLY come full circle. Boutique pedals started out as modded clones of classic effects like the Tube Screamer. Joyos, Biyangs, Mooers are inexpensive clones of those boutique pedals. Now a professed boutique company took the Joyos and gave them a fancy face lift, marketed them like crazy, and quadrupled the price!
Wait there's more. There are even allegations of cover ups by well known guitar forums like GearPage to silence the revelations. After all hell breaking loose in the forums, the threads were frozen and any further discussion silenced. Sounds a lot like the Snowden NSA case in our little pedal universe!
This practice of rebranding pedals isn't totally new. Akai, the large music maker had been rebranding Biyang pedals as their own and selling them at a markup for awhile now. But the Freekish Blues case is really outrageous for sheer audacity and greed. So there ya go - another day, another reason to stick with the cheaper pedals.
Read more about it:
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
Here's the rundown of the original pedals Mooer pedals are based on. Though not exactly clones, Mooers are designed to sound and look very similar but at a fraction of the original price. I dunno about you but all those pedals get me excited...
When I was an impressionable 18 year old in the 90's just learning guitar, I walked into a Guitar Center one day riding that fine line between excitement and intimidation. Though I could play a few chords and riffs I basically knew nothing when it came to effects, gear, or guitar playing either if we are to be perfectly honest. Guitar Centers were vast places with gleaming guitars far and high, with long haired day warrior salesmen talking the talk and eager to make a sale. They saw me coming a mile away no doubt. I had some vague notion that I wanted to buy a delay pedal because I really liked U2 at that time, and the guitarist the Edge created such memorable songs using delay as his effect of choice.
A talkative salesman in his twenties walks up to me standing next to the floorboard of Boss pedals, what kind of music I like. Nervously, I stammered that I didn't know too much about effects but I liked U2. He confidently sat down on the stool in front of the vast board of pedals, kicked a few on and off and proceeded to play the opening riff to "Bad". I was amazed! To get that sound he said I'd definitely need a DD-3 Digital Delay(at that time Digital was the rage, and Analog was inferior!), a Super Chorus pedal, and a CS-3 Compressor if I really wanted to do it right. I made a mental calculation quietly: the three pedals combined would be over $250 dollars plus tax. An absolute fortune for me. I had worked as a pizza delivery boy that summer and had made roughly $2000. Though I had to save for college, I decided to buy the three pedals because I didn't want to look like a cheapskate idiot kid who wasn't willing to go all the way and get the tone he wanted.
When I got home, I plugged the three pedals in and proceeded to play through them with my $150 Squier Stratocaster and $90 10 watt amp. (roughly equal to the price of my 3 new stompboxes!) Confusion enveloped me as I realized I sounded nothing like what I wanted. I proceeded to twist and turn the knobs, step on them in different combinations, twist dials on my amp in hope that I could get a sound I was happy with. While I sounded better than before I had spent the $250 dollars, I didn't know what I was doing nor what I actually bought! The Delay was fun because I could make weird endless echoes and twist the time know to warp them. I even figured out how to make my guitar sound like a sitar (short time, high repeats). With the other pedals I was totally lost: I could hear that the Boss Chorus (terrible btw) made me sound "watery" but why did I want that? I could also definitely hear the squeezed quality in the compressor, but wasn't sure why I needed that at all. I feel frustrated; not knowing to be upset at the salesmen or to blame myself for not knowing what I'm doing.
Fast forward 5 years or so, and I sell the Chorus pedal because I realize the Edge never uses Chorus. I sell the Compressor because it is harsh, clicky, and noisy to boot. I bought other pedals good and bad trying to figure out exactly what I was searching for. Then gradually over the years it began do come into my consciousness that I was beginning to develop my own sound. No matter what I played and with who, I was developing both a sound built upon my guitar, pedalboard, and amp but also from my choice of notes and how I articulated them. In the end, this journey of taking up an instrument is to really discover what our voice is and how to express that truly. When we start playing guitar, the natural thing is to start trying to copy our heroes and influences. Copying gives us an easy satisfaction and goalpost for our playing. Then day by day we start to put together a musical vocie, and we are discovering how to sound more like ourselves. It's not always an easy process, and definitely not cheap(especially without the Internet back then).
I still have the Boss Digital Delay DD-3 pedal I bought that day. It is banged and scratched up from all the years. It's still a great pedal today. I don't use it anymore because I have others that have more features but it's like my first love. It's the one all the other ones have to live up to, and you feel that sweet wash of sentimentality when you think of her and those simpler times. I keep her in her original box and every few years look a open it up and remember where I come from and the joy of the musical journey (expensive mistakes and all).
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