Sometimes Less Isn’t More, It’s Less, and That’s the Point
It can sometimes take years for guitar players to figure out what they like, what kind of player they are, and what gear works best for them. I’ve been playing for around 20 years, and am still learning what works best for me. While that may sound somewhat daunting, I actually find it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my guitar-playing and gear-consuming journey. My latest realization is that complicated or over-featured pedals are probably not for me. Does that mean they are bad? Of course not! It just means that I’ve come to find that I’m not really much of a tinkerer with pedals. I noticed this after getting acquainted with a Boss DD-200. There are tons of features and sounds that be coaxed from this amazing pedal that it can be dizzying. So what did I do with it after buying it? I “dialed it in” by setting the rate and feedback exactly where I like it and … never touching the knobs again. The pedal looked great on my board, and it was fun having a new, buzzed-about pedal but was it just taking up space? If I was not going to even try to use the other modes/features on it, of what use was it to me? It should also be stated that the DD-200 is also not at all terribly complicated to use, which should give you an insight into the kind of simplicity that I desire. But pedals that require you to hold a footswitch while moving a knob, winking twice with your left eye and reciting the alphabet to turn the reverb trails on are non-starters for me.
So I decided to sell it, and all my other pedals. This may sound shocking, but it is actually something I’ve been known to do before. I enjoy a blank slate when I start to zero in on who I am as a player and what gear is going to suit me best. My next mission: compile a board of high-quality mini pedals. Why mini pedals? To me, it felt like an obvious path to take. Mini pedals obviously are capable of far fewer features than larger pedals that require larger PC boards. So if I’m a player who likes to dial in a specific sound and leave it alone, mini pedals seemed the way to go.
One of the hardest myths to dispel about mini pedals that they are somehow inferior quality. I think this may be because many are manufactured by overseas companies that do not seem to have a high standard for quality assurance. The leading Chinese manufacturer of micro pedals is undoubtedly Mooer. I’ve had mixed experiences with their pedals. The simpler they are, they seem to be fine, but the more complicated they are, the more prone to problems they are. For example, I’ve owned their Green Mile (Tube Screamer clone) and Trelicopter (standard blackface tremolo) and they have performed perfectly capably. However, I recently auditioned their D7 Delay and R7 Reverb, and while the tones were certainly appealing for the micro pedal format, both DSP-packed pedals had issues. The D7 added noticeable digital noise to my signal even when it was bypassed, and the R7 released an audible click when engaged and disengaged. Accordingly, neither made it onto my board.
I’ve had the pleasure over the years, and especially, recently of auditioning many mini pedals. Among the best are those that are being designed and manufactured by Wampler, particularly the Mini Ego Compressor. It definitely has its own voice, but I could not help to be reminded of the 80’s Boss CS-2 Compression Sustainer, which is a highly-coveted compressor adored by Nashville session guys and country players for its squishy, bright characteristics. What astounds me the most is how versatile the Mini Ego actually can be. The knobs, blend (which blends in the compressed signal), sustain (actually amount of compression), and volume (by the way, there is a HUGE amount of extra volume on tap here) are pretty typical for most compressors. But what’s most fun here are the tone and attack 2-way toggles. Leave the tone knob toggled left, and your tone is unaffected. Toggle it right and the highs are enhanced dramatically, which can instantly add a gorgeous top-end chime to your tone. Pro-tip: toggle the tone toggle right and leave the blend and sustain all the way down, and bam, you have a top-end-enhanced boost. The other toggle is an attack control which allows for a slower or faster attack. This is the ideal pedal that splits the difference between easy to dial in and fully (but not overly) featured.
I was so impressed by the tones and user-friendliness of the Mini Ego that I decided to approach Brian Wampler with some questions about mini pedals, and he was kind enough to provide some answers:
One of the things I like best about mini Wampler pedals is that they do not feel like lesser versions of their full-sized origin. So to that end, what are your considerations when conceptualizing / designing mini variants of your full size pedals?
BW: There’s not a quick or easy answer here, it depends on a lot of different variables – what the market wants, what’s already existing in the market, what the price is on those products, feasibility to provide that
How does the process of designing a mini pedal work? Is the thought of having to cram so much in such a small enclosure make it more daunting from the get-go?
BW: Generally it starts with the idea, and then we try to figure out if there’s enough room in the mini to accomplish it. The size limitations are definitely a factor, and there’s been many design ideas that were scrapped just simply because there wasn’t enough room to execute it properly.
Were you surprised by the success of mini pedals with the average pedal consumer? Do you feel as though the market commanded these types of devices as the trend in recent years has been smaller and lighter gear?
BW: I wouldn’t say surprised necessarily… we keep a pretty watchful eye on what customers are into.
What's your favorite mini pedal made by another builder, and why?
BW: Hard to say. Personally, I prefer larger pedals with more options. However I use the TC Ditto Looper quite a bit. The Ibanez tube screamer mini is a lot of fun in a small package as well.
Are there any additional details/hints you can offer regarding the prototype you shared on Instagram? I assume not, but I had to ask!
BW: Unfortunately, I can’t speak on that one 😉
It seems that boutique and mass manufacturers alike are producing mini pedals, as it seems the market is demanding them. On the boutique end, in addition to Wampler, I’ve used excellent mini pedals from JHS and Mr. Black, while the bigger companies of MXR and Ibanez have been killing it as well lately, especially with MXR’s release of the Mini Timmy pedal.
Although many companies are getting in on the mini pedal game, one of the earliest and best designers of mini pedals seems to no longer offer them, and that is Malekko Heavy Industry. Their Omicron series pedals are super reliable, made in the USA, and do not cost a fortune on the used market. They are definitely getting rarer, though, as people seem to be catching on that these are great-sounding sleeper pedals. It seems that only the Phase pedal still seems to be around, and discontinued are the tremolo, reverb, bit crusher, chorus, attack decay, compressor, and envelope filter. Hopefully they will bring them back! Perhaps the market was not ready for them years ago.
So what kind of a player are you? Do you want all the features and all the tones at your fingertips for you to tinker with, or do you like to set it and forget it? Leave a comment below. There’s no wrong answer!