Exploring the Other End of the Scale
I've mentioned this before, but my pedal passion in recent years has been following two separate courses. While I've mainly been interested in handmade boutique pedals (especially ones that are more reasonably priced), I've also enjoyed looking at brands that are cheap but good. I intended to halt my pedal purchasing after last year's massive haul, but once again my curiosity has been piqued, this time by a couple of inexpensive, new Chinese brands.
For some time now, German budget gear-maker Behringer has had quite a bit of popularity thanks to its line of ultra-cheap guitar pedals that are clones of well-known Boss, MXR, EHX, and Line 6 models. More or less the same electronics are built into toy-like, all-plastic enclosures with very crude controls. One look will tell you that they're not made to last, or to take much punishment, but they sound pretty much as good as the real thing. I've bought a few Behringer pedals to try them out, and they don't sound anywhere as cheap as they look. In fact, the RV600 Reverb Machine, modeled after a famous Line 6 pedal, has become one of my most used boxes! Despite all the inevitable controversy (and snobbery), Behringer pedals have still proved to be popular among guitarists on a budget. Now, however, they've been given a new challenge.
JOYO appeared a little over a year ago. Their pedals are low-cost knock-offs of famous boutique boxes. You can tell what they are modeled after just by looking at them; even their appearance is an emulation, though much simpler than the originals. The sound, however, can be very close; indeed, certain models are virtually indistinguishable from their much more expensive counterparts in blind comparisons. There are obvious differences in build quality, and at least one maker of a famous boutique pedal cloned by JOYO has gone on record saying it is a "close approximation" rather than an actual copy. That hasn't prevented some American online shops from banning JOYO pedals for perceived copyright violations even though no charges are known to have been brought. As for me, I don't own any JOYO pedals (yet), but I'm seriously thinking of getting one or more to try out just for the heck of it. (And why not? The price is very low!)
Mooer Audio is even more recent. Their nifty line of ultra-compact pedals started appearing around last summer and has quickly expanded. Now there are at least a couple of dozen models in their catalog. Again, each one is modeled after either a famous boutique pedal, a classic vintage pedal, or an off-the-shelf model with a famous modification. However, though the colors and graphics on the Mooer pedals echo the models they emulate, the enclosures are uniquely different; indeed, they have come up with their own, clever, little enclosure design with a really cool, miniaturized control layout. That is really a selling point of the Mooers! They are not quite as cheap as Behringer or JOYO, but they combine the emulation of famous pedals with a very convenient and useful design. The build quality seems reasonably good, too. If I have any complaint about the Mooer pedals, it is that their digital models have a huge current draw that is too much for most powered pedalboards or power distributors. And since they are too small to use batteries, you pretty much have to plug each into its own AC adapter. Overall, I think the Mooer line is really cool, so I grabbed a few of their analog models (which go into a powered board just fine). I have the Black Secret (which emulates the RAT and TurboRAT distortion pedals), the Hustle Drive (apparently modeled on the famous Fulltone OCD overdrive/distortion), the Cruncher (modeled on the MI Audio Crunch Box distortion pedal) and the Orange Ninety (built on the MXR Phase 90 phaser, both modern and vintage). They are REALLY cool, and blast to play with! As inexpensive as they are, I'm liable to get a few more before I'm done.
Yes, I've heard the arguments about these cheap knock-offs stealing business (if not intellectual property) from the original brands. I don't really agree. For one thing, as I quoted above from one famous pedalmaker who got "JOYOed", these pedals are more approximations than copies. There are definitely reasons to buy the original models. And on that note, would I even buy the original models? Considering I'm not a performing guitarist (though I am a recording one), would there be any reason for me to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for an OCD or a Crunch Box? Actually, if I come to like these Mooer clones enough, I just might! ;-)