As 2021 comes to a close, we take a look back on an awesome year in gear. This year we saw great releases from familiar faces and new names alike, and really, what could be a better way to round out all this great gear than with everyone’s favorite year-end format, a list!
Today we showcase some of 2021’s best gear and celebrate highlights of an exciting musical year.
Best in Show: Expanding the Board
There’s always more room for another pedal. With these picks, we were treated to four pedals that simply had to join our rigs. Big or small, subtle or strong, our boards have never been more cramped.
There are few feelings as universal as the blues. Whether it’s the walkin’ blues, the death letter blues, or the Jake and Elwood Blues, Caroline tugged at our heartstrings with their “Expensive Amplifier” pedal. Busting out all the tweed-inspired, fiery, tube-like breakup all the great blues riffs were born of, this pedal made us blue in the best way. Never before had the heartache been so sweet.
Hooking up a compact fuzz pedal to your board to add that extra flavor of grit is something we've all done, but with Fairfield’s latest creation, it all took on new meaning. This small, four-knobbed powerhouse and its two JFET gain stages loaded heaps of dirt onto our boards for a refined fuzzy experience. As is with all Fairfield pedals, the unassuming look gave no hints at what would come when the switch was stomped. Spoiler alert: Perfectly formulated cascades of fuzz.
Who couldn’t use a little dash of modulation in their rig here and there? Following up on their popular 3 Series, JHS and their blank canvas effect pedals dropped in with new additions including the 3 Series Phaser. With a setup a simple as can be and a phasing effect that knocks it out of the park, the 3 Series Phaser showed off that classic JHS tonal inventiveness while keeping this pedal’s look strictly business.
Our wildest dreams of an infinitely reverberated horizon suddenly weren’t so out of reach when this pedal arrived. Utilizing new technology and introducing new unique reverb modes, Old Blood Noise took on the massive task of re-inventing the concept of infinite reverb. Sunlight delivered on trailing reverb in ways we’d never seen before.
Best in Show: Reviving History
With this retrospective list, we must take a moment to reflect on the tireless names that keep on delivering dynamic musical experiences year after year. 2021 certainly had plenty to show.
The Gibson Les Paul – a legend among legends. 2021 brought a key development in the production of new Les Pauls. When Gibson Custom Shop Master Luthier Tom Murphy struck the right formula for scientifically developed, period-accurate replicated finishes, we couldn’t help but turn our heads. This new development in guitar finish technology brought vintage Les Paul finishes in with brand new Les Paul models. On top of these finishes, period-accurate design and construction made these new Les Pauls a series to fall head over heels for. If you’ve ever sought out the look and feel of a vintage Les Paul finish, the Murphy Lab line of Les Pauls has never made that journey easier. It’s a Les Paul just as you’ve always known.
A VOX re-release originally produced in Italy in the 1960s, the Bobcat V90 gave us all a look into some real vintage European heat. With custom-designed P-90 pickups, this Bobcat’s addition of a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece made for an excellent instrument from the past to carry into the future. The VOX Bobcats were truly a set of guitars with a unique origin, so seeing them alive and well in the 21st century was a real treat!
Who would have thought that after decades seen with a Jazzmaster, some of Dinosaur Jr.’s best guitar work came from a Telecaster? Whether you were in with the exclusive ‘90s alt rock circles or not, this artist model showed off the true fiery power of Mascis’ unique 1958 Tele that crafted some of the band’s most furious fretwork. Featuring hardware, electronics, and appointments accurate to Mascis’ original Telecaster, alt rock enthusiasts got a look behind-the-scenes on one of rock’s most prolific shredders.
Best in Show: Looking to the Future
Sometimes we can’t help but look to the future of our rigs. In ways big or small, you know we’re always eyeing the next piece that’s going to bring the song, the collection, or the family all together.
The full Strymon experience is a truly streamlined and calculated one. This entry from Strymon worked to bridge gaps and create truly unified experiences for MIDI-enabled effect pedal users. The connectivity of the Conduit worked to consolidate space and get all our Strymons on the same page when it came to crafting the newest composition. When there’s always another sound on the horizon, Strymon is ready to capture it.
You simply can’t take on the world without a good set of strings by your side. With D’Addario’s new acoustic strings, it all became clear. A new coating formula which enhanced playability, comfort, and durability made XS strings a must-try for any acoustic guitar. Having that freedom to play on and on and on is something no one should miss.
Semi-modular analog synthesis for the whole family, what could be better? Moog’s Sound Studio bundles equipped novice players with everything needed to get along on their own lifelong musical journey. Authentic top-of-the-line Moog synthesizers landed in these bundles to give everyone the real deal. When they just can’t wait to be musicians, a Sound Studio answers the call.
Best in Show: Causing a Ruckus
“Wow, where did that come from?” Fans of the noisy and the no-so-subtle received some sweet treats in 2021. A couple of maxed-out dials and caution thrown to the wind made it a good time to make some noise.
The hive over at Beetronics had a field day with this octave and fuzz hybrid, and so did so many other armchair apiologists. In natural Beetronics fashion, this stylish pedal made for a sweet swarm of distortion every time we gave it a stomp. With an infatuating fuzz tone, that classic question earned an affirmative answer – “To bee, or not to bee?”
The ‘80s are all the rage these days apparently – and this pedal is the proof! A combination synthesizer and fuzz pedal, the Atreides immediately drops you into an atmospheric, apocalyptic ‘80s movie. If you’re on the hunt for looming synth soundscapes with some cinematic flair or for a wild romp through its fuzzy namesake weirdness, Atreides stepped up to the plate. Maybe these synthetic tones work a little too well...better get your jams out before copyright claim kicks in!
Fuzz and phase, phase and fuzz. This wild combination from Jersey’s own Fuzzrocious made for an awesome fizzing and bubbling effect combo that was absolutely delightful for fans of fuzz and modulation. In true Fuzzrocious style, cranking either effect to its limit made the Electric Ocean burst with quirky sonic character perfect for any noisemaker’s board.
P-90s got a royal treatment with the Noventa series where Fender’s punchy MP-90 pickups played a starring role in a re-invention of the offset classic. A Jazzmaster with P-90 fire under the hood? You must be pulling our leg. The Jazzmaster and its Tele and Strat brethren were no joke, however. The Noventa series gave us our best foot forward into Fender’s P-90 paradise.
Best in Show: Minimizing the Method
Sometimes the biggest innovations come in the smallest packages – the microchip, the microbrewery, both critical advancements in the world of tiny technology. These picks came out swinging to enhance everyone’s musical experience on the smaller scales.
This pocket-sized headphone amplifier from Fender took players on an all-inclusive tonal trip complete with Fender Mustang amp onboard effects – admission was one guitar and a pair of headphones. The beauty in the Mustang Micro’s compact, powerful operation made it stand out for players on the move or for players jamming silently in any scenario. There’s no doubt that plenty of musical genius has been crafted on the fly with these compact amps.
Taking the tinkering and guesswork out of the compression experience, Keeley’s mastery of compression showed with this little wonder of a pedal. A two-knob set up and internal pre-amp made this pedal a smooth addition to our board. The endless tone quest continued with a tiny compression companion by our side.
Delay and modulation in a travel-friendly package, what more could we ask for? EHX’s classic Memory Man delay tones got the royal compact treatment with this pedal for players who still swear by iconic EHX effects. Whether on the prowl for an entry point to EHX’s effect pedal legacy or stocking up for the next nationwide tour, this Memory Man made us all stand aside.
Leave it to TE to find musicality just about anywhere. With those classic gaming tunes still fresh in our minds from so many years and consoles ago, it was difficult not to get lost in these special Capcom Pocket Operators. Branching from their popular Pocket Operator synthesizer series, these handheld synths gave us all a nudge in seeing past health bars and power-ups and make sweet music. No cartridges or tokens needed here, just ‘90s bit-crushed bliss.
2021: A Year in Gear
We were all treated to some excellent innovations in musical instruments this year. As we ready for 2022 with bated breath, we can’t help but be amazed at the gear that made this year.