With so much amazing gear debuting in 2021, we couldn’t help but go on!
Without further ado, part two!
Best in Show: Pushing Boundaries
For the adventurous and thrill-seeking, these picks made us rethink what was musically possible on a board or in our hands. Couldn’t help but take a step back with these choices.
This wicked five-state distortion pedal blazed into 2021 and hit the ground running. A hot-blooded, five-mode analog distortion pedal, Eras opened many doors for guitarists across the board on the hunt for a flexible and capable distortion. Eras made both chunky rhythm palm mutes and hot lead licks irresistible for a pedal that could easily carry a full live set on its back and still have room for more.
There is something certainly enticing about venturing into the unknown, and with Astral Destiny, flirting with the otherworldly was never easier. Eight different octave reverb effect modes allowed for deep plunges into spacious reverberated realms with tight controls and preset slots galore. Your best ambient reverb pedal had met its match.
One knob and an unassuming design gave little indication of the power this pick had in store. Milkman’s Pop Top produced 36V of internal headroom from a common 9V power supply for a wide range of uses. This unprecedented amount of headroom packed in this little black box could ramp up to 30dB of clean signal boost to give any amp a loving push. The amount of boost on tap could do some magical things for the straight-to-the-amp players of the world.
At the total cutting edge of Fender’s design and production lies the Ultra Luxe series – a series among Fender’s most advanced instruments ever produced. Featuring some of Fender’s finest hardware and appointments, the Ultra Luxe series is stunning in every respect with Ultra Noiseless Vintage pickups, carefully designed body contours, and a matching finished headstock for good measure, Fender’s Ultra Luxe brought Fender’s finest features alive in grand fashion.
Best in Show: Playing Unplugged
2021 did not go without its own impressive acoustic guitars. With these beautifully crafted pieces, everyone’s acoustic spirit came alive.
Just as they had done so many times before, Gibson once again innovated on the acoustic guitar formula from the inside out. Along with high-quality materials and refined construction, the introduction of Gibson’s Player Port feature landed with these American-made acoustics. This original Gibson design specification from the 1960s brought players closer to their instrument to hear their acoustic tones better than ever before. This design made for a fantastic way to gather together and celebrate a good Gibson just as you’ve always known.
In 2021, the Martin Custom Shop continued to do what they do best – craft quality acoustic guitars. The Authentic Collection took us all back to the start with Martin’s original designs and showed that, after almost a century, these classic specifications are still as musical as ever. Certainly outstanding for any player or listener, the Martin Custom Shop never wavers in crafting their iconic instruments.
Best in Show: Reinventing a Classic
Sometimes, things must be taken back to the drawing board. Other times, the drawing board was in front of you all along! It takes a certain something to tackle an icon and make it your own and these names stepped up to the plate in making their own modern-day classics.
Marshall stacks as far as the eye can see – classic British crunch was the name of the game for this Bowman Audio classic. With an added tone control that could be switched off let the full breadth of this powerful distortion run wild, Bowman’s Hot Potato came in hot. That iconic Marshall distortion ready to be let loose at any moment from this compact pedalboard addition made for an awesome effect experience.
Highly calculated, cerebral, and airtight in design, the Strymon experience is one of a kind. Though when the Zelzah comes around with a new take on a classic modulation effect, the team at Strymon showed their funky side. The dual-headed effect packed a four and six stage phaser into a colorful chassis with all the settings and controls you could possibly need to let loose in classic or modern phasing style. With an undoubtedly large amount of thought and cutting-edge design, Strymon gave us a modern phaser for the ages.
For this little number, EQD reached around the world to connect with Japanese experimental guitar icon Wata, famous for her massive fuzz tones. Based off a Japanese Triangle Big Muff-style fuzz, the Elk BM Sustainer, EQD collaborated to pack Wata’s monstrous guitar tones into a sleek pedal for the world to enjoy. The crushing and fuzzy voice of Hizumitas was universally understood. This unique Japanese Muff-style pedal gave us a new perspective on our iconic fuzzes and made a name for itself worldwide.
“Transparent overdrive” is a pretty popular phrase these days. With this in mind, North Carolina’s Dusky Electronics introduced their own spin on the classic tone. This unique overdrive heated up perfectly with its own flavor of transparency to get your signal nice and toasty for any pickup or amp combination. A pretty beastly box of transparent heat, Dusky’s transparent overdrive warmed up, singed, and crackled in the sweetest ways.
How do you reinvent such a staple of an effect as spring reverb? Thanks to the minds at Gamechanger Audio, we now have an answer. Extensively equipped to create a wide spectrum of different spring reverb tones, the Light Pedal shined brightly. An enormous amount of groundbreaking technology went into crafting this device, and with it, a new spring reverb formula was forged.
Best in Show: Being Your Best Self
Your sound wouldn’t be yours without you. With all the excellent, mind-bending pieces of gear out there to get you along your way to the next big discovery, it can be nice to look back and start at square one very now and again. Whatever form your sound takes come 2022, these entries make for excellent places to start.
In one of 2021’s outstanding series, Strats, Teles, and other Fender classics were treated to an upgrade for players of any experience level. Player Plus brought out infatuating new finishes and dynamic new electronics to Fender standbys for an awesome new collection. Whether you’re a novice or veteran of the Fender experience, Player Plus guitars and basses complete any equation you fit them into.
Benson’s single-dialed device starts at zero and ends at ten. Wherever you land on that knob, the buckets of clean boost this pedal dishes out are incredibly interactive with your signal to bring out the best in your rig. The Germanium Boost made your sound shine wherever you wanted to highlight it from your pickups to your board to the tubes in your amp. Never doubt your own musicality, Benson sure doesn’t.
When Old Blood Noise raised a question of how well we knew our expression-enabled pedals, their Expression Ramper turned the entire conversation on its head. A couple clicks and turns of a dial and we were quickly playing with our pedals in ways we didn’t think were possible. Hands-free expression interaction was the name of the game with the Expression Ramper, and with it, OBN widened the scope of expression-based playability tenfold.
Carrying an amp’s worth of distinct tube tones with you in a single pedal may seem like a dream, but with the Fake Plastic Trees, the world-famous amplification geniuses at Audio Kitchen made that fantasy a reality. The Fake Plastic Trees and its highly versatile tube-like amp tones gave us all a launching off point to let our best riffs shine. An awesome preamp pedal for the masses, Audio Kitchen’s amplified wisdom made for an exciting tonal trip and all of us better for it.
The 2021 Year in Gear
It's with great excitement we welcome 2022 and all the great gear to come. Keep up with us as we bring on what the new year has in store!