Cost/Performance Study

After celebrating Christmas with my family this year, it occurred to me that one can get a Behringer or Modtone stomp box for about as much

ibanez-soundtank_ad1992_001or LESS than the cost of a fancy toy car, jet or train for a 6-year old. The similarity doesn’t stop at cost. Same as futuristic cars, trains and robots I got for my sons, pedals can be linked together for even more fun and insanity. And a stomp box is usually about the same size as a kid’s toy, too. A particularly creative Ibanez Soundtank advertisement from the 90s, depicting their line of budget stomp boxes as tiny, futuristic battle tanks proves that I’m not the only one who equates stomp boxes are toys. More and more I am turning to budget boxes like that because I don’t play pro anymore, and just want to have fun. So I find myself on the hunt for pedals like the Nobels ODR-1, Digitech Bad Monkey and the Aria chorus pedals I bought last week.

However, I do still have a few mid-market boutique pedals on my board, so I decided to do a cost/performance analysis of my pedal collection to see if these expensive pedals were worth it.

  1. Barber Tone-Press RED: This is only pedal that could do EXACTLY what I need: mix the dry signal back in to preserve the attack. So in principle, cost/performance isn’t really applicable, because cost is no object. Actually, compared to the more expensive Wampler pedal which offer clean blend, this is a better value. Then I replaced it with a limited run RED Tonepress which somewhat reduces it’s value of cost to performance because I confess my interest was mostly cosmetic in nature, not the only very slightly improved output and clarity.
  2. Budda Budwah: An expensive way when considering it’s just a custom Vox/Dunlop wah with a handmade inductor and other minor tweaks, but like the Tonepress, this is the only wah I found that gives me the sweep and clarity to get the sound of the first two bars of Maxwell’s Urban Hang Sweet. Again C/P isn’t really applicable because you can’t put a price on perfection. However like the Tonepress, this more affordable than the RMC or Fulltone ways.  It’s not perfect, but it’s possible that any problems I experienced with tone or volume were operator error (e.g.placement, pot-adjustment, etc.)
  3. RE-J Project (Analog Man) Boss DD-3: After modifications, an early “big-chip” version costs about as much or more than the Robot Factory Space Case (after my  25% bulk discount) which actually sounds better. The DD-3 does offer other many advantages like a smaller footprint, ease-of-use, and battery power. However the vintage stock unit have their own desirable “digilog” character. Just modding the direct out jack for EXP control would have been enough for my needs, so the cost exceeds the performance.
  4. Nobles ODR-1: In terms of cost, there are few options cheaper than this, at least in Japan where players are still not hip to it. However in terms of actual performance, it leaves a few things to be desired. This is not really a good blues overdrive for a strat’s neck pickup by itself. It’s best as clean boost or near-clean boost  in front of a good tube amp, but it actually doesn’t have a really high output at low-gain. While versatile, understanding the interaction between the three controls is not really intuitive, and adjusting one means adjusting the other two. That it powers up engaged is also a pain in the ass. For a few dollars more, I could get a Bad Monkey which is a better value.
  5. Boss RC-3: Drums patterns, stereo-processing, aux inputs, demo tracks, external control, save/undo functions, USB connectivity, count-ins, and more sampling time that you could ever use all inside an attractive sparkle wine-red Boss compact chassis make this truly exceptional value…for 20000 yen? Does this really offer that much more features than the older RC-2? And for a few dollars more, would the RC-20 or RC-30 be a better value? The answer is YES. The RC-2 does not have a USB port, or even a tenth of the memory of the RC-3. At about 2x the cost of a used RC-2, the RC-3 offers far more than twice the performance. Meanwhile the larger versions take up too much space on a pedal board. However, this begs the question: Does this kind of device even belong on a pedal board? If you don’t have a band behind you, the answer is YES.
  6. Guyatone WR-2: Before Behringer, Modtone and Digitech started offering budget pedals, Guyatone was a charming alternative to more expensive Boss and Ibanez pedals which dominated shelf and catalog space. Now out of production, some of these have a just enough vintage value to make them more expensive than their would-be competitors. Guyatone has since left the low-end market to them in favour of upper market designs aimed at pros. This pedal is one of these. Like many budget pedals, it sounds great with the right guitar and amp, but the limited controls limit its compatibility. This is especially true for an envelope filter. The great thing about Guyatone is that you can squeeze them onto a crowded pedalboard, but they’re too light to stay put. Also, changing the battery is risky business, because if you destroy the rubber ring holding the base together, you can get a replacement. So in conclusion, this really is a case of  “you get what you pay for.”

Looking at the results of the c/p analysis above, it would seem that the more expensive pedals (1 & 2) offer better cost performance than budget pedals (4&6). Meawhile, the Boss pedals (3&5) would seem to offer even better value than these, but only if purchased stock. An important distinction here is that the Boss pedals I use are multi-mode digital pedals. If I did a c/p analysis of a popular distortion of chorus pedal, I doubt it would be much better than a cheaper Guyatone or Nobels pedal (which aren’t that cheap anymore.)

For my next post, I will do a supplementary c/p analysis of some more pedals in my collection which are only on my board part-time, like the BOSS PS-5, PQ-4 and one-of-a-kind Robot Factory Ubberat.



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