One and Done: Companies That Left Their Marks with Just One Pedal
There’s an incredible amount of work that goes into bringing just one product to market, and any manufacturer will tell you such a thing. Sometimes, the one-person companies that partially compose the pedal landscape can only muster one product before dissolving into the ether. As my close friend Neil Young once said, it’s better to burn out than fade away. Many of these companies that produced just one item really threw themselves into the R&D, as these pedals are regarded as great, with some downright legendary. Let’s talk about these awesome tonal artifacts.
Before we continue, I realize that I am taking slight liberties as to what “one” means, for example, a couple of the below listings are for one “series” being the sole thing the company produced rather than one singular offering. Some companies on this list made other effects, but they were either produced for acoustic guitars, or didn’t have devices to control the unit with one’s foot. Also, I wanted badly to include the Pefftronics Super Rand-O-Matic, but if I mention it again in these pages, we might have to change the name of this mag to Super Rand-O-Matic Ltd.
Without further ado, here are the nominees:
Ludwig Phase II
Drummers, man. They do their thing, we do ours. With that said, there is nary a guitar player who hasn’t at least heard of Ludwig drums. The brand popularized clear drums in a variety of colors, known as the Vistalite series. And once upon a time, over a period that spanned the years 1970 and 1971, it produced a singular effects pedal, the Phase II Synthesizer. Never has the term “effectS” pedal been more accurate, as the Phase II features four footswitches and an onboard expression pedal, with the entirety of the incredibly complex unit looking like some sort of mobile smoking device.
Dean Markley Overlord
You may know the Dean Markley company for its amps that fill America’s pawn shops and its strings of which there is at least one pack in every musician’s cable tub. However, Markley’s sole contribution to the pedal world was the Overlord series, of which there were two—one that came equipped with a 12AX7 tube and a three-band EQ, and one that supplied a solitary Tone knob and op-amp drive. Despite its decidedly “metal” graphics, the Overlord is actually an incredible overdrive pedal for all genres and is absolutely worth seeking out.
Yes, the woodwind manufacturer, just like Ludwig, stepped up to the electronic plate and cracked off an effects box. Unlike the other entries in this list, this one doesn’t have a foot controllable unit nor is it for guitar players—it’s for the players of Conn’s primary demographic. Though defiant in its inclusion, the Multi-Vider is a landmark achievement, providing what very well be the first octaver, containing three voices: upper octave, lower octave and sub-octave. Frank Zappa and the Mothers used them, as did legendary trumpeter Don Ellis.
Released at the turn of the ‘80s, before most folks knew they wanted a tube in their drive units, Dynastar beat many to the punch. The sound is similar to the Tube Drive but with a more refined midrange—a great combination. Powered by AC mains and featuring a solitary tube and a fuse, the M-31 was the only pedal ever released by Dynastar, which is a shame. The early ‘90s could have used more grid graphics, if you ask me.
Featuring a gangster smoking a cigarette whose cherry is the sole speck of non-shade color, the Clark Gainster has been in the game almost as long as Klon, and Clark has been building them one at a time since those days up until now. The Gainster is an amazing low-gain overdrive built on amp fiberboard with an original design and ultra-premium parts. The original used Russian PIO capacitors before the guitar community at large caught wise, and the new ones sound just as good.
BEZ Street Sweeper
Pronounced “be easy,” the Street Sweeper does one thing that precious other few companies have attempted, much less attempted well: the phaser in foot-treadle enclosure. However, the Street Sweeper offers up a cool take on it, completely eliminating the low-frequency oscillator that causes phasers to “cycle.” Because of this, you can use the Street Sweeper as a phase-wah, leave it cocked for rich, harmonic leads, or create your own LFO sweep by moving your foot to the rhythm of the would-be LFO.
Retrospec Squeeze Box
Even with the Origin Cali76 around, there are many absolute compressor geeks out there who would give theirs up in seconds if it meant a taste of the Squeeze Box, what’s supposed to be a UREI LA2A in a pedal. Each Squeeze Box is powered by AC mains, two tubes and all kinds of interesting tidbits, such as ICs and vactrols. The sum is likely the consensus greatest compressor experience on the planet amongst those who have played one. You’d be hard-pressed to find one for under a grand.
Paul C Timmy
There was a time in pedal history when one Paul Cochrane required a phone call and a lengthy chat about guitars before he’d sell you one of his Tim or Timmy pedals. Even as the grandparents of the world embraced electronic mail, Paul Cochrane stood alone as a phone-only operation, and his number was passed around gear forums by the tone cognoscenti. Eventually, a member of Danelectro’s crew got ahold of one and released the Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive, an unashamed copy. Eventually Paul discontinued the Tim (essentally a Timmy with a boost) and opened up to dealers everywhere.
Even the lay compressor head has heard of ovnilab.com, a site that’s chronicled every compressor on the market since the dawn of time. Starting in 2008, the proprietor has reviewed hundreds of compressors in text format. Eventually, a company called Pear Lab in Poland struck a deal with Ovnilab, and the Smoothie was born. The Smoothie combines all of the features that Mr. Ovni likes to hear and see in a compressor and delivers it unto fellow compression geeks and sustainiacs around the world.
EMS Synthi Hi-Fli
Looking more like a kid’s toy than anything else, the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli was the only pedal EMS released, despite producing other items for the synth market. Perhaps the most significant “one-and-done” on the list, the Hi-Fli was known for its rich synth sweeps and dual foot controller, the former concept borrowed for the more readily-available Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer. As for well-known users, Genesis and Todd Rundgren used one, as well as some guy named David Gilmour that you may have heard about.
Before guitar players were piloting vast cockpits of effects, there was no limit to how large a pedal company might make its enclosures. One company that saw this idea to its most absurd limit was Australia’s Sebatron, whose DDF-100 pushed the boundaries of enclosure size and good taste. “DDF” stands for Dual Dynamic Filter, and indeed, the pedal is an incredible piece of kit in the filter arena, but its aesthetics are on another plane of reality.
Interfax Harmonic Percolator
Looking more like a piece of forgotten office equipment than a pedal, the Interfax Harmonic Percolator was a curious anomaly in the effects world. Using a hybrid-metallic and very specific transistor selection, the Percolator purportedly generates only even-order harmonics, those harmonics that are supposedly more pleasing to the ears. Whether that is true or not, the Percolator has gained a cult following thanks to one Steve Albini and his work in his bands Big Black, Shellac and Rapeman, as well as his acute recording prowess.
Written by Nicholas Kula