There are plenty of amazing guitar pedals on the market today thanks, in part, to the rise of boutique guitar manufacturers.
Boutique guitar effects pedal brands have a tendency of pushing the envelope when it comes to functionality and creativity within pedals. With a market saturated with standard effects, many new brands are required to develop a stand-out product in order to gain recognition.
In this article, I want to shed some light and recognition on the top boutique effects manufacturers on the market today.
The top 11 best boutique guitar pedal brands you should know and use are:
- ZVex Effects
- Chase Bliss Audio
- Empress Effects
- Walrus Audio
- Red Panda
- JHS Pedals
- Jam Pedals
- Keeley Electronics
- Wampler Pedals
We’ll get into each of these brands in greater detail to explain why they made this list. I’ll also share some of their notable pedals; a link to their official website and a bit of history about each company.
Before we get into the article, please note that EarthQuaker Devices, Strymon and Source Audio are featured in My New Microphone’s more “definitive” Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use. If not for that article, they’d certainly be mentioned here but instead, they get “honourable mentions” in the beginning of this article!
What Is A “Boutique” Manufacturer?
Before we get into each of the brands, let’s ask ourselves “what, exactly, is a boutique manufacturer?”
There’s really no hard answer to this question. The term boutique used to mean a small company (often a single person or a team with very few members) that produced each pedal by hand.
The restrictions of running a single-person shop meant that production was relatively slow and each pedal demanded a higher price point due to labour costs. The upside was that boutique pedals were made with more hands-on care and that manufacturers were often forced to design pedals that would stand out amongst the other mass-produced “standard/one-trick-pony” effects pedals.
Today, the term “boutique” is used rather loosely to define small-batch or even simply to describe “interesting” pedal designs.
We’ll use a loose definition of the term here to keep with the times. That being said, each of the brands on this list do, in fact, have smaller teams of developers and assemblers and they all, certainly, have interesting products to discuss!
With that, let’s get into this article!
ZVex Effects is the pedal project of Zachary Vex and is defined as “the original boutique pedal” manufacturer.
Over the year ZVex has amassed an impressive catalog of pedals ranging from its famous Fuzz Factory (and all derivatives) to its Probe and Vexter lines of pedals. The company has developed all these excellent pedals while retaining its “boutique” reputation and vibe.
This company produces an impressive number of fuzz and distortion pedals. It also has a number of superb modulation and step-sequencing pedals along with other awesome effects.
Most ZVex pedals are designed, assembled and painted by hand in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The Vexter budget line of pedals are designed in the USA; assembled in Taiwan, and completed back in the USA.
In terms of warranty, each ZVex comes with a 2-year warranty upon registration with the company. Every hand-painted ZVex pedal comes with a lifetime warranty.
Here are a few ZVex Effects pedals worth mentioning:
- Fuzz Factory Fuzz
- Wah Probe Vexter Auto Wah
- Instant Lo-Fi Junky Low-Fidelity Emulation
- Sonar Tremolo
- Woolly Mammoth Fuzz
ZVex Effects was founded in 1994 by Zachary Vex in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The company is still headquartered in Minneapolis today.
Official Website: zvex.com
Meris is a very small pedal manufacturing team based in Ventura, California. The company’s product line is limited and features both pedals and modular synth units. By these factors, I’d say Meris is certainly “boutique”.
We will see, by simply looking at each Meris pedal, that these effects units are packed full of functionality. This brand produces excellent pedals capable of the more “standard” effects with capabilities far beyond the typical pedal effect unit.
In terms of build quality, Meris assembles their pedals with electrical precision and durability, ensuring each pedal will withstand the enevitable wear and tear of stompboxes.
Meris has already made a name for itself with its impressive pedals and their pushing forward in the field of sonic exploration. Their pedals have made their way onto pedalboards around the world already. We should expect to see many more Meris pedals make their way onto the market and into the hands of creatives in the future!
Here are a few Meris pedals to check out:
- Hedra 3-Voice Rhythmic Pitch-Shifter
- Enzo Synth Engine
- Mercury7 Reverb
- Ottobit Jr. Synth/Sequencer Bit-Crusher
- Polymoon Modulated Delay
Meris was founded in 2014 by Terry Burton (who also founded Strymon) and is headquartered in Ventura, California, USA.
Strymon is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Official Website: meris.us
Chase Bliss Audio
Chase Bliss Audio is one of those companies that truly do things differently. The small team is dedicated to producing the best pedals possible with an emphasis on industry-leading parameter controllability and perfect tonality.
This boutique manufacturer has plenty of original pedal designs with supreme functionality that you really can’t get anywhere else.
Chase Bliss Audio also has one of the coolest pedal formats, of which most of its pedals follow.
As we can see below in the Warped Vynil Analog Vibrato/Chorus (link to check the price on Amazon), the format tells us immediately that these pedals are highly tweakable. The format featured 6 potentiometer knobs; 3 toggle switches, and 2 stomp switches. Most models also have a 16-way on/off set of switches at the top face of the pedal.
Chase Bliss Audio also strives to incorporate digital control and recall into each pedal without having and digital signal processing. This means that the audio is never converted and stays 100% analog while also benefitting from digital save/recall and processing.
The result is a whole line of pedals suitable for purists and mad scientists alike along with everyone in between.
Here are a few Chase Bliss Audio pedals to have a look at:
Chase Bliss Audio was founded in 2013 by Joel Korte and is headquartered in Anoka, Minnesota.
Official Website: chaseblissaudio.com
Empress Effects is another small “boutique” manufacturer with very impressive pedals.
This Canadian pedal brand is a small-scale operation but its pedals are designed to belong on the big stage (and everywhere else when interesting tones are required).
Empress builds superb pedals that handle the standard effects we’ve come to know and love. On top of handling the more “basic” effects, Empress pedals nearly all offer extra functionality to further push our sound and creativity forward.
All Empress pedals are built in-house to the highest standard and are made to last. Their circuits are well thought out and crafted to give the best effects possible.
Here are a few Empress Effects pedals worth checking out:
Empress Effects was founded in 2005 by Steve Bragg. The company is headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Official Website: empresseffects.com
Walrus Audio has a relatively large team working dilligently behind the “boutique” brand.
Hand-crafted and well-tested is each and every pedal from Walrus. Each idea is first built into a prototype; sent out into the world; tested; re-designed, and tested until it’s perfect for the market.
In terms of quality, Walrus stands up to the best in the business. Their pedals offer incredible sonic quality and a rugged build that keeps them functioning through the toughest of tours.
The product line of Walrus Audio is impressive and continues to grow as the company pushes forward in their creative endeavours. You’re more than likely to find what you need in the Walrus catalog along with things you never knew you needed!
Here are a few Walrus Audio pedals to check out:
- Mako D1 Delay
- Descent Reverb/Octave Machine Reverb/Pitch-Shifter
- Jupiter Multi-Clip Fuzz
- Lillian Multi-Stage Analog Phaser
- Luminary Quad Octave Generator
Walrus Audio was founded in 2011 by Colt Westbrook. The company’s headquarters are in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA.
Official Website: walrusaudio.com
Red Panda Lab hasn’t been around as long as the other companies on this list but they sure have begun to make a name for themselves as a go-to boutique pedal manufacturer.
When it comes to originality and strangeness, Red Panda is a fitting brand. Their pedals stand out among the other manufacturers on this list due to their experimental nature and never-before-seen circuitry.
Of course, we can expect the standard tones from Red Panda pedals. However, that’s typically not what they’re purchased for. Rather, Red Panda pedals offer us new frontiers in sonic exploration. A certain weirdness that puts this relatively new company on this list!
Though Red Panda Lab is a “boutique” manufacturer made of a small team, they take advantage of automated processes in the assembly of their awesome pedals. Each pedal is finalized and tested at the Detroit-based shop before ever hitting the market.
Here is a shortlist of Red Panda pedals worth checking out:
- Bitmap Bitcrusher
- Particle 2 Granular Delay + Pitch-Shifter
- Tensor Time-Shifter
- Context 2 Reverb
- Raster Digital Delay
Red Panda Lab was founded in 2016 by Curt Malouin in Detroit, Michigan, USA, where the company is still located today.
Official Website: redpandalab.com
JHS Pedals is one of the more prolific “boutique” manufacturers on this list. The company has a rather large team compared to the others on this list and they’re pretty fast at producing their pedals. Remember, though, we’re using the term “boutique” loosely here.
Since its beginnings, JHS Pedals has been making a name for itself as a reputable company with fantastic sounding and durable pedals. Their products are found on pedalboards everywhere.
JHS boasts a fairly large catalog of pedals. Though their designs are relatively simply (compared to many other boutique manufacturers), the quality of the pedals is top-of-the-line.
If you’re looking for a simple, down-to-earth pedal at a reasonable price, look out for JHS Pedals. They’ll have what you’re looking for.
Here are several JHS Pedals to check out:
- Sweet Tea V3 Overdrive/Distortion
- Supreme Fuzz
- Space Commander Boost/Chorus/Reverb
- Colour Box V2 Preamp
- Milkman Delay
JHS Pedals was founded in 2007 by Joshua Heath Scott and is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
Official Website: jhspedals.info
Jam Pedals is perhaps a bit unknown in the grand scheme of pedals. This Greek “boutique” manufacturer have been around for some time now and has produced some superb effects pedals.
Each Jam Pedal is built by hand with point-to-point wiring. The pedals are all hand-painted and meticulously tested in Athens before ever hitting the market.
Jam Pedals may not be as out-there as, say, Red Panda, but their pedals are standout in their own right as they sound awesome in any setting, with their knob dials set anywhere.
The term “quality” is a fitting adjective for Jam Pedals. Each pedal is designed with care to deliver the tones you want and stand up to the tests of time.
Here are a few Jam Pedals worth checking out:
- Pink Flow Multi-Effect
- Dyna-ssor Compressor/Sustainer
- Delay Llama Delay
- Retrovibe Mk.2 Vibrato
- Wahcko Wah
Jam Pedals was founded in 2007 by Jannis Anastasakis and is located in Athens, Greece.
Official Website: jampedals.com
Keeley Electronics is an OG “boutique” manufacturer. Many of its pedals have been around for a long time and the company continues to push forward, delivering inspiring designs and quality builds.
Keeley pedals are some of the coolest on the market and this manufacturer, though considered “boutique” by some, is actually a top seller in the field. The pedals are found around the world in studios and live rigs alike.
Each pedal is designed with low tolerance parts to ensure low noise and signal quality.
The catalog at Keeley Electronics has a little something for everyone looking for a pedal. It also boasts some intriguing designs with extra functionality for those of us who want to experiment with our sound/
Here are a few Keeley Electronics pedals worth checking out:
Keeley Electronics was founded in 2001 by Robert Keeley and is located in Edmond, Oklahoma, USA.
Official Website: robertkeeley.com
Wampler is a sort of purist company when it comes to the term “boutique”. Each and every Wampler pedal is designed primarily by Brian Wampler, the company founder. The Wampler team is small and the entire production process is very hands on.
Each new Wampler pedal design is tested heavily before it’s ever finalized and sent into production. Wampler prides itself on building with the best components possible to ensure its pedals withstand a lifetime of hard use on the road and in the studio.
Wampler pedals are beautiful on the outside and inside. Their exterior design is ruggedly durable yet pleasing to the eye. The interior circuits are designed to produce some of the greatest effects we’ll ever hear.
This company has repeatedly outdone itself in terms of sonic quality and is sure to give you a different taste of what we may consider “standard” effects with original circuits and tone.
Here are a few Wampler pedals to have a look at:
- Terraform Multi-Modulation
- Pantheon Overdrive
- Ethereal Delay + Reverb
- Fuzztration Fuzz
- Plexi-Drive Deluxe Overdrive/Distortion
Wampler Pedals was founded in 2007 by Brian Wampler and is headquartered in Martinsville, Indiana, USA.
Official Website: wamplerpedals.com
Last but not least on this list is Catalinbread, a well-known “boutique” manufacturer that has been making a name for itself since its beginnings in 2003.
Catalinbread is a brand dedicated to recreating iconic tones with their pedals. The company prides itself on producing much more than just sound effects, but remarkable effects that are reminiscent of the greatest tones of all time.
So, Catalinbread pedals may seem simple on the surface compared to other pedals on this list. However, their magic is focused on the breathtaking tone rather than on the sheer experimentality of their units.
What you get with Catalinbread pedals are solid effects that produce amazing tone at an affordable price. What’s not to love about that?
Here are a few Catalinbread pedals worth checking out:
Catalinbread was founded in 2003 by Nicholas Harris & Howard Gee in Portland, Oregon, USA, where the company is still located today.
Official Website: catalinbread.com