Sometimes a pedal comes out, and it makes us look at our whole approach to guitar in a different way. Conversely, sometimes a pedal makes us scratch our heads in confusion. Today we check out the weirdest guitar pedals of the last few years.
The Weirdest Guitar Pedals: Sometimes You Need Something Different…
I remember listening to the song “Zero” by The Smashing Pumpkins as a teen. This was a heavy song, with tons of distortion layers, but then the solo comes in… and it is a sound I have never heard a guitar make. The Song came up on my playlist the other day, and it still sounds insane.
So I looked up the production notes for the album.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much info about the solo, or the pedals used. I found an interview with Billy Corgan, and he said he didn’t remember what was used for “Zero”, or the incredibly heavy bridge section of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”. He had just put tons of pedal together, and played the take.
But it got me thinking about the weirdest guitar pedals, and how so many are useful to get an otherworldly sound. There is of course, a dark side to these weird pedals. So let’s explore both!
Today we will be exploring the weirdest guitar pedals, and looking at the practicality of the pedals. Like, could you use this in the studio or at a gig? Or is it just a one trick pony that works for specific situations?
Let’s take a look!
#5 The Frazz Dazzler by Dr. Scientist
On the outside, the Frazz Dazzler looks like your common boutique style Fuzz pedal. So why is it considered one of the weirdest guitar pedals if it is just a regular fuzz?
Well, it certainly does classic fuzz tones. It has all the regular features that any distortion/fuzz pedal would have. There is a 3 band EQ section with a gain knob, and level mix. Seems pedestrian right?
Where things get weird, is the “Volts” knob. This makes the pedal totally freak out! You get weird, glitchy fuzz tones straight out of a Nintendo game. These tones are gated, and track in a really strange way.
So while the Frazz Dazzler definitely does your usual Fuzz tones pretty well, with a flick of a switch, you can get into really weird territory. But this is tame, compared to some others on this list!
Even though it can get a little freaky, I think the Frazz Dazzler is one of the most useful pedals in this bunch. It has a great basic fuzz tone, that you just happen to be able to manipulate.
#4 Earthquaker Rainbow Machine
The only pedal that comes with a warning from the manufacturer, The Rainbow Machine is supposedly completely possessed by an evil entity.
“This one is for experimenters, adventurists and noisemakers. Totally not for purists and/or tone hounds, there are no “natural sounds” that will come from this box.”
This isn’t your standard pitch shifter by any means. The Rainbow Machine V2 polyphonic modulator pedal offers pitch shifting up to a 3rd up and a 4th down. That is, when you are actually in control of the pedal.
If you want to confuse yourself, the audience, and all of your band members, this is the perfect pedal.
The “Magic” button throws the controls out the window, causing absolute madness. The Rainbow Machine deserves a spot in the top 5 weirdest guitar pedals because it defies any attempt to get a reasonable tone. It even warns you that you’re in for a ride!
But is it practical? That’s a tough question.
If you are looking for something to spice up your sound, and get weird every now and then, I think the Rainbow Machine might be up your alley. But this is far from your usual “set it and forget it” kind of pedal.
This is standard fare for Earthquaker Devices, as they make all kinds of unique pedals. Check them all out!
#3 Red Panda Particle
Granular Synth is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale. It is just like sampling. However, the samples are not played back in real time, but are instead split into small pieces of around 1 to 50 ms. These small pieces are called grains.
You hear this effect in movie soundtracks as well as EDM. It sounds out of this world, and is actually a little disorientating. So, how about a pedal that does this to your guitar?
“It chops your signal into small grains and then does various strange, trippy, robot things to it, using the techniques of granular synthesis in real-time.”
Technically, it is a Delay pedal at it’s core. But it deserves a spot as one of the weirdest guitar pedals because of how crazy your delay effects sound when you apply the different controls. Just watch the video.
But is the Red Panda Particle actually a usable pedal? I think so.
You could easily run this pedal during a guitar solo, and use it as your primary delay. It’s practical use makes it great for guitar intros as well, making a huge, dense sounding, landscape of sound. I can see the Particle being a great studio tool.
#2 The EHX Mainframe
As we get closer to the #1 spot, we get a little bit stranger. A little more unconventional. The EHX Mainframe is a truly one of the weirdest guitar pedals out there. For a lot of reasons.
At it’s core, it is a regular Fuzz circuit. Where all of that changes, is the sample rate that it works in. It provides sample rate reduction ranging from 48kHz to 110Hz. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, then you should know that a CD playback is usually 44.1 Hz.
You know how it sounds when a CD skips?
“Buzz. Beep and bloop. We’re high on the lo-fi sounds of “old-school” games, toys and terminals and the Mainframe Bit Crusher takes us back in time to when Pac Man and Donkey Kong ruled the arcades, to when the Commodore 64 was high tech.”
The EHX Mainframe can do pristine distortion tones just fine, if that’s what you want. But it gets really interesting is when you bring the bitrate down to 16 bit, or even all the way down to 1 bit. This essentially transforms your guitar signal into an Atari.
While the Mainframe is definitely one of the weirdest guitar pedals, it is also highly usable since you can dial in the tone with accuracy. You can play some interesting solos, for sure. Chords and melody lines can be manipulated to add a bit of flair, or completely destroy them and devolve into chaos.
Better yet, it works just as well as a Bass Guitar pedal. That means the Mainframe can be a good solution if you are looking for something different in the studio.
But the weirdest guitar pedals are not always usable….
#1 Korg Hatsune Miku Stomp
I have a confession to make: I had no idea what Hatsune Miku was before I checked out this pedal. I had to look her up on YouTube. Hatsune Miku is a hologram pop star from Japan that sings songs…apparently. She is not a real person.
But that isn’t weird enough. Not by a mile.
Korg advertises this pedal as “making your guitar sing”. Well, it does make your guitar sing. It turns your guitar into Hatsune Miku’s voice, using vowel sounds and even lyrics to her hit songs.
There are three different phrases that you can make Miku sing, as well as single “oohs” and “ahhs”. It can even freestyle scat for you. This only really works with single note lines, as it will not track chords at all. The tracking freaks out on you, and the pedal is almost broken in the way it functions.
It’s a positively absurd pedal. Any trace of your actual guitar sound disappears when the pedal is engaged, and it is replaced totally with Miku’s vocals. I’m equally impressed, disgusted, and confused.
If you’re looking for the weirdest guitar pedals, this is the weirdest. Just watch the video:
Is the Korg Miku Stomp a practical pedal? No, not at all. Not even a little bit. I cannot imagine a situation where this pedal would be used effectively. Maybe you could take it to a gig and use it at soundcheck as a joke on the sound guy.
The Weirdest Guitar Pedals: Do You Need One In Your Rig?
Well, no. Of course you don’t need one. But you never know what will be the key to unlock your creativity. Sometimes, all you need is a different sound, and the next thing you know you are writing a unique riff.
Likewise, you never know what you may come up with in the studio. After all, that’s exactly what made me think of this entire article. Billy Corgan made some seriously whacked-out sounds on all of his albums, using different pedal combos. Maybe one of these pedals can help you reach that same level of creativity.
I suppose the moral of the story, is never discount a piece of gear that may at first seem like one of the weirdest guitar pedals. It may become the staple of your sound!