Totally Gnarly: Five Modern Effect Pedals That Recreate Gritty '80s Sounds
To music fans, the 1980s will always represent the pinnacle of rock and roll decadence.
From bank-breaking record advances and extravagant arena tours to non-stop parties and girls dancing on cars, a guitarist's gear in the '80s had to be just as over-the-top as his look, whether he was sporting Spandex or a nail-spiked armband.
But don't think thrash and glam is all there was to the '80s. While metal ruled the airwaves, a Texan named Stevie Ray Vaughan was busy reinventing the blues with his Tube Screamer and his trusty No. 1 Strat.
The '80s was truly a great time to be a great guitarist, and this list — compiled by a group of Guitar World staffers including Gear Editor Paul Riario — will help you recapture some of the era's totally awesome tones using modern effect pedals.
Ibanez TS808 Vintage Tube Screamer Reissue
Here's a pedal that's arguably as legendary as the guys who stomped on it back in the day — guys like George Lynch and, oh yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Since Ibanez (with some help from Maxon) introduced the first Tube Screamer in the '70s, they've come up with a few variations, including the equally popular and slicker-looking TS9. But the TS808 — with its distinctive pale-green color and funny little square footswitch — is considered the real classic of the bunch. (Feel free to argue in the comments below!)
Serious gearheads used to search long and hard for this pedal before Ibanez reissued it a few years ago, complete with the sound of the original JRC4558 chip. Control-wise, they keep it as simple and self-explanatory as always; there's Overdrive, Tone and Level.
The Tube Screamer dishes out some truly warm overdrive, sounding very much like a gloriously overdriven tube amp, even when you're not playing at eardrum-splitting volumes, providing strong sustain and mids along the way. Bear in mind the TS808 isn't an all-out distortion pedal; just check out any live SRV performance to hear it in action.
MSRP: $257.13 | Head here for more info.
The HT-DISTX is described simply as an "ultra high gain, filth machine," which should be all you need to hear to know this pedal is exactly what you need to nail those gnarly '80s distortion sounds.
Whether you're looking to add some glam-metal sleaze to your sound or want to go on a full-on thrash attack, the HT-DISTX from Blackstar is a solid, reliable pedal that will give you top-notch distortion sounds every time.
Featuring genuine valve design, the HT-DISTX also responds like a valve amp, giving you some of the best speaker-emulated output on the market. Along with controls for Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Drive, the HT-DISTX features the patented Infinite Shape Feature, which lets you cover tones ranging from classic British tube amps to hefty, modern solid states.
MRSP: $249.99 | Head here for more info.
Dunlop GCB95F Crybaby Classic
Of all the Crybaby variations Dunlop manufactures in 2012, only one is called "Classic."
After all, this model, which, like Ibanez's Tube Screamer (See above), was recently reissued, features the much-sought-after Italian-made Fasel inductor. The Fasel was produced in the '60s — then went bye-bye for a few decades — but it's back, and the GCB95F Crybaby Classic has it under the hood.
What does this mean to you? You get the same tone that guitar heroes of past decades (including Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Michael Schenker and countless '80s icons) put to good use, namely that hard-to-put-into-words old-school "quack."
The unit also features heavy die-cast construction; a 100K ohm Hot Potz potentiometer that allows for a quick, abrupt wah sound; and true-bypass switching.
MSRP: $210.30 | Head here for more info.
MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90
Van Halen may have burst onto the scene in 1978, but make no mistake, Eddie Van Halen defined the sound of '80s rock guitar. King Edward was perhaps as influential for his choice of gear as he was for his playing, inspiring countless guitarists to throw a phaser in their rig right next to that extra can of hairspray.
As for getting that classic phase tone, it's always best to go straight to the source. The EVH Phase 90 from MXR is the result of a collaboration between Dunlop and Eddie Van Halen and is tailored by the man himself to be able to handle everything from "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" to "Eruption."
On top of its single knob for speed, the Phase 90 also features a discreet little button that lets you switch from between "Script Logo" and "Block Logo" phase tones, the latter being perfect for putting a harder edge on your phase sounds.
MRSP: $247.95 | Head here for more info.
Boss Super Chorus CH-1
Outside of Max Headroom and The Breakfast Club, it just doesn't get more '80s than chorus.
And if you're looking for an outstanding, reliable, long-lasting chorus pedal (whether you're a guitarist or a keyboard player), look no further than Boss' Super Chorus CH-1.
It delivers exactly what a chrous pedal should deliver: a swirling, clean, classic chorus sound with crystal-clear highs and an engaging stereo effect, variable between left and right speakers. Its Effect Level, EQ, Rate and Depth knobs let you dial in the exact sound "shape" you're after (from subtle vibe to lush wetness), and there are Mono input and Stereo outputs for connection to two amps.
The Boss even enables you to cut through during overdrive or distorted lead parts, and it sounds great regardless of where you have it lined up on your board.
MSRP: $154.50 | Head here for more info.
Right now, with more than 40 years of design experience and musical experimentation to draw on, we're in the midst of a golden age for guitar effect pedal users and makers. You can choose the original, pioneering vintage models or souped-up clones from more contemporary designers. In his guide, Guitar Effects Pedals - The Practical Handbook, Dave Hunter spells out the pros and cons of both. The book includes interviews revealing eight top pedal makers' diverse approaches to building effects. It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $24.99.