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5 pedals that nail ‘80s guitar tones

Strymon DIG
(Image credit: Strymon)

The '80s will always represent the pinnacle of rock ’n’ roll decadence. Considering the bank-breaking record advances and the extravagant arena tours, a guitarist’s gear in the '80s had to be just as over-the-top as his or her look, whether that involved Spandex or nail-spiked armbands (or both, with a side order of cowboy boots and completely out-of-place ersatz military hats. We’re lookin’ at you, Poison!).  

Yeah, it was a great time to be a great guitarist – but let us not forget that the '80s wasn’t all about hair metal. You had your Tube Screamin’ Stevie Ray Vaughan, your heavy Bay Area metal, the studio-born brilliance of Toto’s Steve Lukather, Frank Zappa’s unique tones and, of course, the phaser-, chorus- and/or reverb-drenched worlds of guys like James Honeyman-Scott, Johnny Marr and Andy Summers. 

This list – at least this month – is geared more toward those sounds. But hey, if you can’t get enough hair metal (and, really, who can?), head on over to our exclusive excerpt from Nöthin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion. Enjoy!

1. JHS Pedals Space Commander

JHS Pedals Space Commander

(Image credit: JHS Pedals)

The Space Commander brings you the spacey sounds of Eighties-inspired chorus and reverb with a powerful clean boost on board. With simple controls and the ability to use each effect separately or engage all three effects with one stomp, you’ll find yourself fully in command of your spacial exploration. 

The “Boost” is a simple but powerful transistor boost that can be used to give your rig more volume or send your amp into natural breakup, perfect for tube amps. The “Chorus” is a swirling Eighties-style chorus. 

The “Reverb” is a hall reverb that’s just right for adding Eighties-style decay to your sound. The Reverb knob controls your reverb mix, from fully dry to fully wet.


2. Keeley Electronics Bubble Tron Dynamic Flanger Phaser – $199

Keeley Electronics Bubble Tron

(Image credit: Keeley Electronics)

The Bubble Tron combines several “vintage effect classics that never were” in one stompbox. Inspired by the sounds of Frank Zappa, the pedal packs filter, sample and hold, dyna flange and dyna phase effects, accessed via three modes: filter, phase and flange. 

The dynamic flanger and phaser respond to pick attack, which starts and stops the effect; the phaser also offers a more typical LFO-based swirl. Kicking in the filter, meanwhile, engages keyboard-like sounds and allows players to control its different ramps or set it to a more random nature using shape and sensitivity knobs. 


3. Maxon Apex808 – $300

Maxon Apex 808

(Image credit: Maxon)

You won’t need the Ancestry app to trace the genesis of the new Apex808 because all you need to know is the Apex808 is designed by Susumu Tamura, the creator of the original and legendary Tube Screamer. 

Improving on your creation requires a modicum of obsession, which explains why Tamura examined more than 100 vintage and current production TS-808 and OD variants over a three-year period and concluded the best-sounding ones contained a particular brand and model of OpAmp, but more curiously, ones from a certain production period. 

Needless to say, Tamura was able to procure a stockpile of these coveted ICs to incorporate into the design of the Apex808, and the rest, they say, is history.


4. Boss MT-2W Metal Zone – $149.99

Boss MT-2W Metal Zone

(Image credit: Boss)

Despite being one of the most controversial pedals in the Boss lineup – or the pedal that contains the sinister 5G microchip inserted in the COVID-19 vaccine, if you believe conspiracy theorists – the MT-2W has been a commercial success since its initial release, and has been in continuous production ever since. 

For every detractor there’s a player like Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro, who’s found a great tone with the MT-2 and has just cracked on with it. With a second mode that offers a djenty vibe, the Waza Metal Zone has a drier tone than the original and is less prone to oscillation with the gain up. 

The question is not whether this is a worthy heir to the Metal Zone; the question is, as Spinal Tap might have asked, “How much more metal could this be?” And the answer is none. None more metal.


5. Strymon DIG Dual Digital Delay – $199

Strymon Dig

(Image credit: Strymon)

The Strymon DIG Dual Digital Delay unearths the true soul of digital delay and doubles it into two simultaneous, integrated delays for incredible expressive potential. 

The DIG features three voicings: the early Eighties adaptive delta modulation mode, the mid-Eighties 12-bit pulse code modulation mode and the modern high-resolution 24/96 mode. 

You also can set up your two delays in one of three configurations. Series is like setting up pedals in a chain on your board, feeding Delay 2 into Delay 1. Parallel will orient your delay lines so that they remain independent – Delay 1 in the left channel and Delay 2 in the right channel.

With Ping Pong, each delay acts as a ping-pong delay, interacting together when both Mix knobs are turned up.