Written by Ellie Mckinsey of knowyourinstrument.com
It’s safe to say there is no shortage of guitar effects pedals on the market these days. From boutique units to budget bargains to market-leading mid-range pedals, there are enough options to fill your pedalboard a thousand times over.
Here’s the thing, though:
People keep gravitating back to vintage guitar pedals.
Maybe it’s the desire to replicate one’s heroes, or perhaps the simple act of gear snobbery associated with many guitar circles. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the inescapable vintage goodness that these pedals have been serving up for decades now.
In this article, we’re going to dive into the origins of five classic effects pedals that are found time and time again on-stage and in the studio and uncover why we just can’t get enough of these old-school pedals.
5 Classic Effects Pedals & Their Origins
Ibanez Tube Screamer TS9
The original Tube Screamer, the TS808, was developed in the late 70s, ran through several iterations across roughly a decade before eventually being repackaged as the TS9.
Though mostly the same internally, the output section of the TS9 differs somewhat, resulting in a brighter and more cutting tone compared to the TS808.
For many, though, this is a preference, with legends such as The Edge from U2 running a TS9 as part of their overdrive chain.
Though the TS9 was (and is) a drive pedal, many guitarists use the pedal with a fairly low gain setting, opting to use it as a tasty form of boost into the front end of a tube amp.
One look at the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble tells you this is one vintagepedal.
Based around the Matsushita BBD MN3002 chip and originally released in 1976, the CE-1 circuit had already been used in the Roland JC120 Jazz Chorus amp, which is one of the best selling amps of all time.
Recognizing just how much guitarists loved the chorus effect in the JC120, Boss pulled the circuit out of the amp and rehoused it in a pedal format.
Tonally, it’s essentially the same, though with the CE-1 you get separate controls for vibrato and chorus effects, whereas the same control is used for both options on the JC120.
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
EHX has dropped several iterations of the Memory Man since its original release in 1976, many of them offering several more features.
Still, many still flock to the original unit, and we can see why.
The Memory Man is an analog, bucket brigade delay pedal with just three controls: delay, blend, and feedback. That’s all you need to get that warm, modulated delay tone we know and love from the Memory Man.
Soon after, a Deluxe version of the pedal was offered, with a level knob, a ‘Squelch’ knob, and a red and blue livery, which has inspired most of the current Memory Man lineup.
MXR Phase 90
The quintessential phaser pedal, MXR’s Phase 90, was propelled to fame by Van Halen, as popularized on Eruption.
The pedal was originally released in 1974, now known as the Script Phase 90, due to the logo used on the bright orange unit. A few years later, it was replaced with a new design featuring the now-classic MXR block logo.
Due to its status, the Script pedal is the most sought after version, though they sound more or less the same.
The ProCo RAT is a distortion pedal used all over rock and punk records for its dirty, gritty sound.
The pedal was born out of a repair and hot-rodding project by engineers Scott Burnham and Steve Kiraly, and there have been a whole bunch of different iterations over the years, with the first iteration, known as the “Bud Box” RAT being produced in 1978.
From 78-91, ProCo produced The Rat, with a second version being produced for another two years. Two more models followed, the Small Box RAT and the R2DU, until the RAT 2 came to the surface in 1988.
The RAT 2 has been produced ever since and is the one that’s been used the most, mainly due to its availability.