If you follow Signal Chain it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re familiar with the world of boutique guitar pedals and you are slowly making your way through a long wishlist with each and every pay cheque, trying to rouse as little suspicion from your significant other as possible.
From the outside looking in, many a partner could be misled to believe that this rowdy fraternity of guitar nerds is a support group for people who pay too much money for any circuit not made by Roland Corp. But, of course, anyone worth their weight in gold Klons knows that The Pursuit of Tone is not a passing fad - boutique is for people who give a Rat.
I started my journey into this world a few years ago after realising that my digital modelling amp with midi-controller could no longer cut it against the glowing tubes and large stomp box-filled floorboards that all my friends seemed to be using. I felt quite out of the loop - so many brands I’d never seen and terminology I’d never heard. But, I could not deny that the sound these guys were making was unbelievably good.
Jump ahead to present day and I have an almost overflowing pedalboard of colour and tone that goes beyond what I'd ever imagined. But, there have been times when I've attempted to explain the need for all these expensive little boxes, and it wasn't easy. I mean, what the heck is boutique anyway!?
At first I thought boutique was just about having options. If you've ever taken a look at the Bearfoot FX lineup you’ll know what I mean - their lineup includes the Honey Bee, Honey Beest and Uber Bee, which you can get as a Standard Edition or Limited Edition. Many of their pedals also come as a 3-knob version or a 4-knob version, if you choose. But, all that being said, I don’t think options is what sets boutique apart from the rest...
Perhaps boutique is more about a sense of style and aesthetics? Certainly, Josh Scott and the team at JHS Pedals could be proof of that. Their hand-painted masterpieces could hang in a gallery, as far as I'm concerned. And, Paul Hanna's work on the Sick As and Del Mar overdrives for Bondi Effects is simply delicious!
On the other hand a quick look inside an Emerson Customs EM-Drive would reveal hand-made paper in oil capacitors and perfect soldering that is all done by the owner - Mitch Ingram - which could lead one to think that boutique is all about using the finest components.
But, surely boutique is all about rich, expressive ear-candy!? I mean, one listen to a Flux Effects Liquid Ambience pedal will leave any self-respecting guitarist in jaw-dropped awe! Mike Weavers’, we salute you, sir.
I happen to believe that boutique guitar pedals encompass all of these traits. They are audio effectors for the audiophile, built with top quality components, designed to appeal to the eye as much as the ear and they are lovingly built by people who have passion for their craft.
Yes, sometimes that does mean that they’re more expensive than what the other guys pump out of chinese factories faster than Joe Satriani’s fingers shred notes. But, the value inside each one of those colourful little metal enclosures goes far beyond the sum of the parts.
To me, boutique means buying the very best so I can play my very best. I want each pedal on my board to be so good that it inspires me to write and play at the top of my game. It is an endless pursuit and no one ever really arrives. But, that’s part of the fun - I will never get bored and I will never settle for average.