It's no secret that a lot of pedal makers have taken Tube Screamer circuits and changed out certain components to achieve a similar, but different sound. They've done the same with Big Muff circuits, Fuzz Face circuits and a host of others. This is taking an idea and adding something that they felt is lacking in the original design or using better components and trying to create a better version of it. It's fun and creative and a lot of pedal builders seem to start off this way, as more and more people become aware of what they are doing. Analogman and Keeley both offer their version of the tweaked Tube Screamer with slightly different sounds than the current reissue. So, if you buy a current reissue TS-9 and would like it sound slightly different you can do the research and send it to someone to tweak.
For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to refer to clones as something where they have copied a circuit often using cheaper components, but are naming it differently and the pedal looks very different than the original. I've talked about the Joyo Ultimate Drive which is a clone of the Fulltone OCD. The parts are cheaper, the battery door doesn't close and I wouldn't expect it to stand up on the road like a Fulltone. I've also read that some of the Joyo pedal clones are closer in sound quality than others.
A forgery on the other hand is made to look identical and may or may not be sold to an unsuspecting buyer as an original. The forgery often uses inferior components and it may sound similar, but is rarely as good the real thing. Once again, I wouldn't expect it hold up if your thinking of touring with it.
But I know the argument
Several years ago I worked for an artist supply store where we sold a brand of airbrush that was very expensive, at one point one of our sales reps brought us another airbrush that was identical for less than a third of the price. As it turns out, the more expensive brand was having this company build their product for them and now the manufacturer was re-branding it under another name and undercutting them. A lot of our artists were thrilled to have a high quality airbrush for $60 instead of paying the premium price of almost $200.
With a little bit of research you can find instructions for building fuzz pedals for $25 in parts. So, if a pedal builder is doing this and selling it $200 I can see where people would be upset. Visual Sound is a company who make no bones about the fact that their pedals are built overseas, they make a very good sounding and durable product at an affordable price. Most companies buy at least some of their parts overseas because they are not manufactured in the USA. MXR and EHX both use overseas parts, but do their final assembly and quality testing in the US. Both are very affordable.
What to look out for
So what about the forgeries? I read a sad story the other day from a dealer who said that a guy brought in his new guitar for a setup. He had just bought what he thought was used, but good condition Gibson Zakk Wylde Bullseye signature guitar off of eBay. It was a fake. This guy had spent a great deal of hard earned money on this guitar and it was not a very well built guitar. These new forgery pedals have the logos and looks and possibly the similar sounds, but are not built well. If you got a great deal on a used Wampler Triple Wreck on eBay only to get it and realize it's not as good as the one your friend has would you be upset? Or worse, if you got one and didn't have one to compare it to and it broke or didn't sound good would you then trash Wampler to your friends? Then talk about what a piece of junk it was? Now, you're hurting an honest guy who has worked hard to build a great business. You might even like the real product. Do you see where this goes? No where good. Nothing good comes of it. Something else I would like to add is that I believe that this happens in the Vintage guitar market more than people would like to admit. If someone can fake a guitar that sells for 30,000 dollars for under $1200 I'm pretty sure someone is doing it.
It comes down to: know your product, know your supplier, know the return policy, and if a deal looks to good to be true, it probably is. I'd like to add that while we hear a lot of about these awful Chinese companies who are ripping off companies, I think that there are a lot good companies in China who are trying to better their quality and make an honest living.
|Know your product|
A Few Things to Think About
A few companies like Lava Cable and VFE pedals make every effort they can to buy quality parts from US manufactures. This of course creates more jobs in the US, but you may have to pay a higher price. It should be noted that both Lava Cable and VFE have more affordable options in their lines that are priced at similar price points to their overseas competitors.
Having a pedal won't make you a better player. I really do believe that the sound of your guitar and amp is the most important thing. If you're not happy with that sound you probably won't be happy when you add in a pedal. If you like to learn and research stuff, there is a lot you can learn about building circuits so can you build a pedal that sounds the way you want.
I've read a lot of interviews with smaller builders and they often talk about tolerances in electronics. They may specify a certain value in an electronic component but when they receive their shipment they often find that they have to test and sort each little component one by one to find the ones that actually are within acceptable limits.
Something else to think about is that if your not supporting the creative people who are creating and designing these products they won't keep doing it if they aren't making a living. They will be forced to go do something else. Most of these guys aren't making a fortune, they are creating a business that supports their families and sometimes a handful of other people.
I think that there is a market for most of these different types of builders. Whether they are tweaking a circuit, building a clone, or trying to come up with something completely original. If their goal is to provide affordable quality options for real world musicians that is a worthy goal. If their goal is to only buy parts for their products from their home country, whatever that country is, I think that is awesome and patriotic. I personally would like to see more transparency from companies, I appreciate what Visual Sound does, as well as companies like MXR and Wampler and Analogman. But I drawn the line at forgery.