Tips on Vintage Effects for Guitars
Many vintage effects pedals and stand-alone units have sacred names out there in guitarland. Major artists will name-check them reverentially in magazine interviews; players will discuss them in hallowed tones on discussion sites; and vintage dealers will charge you enormous sums to get your hands on the more prized examples. It will cost you a small fortune to acquire anything like a Maestro Echoplex, Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster, or a Sola Sound Tone Bender in good original condition. But the magical properties assigned to such units and others might lead you to believe you really need some vintage effects in your signal chain if you hope to sound half decent. Before diving in out of some implied necessity, however, you should weigh up the vintage-effects issue thoroughly.
As stellar as some vintage effects units sound, they are often of inconsistent tone and/or quality, and some have aged better than others, too. If your expensive fuzz box is working now, what are the chances it will stop working halfway through a song at an important gig? It's often hard to tell. And consider this for some perspective: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and other legendary artists who helped forge the rep that many of these old effects now have were playing those things because that's all that was available. If they had been playing newer 21st-century effects sent back to the 1960s in a time machine, you can bet they'd sound just as good. Further, skilled modern-day effects makers can re-create most of the more highly sought-after vintage circuits, and often do so in units that are more consistent and more rugged, have less background noise, are more flexible, and sell for a far lower cost. If you feel you must have a particular vintage unit but are worried about your budget or the dependability of the piece, search the web for re-creations and reissues of the thing. In most instances, you'll find several to choose from.
Many of the undeniably great vintage effects can be a lot of fun to play with, for sure, and plenty of them have earned their reputations for good reason. There are alternatives, though, which in most cases will save you money. Explore before you buy, and consider whether you want to be a collector or a player.