Zaim Audio Pedals

Mark Zaim is several galaxies distant from the VauxFlores concept. Zaim’s goal appears to be getting his overdrive pedals to sound as natural and organic as a tube amp as possible. Nothing shocking or bizarre, and no pedals “playing themselves”–just warm grit and a stout punch. Well, with one exception. His Obscene Fuzz actually flies quite close to something VauxFlores’ Travis Johns might dig: It just goes to show that there are few absolutes in the realm of musical artistry and engineering.

At this early stage in his pedal-producing career, Zaim makes every stompbox by himself in the USA, and definitely goes for the “DIY boutique” vibe. With fairly standard powder-coated chassis and knobs (although the Marshall-like controls on the Tubelicious OD and Hot Rod Metal Tubelicious OD are pretty trick), and the look of hand-lettered text on the front panels, the Zaim line could have been produced in my grandpa’s tinkerer’s shack. This is not a criticism, by the way. I dig homegrown pedals just as much as I appreciate the fantastic industrial design of the Ogre line. Both options can look cool and stunning on your pedalboard.

Every Zaim pedal features true-bypass switching, and can operate with either AC or DC power supplies, as well as 9-volt batteries. Each pedal is also shielded against RF noise, protected against incorrect power-supply polarity, and offers battery cable strain relief. Test guitars included a Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, and a Danelectro with lipstick tube pickups, and the amps were a Vox AC30, a Marshall JCM 900, and an Orange Tiny Terror.


The Harmonic Pump ($199 direct) is an excellent “more better” pedal. I’d also call it a “boost with benefits,” as it does double duty as a near transparent signal booster and an organic yet gritty overdrive. It’s rather amazing how much the Harmonic Pump lets you be you, until you decide you want a ruder you. What I mean is, the boost feature maintains the tonal character of your setup– as well as the dynamics of your fingers and pick against the strings–but clarifies them, as if you could afford a superstar guitar tech to mod your gear until it delivers every ounce of glorious sound available within. And then, you demand more growl and funkiness and raunch from that tech because you’ve turned into some power-mad guitar demon, and, voila, there it is. Except, in this instance, all you have to do is peg the Drive knob.

Of course, to accomplish this trick, the Harmonic Pump can’t overly compress input signals or get spiky at higher settings, and it doesn’t. It’s full-bandwidth boost and crunch here with no frequencies that appear to be hyped to goose attack or increase/decrease low end. The Harmonic Pump is also a very quiet pedal. Everything sounds as natural as you please, so this isn’t an appropriate choice for transforming your guitar tone. But, hey, if you really dig what ya got, but would love a touch more bliss, the Harmonic Pump will make you very happy indeed.


We’re in alphabetical order here, so the Hot Rod “Metal” ($209 direct) comes before the Zaim pedal that it is based on, which is the Tubelicious OD. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to keep things straight, but, if you’re nervous about it in any way, please feel free to skip down to the Tubelicious OD review and then pop back to this evaluation. Okay?

Basically, Mark Zaim decided to mod his own pedal, and punch up the character of the Tubelicious OD by incorporating three stages of complex clipping to offer more extreme, high-gain distortion tones. One of the trade-offs of his mod is a little less output than what is offered by the TOD, but you still get enough of a level boost to help solos cut through the band when playing onstage. Thanks to Mark’s organic nature, however, we’re still a few miles from Recto territory, and traveling in the land of “Old School Metal.” This is not a complaint, as the thick and soaring distortion tones are very amp-like and natural. It’s as if you just cranked up a vintage, non-master-volume Marshall to get that thrilling power and near-endless sustain, but didn’t have to blow out all the windows of your house to get there.

I didn’t so much drop a category on this pedal, as much as I simply enjoyed the un-hyped, organic distortion that made it tons of fun to play aggressive solos and bombastic riffs. The excitement factor always upped itself a notch or two when I kicked in the Hot Rod “Metal,” and, somehow, this box always snuck onto my pedalboard for gigs and sessions. Funny, huh?


Sometimes, I guess even “Mr. Organic” Mark Zaim has to go a little nutty, and the Obscene Fuzz ($179 direct) is his wild hair. But although his fuzz produces all the buzzes, sizzles, and searing sustain one would expect from a good fuzz pedal, he also managed to keep the tone very articulate and grounded. Go figure. So while the Obscene Fuzz certainly does not sound amplike, it also doesn’t totally obliterate note definition. You get all that cool, nasty, in-your-face fizzle, but when you play complex chords and arpeggios, you can hear exactly what you’re fingering. Along with the Volume and Fuzz controls, there’s also an Obscene switch that is supposed to unleash all manner of horrific nastiness, and, after playing with the VauxFlores fuzzes, I wondered how Zaim interpreted “nasty.” Well, flipping that switch does bring on a little more burn, sizzle, and compression, but again, you can still hear your note choices loud and clear. The Obscene Fuzz is a fabulous choice for when you want a part to get a little weird and buzzy, but can’t abide the spitting, sputtering, and dying-battery death throes produced by more feral fuzzes.


The Tubelicious OD ($199 direct) is kind of like Zaim’s “epic tone poem” of his commitment to delivering accurate amp sounds in a best overdrive pedal. It is brilliantly organic and transparent with no hyped mids or any sense of brittleness. When I did some punk-like muted downstrokes, the chunk was solid and punchy–no midrange pings, overly bright note attacks, or annoying string noises made the scene at all. It was as if I had plugged my guitar right into my Marshall or Vox AC30. Sexy! Note definition is excellent, even when you crank the Dirt knob. The Girth (or tone) control is very amp-like, as well, and sounds very natural across its spectrum. There’s just enough mids and low mids to refine your drive without sounding as if some over-exuberant recording engineer got obsessed with EQ tweaks in the studio. Like all four Zaim pedals, operation is fairly quiet. Audible hiss was never anywhere near objectionable.

Vox StompLab IG

No bigger than many single-effect stompboxes, the StompLab is a full-fledged processor with a sound engine equivalent to that featured on Vox‘s VT+ series modeling amps and ToneLab series multi-effect units. A study in minimalism, the StompLab‘s interface puts 103 effects and 100 preset sounds at your fingertips with an 11-position Category knob that has settings for Ballad, Jazz Fusion, Pop, Blues, Rock & Roll, Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, Hardcore, and Other (weird sounds). The last position, User, is where you click to for writing custom presets. There are also Gain and Level knobs that operate on any active preset, and also double as Value 1 and Value 2 controls (respectively) for adjusting parameters when in Edit mode (selected by a small button on the left side). Individual effect and amp models are selected with a pair of up/down buttons on the right side. Effect types include amps (44), drives (18), cabinets (12), pedals (8), modulations (9), delays (8), reverbs (3), and noise reduction. A maximum of eight effects can be used simultaneously when noise-reduction is active. All info is displayed in a 2-segment LED screen.

The two metal footswitches toggle you up or down through the ten presets available for each Category setting. Pressing both switches down momentarily activates the easy-to-read tuner, which uses three LEDs to indicate flat, sharp, and in-tune. This is also the StompLab‘s bypass mode.

StompLab‘s presets offer lots of ways to roll, from sparkling clean and beautifully chorused tones to shimmering tremolos to some very eerie sounds that explore the reaches of the rich modulations, juicy delays, and pristine reverbs. The amp sounds are rich and dynamic in feel, and along the way, there are plenty of happening tones for jazz, blues, and rock (many with well implemented distortion like top distortion pedal, delay, and reverb) and that’s all before you get to the Metal and Hardcore presets, which offer ten flavors each of grinding tones–some extremely sinister–that are fun to play and sound great for heavy standard-or drop-tuned rifting.

The StompLab offers an insane amount of bang for the buck, it stashes easily in a gig bag (just be mindful not to switch it on when stuffing cords, etc. around it), and is an ideal solution for players who want lots of sounds but don’t want to tote a full-sized multi-effector.

MC Systems Pedals

The modern effects pedal market is awash with a multitude of clever devices doing a multitude of clever things in a multitude of clever ways. And just when I thought I’d heard and seen it all, along comes a relatively new player from the land down under. MC Systems refers to their new Apollo line as “Dynamic Response” pedals, and although the suggestion that these pedals will change the way you play guitar is perhaps hyperbolic, they will surely make you re-think the limits of what effects pedals can do for your playing.

All MC Systems pedals are true bypass, can be powered by 9-volt batteries or external power supplies, come in cool black slip-case packaging, and are styled with a rugged, militaristic look. What really sets the Dynamic Response line of pedals apart is its patent-pending V-Switch located on the control face of each pedal. When the V-Switch is engaged, the amount of pressure used to enable the effect (basically how hard you stomp on the footswitch) changes the intensity of a given parameter. For instance, if you want more overdrive for the next song on your set list, simply stomp on your new NKM Dynamic Drive harder.

The sensitivity of the V-switch on each pedal can even be adjusted to “suit your shoe size” via a small access port on the bottom of each pedal. To top It off, each of the pedals Include a second footswitch labeled “Alternate,” which gives you Immediate access to a different preset parameter you might want to access quickly–such as a volume boost with a little extra sizzle for solos. Honestly, If this isn’t one of those “Why didn’t / think of that” situations, I don’t know what is.

To test these three MC Systems pedals, I used a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Vox AC30 and an Epiphone Valve Jr. head with a cabinet loaded with two Eminence P10R speakers.


With both single-coll and humbucker pickups the Dynamic Drive ($TBA) elicits warm and pleasing, medium to heavy overdrive, There was definitely more bite with the single-coils, but plenty of high end was evident with the humbuckers, too. Despite the pedal’s name, I felt that its dynamic qualities were not as responsive as they could have been. The pedal does produce a big tonal difference between light and heavy pick attacks-plenty of black vs. white, so to speak-but the shades of grey in between were slightly less obvious. However, that very trait also makes it a forgiving pedal for those with an Inclination to bash at the guitar, rather than caress it.

The Dynamic Drive really blossomed when I kicked in the V-Switch and added a little more preamp distortion to my test amps. Between the Drive, the V-Drive, and the Alternate presets, you can create a variety of great fat, punchy, or saturated guitar tones for almost any type of gig. And, best of all, with three separate presets, you’ll never have to bend over during the show (or during a song) to make tonal adjustments.


Chorus, delay, and other types of modulation effects are where I think the V-Switch technology can–and will–really shine, Like the Dynamic Drive, the Hybrid Chorus ($TBA) can provide multiple, on-the-fly settings to a player simply by engaging the footswitch. The true-bypass pedal offers controls for Depth, V-Depth, Rate, Alternate Rate, and Level, Once I got used to manipulating the controls, the V-Switch footswitch and the Alternate footswitch enabled me to achieve everything from lush swirls to watery vibrato effects to rotary speaker sounds, and even some interesting detunes. While the overall tonal quality of the pedal can be considered warm, It also reminded me more of the brighter, digital-sounding chorus pedals of the mid ’80s–only with more flexibility, and far more control over the parameters that make a good chorus pedal a “must have” In every guitarist’s arsenal. The level of versatility makes the BSL Hybrid Chorus unique among most other current chorus pedals.


The apparently strangely named String Reviver ($TBA) is really like a cross between a Sonic Maximizer and a treble booster. First off, it actually does do exactly what its name implies–which is add clarity and brightness to guitar strings. With the String Reviver engaged, every tiny detail in my playing technique was brought Into tight focus. It also added air and zip to a dark-sounding, humbucker-equipped electric, and the single-coils on my Stratocaster suddenly had a wonderful feel of space and acoustic-like definition.

The controls include Definition, V-Definition, Slope, Level, and Alt-Level, When the V-Definition parameter is engaged everything becomes even more pronounced. The Level and Alt-Level controls can be used to match your bypassed signal, or to set up one or even two levels of boost–which is very useful for blasting solos and riffs out of a live band mix. My only concern is that the pedal produces audible hiss when either of the Definition controls are set past the 2 o’clock position.

VauxFlores Gold Standard and Platano Verde


Designed in collaboration with Baltimore-based composer, violist, and visual artist Liz Meredith, the Gold Standard ($119 direct) is described as a “stripped down” version of the 24. It certainly has all the untamed sizzle that the 24 is capable of–and more–and flies the flag of its buzz-saw sound proudly. There is practically no option here for anything but madness. If you want a totally jacked-up tone, this is your altar. It spits and it sputters and it sounds broken–although you can dial back the insanity to actually hear notes clearly if you start getting a bit timid. The Volume knob provides a significant increase in level (about 12dB)–which is helpful if you want the more extreme sounds of the Gold Standard to cut through a band mix–and, with everything set just right, you can get almost endless sustain. I don’t say this lightly: Take care. This pedal may have the power to destroy the world.


The Platano Verde ($89 direct) is perhaps the most “normal” fuzz in the VauxFlores line. You just get a Tone and a Volume control, and the basic sound is bright, buzzy, and fizzy. It’s a good fit for psychedelic ramblings, industrial noises, and just any riff that you want to scream out of a mix with an intense and unconventional frazzle. Johns says he based the Platano Verde on schematics he found in Brazilian electronics magazines from the 1970s. Another factoid is that this is one of the VauxFlores pedals with artwork actually made by a human being–the Costa Rican artist Paulina Velazquez-Solis.

VauxFlores 23 – 24

VauxFlores pedals are created by experimental composer, sound artist, and inventor Travis Johns, who states, “Conventional tools tend not to yield unconventional results.” Well, Johns isn’t going after the conventional, He admits straight out that his designs are focused on the underground.

We’re not looking for the brown, green, or blue sound, or the perfect approximation of a particular player’s aesthetics,” he says. “We have no desire to produce a compelling clone of the commonplace, What we are after Is something Just far enough off the beaten path to be sonically interesting, yet functionally useful–high quality, rugged, complex, and Just a little raunchy at heart.”

At present, Johns produces these pedals in small batches, and offers them for sale online through Etsy and Reverb. None of the pedals are battery powered, as the company is not down with the environmental impact of used 9-volters. You’ll need a 9-volt power supply, inside the casing, the hand-built pedals are wired simply and elegantly. Although the sounds of these pedals are pretty arty and extreme, VauxFlores does a great job of informing buyers about exactly what they are in for by posting several SoundCloud audio examples for each model. In other words, you can’t say you weren’t warned. For our tests, we used a Gibson Les Paul through a 50-watt Marshall DSL 2000 set to Its clean channel, and cranked up pretty loud, as well as a Reverend Reeves Gabrels Signature Spacehawk through a Vox AC30.

The VauxFlores Number 23

When I first plugged Into this pedal and nudged up the amp volume, the 23 ($179 direct) started playing itself with a series of rhythmic gurgles, spritzes, buzzes, and gronks. It was a bit of a shock at first, but given that I knew I was in wacky performance-art land, I just enjoyed the impromptu concert. Controlling the 23 is often an expression of ego, rather than practical reality. You can adjust the Blend, Volume, Tone, and Feedback knobs, and perhaps even fool yourself into thinking you know what you are doing, but beware–the highly interactive controls have a mind of their own, and sound crafting is more an act of accepting what you are given than tweaking tones to your desires. None of this was a bummer–at least to me–and I thoroughly enjoyed all the surprises that the 23 delivered.

This is an extreme fuzz with a hint of an octave effect, and-well I can’t say this.better than the VauxFlores website–“heterodyned, atonal artifacts.” What this means for creating music is that, um, you may have to reorient your definition of “music.” I found the weird blastold undulations to be marvelous for adding strange harmonic figures under chords, and, when deployed subtly on single-note lines, you can still discern enough of the melody to utilize the part as a front-and-center hook–that is, if the hook line was performed by tipsy alien lifeforms. Again, this is a very good thing. Everything the 23 does Is abnormal, and everything you play through it will demand attention.

As a closing note, the 23’s front-panel graphic was derived from Johns’ Bioprinting I piece that used amplified earthworms to create the art. Here’s where you say, “of course …”

The VauxFlores Number 24

The 24 ($169 direct) is a high-gain, three-transistor fuzz with a good amount of tweaking options. It has knobs to control Voltage, Bias 1, Bias 2, Fuzz, and Volume, as well as a tone switch that lets you choose between a frequency spectrum best suited for guitar or one tailored for bass. The Voltage control determines the amount of spitting and sputtering, and the two Bias knobs let you dial in fuzz that ranges from mild to over-the-top grind. All controls are very interactive, and, believe it or not, experimenting with the knobs can also produce some very dynamic effects–it’s not all about tortured buzz here. The level of tweakability makes the 24 a fabulous choice if you want to buy into the VauxFlores concept, but feel that you might not always want to deploy weird and feral snarls. Here, you can actually go “subtle” with your fuzz. Imagine that.

The only complaint I have with this pedal is the position of the on/off switch. It is too close to the knobs for Fuzz and Volume, which makes it difficult to stomp on the 24 in the heat of a performance and not have my boot either slip on the knobs or change their positions. An interesting note is that the 24’s front-panel artwork is derived from data-bent imagery that included input sounds by the pedal itself–which means the 24 kind of generated its own art.

Review – Hotone Skyline Series Guitar Pedal

Honey, who shrunk the pedals?

Okay. Sorry. But it’s a challenge not making tiny teensy bitty micro mini comments when discussing the Hotones, as they are most probably the smallest stompboxes ever manufactured. It’s certainly a tribute to technology that you can offer a full line of effects in casings that take up less physical space than a kindergartener’s juice box. In addition, the extreme compactness of these pedals is a major benefit for guitarists who travel to “fly gigs,” take cabs everywhere, can’t manage heavy gear, or have simply wished for a rig that can fit into one pocket of their gig bags. Heck, I can fit a delay and a fuzz in the front pocket of my jeans and still have room for bus change.

But radical miniaturization can also have a downside, as it’s difficult to fit circuitry, control knobs, and 1/4″ jacks in such tight quarters without perhaps compromising durability. However, it was impressive just how gig tough these minis are. I tossed them like dog treats across cement floors, stomped on them like some crazed elephant, and plugged and unplugged cables and power supplies into each pedal with no ill effects. Also, although the top control knobs are mini-sized, they are surprisingly easy to turn–even with stubby fingers.

While the Hotones may look like a pack of overfed Jelly Bellies, they are certainly not sonic jokes, toys, or trinkets. Each pedal in the line is truebypass (except the Wally looper), and all have analog circuitry, with the exception of the digital delay chip in the Eko. Everything in the Skyline Series sounds very good and can stand knob-to-knob with other like pedals in the same price range–which is $79 street for everything except the $89 street Wally looper. Here’s a quick survey of the pedals currently available, -mm

  • Blues Overdive

There’s good amp-like response and organic overdrive here. Even at higher raunch settings, the sound is very articulate without being overly bright.

  • Choir Chorus

This is a nice analog chorus with a detuning feature. It can do the job, but it doesn’t produce an especially lush or sensual shimmer.

  • Chunk Vintage Crunch

This is a ballsy distortion modeled after the Brit biggies. The Hot switch adds a mid/treble boost that increases both airiness and punch. Nice stack tones.

  • Eko Delay

Up to 500ms of delay is available within this digital delay pedal, and notes are reproduced clearly–even multiple feedback repeats. The Mod switch brings on those groovy modulated decays.

  • FuryFuzz

No shortage of Hendrix-inspired frizz and frazz here. A very ’60s-voiced fuzz that can deliver thicker and darker buzz when the Push button is active.

  • Grass Modern Overdrive

Nice “subtle” reference to stoner rock here, and this pedal definitely evokes the blistered growl of bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon.

  • Komp Opto Compressor

Unless you go for the lowest settings, this Is definitely compression that you hear. No subtle grab–it’s full-on squash with all notes ringing tough and evenly. I didn’t hear any pumping, breathing, or other artifacts.

  • Lift Up Clean Boost

There’s a good amount of level pumping here for sending solos or riffs over the band mix, and a Warm button to calm the attack if you hit the front end of your amp too hard. Very stout and articulate.

  • Trem Analog Tremolo

Inspired by the tremolo circuit on the Fender Twin, the Trem does speak vintage warble. It can also do slicer-type effects, as well as emulate the sexy swagger of the Smiths’ classic intro to “How Soon Is Now.”

  • Wally Mini Guitar Loop Station

So incredible that you can get a working looper down to this size, and keep operation very basic and functional. There’s up to 15 minutes of loop memory available, one memory slot, and unlimited overdubs. All loops are solid and clean with no signal degradation over multiple overdubs.

  • Whip Metal Distortion

Insane amounts of sustain with a high-midrange boost spoken quite loudly here. But even if you go for a massively saturated and aggro distortion tone, pushing the Edge button ensures that you’ll still hear every note you play.