Boutique guitar pedals – what are they and why do guitarists love them?

The cream of the stompbox crop, boutique guitar pedal companies serve up the very best quality, innovation and design in the business.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

Boutique guitar pedals – you love ’em or you hate ’em. We tend to lean towards the former side, as you’ve got to admire a pedal that goes beyond the basic functions of what guitar pedal is built to do. Boutique effects help us push the boundaries of guitar tone and brighten up our pedalboards.

Here’s a quick summary of what a boutique guitar pedal is:

  • A premium guitar pedal with a unique effect
  • Made using high quality components
  • Usually features custom artwork
  • Highly exclusive with only a few pieces made yearly

There’s an intrinsic “fun-ness” about boutique pedals; whether that’s through being able to create a unique effect, producing top-in-class tone or offering exciting artwork to look at. If you’re ever lacking the motivation to pick up the guitar or make new music, they’re one of a few things able to turn the situation around. But we’re not going to beat around the bush, they’ll cost you a lot more than your average stompbox – maybe two or three times more for the privilege of owning one. So, are they worth it?

walrus audio boutique guitar pedals

Boutique vs Mass Production guitar pedals

We hear you say: “All my Boss pedals are way more usable in a real playing environment, they’re much more compact and are half the price!”

We’re not here to knock mass production pedals. They’ve influenced some of the most famous songs ever written. You have to respect their versatility, longevity and simple plug-in-and-play application. The likes of Boss and Electro Harmonix pedals are relatively cheap and quickly add a new sound to your arsenal. You know exactly what you’re getting from them – but that can be a problem down the line. At some point you’ll probably want a pedal to help you break out of your comfort zone and spark your creativity. Boutique effects do exactly that.

Many boutique stompboxes produce radically different effects to the norm. Sometimes they’re completely experimental, creating weird and wacky sounds with very specific uses. Other times, they’re adding a unique twist to a classic formula. Boutique pedals expand on all sorts of creative avenues for guitarists to explore in a songwriting environment. We simply wouldn’t be able to push sonic boundaries as easily or as rapidly as we do without them.

Why do Boutique guitar pedals cost so much?

Boutique effects cost more than any other type of pedal because of their lengthy construction time and high-end components. A few companies opt to hand-wire their pedals instead of using printed circuit boards (PCB) like you’d find in mass produced pedals. This allows them to fit in larger capacitors and transistors that aren’t PCB-compatible, which result in superior tone. The process also means hand-crafted pedals are extremely labour intensive and require a lot of skill to make.

Manufacturers like these only make a handful of pedals a year. It’s quite the exclusive club to own a boutique stompbox!

strymon boutique guitar pedal

Who makes boutique guitar pedals?

Boutique pedals come in all shapes, sizes and functions, with each manufacturer setting out a distinct creative design to stand out from the rest. Andertons stock a huge variety of guitar pedals and we’re lucky enough to have some of the most famous boutique brands around. Here are just a few of them:

Creative pedals

The crazier the better seems to be the principle for many boutique companies. Earthquaker Devices and Red Panda are prime examples, with their oddball effects pedals famed for truly niche tones. They might not be the ideal choice for everyone, but if you can work just one weird pedal into your sound, the payoff is absolutely worth it.

Walrus Audio pedals are a great choice if you’re looking for something less “out there”. A lot of these Oklahoma-based creations contain hidden features, unlocking awesome new sounds such as a momentary bypass and burst, adjustable noise gates and tap tempo syncing with other pedals. No doubt one of the most innovative names in the game.

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High-end pedals

Sometimes, boutique guitar pedals simply aim to be the very best. And in quite the shock turnaround, digital effects now rule the roost when it comes to out-and-out effect quality and tinkering depth. Strymon and Eventide are the standout picks here with a host of pedals geared towards reverb, delay, modulation and more. You get a vast amount of parameters to play with for each effect. Stereo connections, MIDI compatibility and software content updates are all considered standard at these prices. Now, you could argue these brands don’t quite fall under the boutique category. But at prices like these, that’s the aspect that makes them so limited to your average guitarist.

It’s not quite the end of the line for analogue pedals: we still have Vemuram and Origin Effects flying the flag high for authentic analogue tone. Their expertise firmly remains in the realms of overdrive and compression, two types of effects you simply can’t match when made using anything other than hand-wired circuits.

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Workstation pedals

Geared towards the sound designers out there, workstation pedals jam anything and everything from a specific effect type into what is usually a larger rectangular chassis. All-encompassing workstation stompboxes are similar to the aforementioned high-end pedals, but focus on a single effect like reverb, and generally incorporate more experimental sounds. They give you loads of dials and switches to explore. The likes of Meris, Keeley Electronics and Chase Bliss Audio all specialise in the building of these tonal powerhouses.

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Stylish artwork pedals

A great piece of pedal art could be all it takes to inspire your guitar playing. Lots of guitarists just want something nice to look at when they’re clicking away on their pedals. We’re an easy bunch to please! Some of the most aesthetically pleasing artwork comes in the form ZVEX, Jam Pedals, JHS Pedals and Old Blood Noise.

They’re not only about looks – all sound absolutely stunning too. ZVEX are pioneers in fuzz and were one of the first boutique brands about. Jam Pedals are beautifully crafted in Greece and boast a wide variety of both electric guitar and bass pedals. JHS Pedals are renowned for their modded variations of famous production pedals and old school-inspired range, while Old Blood Noise lurk in the misty corners of ambient, shoegazer tone.

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If you enjoyed this read, check out more of our Learn and Industry articles!

Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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