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Fender Debuts Pedal Collection

...the designer to do it. In a NAMM Show introduction, Fender debuted a lineup of six pedals delivering what the company calls “new options for the musician’s creative toolbox.” Constructed in sleek anodized aluminum, each in its own color, they include: the Santa Ana Overdrive, Pugilist Distortion, Marine Layer Reverb, Mirror Image Delay, The Bends Compressor, and Level Set Buffer. Most of the design work was done by Stan Cotey, Fender’s vice president of product development, who’s served in a series of design and development roles during 12 years with the company. When it came time to take on pedals, Cotey says, “This didn’t start with market analysis or seeing what kinds of niches we could fill. It started from the standpoint of trying to do something different. There are no clones here.”

Demoed during a showcase at New York’s Home Studios in February, this is a range of pedals made to straddle the line between their Fender heritage and something more experimental. Some features, like the jewel LEDs that make them visible from across a dark stage, borrow from elsewhere in the Fender family—in this case, amplifiers. Others, like their patent-pending 9V battery doors built for speedy on-stage battery changes, are brand new. As for the tone-shaping circuitry inside, it’s entirely original. As Fender CEO Andy Mooney says, “Contemporary guitarists define their unique sound using high-quality guitars, high-quality tube and digital amps, and an array of high-quality effects pedals. We lead the market in guitars and amps because we’ve listened to feedback from artists at every level for seven decades. We took exactly the same approach developing our new pedal offering. This is a long-term commitment on our part.”

While it has the feel of a new venture, this is not Fender’s first swing at guitar effects. In the 1950s the company developed a volume-tone pedal that remained in the Fender lineup for the next three decades. The 1960s brought the spring reverb that became Fender’s most celebrated effects product up to this point. In the years that followed, the company rolled out several other pedals, most of them “one-offs” and some of them collaborations with other manufacturers. Although some became classics, none of them led to a sustained effort in the pedal realm. “We’d make something,” says Cotey, “and then sometimes 20 years would go by before we did the next thing.”

So it’s the idea of a complete pedal family, like a whole album instead of a single, that makes this a different kind of project for Fender. “Why Fender pedals?” poses Fender’s Richard Bussey, director of product development for accessories and pedals. “Why are we getting into this space when it’s already such a crowded market? Well, we did it because we’ve got the mad genius of the industry, Stan Cotey, working for us. Stan is a true audiophile with the best ear I’ve ever encountered.”

A longtime guitar player with decades of technical experience, Cotey designed Fender’s new pedals from the pen-and-paper schematic phase up through prototyping, play-testing, and final design. “How it gets to sitting on a shelf as a finished product is a whole journey in itself,” says Cotey. “Part of it is technical and part of it is inspirational. There’s a great informality in electronics design for pedals, where you’re not dealing with lethal voltages. If you make a design mistake, it can be a really beautiful mistake that sounds amazing.”

When the finished pedal line debuted, Fender had six pedals representing six different tonal concepts. A classic overdrive pedal, the Santa Ana Overdrive is Fender’s take on re-creating the vintage sounds of overdriven tube amps. The Pugilist Distortion, described as a “dual-gain destroyer,” is designed for heavyweight gain with two distortion engines offering separate tone controls. In the Marine Layer Reverb, Fender delivers six high-quality digital reverb models designed to bring sparkle and dimension to the guitar’s tone. The Mirror Image Delay, or “sound reflector,” carries with it six digital delay modes for effects ranging from a touch of depth to an entire soundscape built from modulated repeats. In The Bends, the Fender team created a compressor pedal made to even out volume spikes while preserving tone. Finally, the Level Set Buffer is designed for players who play multiple guitars through the same rig, keeping the sound quality up and the signal path pure without the need to change settings for each instrument.

“The ideas for these come from all over,” says Cotey. “Sometimes it comes from learning something new about electronics. Sometimes it comes from having a conversation with another player. Sometimes it comes from experiencing something, sound-wise, and thinking there’s got to be a better way to do it.”

With retail prices between $99 and $199, this pedal collection has been calibrated to a range that’s accessible without being “dumbed down,” as Bussey puts it. “We wanted these pedals to be for players at every stage in their career,” he continues, “and we think we hit that sweet spot considering the feature set you get. We think that’s the way to get people to adopt it—to help dealers learn how to sell fender pedals. We want them to have a reason to really get into the category and stock up on the product line.”

“We wanted to get in some great materials and higher-end features but we still wanted the product to be approachable,” adds Cotey. “We liked the idea of going beyond a generic pedal offering. That was fun because we got to create a line of pedals that were designed for a reason—and not just to fill out our product line. And they’re all things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

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