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BIPOC-owned guitar pedal brands with full tones and no racist shitbag CEOs

When mass-protests revolting against systemic racism and police brutality – and the inextricable link between the two – broke out around the world following the tragic murder of George Floyd, companies en masse issued statements pledging their support towards the modern civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.

Performative as many of those promulgations were (because at the root-level, words are meaningless without action behind them), it was a courteous gesture of solidarity from brands whose public identities are largely antithetical to such weighty topics – like, because the year 2020 is a hammy and sadistic Hard Times article come to life, Bratz.

But alas, not every brand has a PR team capable of (capitalising on) the bare minimum of moral decency, or even a leader with a passable grasp on common sense. Cue: Fulltone.

In what can only be described as a wickedly tone-deaf clusterfuck of social media Boomerisms, the renowned guitar pedal and effect brand officially jumped the shark when its head honcho, Mike Fuller, spewed a vaguely coherent string of insults directed at protesters, labelling them “prissy boys who were raised to pee sitting down” and “[organised] gang banger criminals”.

Needless to say, Fuller’s proved himself to be quite the class act.

Community action against Fulltone has been swift, with retailers around the globe axing their products from shelves, notable players like Jason Isbell and Mark Hoppus pledging to rip them from their pedalboards, and publications like Australian Guitar blacklisting the brand from editorial support. But for a great deal of musos, it’s not as easy as just ditching their coveted OCD and swiping up one of its alternatives. Fulltone effectively owned the market on a swathe of industry-leading boutique tones, their kit acclaimed for being able to muster soundscapes only they could. How do you keep your moral compass clean without muddying your artistic identity?

Thankfully, there’s a decent handful of brands – both on-the-rise and established – with products that not only rival Fulltone’s greatest tonal achievements, but often outright annihilate them. And not only do they come without the humiliating guilt of financially supporting a racist prick, but they’re run directly by BIPOC members of the guitar-loving community. Beefing up your gigbag with some killer new gear and helping to disseminate the deep-seated racism ingrained in the music industry by championing its non-white entrepreneurs? That’s a win-win worthy of a ripping solo!

Right off the bat, we’d be remiss not to shout out the Abasi Pathos pedal, designed by Animals As Leaders rifflord Tosin Abasi in collaboration with hobbyist pedalmaking icon Brian Wampler. It’s a deceptively lowkey-looking distortion that brews a rich, riveting crunch worthy of any true djentleman’s arsenal. Abasi also has his own specialty guitar brand, modestly dubbed Abasi Concepts, which deals in handmade and assiduously detailed axes for metal-centric shredders eager to explore an otherwise unexplored dimension of sound. You might notice that virtually every guitar they advertise is currently sold out – they certainly don’t stick around for long when they hit shelves, which should offer a solid indication of the quality we’re looking at here.

Brazilian-owned Beetronics FX offer a jaw-dropping spate of pedals – all of them bee-themed, of course – which cover everything from stinging distortion to sweet-as-honey chorus. Their best seller is the Royal Jelly: a buzzy blend of fuzz and overdrive that’ll make any stock-standard Strat sound like a rock ‘n’ roll bombshell straight from the ’60s. Their Fat Bee pedal is also an impeccable substitute for the Fulltone OCD, cranking out some terribly tasty low-gain grunt.

A new favourite of amateurs and virtuosos alike – and arguably on the precipice of a major mainstream splash – is Dogman Devices. All of their pedals are painstakingly handmade by one sole music-lover in Ohio, who makes each of his pedals in batches to ensure that although their tones are as unique as they come, there’s no sonic or aesthetic dissonance between builds. Dogman currently only offers the Fire Fuzz pedal (which looks downright drool-inducing with its bold red sheen), but in a Reddit thread, the man behind the mayhem says an overdrive pedal is next on the cards.

Though their range is decidedly small, the affably named Native Audio brand deals in the absolute definitive options for those who like to tweak their tones with borderline concerning levels of control. From the rich and warbly Wilderness (an analog-voiced delay with up to 1,000 milliseconds of delay time) to the sharp and searing Rising Sun (an analog-optical tremolo that builds on flavours of vintage tech), all of their kit is packed to the brim and beyond with features. Their most simplistic offering is the Ghost Ridge multi-reverb, which has four tailor-made reverb algorithms and up to four programmable presets, all further customisable via native mix, depth and modulation controls.

With designs as kaleidoscopic as the musical capabilities of their tech, Mexico’s Paradox Effects is fast becoming a must-suss brand for any respectable string-splitter. The outlet is home to such one-of-a-kind offerings as the Arquitecto, a “fictional space reverberator” that sounds unlike anything we’ve ever come across, yet absolutely can’t get enough of; and the Oniric, which its makers dub a “pseudo-random” delay modulator with “the capacity to generate deep echo landscapes far from conventional, with a lo-fi touch that expands your possibilities.” Needless to say, both are currently sitting high on this scribe’s personal wishlist.

A littler closer to home, Japan is fast becoming a haven of freaky frettage thanks to boutique brands like Bananana Effects. Their pedals might all look relatively similar – slim, simplified and damn near blindingly yellow – but rest assured each has a striking supply of characteristics entirely of their own. Highlights in the Bananana arsenal are the Mandala glitch pedal and Matryoshka bass synth, which are sure to dole your pedalboard some lovably left-field whimsy. 

It’s without a doubt that we’ve missed a whole stack of veritable superstars in the BIPOC-operated gear sphere; we implore you to use this piece as a jumping-off point in exploring the vast world of pedals and effects outside the standard fare, which is disproportionately crowded by – and caters almost exclusively to – cishet white dudes. And remember: if at all you feel like slamming the efforts of those fighting to make the world a better place, try not to do it from your business’ social media pages. Or, y’know, just shut the fuck up entirely.

Happy riffing!


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