So you’ve been playing guitar for a little while. You’ve mastered all the open chords, nailed power chords, and learned the unmistakable intro to “Smoke On The Water”. But now you want the sound of your instrument to match the growth of your musicianship. Sure, you could spend more time training your ear or studying music theory but where’s the fun in that? The whole reason you picked up a guitar is to look, feel, and sound cool. You need some guitar pedals! But there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of different pedals available for purchase! Which ones do you want? Which ones do you need? Why are they so expensive?
NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING, THAT PARAGRAPH IS RELATABLE. IT MAY EVEN BE A RITE OF PASSAGE. EITHER WAY, PURCHASING A GUITAR PEDAL CAN BE A LOT OF INTIMIDATING FUN.
Hypothetically speaking, the only pedal a guitarist really needs is a tuner. But part of the fun is emulating the sound of your favorite records. This was crucial when I was learning how to play. I remember being 13 and cutting slits into my practice amp speaker to make a distorted sound. I had no idea there were actually devices that made that sound without ruining my beloved 10watt Crate. But there was no way I could afford to buy an effect pedal for each sound I desired. Much less figure out how to use them properly.
Although being around since the 60s, the pedal scene wasn’t a prominent force in the music industry until the 80s and 90s. The bubble sort of popped when home studios and digital effects became much cheaper. These days, musicians either stick with the classic brands like MXR and Boss or go really hipster with modded and/or boutique pedals. But the price of those things can still be a little intimidating when all you want to do is experiment with sounds in the privacy of your bedroom. This is where brands like Azor are becoming more and more popular.
BEING A RELATIVELY NEW COMPANY, AZOR IS MAKING GUITAR PEDALS AT A FRACTION OF THE PRICE OF THE BIG PLAYERS AND OFFERING THEM BARELY ABOVE COST.
Inexpensive music gear isn’t new. In fact, some of my favorite stompboxes over the years have been weird knock-offs of higher-end pedals. But Azor is going above and beyond a mere discount, they are offering devices that sound nearly identical to those that cost close to 3 times as much! I recently got in touch with Azor about their line of effect pedals and they sent me a few to check out. When they arrived I was immediately impressed by their durable steel casing and tiny, adorable aesthetic. However, I was blown away by how good they sound.
THE FIRST ONE OUT OF THE BOX IS THE AZOR AP-319.
Distortion is synonymous with guitar as much as guitar is to rock n’ roll. So needless to say, a decent distortion pedal is most likely the first pedal a guitarist is in the market for. Unfortunately, you only know the particular sound you’re looking for when you find it. The AP-319 is closer to a rich overdrive than a full-on distortion. The controls are pretty straightforward like any good dirt pedal should be. Level, LoMid, Tone, and Drive in the middle. The level is the volume of the effect, while the Drive knob controls how much dirt is added to your tone. With the Tone knob, you can dial in how dark and warm or bright and fizzy the distortion is. As for the LoMid, it really doesn’t change the low or mid-range of your tone, but acts as kind of a boost.
With the bright red metal casing, I instantly thought the AP-319 was going to be a DOD Supra Distortion clone. But it’s actually much closer to the MXR Distortion III. Very close. I plugged this in side-by-side with the MXR and the similarities were astonishing! While not extremely versatile or teeth-rattling heavy, it’s pretty easy to dial in some fantastic classic rock and alternative sounds. ZZ Top, Guided By Voices, and the dry Rick Ruben-era of Danzig sound spot on. The AP-319 is essentially a Greatest Hits representation of what we love about distortion pedals and it’s most definitely a keeper!
NEXT UP IS THE AP-306 ANALOG DELAY. THINK OF IT AS AZOR’S TAKE ON THE IBANEZ ANALOG DELAY MINI.
Delay pedals have always been intimidating to me. If you make a single mistake, you’re making two mistakes. Or three, or infinity. You get the picture. This is why I’ve always stuck with simple setups. The Azor AP-306 takes a similar approach. With only 3 knobs (Time, Mix, Repeat) there isn’t much to screw up. For the most part, it has that warm, murkiness we’ve all come to know and love with analog delay pedals. But unlike some other low-end delays, it doesn’t come at the cost of your tone.
Despite having no tap option or the psychedelic ‘mod’ switch found on the MXR Carbon Copy, the AP-306 handles ambiance perfectly. It’s even self-oscillating if you’re into making some delicious noise. When emulating a synth with my volume knob, there was absolutely no hum or muddiness. Especially when setting the time as far out as possible. It reminds me of Jimmy Page’s effect in “Houses Of The Holy” at the fastest setting.
THIRD IN LINE IS AZOR’S AP-301, A 1970S STYLE PHASE.
I think we can all agree, you either love or hate phaser pedals. If I’m not using one for a particular riff like Van Halen’s “Unchained” or the intro to Big Star’s “Ballad of El Goodo”, I don’t see myself using it much. While a proper phase can add some color to your tone, it runs the risk of sounding obnoxious. Thankfully the AP-301 is a little more on the subtle side. Even at its most dominant setting, the sound is light more in tune with a heavy chorusing effect. The AP-301 almost acts as a limiter effect on a clean guitar, which works perfectly for rhythm playing.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST IS THE AP-303. AZOR’S VERSION OF THE HOLY GRAIL OF FUZZ PEDALS.
Growing up in the 90s, The Smashing Pumpkins had a major impact on me as a budding guitarist. Unfortunately, getting my measly practice amp to sound like the monstrous tone of Billy Corgan and James Iha’s rigs proved to be more difficult and expensive than I hoped. The key to their larger-than-sound was the Electro-Harmonix “Big Muff” fuzz pedal. But by the time I found out what a Big Muff was, the demand for the pedal meant a higher price. The only store near me to have one was asking well over $100. (vintage ones are now closer to the $300 range) When I finally had the opportunity to try it out, I had no idea how to use it and my guitar sounded like a chainsaw running out of gas.
The AP-303 is about as close as you will ever get to a retro Big Muff outside of a reissue from Electro-Harmonix themselves. The Level acts as the sustain, Fuzz is the gain and Tone lets you dial in the style you’re looking for. At the 7 to 9 o’clock setting, the AP-303 gives you a buzzy 1960s fuzz-bass vibe perfect for “Think For Yourself” by The Beatles. 12 o’clock gets you into blues-rock territory of Jimi Hendrix or modern indie acts such as The Black Keys or Brother O’ Brother. But cranking it all the way offers the coveted “Cherub Rock”/”Rocket” tone straight out of Siamese Dream! It breaks my heart a little that this wasn’t available when I was a kid.
AND THAT’S THE MOST SATISFYING ELEMENT OF ANZOR’S LINE OF GUITAR EFFECTS; THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIMENT WITHOUT RISK.
As the cost of music gear soars, many musicians young and old are turning to emulation. For example, companies like Cherry Audio painstakingly recreate the sound and interface of many high-end synths and release them digital programs for recording software. All without explicitly saying exactly what it is they’re emulating. Azor takes a similar approach only with physical stompboxes. Without hearing them, the colors clue me in to what the pedal represents. It’s almost like a game in itself and part of their charm.
I’ve been playing guitar for over 25 years and I’ve always encouraged new players to spend more money on lessons than on gear. Part of that comes from my own experience of spending way too much on stuff that made little impact on my playing. But if the gear costs about the same as a vinyl record, it’s kind of hard to stand behind that argument. If anything, being able to emulate your favorite guitarist’s sound just may be enough to keep you playing. Azor is not only making clones of industry standards like the Tube Screamer (AP-315) and Big Muff (AP-303) they’re also offering up variables of sought-after pedals like modded Metal Zones (AP-321) or the legendary Klon Centaur (AP-320) just to name a few! Most importantly, Azor is making experimenting with guitar pedals fun for both young musicians and experienced players alike. After all, just because your wallet is small doesn’t mean your sound has to be.
For more information on Azor or to purchase their line of guitar pedals, please visit AzorPedal.com and Amazon