JHS Pedals is renowned for tonal excellence. The US brand's premium stompboxes are packed full of gizmos galore and options aplenty - but they've taken a very different approach with the 3 Series Fuzz. These affordable effects have been stripped back for pure, unadulterated JHS tone suited to both beginners and pros alike. Tom Quayle reviews
Since the heady days of 80's/90's fridge-sized gear racks, the last two decades have brought guitarists full circle back to the humble pedal board thanks to a small army of boutique pedal manufacturers producing all manner of incredible tone machines to satisfy any and all sonic needs. Putting a versatile and great sounding board together has always been expensive and, whilst there has always been an affordable end of the pedal market, this tends to mean compromises that many guitarists are not willing to put up with in terms of components, sound and build quality. Thus, the boutique pedal builders are more popular than ever. But the best quality comes at too steep a price for a lot of guitarists, especially given the financial climate of 2020, leaving the best brands off the shopping lists of many budding and professional musicians.
JHS is traditionally one such brand, producing some of the best and most desirable pedals on the market with a fantastic roster of artists, wonderful marketing campaigns and a modern social media presence. They are a true success of the current pedal board age yet are anything but budget or affordable for most guitarists – especially if you want a few of their pedals on your board.
JHS have a solution to this financial dilemma in the form of their new '3-series' pedal range, a collection of seven new pedals designed to be highly affordable and cover many of your sonic needs. Unlike many budget lines that are built in the far-east using third party factories to keep costs low, the 3-series pedals are built in the JHS factory in Kansas City, USA, using high-quality components, quality control and attention to detail. To keep costs down, the pedals feature plain designs and a unified control set with three knobs and a single toggle switch, customised for each effect type. JHS have produced seven variants to cover the most common effect types – Compressor, Fuzz, Overdrive, Distortion, Chorus, Delay and Reverb. At $99 apiece, kitting out an entire JHS pedal board becomes a much more affordable reality and the sounds on board are just as sweet and 'boutique' sounding as you'd expect from a company with this tonal reputation.
All the pedals feature a Volume or Mix control (Delay and Reverb) and your standard mono in and out, plus a centre negative 9v DC input. Batteries are not an option here to further reduce costs, but each pedal has a small current draw and seems to play very nicely with a simple daisy chained power supply if required. The other two controls and toggle switch are specific to each pedal, offering just the right amount of sonic variety given the price point.
The Compressor has Attack and Sustain plus a bright toggle switch that is highly effective and pairs wonderfully with the overdrive and distortion pedals. It can operate transparently as a boost or give you highly squashed compression effects without adding excess noise or drive into the signal. The Distortion and Overdrive pedals offer basic Filter/Body and Distortion/Drive controls respectively with both sporting a gain toggle that gives either a louder, less compressed tone or a quieter, more compressed and driven one. A wide range of excellent tones are available from either, ranging from bluesy overdrives to 80's hard rock and saturated lead tones and both work superbly to push the front end of your amp. The Fuzz is also superb and great fun thanks to the unpredictable nature of its Bias control, giving you a gated, spitty tone that responds wonderfully to pick attack. This can be backed off for a more predictable, classic fuzz tone and the fat switch give you a bass boost if required.
The Chorus offers up Rate and Depth controls for the modulation and a Vibe switch that removes the dry signal for a classic Vibrato effect. You can go from subtle chorusing all the way up to rotary style sounds for your best John Scofield impression and anything in between. The tone is beautifully boutique in its nature with a thick lushness in either mode. The Delay pedal offers two modes, pristine digital delays or darker, analogue-voiced repeats with up to 800ms of delay and infinite self-oscillating repeats for special effects or ambient washes. Finally, the Reverb provides a surprisingly versatile palette of ambient sounds with EQ and Decay controls for shaping the simulated space. The toggle switches in a short pre-delay to separate your core tone and reverb if desired. This is a very high-quality reverb pedal with beautiful and dense tails that sound very boutique given the price point here.
Each of the 3-series pedals sounds and feels just like a regular JHS pedal – in use you're certainly not aware that you're playing the budget line other than the very plain look and slightly stripped-down feature set. We did notice a general volume boost as each pedal was engaged in series even when we set each pedal to unity gain individually, but this can be compensated for using the Volume controls on board. At the price it's extremely hard to complain though.
If you've always wanted to get on board the boutique pedal train but found the price of entry too hard to stomach, the 3-series should be quite an exciting proposition. Genuine JHS tones at this price, made in the USA with high quality components – yes please! Highly recommended.