In this series I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music. This week we’ll talk about cloning effects pedals.
Whether you know it or not you probably have one or more cloned pedals on your pedalboard. What are they? Where did they come from? What does it mean? Let’s talk about it.
WHAT IS A CLONE?
The short version is that in the world of guitar effects pedals, a clone is a copy. A clone builder or “cloner” will either reverse engineer or take a published diagram of an existing circuit like the Tube Screamer and build their version of the pedal.
Clones can be divided into 3 groups (Vintage Copies, Modern Copies, and Modded Copies) in 2 sections (In Production, and Out of Production)
Vintage copies are pretty much what they sound like: recreations of classic designs. Pedals like the Ross Compressor, Boss DM-2 or Ibanez AD-9 analog delays, the EHX/Sovtek Big Muff Pi or the Ibanez Tube Screamer are all examples of vintage designs being made into exact copies by modern builders.
Examples of vintage clones would include the Wren and Cuff Box of War and Tall Font Russian (Big Muff), Analogman Comprossor and Keeley Comp (Ross), and too many Tube Screamer clones to count.
This is were things get dicey. Danelectro was recently found out to have taken the Timmy OD circuit and put it into their Cool Cat OD. Accusations have been made about other builders as well.
Then of course there are brands like Mooer, Biyang, and Joyo who take well known designs and make cheap copies that sell for considerably less than the original.
Is that right? Or ethical? We’ll talk about it later in this article.
The rule in cook books is that you have to change the recipe 10%. My wife tells me a lot of cookie recipes out there are just Nestle Toll House with a few changes (how long you keep the dough in the fridge, how many eggs, etc) so that it’s 10% different than the original.
Modded clones start with an original circuit and then change the design either slightly or dramatically. They could be called “10% clones” although many are changed much more than that. The Ibanez Tube Screamer, Marshall Blues Breaker, EHX Big Muff, ProCo Rat and Fuzz Factory are all common targets for modding. Sometimes they fix flaws in the original design, sometimes they use the circuit as a foundation to build something completely different. For example, the Analogman King of Tone started as a blues breaker circuit that was heavily tweaked for a very different “amp in a box” style sound.
IN OR OUT OF PRODUCTION
Like it sounds, the three types of Clones can be divided into two groups. Designs like the Ross Compressor, Boss DM-2 or Klon Centaur that are no longer in production. In contrast to circuits like the Tube Screamer or Fuzz Face that are still produced.
Of course, as with Modern copies, there’s a question of whether this is right or legal, and we’ll deal with that soon.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT A CLONE?
From a builders standpoint, cloning makes a lot of sense. A lot of builders started out by modifying and correcting flaws in existing pedals like the Fuzz Face or Tube Screamer for customers or friends. At some point they think “hey, I can make my own version, with my mods.” And so they go from there. Plus, there’s a market for classic pedals designs that are no longer available new.
From a consumers standpoint, some of these designs are no longer made and hard to find. Most of us just can’t imagine paying $1,500 for a Klon on eBay, so a Klon Klone at $150 looks pretty good. Maybe you love a certain pedal, but it has all kinds of issues (like the tone suck on my old Sovtek Big Muff) and now a guy is making a high quality version that fixes a lot of the problems and so it would make a lot of sense to trade out for the clone. Or some of us are just cheap and so we pick up a Joyo or Biyang copy because we can’t understand why anyone would spend more money on a pedal.
IS IT LEGAL?
Yes. I could go out, and take the exact circuit design from any builder or pedal on the market and make a direct clone and sell it for whatever I want. You cannot patten or copyright a design because you are building a variation on a pedal, not a brand new pedal. The fuzz pedal has already been invented so there’s nothing to own. Whether that’s right or wrong that’s what it is. People make the mistake of assuming that all copyright and intellectual property laws are the same when they are not.
IS IT ETHICAL?
Now that’s the big question. It should not be just enough for the worship guitarist that something legal or not strictly illegal. We should live and serve with a certain amount of ethical integrity. But there is a reason why not all intellectual property laws are the same, and we can’t assume that the ethics that guides one guides another.
The truth is that we don’t have a great ethical framework for this field. It’s incredibly subjective, with one builder criticized while another is praised for the same thing. There is no black or white, just a whole lot of grey.
SO WHATS A CHRISTIAN GUITAR PLAYER TO DO?
This is a Romans 14 issue. Some will feel at peace in their faith with it and others will not. You have to do what seems right between you and God in how you spend your money. If a Christian said that it was against their conscience to own or buy a cloned design I would understand and respect that. But what I can’t agree with is those who try to take the ethics or laws of another field and try to place them on this subject, or who don’t respect the right of another Christian to make a different decision.
Like I said at the beginning, we’ve all probably had clones we weren’t aware of. The Fulltone Fulldrive 2 is very common on pedalboards and at it’s heart it a heavily modified Tube Screamer. Most of the popular compressor pedals are Ross clones. How many reverb pedals are just variations on the belton brick design? How many analog delays are just takes on the DMM or DM-2 circuit?
My take is this: It’s not illegal, and when you think about it, it’s not really immoral. A pedal is more than a circuit design. I wouldn’t touch any of the cheap knock offs for the same reason that I avoid cheap original designs. It’s not the circuits, its the components. More often than not, the biggest difference is the parts, and quality or lack thereof. If you’re buying cheap gear, whether clones or not, you’ll get what you pay for. If someone is building a tube screamer, but with high quality parts, then I’m all for it and I’ll pay the higher price.
I love builders that really are making new and innovative designs like Caroline Guitar Co and Wampler. I love builders that make awesome copies of out of production pedals like Analogman. I love builders that take a circuit or concept and bring it to a new place like JHS, Analogman, Mad Professor and countless others do. Not to mention builders who do all three!
So understand what something is, and come to your own decision. I won’t hold it against you either way.
For a different perspective, Karl over at the Guitar for Worship blog wrote a blog post HERE that takes a different view. The only thing I would note is that many of circuits he wants to protect (like the King of Tone) are clones themselves. I may not agree with his take, but it’s good to hear all sides.
Until next time.