Why Is The King Of Tone Pedal So Famous?
In recent years, the Analog Man King Of Tone pedal has earned a reputation as one of the most desirable guitar pedals ever made. In fact, it has now become so popular, that it has is a 3 year waiting list.
Over the past few weeks I have looked at some of the most popular guitar pedals of all time. Guitar pedals like the Ibanez Tube Screamer -which are still widely available – as well as pedals like the Klon Centaur, which are no longer in production.
I have done so partly for intellectual curiosity, but also to answer the following questions:
- Why are these guitar pedals so famous? Is it because of their quality, or the result of a number of other factors?
- Does it make sense for you to buy one of these pedals, or a similar alternative? And does the pedal make sense within the context of your rig?
I will be addressing a number of those questions today. And in my next article on the topic, I will be looking at some alternatives to the King Of Tone pedal you might want to consider.
The King Of Tone Waiting List – Pt. I
First things first though, I think it is worth addressing what everyone wants to talk about when it comes to the King Of Tone pedal. The waiting list.
At the time of writing, there is a 3 year waiting list for the King Of Tone. So if you order a King Of Tone pedal today, it is likely that it will be 2023 before you have the pedal on your board.
I don’t know of any other guitar, amp or pedal companies that have such an extensive waiting list.
It is worth making this point early on here, because I believe that almost everything that makes the King Of Tone pedal so famous and also so special, relates back to this waiting list in one of 2 ways.
Firstly, the mere existence of a waiting list has fundamentally changed and enhanced the popularity of the King Of Tone. The waiting list has increased the popularity of the pedal. And as I will explain below, this has almost nothing to do with the tone of the pedal, or its build quality.
Secondly, there is the manufacturing process behind the pedal. The way the King Of Tone pedal is built differs to that of most other boutique guitar pedals. And it is this that has partly led to the extensive waiting list in the first place.
Almost all of the factors that I discuss below, relate back to these 2 points.
Why Is The King Of Tone Pedal So Famous?
So with that in mind and without further ado, let’s look at the 10 main reasons that the Analog Man King Of Tone pedal has become so famous. We’ll start with some of those factors that have little or nothing to do with the tone or build quality of King Of Tone pedal:
Mike Piera and the Analog Man team hand build every King Of Tone pedal. The pedal has been in production in various iterations since 2003. But for almost the same amount of time, demand has outstripped supply. As such, there are a lot of people out there who have heard of and would love to play a King Of Tone pedal, but have never had the chance. It is a rare pedal and the waiting list means that you can’t get your hands on one easily.
This lengthy wait has generated excitement amongst the guitar community. It has also encouraged guitarists to sign up to the waiting list, because if they ever decide that they would like to buy the pedal, they will be even further down the list. I suspect that a lot of guitarists sign up to the waiting list on the chance they may later want the pedal. And this has just made the list longer.
In addition to this, Piera has repeatedly stated that the very specific components he uses will eventually run out. This has led more guitarists to join the waiting list for fear of missing out, in turn increasing the popularity of the pedal.
Long before the King Of Tone was developed, Mike Piera was a well respected boutique pedal maker. In fact he started his company by making modifications to TS808 Tube Screamer pedals. And over the years, guitarists ranging from Scott Henderson to Kenny Wayne Shepherd have sent their Tube Screamers to him to be modified.
So when the King Of Tone pedal was released, it was quickly picked up by a number of notable guitarists. This included Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and Noel Gallagher, amongst others. A few years later, players like Gary Clark Jr also started to use the pedal. Many of the guitarists who played the King Of Tone gave public, glowing reviews of the pedal. And this did a lot to increase the King Of Tone’s popularity.
In more recent years – Dan and Mick from ‘That Pedal Show‘ have also done a lot to increase the popularity of the pedal. They have dedicated a number of shows to the King Of Tone and are effusive in their praise of it. With their large and loyal following, I suspect that this has done a lot to make the King Of Tone more renowned.
3.) The Second Hand Market
In the quest for tone, most guitarists want results quickly. Many are not willing to wait more than a few weeks for a new piece of gear, let alone years. As a result, a lot of guitarists are happy to skip the waiting list altogether and pay a higher price for a second hand version of the King Of Tone pedal. This has caused a significant jump in the price of the pedal on the second hand market. On sites like Reverb, it is not unusual to see the pedal sell for 2 or 3 times its original value.
This has created a lot of hype around the King Of Tone pedal and done a lot to enhance its reputation.
Guitarists like gear that is different and unusual – and the King Of Tone pedal certainly meets these criteria. In fact I imagine that when the pedal actually arrives with guitarists, they talk extensively about the lengthy waiting list with fellow guitarists. Lengthy waiting lists make people feel that they are getting something special. And there is something unique and interesting about a guitar pedal with a 3 year waiting list. This alone has greatly increased the hype around the King Of Tone pedal and made it more famous.
5.) Analog Man
From what I can see, a lot of the guitar community has a great respect for luthiers, inventors and engineers. Men like Leo Fender and Les Paul are still celebrated for their innovation, and Mike Piera of Analog Man seems to be afforded a similar respect amongst a lot of guitarists. Of course, there are those sceptical of the waiting list. Generally speaking though, I think Analog Man’s mission is one that resonates with a lot of players.
The company is dedicated to vintage and high-end effects. They make no comprises on quality and are relentless in their pursuit of tone. They do all of this with a small team, comprised of family and friends. As they themselves state on their website:
Analog Man is operated as much for enjoyment of cool gear as for profit – so let’s have some fun with this stuff! If you don’t want to have fun, we can refer you to several other dealers. We like to treat each customer as a prospective friend. I now have friends all over the world with the common interest of vintage guitars and effects.
Although the waiting list for the King Of Tone pedal has caused some controversy, I believe that a lot of guitarists want to support companies like Analog Man. In a world where so many companies compromise quality of their products to sell them in greater quantities, there is something unique and refreshing about the approach that Analog Man take. And I believe this has done a lot for the popularity of the King of Tone pedal.
What Makes The King Of Tone Pedal So Special?
At this stage I think it is worth pausing and emphasising a key point about the King Of Tone that is often overlooked. People get so caught up in everything that surrounds the pedal, that they dismiss it as being overhyped. But the reality, is that if the King Of Tone didn’t sound brilliant – there would be no waiting list.
Whether it is worth a 3 year wait, is a different story. But it is difficult to argue against the general consensus when it comes to the King Of Tone. It is a brilliant pedal that everyone seems to love. So here I will look at 5 of the key reasons the pedal is so popular, all of which relate to the tone and features of the pedal.
1.) Tonal Transparency
Mike Piera created the original King Of Tone for guitarist Jim Weider from The Band. Weider was a long time user of the Ibanez Tube Screamer, but had become tired of the distinctive ‘mid-hump’ that the pedal gave his sound. So Piera and Weider worked together on an old Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal. They were trying to make Weider’s Deluxe Reverb sound like it was cranked, without colouring his tone. And that was how the King Of Tone was born. In Piera’s own words:
If you like your guitar and want to keep your guitar tone, and if you like your amp and you want to keep your amp tone, that’s what this is designed for. It’s not gonna change it a lot. It’s for people who just want to add these different capabilities of gain and volume.
This might sound simple, but it is in fact very difficult to achieve. And actually most guitar pedals colour your tone in some way. The King Of Tone does not do this and it is one of the reasons that the pedal is so famous.
The King Of Tone pedal may look like a typical dual overdrive pedal, but this is not the case. It is in fact 2 identical but separate overdrive pedals, that you can play independently, or stack together.What makes the pedal so unusual and so special is the myriad of different ways that you can tweak the circuit of each pedal.
On the inside of the King Of Tone there is a 4 position configuration DIP switch. And you can use this to choose between clean, overdrive and distortion modes for each side of the pedal.
You can set either side of the King Of Tone to any of the 3 modes. And you can also stack the pedals in different ways. If you set the right side of the pedal to a higher level of distortion, and the left side as a clean boost, then when you stack the pedals together your tone will remain unchanged. What you’ll get is a volume boost. If you set the pedals up in the opposite way, then when you stack them together your volume won’t change but you will add overdrive and compression to your sound.
In addition, the King Of Tone pedal can be run at either 9V or 18V. The latter option will give the pedal a bit more clarity and headroom.
Finally, there is a treble boost knob on the inside of the pedal. As standard it is set at 0, but if you have a dark sounding amp and guitar that you want to make sound brighter, you can also adjust this to add some extra treble to your sound.
It is rare to find a pedal with just so many different tone tweaking options. This is one of the most important features of the King Of Tone pedal, and one of the reasons it has become so popular.
All of these different tweaking options – combined with the transparent nature of the King Of Tone’s overdrive – make it very versatile. In fact one of the reasons that people love the King Of Tone is because you can pair it up with any guitar or amp, and it still sounds great.
This is quite rare for a guitar pedal.
Most guitar pedals work very well when paired up with certain guitars, or certain amps. Take treble booster pedals for example. These sound brilliant when they are paired up with a naturally darker sounding guitar and amp combination – like a Marshall and a Gibson Les Paul. But they don’t sound so great when they are paired up with a Fender amp and a Fender Telecaster, which are both already quite bright sounding.
However, because the King Of Tone preserves the natural sound of your guitar and amp, you can use it with different guitars and different amps, and it will still sound great. It will just add warmth and a small amount of drive to your tone. This will enhance your sound and make it harmonically richer.
And if you do find yourself in a position where the King Of Tone doesn’t sound quite so good – the pedal has so many tweaking options that you should be able to dial in the tone you want.
This is one of the key characteristics of the King Of Tone pedal and part of why it is so popular. You can dial in a huge range of different tones using it.
4.) Bespoke Service
The service that Analog Man offer is about as bespoke as you can get. And so when you do find yourself at the top of the waiting list – you can choose exactly how you want your King Of Tone pedal to be made. You can choose to have the pedal come as standard, or you can add on a whole range of bonus features. Just some of these include:
- A higher gain setting on 1 or both sides of the pedal
- An external mode toggle on 1 side of the pedal
- A pedal with 4 jacks, rather than 2
- A buffer to make the pedal buffered bypass
You can really tailor the pedal to suit your exact needs. This is an option that relatively few pedal companies offer. And very few companies do it at the level that Analog Man offer. This level of service not only changes the experience of buying a King Of Tone pedal; but also ensures that you end up with a pedal to suit your specific needs.
5.) The Price
Interestingly, although the King Of Tone pedal sells for prices upwards of $750/£550 on the second hand market, Analog Man refuse to increase the cost of their pedals. Currently, the King Of Tone costs $265/£210, plus more for extras. And given that a lot of hand wired, boutique pedals cost around the same or even more, this seems very reasonable.
This is especially so when you consider that in 2019, Bill Finnegan – the creator of the Klon Centaur – started up a small shop on Ebay. He sold the Klons he was making for around 10 times the amount that his original pedals sold for. But Piera is totally averse to these types of tactics. In his own words:
I want our pedals to be used by average players, professional players, young players. If I raised it much more than it is now, it would just be too expensive. I think the price that it’s at is correct.
I think this has done a lot to increase the popularity of the King Of Tone. This is partly because guitarists can still pick up an original King Of Tone pedal for a very reasonable price. But I think it also because – as you might expect – guitarists appreciate and want to support companies that don’t price them out of the market.
The King Of Tone Waiting List – Pt. II
Whilst I hope the reasons I’ve outlined above help to explain the popularity of the King Of Tone pedal, you might still be questioning why the waiting list is quite so long. After all, Analog Man are not the only boutique pedal company out there. Nor are they the only company hand-wiring pedals, or using very specific components.
Cynics have long asserted that the waiting list for the King Of Tone pedal is exaggerated to inflate demand. And truthfully when I first found out about the pedal, I felt the same. I discovered the King Of Tone pedal in 2017 on ‘That Pedal Show‘. I thought it sounded amazing and decided to buy one almost straight away. Just imagine my disappointment when I realised it would be 3 years before I would actually get the chance to play it.
It was not until I researched the King Of Tone pedal and the company behind it in more detail, that I began to appreciate just why the waiting list is so long. Ultimately, the way that Analog Man build the King Of Tone pedal makes a waiting list unavoidable. They take no shortcuts in the creation of the King Of Tone. From the very rare and specific components that they source, to the manufacturing techniques they use, to the testing of the pedal; everything is done to an exacting standard.
If you are interested, Analog Man actually provide a lot of information about the King Of Tone waiting list on their website here. They run through the history of the pedal and help to explain why the waiting list is so long. I would recommend reading the page for 2 reasons:
Firstly, it gives you a sense of the effort that Analog Man put into building the King Of Tone pedal. You can really tell how seriously they take their job and how deeply they care about quality.
Secondly, it makes you appreciate the size and scale of the company. As owner Mike Piera writes on the page:
We lost our shop manager Alex in early 2018, he was making many KOT pedals on weekend and nights with his wife. Now they are farming in northeast Connecticut. We lost my wife Ayako in early 2019 after nearly a decade of fighting cancer, which also took away most of my time as her caregiver. She built almost all comps and chorus pedals for many years. These losses really slowed down Analog Man, but somehow we kept orders and builds going without delays, however the KOT list was slowed down quite a bit
It would certainly appear then, that is not a huge company artificially inflating their waiting list. Rather, it is a small business doing the best they can and refusing to compromise on quality in the face of increased demand.
Is The King Of Tone Pedal Worth The Wait?
All of this begs the question – is the King Of Tone Pedal worth the wait?
It seems that there is little question that the King Of Tone is a great sounding and very versatile pedal. Reviews of the King Of Tone are almost unanimously positive. And a whole range of famous guitarists have used the pedal. There is also little question that the pedal is built to an extremely high quality, using rare components. Given all of this and the inflated price of the King Of Tone on the second hand market, the pedal also offers a lot of value for money.
Having said that, when it comes to dialling in a beautiful blues tone, there is no magic bullet. If you join the King Of Tone waiting list in the expectation that it will transform your tone beyond your wildest imagination, you are likely to be disappointed. The King Of Tone is not a magical guitar pedal. It is simply a very well built and versatile pedal. It will help your guitar and amp sound better and help you dial in a range of beautiful blues tones.
Does the long waiting list make the King Of Tone exponentially better than any other guitar pedal out there? Probably not. Just in the same way that a Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster is probably not 20 times as good as a Fender Squier.
That however does not mean that it isn’t worth it.
Part of what makes the quest for tone so interesting is that it isn’t just about the gear you use. It is about how you connect with your gear and how it inspires you. And if the King Of Tone Pedal inspires you and helps you get more from your playing, then I would say that it is absolutely worth the wait.
All things being well, I only have 6 months left until I’m front of the waiting list. So I’ll let you know how I feel when my King Of Tone pedal arrives. In the meantime, if you are unwilling to wait so long, then in my next article I will run through some of the best alternatives to the King Of Tone.
Do you have a King Of Tone Pedal? Or are you on the waiting list? Let me know your experiences in the comments section below!
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