MMR recently chatted with Boss/Roland US guitar product manager Jeff Slingluff to get the skinny on Boss’ compact pedals’ 40th anniversary and why players and dealers, alike, continue to embrace the products.
Where it All Began…
“In the early years, Roland produced some pedal-based effects such as the AS-1 Sustainer, AF-100 Bee Baa (a fuzz/treble booster), AP-7 Jet Phaser, and a few others,” says Slingluff of the early days of what would eventually became BOSS. “Those were from 1972 to 1974, and at the time, pedal effects were just beginning to gain wider acceptance in the marketplace – with guitarists in particular.
Roland decided to establish the Music Engineering Group, or MEG Electronics Corporation – later to be re-named BOSS, in the spring of 1973. “The focus of MEG was the development of pedal effects and other products for the guitar market,” explains Slingluff. “The very first product slated for the BOSS brand was the B-100, a contact pickup and preamp combo for acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments. But shortly before its release, it was decided that the MEG name might not appeal to guitarists, so the brand name was changed to BOSS to convey a stronger image.”
The B-100 debuted in 1974, with limited numbers produced for the American market. “The product came in a unique wood box with a clear plastic lid that featured the now-familiar BOSS logo, though the product itself did not have the logo on it,” Jeff continues. “The lid also had the name ‘Beckmen Musical Instruments, Inc.’ in small print. They were the sales distributor for Roland products in the Western U.S. at that time.
“The first BOSS-branded pedal effect was the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, which was released in 1976. It was basically the chorus and vibrato circuit of the popular Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus amplifier housed in a pedal chassis, allowing players to get the rich, full JC chorus sound with their own amps.”
1977: The BOSS Compact Pedal Line is Launched
While the CE-1 would ultimately become successful, it didn’t make a huge splash when initially released. “It took some time for musicians to realize that they needed to use it with two amplifiers to get the full benefit of the big, immersive chorus sound it produced,” Slingluff says. “But when they did, it really took off.”
“While it offered fantastic sound, the CE-1 was a large and heavy pedal that required AC power. The same went for the DM-1 Delay Machine and other early BOSS pedals. At the time, a few U.S. manufacturers had started to have success with battery-powered pedals that were smaller and/or lighter, which obviously offered greater convenience for performing musicians. BOSS has always had a philosophy to innovate and not imitate. In that spirit, we set out to create an improved design that solved the many problems inherent with other pedals of the day – and that still exist to varying degrees in many modern pedals.”
Switching noise – the loud “pop” heard when mechanical toggle switches are pressed – was one of the first issues addressed. “They also get dirty, which can affect their responsiveness and reliability,” adds Slingluff. “After a lot of use, they simply need to be replaced. “BOSS also wanted to provide easy battery replacement, eliminating the need to use a screwdriver to open the chassis to access the battery. In addition, few - if any - battery-operated pedals had the ability to provide alternate power from an AC adapter. Also, many pedals of the time didn’t offer any sort of visual indication of the effect’s on/off status.
“The BOSS compact pedal design addressed all those issues, which remain as relevant as ever for today’s musicians. It provides FET switching that’s silent and wear-free, a battery door that’s accessible with a thumbscrew, an LED that displays both on/off and power status, and a jack for connecting an external power supply. Other important elements include a die-cast aluminum chassis that’s both light and famously durable, and an elevated pedal switch that provides integrated protection for the panel knobs.
“A lot of R&D went into creating the BOSS compact pedal design, and it remains basically unchanged to this day. The developers really got it right the first time, and we’re extremely proud that the design remains as fresh and vital now as when it was introduced 40 years ago.”
Technological Innovation, Unique Brand Identity
When asked about key technological advances that have most defined BOSS, Slingluff responds: “A few things that stand out are of course the FET switching as mentioned before. This provided silent on/off pedal activation but also allowed for buffering. If you have a ‘buffered’ BOSS pedal, the ‘On’state doesn’t affect the tone of any pedals that follow it differently than if it were in its ‘Off’ state. This is different than a true-bypass pedal, which can alter the tone of pedals that follow it depending on its on/off status.
“When it comes to the overdrive pedal, another achievement was the patent on the original OD-1 Overdrive for asymmetrical clipping. Asymmetrical clipping, like tubes, brings out even harmonics and is often considered to be a very ‘analog’ sounding trait. For many years, BOSS was the only pedal maker offering distortion and overdrive pedals with asymmetrical clipping, and asymmetrical clipping is still a key part of the tonal experience for several BOSS pedals today. Additionally, the OD-1 pedal is the first officially known usage of the term ‘overdrive’ in reference to a guitar pedal product.”
The BOSS DD-2 has the distinction of having been the world’s first compact digital delay pedal, while the world’s first compact reverb pedal was the BOSS RV-2 – Two more significant “firsts” that set BOSS apart from the pack. “The DD-2 and RV-2 opened the door to players incorporating BOSS’s technology into a small compact pedal during a time when larger, rack-mount delay and reverb were typically only used in studios by pros,” Slingluff observes. “This type of gear was not accessible to most players in those days, but BOSS completely changed that.”
BOSS has never been a brand to rest on its laurels, though, and as digital technology began to truly evolve, BOSS adapted to the new developments. “Most recently, MDP (Multi-Dimensional Processing) has become a unique part of several BOSS products like the OD-1X Overdrive and CP-1X Compressor,” says Slingluff. “These pedals can analyze the tone from input and deliver the best outcome organically, depending on what is played and how it’s played.
“With nearly 120 compact pedals released over the past forty years, BOSS has made many major breakthroughs in both analog and digital technology. And BOSS continues to develop products using all available formats based on tonal quality and desired outcome. The tone itself is always first, not whether the tone is analog or digital. MDP technology and its incorporation into the X-series is one recent example of BOSS’s pursuit of exceptional tone. The Waza Craft line and its craftsmanship is another.”
While effects pedals and stompboxes from other suppliers often vary in size and shape, the standard BOSS compact pedal design has remained nearly unchanged and unique for forty years.
“Being so easily identifiable is great for our customers but is also exciting for us,” Jeff says. “With every print or online photo, we can instantly identify what pedals our customers and artists are using. As you can imagine, this fuels a lot of internal enthusiasm and pride for everyone at Roland and BOSS. I recently spent two and half months with the engineering team in Hamamatsu and was inspired by how many of the engineers were following worldwide customers’ social media and were sharing photos of their pedalboards and links to users’ demos.
“As far as compatibility, a lot of things become easier with the BOSS level of consistency. The compact pedal series comes with a five-year warranty, but in reality it has a nearly negligible failure rate. It surprises people when we tell them one of our biggest competitors is the used market for The BOSS DS-1 4A Anniversary Pedal our own pedals.”
A 40th Anniversary Edition for an Icon
The DS-1 Distortion has been shipping for more than 38 years and still today continues to be one of BOSS’ number-one sellers every month. “The reason for its popularity is stated over and over by our customers and the endless list of artists – tone and reliability,” Slingluff explains. “And what’s nice about DS-1 pedals is they work very well with so many different amplifiers and for a wide variety of musical needs – anything from being the gain source, to boosting the amp, to acting as a tightener in front of high gain amplifiers. They’re a solid workhorse, and as pros tell us all the time, you can be on tour anywhere in the world and get a DS-1 for the show when you need it.”
To mark BOSS’ 40th, the company is introducing a special model – the DS-1-4A – but, while the pedal is, indeed, appropriately extravagant, don’t expect anything too terribly different from the original in terms of functionality.
“With such an iconic history, we didn’t want to muck anything up on the DS-1,” Jeff says. The goal was celebration rather than reinvention.
Internally, a DS-1-4A is identical to the standard DS-1. The Limited Edition DS-1-4A has a number of cosmetic elements like a sleek, all-black finish, gold text and knobs, and of course the vintage-style silver battery compartment thumb screw. The box is also manicured with a 40th anniversary logo.
“After forty years of BOSS compact pedals being on the market, the community of collectors is understandably huge, but the Limited Edition DS-1-4A is not only a collectable thank you to all of our longtime followers, it’s a total work horse for the day-to-day user. And it looks sharp in all black.”
While the DS-1 and it’s limited-edition “twin” are in the spotlight at the moment, that’s hardly the only successful BOSS release with a long shelf-life and legions of fiercely devoted fans. In fact, of nearly 120 pedals released by BOSS over the past forty years, nearly 60 are still in production. “But it’s hard to talk about the DS-1 without instantly switching to a conversation about the SD-1 Super Overdrive,” Slingluff notes. “The very first compact pedal BOSS released was the OD-1 Overdrive. The OD-1 was very unique because, as I’ve mentioned already, it was the first pedal to ever use the term ‘overdrive,’ and it had a patent for asymmetrical clipping that creates distortion with a distinctive, crisp sound, and
the richly-nuanced tone of an overdriven tube amp. It grabbed the limelight as an essential piece of gear for adding fat, powerful gain to large stack amps. The SD-1 was based on the OD-1 with a tone control that can boost or cut highs for greater versatility. SD-1s have been shipping since 1981 and are consistently one of our best-selling pedals every month.
“The BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay, released in 1986, is now more than thirty years in production, and to this day, sells very well. Also, the DD-2 and DD-3 are based on the custom IC chip and analog audio design of the Roland SDE-3000 rack mount delay from 1983. The current president of BOSS, Yoshi Ikegami, was the lead engineer and designer of the SDE-3000.
“Of the newer pedals, all of the Waza Craft pedals are selling incredibly well. There is a lot of excitement about the ‘Waza’ level of tonal quality available for discerning players. Given the overwhelming desire for faithful re-introductions of these historical tone classics, the customers are responding enthusiastically. Additionally, newer pedals like the DD-500 Digital Delay and RV-6 Reverb are also extremely popular right now. And loopers are getting very popular, not only for guitar players, but also for vocalists, multi-instrumentalists, and performers as we expand RC-series loop stations from stompboxes to desktop units. Additionally, the ES-8 and ES- 5, Effects Switching System have been well received and are an exciting tool for any professional-level pedalboard.”
Looking to the Future While Celebrating the Past
After 40 years atop the heap, the folks at BOSS remain as curious, inventive, and aware as ever – tracking and defining trends in the industry. As for the current state of the market, Jeff says that, “Distortions, overdrives, delays, reverbs, and loopers are all hot, and the market appears poised for growth this year. Switcher pedals like ES-8 are becoming popular, as are alternate sounds like the SY-300 polyphonic synth that works with a 1/4-inch guitar cable. A big area of growth over the past decade has been the acoustic electric guitar market. As more and more acoustic players are advancing into amplification they are also seeking better tonal opportunities and new sounds. Acoustic players were quick to adapt to the BOSS looper pedals but are also seeking more. The BOSS VE-8 was created to provide looper functionality, direct acoustic tonal enhancements, and vocal harmonies based on the notes the guitar is playing. But players are just getting started. We see lots of trend setters with everything from the obvious CP-1X compressors or CE-2W Chorus to the bold who seek the infinite possibilities of playing their acoustic through a BOSS SY-300 synth.”
As much as crafting the technology and products that has helped to shape the sounds heard on stages and recordings throughout the world over the past four decades, BOSS is defined by a deep understanding and appreciation of the end-users: “A great thing about stompboxes is that they are affordable and easily accessible sound machines,” says Jeff. “Year after year, they continue to find their way into the hands and under the feet of an ever-growing movement of creative musicians worldwide. We are humbled that after forty years of BOSS compact pedals, each new generation of musicians continues to take us along for a ride on their musical journey.”
To track current and upcoming events in 2017 celebrating the 40th anniversary of BOSS compact pedals, readers should be sure to check out the anniversary page on the BOSS site: www.bossus.com/40thAnniversary
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