Fender Hammertone Pedals Review: Has Fender Nailed the Affordable Pedal?
By Ian Freeman
May 27, 2022
You know something is good when it makes you get philosophical and Fender’s new Hammertone effects pedals took me to philosophy class, sorta. Maslow’s hammer says or was it Brad Pitt in World War Z, “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Basically, it means people sometimes frame their problems in a way that the solutions just happen to be what they already have. The connection? Whether you’re a new player exploring pedals, a guitarist finding your tone, a gigging musician looking for great sounding gear that can handle the road, or just have grown out of love with pedals that need a Ph.D. to operate and a FAFSA to own, Fender has you covered. Nail meet hammer. Fender R&D has created a group of 9 pedals, covering drive, modulation, and time effects that let a guitarist create a world of sound at their fingertips. The line is a perfect complement to the Player Plus line as they are inexpensive, compact, provide great quality and come with features that make them versatile, player-friendly, and easily accessible. So when Fender gave us a chance to give them a look, we took them to the tool shed and gave them a workout.
Fender went with simplicity when it comes to the aesthetics of the pedals or maybe it’s retro, but it’s definitely … sparse and that’s not a bad thing. The pedals come in a sturdy gray metal frame with a texture that resembles being hammered. Hence the name Hammertone. The backplate is attached by one screw for easy access to the inner workings. The only splashes of color are in the name which is simply its function, i.e overdrive, distortion, etc… and on the pedal face and the color-coordinated witch hat knobs. Whether the device has three or four depends on the effect as well as if it has switches. All jacks are top-mounted on each pedal giving them a smaller footprint for modern pedalboards. The time pedals are analog dry-through which keeps the purity of your tone when it runs through the digital circuits. They are said to be true bypass and are 9V battery or outlet powered. The entire range runs from $79 – $99.
The fuzz pedal comes with purple lettering and 3 matching knobs controlling tone, fuzz, and level. And while the included octave switch might immediately make you think this is a Hendrix Fuzz you’d be partially mistaken. While the Octave switch does get you a bit haze-y and add some sauce to your leads, the Fuzz is more than just a one-trick pony. With 2 silicon diodes, it gives me a vibe that’s a bit more 60’s dirty and can go all the way to borderline doom. Think more Maestro and less Big Muff. It’s very dark which I enjoy. And I like that it has a range that can clean up a bit and goes to nasty which again gives you options which I don’t think you get a lot of in most fuzzes. Inside there is a trim pot that allows you to tweak the tone a bit more.
Next in the gain range is Fender’s Overdrive with red writing and 4 knobs to allow for tweaking of tone, level, gain and a pre-mid boost. Coupled with a Fender-designed analog overdrive circuit, the Overdrive has will get you from blues to classic rock tones. With some tweaking, you can get a clean boost to add some color to your tone, a bit of transparent overdrive, or go all the way to full breakup. The pre-mid boost controls the mids before it hits the boost circuit allowing you to cut through the mix a bit, and adding a bit of sustain. Again, there’s a trim pot inside that allows you to tweak the higher frequencies to your liking.
The Distortion is noted by its orange writing and 4 knobs allowing you to tweak level and gain as well as a two-band EQ for treble and bass. The orange might make you think Boss DS-1 and it’s in that ballpark but not quite as aggressive. Inside you find a midrange trim pot that acts as an EQ cut/ boost control and a filter to remove high gain fizz. The Distortion is a bit more hard clipping and gives me Rat vibes but again very versatile giving you the ability to craft everything from light drive to more heavy crunchier tones making it a great pedal if you’re playing blues to punk.
Rounding out the gain category is the Metal with of course black writing and matching 4 knobs with a similar layout to the Distortion; level, gain, and the two-band EQ for treble and bass though this time named high and low. The Metal provides the highest gain option in the range providing chunky high gain for a variety of styles. Like the Distortion, it has the midrange and filter internal trim pots allowing for more sound customization and cutting down fizz. My only concern with the Metal is that it might be too much like the Distortion. And while it has more gain than the others it might need a boost to get to the range some real metalheads might like. But since you have the Overdrive, that shouldn’t be a problem. It also has a lot of bottom end. I like it but just so you’re warned.
The Delay pedal has a blue font with 3 matching knobs to control time, feedback, and level giving you a variety of options to add depth and space to your tone. Powered by a digital circuit providing up to 960ms of repeats, the Delay can give you everything from country slapback to huge ambient swells. To further curate your sound there is a type switch that gives you the choice between 3 types of delay. A digital delay, an analog delay, and a more vintage sounding tape echo. All of which are great sounding, though I lean to the tape echo personally. There is also a modulation switch that allows you to add and control a choral-like effect to your signal. To control the modulation, inside the box there are trim pots that allow you to adjust the speed and the depth of the effect. The pedal is also analog dry-through which keeps your guitar tone pure while the effects are on.
If you like the ambient, shoegaze thing, the Space Delay might be in your orbit. The Space Delay has silver writing and 3 knobs allowing you to dial in time, feedback and level. While this also has a digital circuit providing 950ms of delay it is voiced to capture that coveted sound of analog tape-style saturation. And the Space Delay allows you to go from a natural saturation to huge waves. With the pattern switch, you can choose from 3 patterns emulating classic tape heads and the mod switch allows you to add a tape warble effect which can be tweaked using internal trim pots for speed and depth.
If there was one pedal I was excited to try it was The Reverb. Fender has a history of making some of the most lush reverbs and the Reverb doesn’t disappoint, well too much. With green writing and a trio of matching knobs that control time, damp and level,l the Reverb is worthy of the Fender name. A type switch gives you access to 3 classic types of reverb; hall, plate, and room. The tone switch allows you further tone-shaping by giving you the option to go into dark mode which rolls off the treble, allowing the reverb to sit more naturally in the mix. My only disappointment is that I was hoping for a spring reverb. The FRV is decades old, rare and expensive so getting a 2022 version of that tube-driven spring reverb – I mean introducing new players to that was a missed opportunity. So yeah Fender let’s get that Spring reverb in the queue. Until then the Reverb is my favorite out of the bunch.
If we are sticking with the tool theme, the Flanger would be the … whatchamacallit. It does it. You know it does it. Not sure exactly how it does it, but it does it well. The Flanger achieves all the flanger sounds from subtle swirls to that classic jet stream effect. Achieving this is a Fender custom-designed circuit giving you amazing control to bring the signal in and out of phase. Though not really a part of the surf rock scene, the Flanger logo is surf green with matching knobs of rate, depth and manual which adjusts the delay. The resonance switch gives you three levels of intensity of feedback; light produces an almost choral effect, heavy locks in that jet turbine, and then there’s something in the middle. The type switch adjusts the polarity which adds or removes the harmonics. The ton of sounds and options in a pedal this size was surprising.
Last but not least the Chorus has a dark blue logo with matching knobs controlling the depth, rate, and level of the effect allowing you to make your sound 3 dimensional. Being the proud owner of a Roland Jazz Chorus, i’m a bit finicky when it comes to chorus sounds and I was impressed by the ability to get everything from lush sparkly tones, that rotary speaker thing, or even that bubbly underwater effect. The Chorus has a type switch giving you the option to add up to four more voices with additional delay and modulation. It also has a tone switch to cut some of the high end for warmer tones and added dimension.
I hesitate to use the words inexpensive, value, and affordable because they come with a connotation that they don’t measure up to their more expensive brethren. And yes in some ways maybe the new Hammertone series doesn’t. They aren’t as ornate, may not offer as much fine-tuning or options as the boutique devices with a number of switches and dials, and they might not have that rare diode or circuit, and if that’s what you’re looking for that’s great. I have some of those pedals also. But there is a place for pedals that just sound good and you can understand. The Hammertone delivers great tonal options, value, just a great experience and they all work together well. The Reverb is probably my favorite along with the Fuzz and Overdrive.
Now the not-so-great. As I alluded to, the knobs say what they do which is great. The switches, don’t. And I know there’s not a lot of real estate on these pedals but I don’t want to have to whip out the manual to figure out my settings. Speaking of real estate, I really don’t like the trim pots being inside. I get it, and yes it lures people inside, but I like controls more accessible. And yes, this is only a thing for certain pedals as all of them don’t need that type of tweaking. I think the Metal and the Distortion are too much alike, sonically. That might just be my ears. But they didn’t sound too different to me at certain settings. Also, the Metal I think could have used more gain. I don’t play super gainey metal stuff, but I know what it sounds like, and yeah maybe a little more.
I think the line is a genius marketing move. Fender is laying down the foundation for a whole ecosystem for guitarists, especially new ones. Depending on your learning level and budget you can start with a Squire. If you’re a gigging musician or just want something a little nicer you can go Player or Player Plus. You have the Fender amps which are some of the most played amps. Add in the Tone Master series that brings their tube sounds to lighter, more affordable prices. Fender Play is your online teacher. And now you have a suite of pedals covering a spectrum of effects, that are affordable and low-key enough that they aren’t intimidating. The knobs say what they do, for the most part. And as I mentioned, the back has one screw and some have trim pots which is a gateway to getting involved in learning about pedals, modding, and just opening up a whole new world. Brilliant move Fender. Now add a tremolo and a compressor and I’ll be all set.
Check out the Hammertone Pedals at Fender.com
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