13 Boutique Guitar Companies We Love
I’m not one to avoid big companies, especially when it comes to guitar gear.
Because they’re big for a reason. Namely, they make products that a lot of people want and are willing to pay good money for.
So yes, the Fenders, Marshalls and Rolands of the world are in good standing.
But what about those we might have never heard of?
You know, the smaller or “boutique” companies.
While there is nothing wrong with buying from the big guys, it can be really interesting and intriguing to look at what some of the boutique guitar gear companies have to offer.
In many cases, they make high-quality products, often by hand with unique features and character that you can’t get from an assembly line. And you look, you might just find a pedal, amp or perhaps a guitar that feels right for you, that you didn’t even know existed before.
So here, I’m going to cover some of the boutique guitar gear companies that are worth a look.
1. Carr Amps
If you’re trying to get away from the more mainstream amplifier brands, Carr Amps is a great place to start.
They’ve got a number of unique amp designs that are almost entirely handmade and come with a lifetime warranty. We especially dig the 40-watt Slant 6V tube amp with two channels and a reverb control for each one.
For an extra $200 or so you can even change the color.
Check ‘em out if you want to get your hands on an amp that no one you know is likely to know about, much less own.
T-REX has few irons in the fire.
While known for their pedals and effects, they also make power supplies, pedalboard carrying bags and their own patch cables.
Within their effects lineup, the T-Rex Stereo delay is one of the more popular offerings, boasting analog circuitry and true stereo operation with dual L/R outputs.
T-REX also creates the Fuel Tank power supplies, which might look familiar to you, as they’ve made their rounds on large retail sites like Amazon and Musician’s Friend.
It’s an impressive showing for a team of only eight people.
Way to bring it T-REX. Keep up the good work.
So yes, Acoustic makes acoustic amps, but what’s even more interesting is that they also make electric guitar and bass amps. They’ve also been around since 1967. You’ve got to appreciate the longevity and experience backing their products.
One such product is the 120-Watt DSP with built-in digital effects, which is one of Acoustic’s most powerful electric guitar amps.
Note that you can get their amps from many of the major guitar gear retailers.
Strymon has a large team working on a fairly small products list.
You might notice that prices are a bit higher. But keep in mind, this is likely due to the larger number of staff and attention to detail that each stompbox gets.
They’ve also got some of the more interesting pedal titles and effects we’ve seen.
For instance, what is the “Flint Tremolo” and why are there nine knobs and three buttons on their Reverberator pedal?
It feels good to us.
Tortuga effects is an impressive one-man operation, courtesy of a fella by the name of Matt Johnson who produces and builds his pedals in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.
His pedal lineup is widely varied and artistic, rivaling - and perhaps resembling - the ZVEX product line (more on ZVEX below).
Some of his most intriguing offerings include the Silicone FireAnt Overdrive and the SingleMalt Dual Vintage Delay.
Zachary Vex is the brains and name behind what has become one of the most unique and creative guitar pedal lineup known to the modern era.
First, the ZVEX pedals are all hand-painted, primarily by two full-time artists.
That means no two ZVEX pedals are exactly alike.
If you buy something from them it is 100% unique.
The electronics in each pedal are also hand-wired, adding further to the boutique appeal of each box. If you checkout the full ZVEX product line you’ll notice that they have a lot of pedals in their lineup, many of which are a bit unusual and original.
In other words, you’ll have more to choose from than just a boost, distortion and chorus.
Instead, the selection is rather numerous.
7. Walrus Audio
Walrus Audio makes some intriguing pedals, notably the Descent Reverb.
It might just be one of the most loaded and feature-rich reverb pedals we’ve ever seen.
Walrus Audio keeps the profile of a smaller company, but still boasts some big-time names on their artist list, including Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, Bibi McGill and Madonna’s Monte Pittman.
Operating out of the heart of Mexico, Distorted Branch makes some of the most beautiful custom guitars in existence.
If you spend any amount of time browsing their Facebook page, you’ll see that they take a lot of time and care with the instruments they create. You’ll notice some unique craftsmanship along with the donning of popular and reliable hardware like Floyd Rose tremolo systems and Seymour Duncan pickups.
A tip of the hat to the Distorted Branch luthiers is well-deserved.
You can email Lizet and Paul directly if you want to have them build something for you.
Keeley Electronics mixes a lot of variety into their pedal lineup, including a fixed filter wah, the Neutrino Envelope Filter and the Keeley Compressor Pro.
All three fall on the uncommon side of the guitar pedal world.
John Petrucci and Steely Dan’s Jon Herington are among the Keeley customer files.
Per his about page, Robert Keeley has been the brains behind this project since 2001, having began his career in electronics all the way back in 1989. Today they’ve got the production level (and clientele) of a larger company with a small, boutique feel via their website.
When you think about boutique guitar gear, you don’t often think about pickups.
But the idea has a lot of appeal, right? I mean, pickups are - quite possibly - the most important part of a guitar. So why not have them handmade?
Perhaps in the UK?
Bare Knuckle pickups is one such company from overseas that makes a number of both vintage and contemporary pickup designs using what they call “vintage-correct” parts.
Everything you can buy from them is made entirely by hand, with a surprisingly wide selection and reasonable prices, with some dependence (of course) on the exchange rate.
Scott Marquart started Stringjoy to provide high-quality, handmade strings with the added benefit of allowing customers to customize the gauge of each string they order. While it’s true that other companies (Ernie Ball, Elixir, etc.) allow you to buy single strings, the Stringjoy website allows you to order full packs via a customization interface.
Their strings are also made in the United States and are slightly more cost effective than buying strings one-by-one from a larger company.
Aguilar is a boutique amplification company focused specifically on gear for bass guitar players. They produce and manufacture the following products:
- Bass Amps
- Pickups and Preamps
Their artist list is nothing short of impressive, with headliners including U2’s Adam Clayton and Rickey Minor of The Tonight Show Band.
GuitarMoose is a tiny company, run by a fella named Alexander who has dubbed himself the “master pick maker.”
And his product is indeed masterful.
The GuitarMoose picks are fitted with a material that allows you to grip the pick extremely well, and prevents dropping them while even improving playing control. As advertised, they stay right where you hold them until you decide to reposition.
You can read a full review of their picks and products, specifically the Sticky Pick, for more information.
Some of Your Favorites
What boutique guitar gear companies do you like?
How do you feel about this list?
Share some of your favorites and other thoughts via our Facebook page or the comments section below.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Mike Schmid