The Ibanez Tone-Lok Seven series of pedals are easily among the most overlooked items of gear in the company’s deep and decorated back catalog. While most of the world was prepping for the potential perils of Y2K, in 1999 Ibanez delivered a line of pedals that targeted the generation of players that would usher guitar and gear into the new millennium. With the help of major artist endorsements from then top bands, not least Korn, the tactic should have worked. Yet, years later, it seems, the Tone-Lok series struggled to garner a following. Why?
Let’s start with the positives. At a time when multi-effects were on the rise, not least the kidney bean Line 6 Pod, and Boss and MXR owned the block on compact pedals, the Tone-Lok Seven series had some big contenders. Even in this market, Ibanez went all in with a lineup including an impressive seventeen stompboxes. On the roster were both the usual types of effects you’d expect, for example, the DE7 Stereo Delay/Echo or the TS7 Tubescreamer, as well as edgier more imaginative renditions, such as the SH7 Seventh Heaven or the WD7 Weeping Demon. (Nothing captures teenage angst like those last two!)
Design-wise, the Seven series also had some clear assets. These things were bricks. Their dusted metal exterior at least felt military grade. Practically, the name of the series came from the hybrid push button nobs that would lock in flush with the pedal once settings were dialed in. If you think about it, it’s not a bad idea: avoid the accident of nudging your settings out of place when engaging your pedal just when the sound matters most.
With this series, Ibanez was also pretty forward thinking. They challenged musicians to see and use effect pedals differently. Take, for example, the LF7 Lo-Fi pedal. In an age where effects rarely went beyond the traditional typologies (e.g., delay, chorus, flange, fuzz, etc.) this little guy featured a guitar, drum, and mic setting that replicated the sound of a vintage damaged speaker. Other such innovations include the SM7 Smashbox and SB7 Synthesizer Bass. In retrospect, not only was Ibanez trying to think outside the box of what an effect could do but also how the compact pedal might have other uses beyond the six string. If you look at where we are now with guitar pedals, they were arguably right on the money.
Even the classic takes on old sounds included something new. For example, the F27 Fuzz includes a “Damage” switch, allowing you to decide if you want 0%, 10%, or 100% degradation of the fuzz signal. So, it’s your choice: classic fuzz or scorched earth? Here again, look at where we are with fuzzes and you might argue Ibanez was ahead of the curve.
So why didn’t the Tone-Lok stick? It’s tough to say. By the early 2000s, however, Ibanez quietly retired the series. These days, they’re pawn shop favorites, most often coming in with two-digit price tags. It might be that this situation is ideal for a comeback story. I mean, nobody cared about the Ibanez Ten series of pedals until John Mayer professed himself a fan. The Tone-Lok stompboxes were designed to be futuristic from the very start. Perhaps the past has caught up to the present and they’re ready for a comeback.