The Preamp You Holster Beltside? The Boss FA-1

At a time where rack effects reigned supreme and compact pedals were but a small band of bold rebels inching onto enemy territory underfoot, Boss charted a new space for housing effects. Why not toss it in your pocket or, better yet, on your belt? This is the story of the iconic yet overlooked Boss “Pocket Series” from the early 1980s.

To put things in perspective, the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, which is often dubbed the first compact pedal, came to market in 1978. Originally, the idea was to pitch this effect to keyboardists but in short order, guitarists started using the effect to get washy vibes out of their amplifiers. In retrospect, we understand the CE-1 as a pedal, but at the time this concept was still developing and a stable or standard footprint for guitar pedals didn’t really exist. This meant Boss could continue to innovate until they hit their mark.

In 1984, Boss released an effect unit that shared a common denominator with the increasingly popular CE-1. Simply put, this effect box was placed in the signal chain between guitar and amp and offered real time control over its parameters. The big difference, however, was you didn’t put the effect on the floor. As part of the so-called “Pocket Series,” the Boss FA-1 FET Amplifier was small enough to fit in your pocket. Or, for the more flashy players among us, it came with a convenient belt clip on the back side. From a design (or fashion) perspective this is either bizarre or brilliant, I’m still not sure. The idea seems to have been to allow players easy access to effect parameters without having to run to a rack or bend down to tinker at a floor-based effect. So what could you dial in?

The Boss FA-1 is a FET based preamp. Like the preamp in an amplifier, this could color and contour the tone to taste. On the front of this shamrock-green effect, you’ll find treble and bass pots to boost or cut those corresponding frequencies as well as a volume nob to add a decibel dose when necessary. Mid-ship you’ll also find a switch between a “flat” EQ voice and a “low cut” setting that shaves off the bottom end of your signal to push things out front in an instant. 

While I don’t ever recall seeing The Edge from U2 sporting a Boss FA-1 hipside on stage, he’s remembered as being one of few players to have made the most of this device in the band’s early years. Whether it was the form or function of the Boss FA-1 that spelled its early demise, after a short production run the pedal became a mythical missing link in the evolutionary chain of modern effects. With prices soaring on the used market and in view of the growing interest in “always on” and “tone sculpting” pedals, Josh Scott and the crew at JHS announced at NAMM 2019 that they reimagined the effect in a true pedal format. While they’ve (un)fortunately done away with the belt clip, the JHS Clover provides a new take on the classic Boss FA-1 for the next generation. 

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