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You’ll never catch me trying to explain to my wife why my pedalboard doesn’t have a single effect that’s more than three years old. Clockwise from top left: Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator, TC-Helicon Mic Mechanic (for vocals), EarthQuaker Devices Tone Reaper, Planet Waves tuner, Keeley Compressor, Pigtronix Fat Drive, Ibanez ES-2 Echo Shifter, Goodsell Valpreaux 21 tremolo-circuit footswitch, and Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 4x4 (not shown).
Guitarists are selfish pigs (yes, bassists, too). At least that’s what the majority of the human race would think if they knew our dirty little secret. Even the most "normal" and well-adjusted among us is afflicted with a disease that boggles the average homo sapien’s mind. Whole seasons of reality television could be dedicated to the condition, but people would still be scratching their heads trying to figure out how we function in society—how we walk amongst them undetected, every day.
I speak, of course, of our insatiable appetite for little metal boxes to stomp upon and twiddle with. If there's one area in which guitarists and bassists are completely and shamelessly self-indulgent, irrational, and clinically obsessive, it’s pedals. When The Matrix’s Agent Smith berated Morpheus with, “You [humans] move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area,” he was about to add, “especially Ted and his ridiculous pedalboards.” But then he thought, “[Expletive]—wrong Keanu movie.”
But that’s because these ignoramuses/artificial intelligences just don’t get it—they don’t know the power of the pedal. What society will never understand is that our addiction is perfectly rational (okay, I’m using the term loosely here): While they collect stamps, guns, comic books, vintage gaming systems, and/or entire planets full of supposedly-advanced metabolizing beings by which to power intra-galaxy conquests, we do what we do because it facilitates something productive and (relatively) harmless to other beings: the aural radness we call music.
“ … the only way [guitarists] can survive is to spread [their pedals] to another area.”
While significant others and hypothetical watchers of the aforementioned Pedal Hoarders program see our stompaholism as a subhuman obsession with bright colors and flashing lights, a failure to progress beyond juvenile dreams of fame, life-inhibiting and bank-account-draining indecisiveness, and/or compensatory behavior that’s indicative of how we view our mothers, we know very well that, on a number of levels, collecting pedals is the most practical means of … er, well, effecting change in our relentless pursuit of kick-ass tone.
I mean, let’s face it: Once you’ve pinpointed the big-ticket items—the type of instrument and amp you dig most— there’s no easier way to experiment with new textures, timbres, and miscellaneous weirdness than by trying out a new stomp. Whether you lean solidbody or semi-hollow, beefy neck or skinny neck, single-coil or humbucker, a new floor friend will fit into your tried-and-true rig without requiring you to adapt to a new form factor. It’s a seasoning you can add a smidge or generous shake of without having to adjust to a new body, bridge, or neck, and without having to alter your technique, attack, or settings to make up for how everything’s interpreted by, say, an EL34 power section versus a 6V6. And it goes without saying that, for the vast majority of effects, buying a new box o’ spice is a hell of a lot cheaper than ponying up for a new axe or amp.
You and I both know the watertight logic of this explanation will never keep them off our cases, though. Even if they feign understanding, our non-guitarist parents, friends, and lovers will never believe that, though last month’s digital delay is incredible, it can’t quite match the deliciously degraded signal of your new analog unit. And don’t even think about trying to explain why you’re sure this next fuzz pedal will sound more amazing than the previous 20 in any quantifiable way.
Same goes for the 30 killer boxes reviewed in this issue. We, your fellow addicts, understand why you’re going to skip dinner to read them ASAP—but don’t waste your breath on anyone else.