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Stompbox as Art
One of the more notable pedal-related events of the year was the release of a new DVD titled The Art of the Stompbox. Hosted by guitarists Henry Kaiser and Nels Cline, the DVD was made in support of a special exhibition (also called The Art of the Stompbox) that took place June 1 through September 30 and was hosted by the NAMM Foundation’s Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California.
The exhibit focuses on the stompbox as not only a tool of artistic expression, but as a work of art itself, highlighting the eye-catching graphics used by many boutique pedal companies, particularly the hand-painted pedals popularized by Z.Vex. In fact, the exhibit’s emblematic pedal art was painted by super-talented Z.Vex artist Hannah Haugberg.
The Museum of Making Music also hosts an online version of the exhibit, which includes a brief history of the stompbox that artfully paraphrases bits from the first two chapters of Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. I wasn’t able to see the exhibit in person, but I did purchase the DVD (along with five posters), so let’s talk about that.
The DVD really warrants its own separate review, so I’ll just touch on a few things here. First of all, I was struck by the presentation given by these two highly respected and accomplished players. The whole thing seemed loose, improvised, and unrehearsed. Everything they discussed and demonstrated came from their collective wealth of knowledge and experience, which I found impressive.
The flip side was that the info and explanations given were mostly off-the-cuff, lacking in technical detail, and sometimes downright random. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Cline: “The flanger is also the sound of goth, and we know that goth is forever.”
Kaiser (describing reverb): “It sounds like you’re in the Taj Mahal with your guitar.”
Cline (describing a Leslie effect): “It’s the sound of speakers spinning around at different speeds inside a beautiful piece of furniture.”
Clearly, these guys are musicians, first and foremost. As such, their commentary distinctly reflects the players’ perspectives. And while they may not have articulated the how and why of what makes their gear tick, they sure as heck know how to use it. Anything lacking in verbal description is more than adequately addressed through expert demonstration.
Vintage Pedal Prices
Okay, let’s talk about vintage pedal prices. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the stompbox market for nearly a decade. And since the economic downturn, I’ve been even more interested in how the resale value of vintage effects would be, uh … affected.
Initially, the vintage stomp market as a whole held reasonably steady. But that proved only to have been a delayed reaction, and this has been the year the recession’s aftermath really hit the vintage stomp market. Vintage pedals that had been stable for several years finally took a tumble. A prime example is Mu-Tron, one of the few brands with a historically consistent and predictable market value.
The Mu-Tron Bi-Phase, for example, could usually fetch over a grand in good condition with the original footswitch. Now it’s hard to find one that hits that four-figure mark. Ditto for a vintage Uni-Vibe. But in true form, the vintage pedal market as a whole refuses to cooperate with our attempts to pin down its trends. While the value of many top dollar classics has dipped, inexplicably other vintage pedals keep rising. Most of these have been British fuzz pedals. The price of any vintage Tone Bender is now at least 25 percent higher than the average pre-recession price. Recently the madness has escalated to a new level of crazy. Just this past week a Baldwin-Burns Buzzaround Fuzz sold on eBay for £3300 GBP (that’s $5148.08). Interestingly, the vintage synthesizer market has also been steadily on the rise. But I guess that’s a discussion for a different magazine.
Last Ride of the Horsey Man
Another historically significant stompbox event this year was the (reported) ceasing of production of the venerable Klon Centaur. For the past 16 years, this iconic, mother-of- all-overdrive pedals has been the only product of a brand made by one man, who abruptly announced last December that the Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive is out of production. The reaction was predictable, yet somehow astounding. Panic ensued as players and collectors alike were suddenly stricken with K.A.S. (Klon Acquisition Syndrome). A plethora of Centaurs came up on eBay, regularly selling for over $1000, essentially doubling the previous average selling price.
The Klon frenzy continued for several weeks. At any given time you could find half a dozen active eBay auctions for this quintessential Holy Grail overdrive, with the gold “Horsey Man” versions going through the roof. In recent weeks the prices seem to have stabilized somewhat, but remain above their previous average. We have since come to learn that the beloved Centaur is merely on hiatus while Klon creator Bill Finnegan comes up with a new enclosure that will be smaller and more pedalboard-friendly. It remains to be seen if the market will accept the new design or—as frequently happens in this fickle niche—if players will nostalgically yearn for the old “big box” Klon. I think if Mr. Finnegan can deliver the goods with a gold finish and a Horsey Man graphic, all will be well in the stomp world.
Well, that’s a wrap for this month. Until next time, keep on stompin’!
Tom Hughes (a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. Send questions or comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993, Analog Man (analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.