A Glossary of Basic Stompbox Terms and Concepts
GAS, Unobtanium, Blues Doctor, Cork Sniffer, Waiting List and other oft-referenced gear terms defined.
Season’s Greetings pedal people, and welcome back to Stomp School. Well, the holidays are upon us and I thought I’d help spread some good gear ... uh, I mean good cheer, by offering this lighthearted list of popular pedal lingo.
Note: readers may want to give this magazine page to give to their wives, girlfriends, family members, or anyone else who may be interested in attempting to understand what on earth we’re talking about. Who knows, it may even give them some holiday shopping ideas for you.
Okay, let’s get started. If you’re going to have any meaningful discussion of guitar effects with your average, everyday pedal head [or aspire to be one yourself], then you’d better familiarize yourself with some of the terminology that’s commonly used in such conversations. Although we’re relating them in the context of effects pedals, these terms may also be applied to guitars, amps, and most other music related gear.
GAS: An acronym meaning “Gear Acquisition Syndrome,” which describes a condition whereby one engages in an overtly excessive accumulation of musical equipment in an obsessive/compulsive manner. Originally attributed to Walter Becker of Steely Dan in reference to “Guitar Acquisition Syndrome,” the term has been broadened to include all forms of musical equipment and accessories. The phrase has become so popular that many have begun using it in the form of a verb, i.e., “gassing.” Example: “Dude, I’m totally gassing for that new $400 Tube Screamer clone.”
Unobtanium: A condition arising out of the fact that a certain piece of gear is no longer available or is otherwise difficult to procure, resulting in said gear becoming a priceless commodity worth an untold fortune, which will most certainly be paid by someone who simply must have it.
Blues Doctor [see also Blues Lawyer]: A highly paid professional of substantial means who buys the most expensive top-notch boutique gear … because he can. The stereotypical Blues Doctor, or Blues Lawyer, is an amateur player who has a strong interest in imitating the styles of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix or Bluesbreaker/Cream era Clapton, and has a penchant for posting on certain online guitar forums.
Cork Sniffer: A player who collects and uses only the most expensive and sought after boutique musical equipment, regarding with contempt and derision anything that he considers common, cheap, or mass-produced.
Waiting List: A situation wherein the demand for a certain builder’s product ostensibly exceeds the builder’s ability to provide the product, resulting in the builder’s decision to create a “waiting list” for prospective buyers to subscribe to. Buyers may wait several months, or sometimes even years, before having the opportunity to purchase the product in question. Usually, the perceived value of the product is directly proportional to the length of the waiting list.
Pedal Scalping: When a person subscribes to the waiting list of a highly desirable pedal with the sole purpose of obtaining it to sell at a substantial profit to an eager buyer who would rather pay extra to have the pedal immediately than wait.
Transparent: A nebulous and somewhat overused term often employed to favorably describe an overdrive or boost pedal that operates without altering or coloring the original tone of the amplifier with which it’s being used. Since there is no established method of measuring and/or quantifying the degree of this state, the term when thus applied is largely subjective and can mean any number of things, including “I like this pedal and so should you.” It should be noted that transparency is not everyone’s ideal when considering the merits of a particular guitar pedal.
Dumble: A reference to the rare and expensive amplifiers built by legendary amp maker Howard Dumble. Favored by L.A. session guitarists since the 1970s, the current market value of a Dumble amp is over $25,000, which has lead to the popularity of the “Dumble Clone” in the boutique amp market. Certain pedal makers picked up on the idea as well, attempting to voice their overdrive pedals to sound similar to a Dumble amp, thereby creating a “Dumble-In-A-Box.” Players will also sometimes attribute qualities to their favorite overdrive pedals that they deem “Dumble-Like” or “Dumble-Esque.”
OD Stacking: The act of using more than one overdrive pedal at the same time in a deliberate and calculated manner to achieve a desired effect. This can be a valid practice for driving the input of an OD, or creating a thicker, more complex overdrive tone. Frequently, however, it is just a rationalization that allows a player to justify collecting and owning an inordinate number of overdrive pedals.
This is just a sample of some of the lingo currently in vogue with today’s typical tone-obsessed player, but it should be enough to get you started in making sense of the incessant ramblings of the favorite gearhead in your life.
Here’s wishing you glad tidings and, of course, good gear. We’ll see you back here in the New Year. Until then, KEEP ON STOMPIN’!
(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. Questions or comments about this article can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.