Has the excitement and adventure disappeared from the quest for cool new gear?
Over each of the past 10 years, things have changed exponentially for marketing a product or brand. For the guitar pedal industry, the mystery has diminished. The world isn't as large. Magical pedals are more attainable and, as a result, less magical. It's not that there isn't top tier, tasteful, and dramatic pieces of gear created every year. There are. But they're easy to come by, easy to procure, easy to know about. It's all so easy. Think about the first time you heard the word “Klon" and how long was it until you actually heard what a Centaur sounded like? By that point, the pedal was probably legendary—if for no other reason than its mystery.
The ease of exploration and discovery is great. The internet has everything. Social media has everything. I'm not complaining, but I've found myself reflecting on how showing guitar pedals to friends, bandmates, and even customers has changed. The marketing landscape has evolved from word-of-mouth and print advertisements to blogs and social media, and will continue to change.
For example, the first “boutique" pedal I ever sought out was the Fulltone Full-Drive 2. I'd stomped through my Line 6 DM4 Distortion Modeler and needed something to capture what I considered at the time to be the desirable tone. A friend of a friend lent me his Full-Drive 2, and I was in. I'd never heard of it before. I didn't know how or why it was different. I just knew that it made my amp sound “better." It provided magical dynamics that I'd never thought to pursue. That was in 2003. I didn't know where or how to find one. After much searching, I found one. And I knew that hardly anyone else in my universe had one. It was unique. Exciting. And my pedal world slowly began to grow.
Everything was relatively new and, therefore, everything suggested by a friend or the local guitar guru was worth checking out. And there was eBay—the online marketplace where, if you were either gullible or smart enough to send a complete stranger money, you could wind up with vintage and unique gear otherwise geographically untouchable for a teenager in, say, Oklahoma. My pedal world grew larger still.
Back then an advertisement in a guitar publication carried the most weight. The only way to hear about the new Electro-Harmonix pedal was to skim a magazine. And if you were lucky, the local Mars Music or Guitar Center would have one in stock to try out. But only if you were lucky. Not long ago, the unlucky went without. So it was a thrill to search for new and different gear at a good price.
Then eBay and Craigslist gave way to music stores with e-commerce capabilities, offering products beyond their immediate geographic region. This gave every distributor and reseller an opportunity to step up their advertising and marketing game. A quick web search flashed all the options in front of any potential buyer. So your picture, your tagline, your deal had all better stand out. The audience was larger, but the competition was—and is—greater.
Here's the catch-up to now: direct sales and marketing from the manufacturer to the customer. Today we use social media to show the customer what we have, what we're doing, what we're working on, and what we like. It's a lot of noise, but that's the game. And we are playing. So we take pictures and make videos so we won't be forgotten or left out of the mix.
Woof. I'll admit it: I'm a little grumpy about the state of things.
In 2016, there's no mystery left. Posting a photo to social media instantly transfers intimate knowledge of new products and availability, which is great. I do it. I like doing it most days. But it's also terrible. Everybody knows everything without working for it, and I can't help but feel that we don't deserve to know everything about everything—at least not without working for it and taking the journey to find magical and new guitars, pedals, and gear. But that's all right. There's always next year and there will always be new and unexpected ways to discover and display what's next.