State of the Stomp: What’s the Point?

Like scaling Everest, we do it because we can.

By the time you read this, I’ll have played the annual South Carolina Oyster Fest. It will have been an outdoor show in late November—a time of year when most of us only go outside on a penance walk for gorging ourselves on meals thick with carbs and gravy. It will have been during the afternoon, outside of a historic house museum, for an audience laser-focused on shucking oysters, drinking things, and staying warm. It will probably have been relatively cold, wet, and drizzly, although the last few years here in Columbia the highs on the date in question have tended to be in the low 60s. Northerners, you are welcome to hate us.

This event will have broken many silly rules I have about performing sets of original music when the band isn’t famous and people don’t know the songs. Being outdoors eliminates the dynamics of the room and its note-massaging sources of compression and reverb, and introduces environmental sources of discomfort. A nice sunny day can make a pedal tuner worthless. It will be a family friendly event, which compromises audience behavior and attention. Most of all, it will be for an audience that isn’t specifically there for original music. This is perfectly fine. There are plenty of times I’ve gone to events and not necessarily been in the mood for original music. Most of them were sporting events or movies.

A smart, experienced musician or reasonably sensible human being would evaluate this event and venue and make a series of basic recommendations. Play some covers that people will know. Keep it simple. Don’t be offensive. Get people dancing. They aren’t there for your tones, art, discovery, or virtuosity. Just bring a minimum of functional gear, get onstage, play some nice sounding stuff, get paid for playing music (Yes kids! It does happen!), and then quickly pack up your stuff, go eat some oysters, drink some beer, have fun, and once you’ve run out of people whom you know well enough to make some good small talk with, quit while you’re winning and call it a day.

There’s no way the timely use of a vintage chorus pedal will seem really vital to anyone’s experience other than maybe my own.

I, however, am a stubborn, foolish, and unreasonable human being. For playing a 40-minute set of music at an outdoor oyster festival on a Sunday afternoon in November, I will bring north of $5,000 worth of gear. Much of it will barely be used. The signal chain will triangulate terms such as “unnecessary,” “grotesque,” and “gratuitous.” I will worry about the reliability of the tube amp. I will stress about where I’ll be able to store the guitars and pedals before and after the show. I will probably spend some significant portion of my increasingly rare and valuable free time making patch cables. And for covers, the only tunes we’ve agreed on are “Fairies Wear Boots” by Black Sabbath and “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead—each a departure from our brand of Americana into short torrents of sonic rust and wrought iron that will fail to endear a band to this crowd while consuming valuable set time.

So why would I do this? The truth of the matter is that most of us, regardless of professional acumen, artistic pedigree, technical ability, overt snobbery, or consistency of ethos, still find making loud, strange noises really, really fun.

I have zero delusions that my use of any of this stuff will strike anyone’s deep sense of artistic fancy. I wouldn’t wager that somebody simply searching for a bottle of Tabasco sauce will think, “Wow, this guy really knows how to use a Bit Commander or Pitch Grinder in interesting ways.” There’s no way the timely use of a vintage chorus pedal will seem really vital to anyone’s experience other than maybe my own.

I recently restored a vintage Small Stone phase shifter that was full of pet hair, dust, and grime. The only possible explanation for its condition that I can imagine was that it had spent its lifetime stuck under a leaking AC unit in an attic full of feral cats. But after a solid hour of rust removal, a firing up of a wet/dry vac, scrubbing the board with alcohol, replacing parts, and retouching solder joints, the pedal pulsed and throbbed with a vitality that is as close to magic as anything I’ve encountered in my lifetime. This thing deserves to be heard, even by people who have better reasons to be there than listening. I have just the venue for it to make an appearance.

A modern take on Fullerton shapes and a blend of Fender and Gibson attributes strikes a sweet middle ground.

A stylish alternative to classic Fender profiles that delivers sonic versatility. Great playability.

Split-coil sounds are a little on the thin side. Be sure to place it on the stand carefully!

$1,149

Fender Player Plus Meteora HH
fender.com

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After many decades of sticking with flagship body shapes, Fender spent the last several years getting more playful via their Parallel Universe collection. The Meteora, however, is one of the more significant departures from those vintage profiles. The offset, more-angular profile was created by Fender designer Josh Hurst and first saw light of day as part of the Parallel Universe Collection in 2018. Since then, it has headed in both upscale and affordable directions within the Fender lineup—reaching the heights of master-built Custom Shop quality in the hands of Ron Thorn, and now in this much more egalitarian guise as the Player Plus Meteora HH.

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We polled our readers to find the coolest guitar shops in the US, and here are the first half of the results, in no particular order.

The 20 Coolest Guitar Shops in the US, Vol. 1
"We asked PG readers what is the coolest guitar shop they've been to in the US. And while long-gone favorites like Manny's Music (New York) and Black Market Music (San Francisco) came up again and again, there were even more current shops topping readers' favorites list. We compiled the 20 most mentioned stores and quickly realized there were too many great photos we'd have to cut in order to get them all in one gallery. So here's the first installment in no particular order. If you're wondering where your favorite is, it may be coming next time, or we might not be aware of it, so feel free to leave your faves in the comments section."

A recreation of George Harrison's '61 Sonic Blue Strat, hand-painted in psychedelic Day-Glo colors and affectionately named “Rocky.”

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