“This World Sucks, So I Made My Own”

We haven’t yet seen roving hordes of Morlocks (or have we?), but at least we’ve got our stompbox “time machines.”

Yesterday I was scrolling through a bunch of old photos and came across one that made me chuckle in a way it hadn't before. I snapped it in Frankfurt, Germany, years ago during a trip to the Musikmesse trade show. On a wall under the bridge next to the 500-year-old cathedral along the Main river, someone had spray-painted—strangely, in English—“This world sucks so I made my own."

I wouldn't have snapped the pic if I hadn't found it funny then, but considering what 2020's been like, it made me laugh a little like a madman grasping at the last strings of sanity. Particularly since this Pedal Issue literally piled much atop the existing craziness of the pandemic, political upheaval, and impending-economic doom. As we crawl the trenches of our annual Pedal Issue—the year's biggest—gear editor Charles Saufley (who not only plans, acquires, assigns, and handles heavy-lift editing chores for the multitude of stompbox reviews, but writes a crapload of them himself) and fellow California-based editor Rich Osweiler are currently beset on all sides by wildfires attempting to usher in the era of Mad Max.

Even as the world spins to and fro, hardly staying on axis, we can still retreat to our musical fortresses and use them to dial in journeys to innumerable sonic realms all our own.

In addition, the week before Pedal Issue deadline, a freak-show of hurricane-force winds swept across Iowa and Illinois, clobbering countless communities in its path, including the city where PG is headquartered. The 140-mph straight-line derecho storm lasted 30 minutes, and by the time it passed, the 75-square-mile city of Cedar Rapids and the hundreds of thousands of people living there and in surrounding communities were out of power—some for nine days or more. Homes, businesses, and all sorts of property were destroyed by the winds themselves, as well as the trees and power lines they felled. Staffers here at your favorite guitar rag/site escaped major tragedy, but our neighborhoods are still lined with walls of branches piled high along the curb, the houses—those still with roofs and those without—huddling behind them like shell-shocked survivors of an ambush, not quite sure it's safe to come out of the foxhole. It was surreal.

Who am I kidding—I'm the shell-shocked one, not my dumb house.

Looking at the old snapshot of graffiti, I cackled to myself: Man, that guy in Frankfurt thought things were bad in 2015—just think if he'd hopped in a time machine and set it ahead five years! We haven't yet seen H.G. Wells' hordes of marauding Morlocks (or have we?), but I'm sure he would've scrambled back to the machine and hightailed it back to whence he came.

On a more optimistic note, it then occurred to what remains of my addled brain that the devices we're celebrating with this issue—not just the 26 stompboxes reviewed here, but the very idea of them—are a pretty reliable means of escape. Even as the world spins to and fro, hardly staying on axis, we can still retreat to our musical fortresses and use them to dial in journeys to innumerable sonic realms all our own. And for that remaining joy, I am truly grateful.

This rare English Tonemaster was made circa 1957.

The Valco-produced English Tonemaster is a rare, lap-steel-inspired gem from the 1950s—when genres and guitar design were fluid.

The 1950s were a peculiar time for the electric guitar. Innovators, designers, and tinkerers were pushing the boundaries of the instrument, while musicians were experimenting with various playing techniques and sounds. There was an evolution of sorts (or de-evolution, depending on your slant) from solidbody “sit-down” guitars, like pedal and lap steels, to “stand-up” or “upright” solidbody electrics. If you look at an early Fender catalog—let’s say from 1953—you’ll see the Telecaster (and Esquire), the Precision Bass, and then a whole bunch of steel guitars. There was a shift underway, and many manufacturers began to blur the lines of what a guitar should look, sound, and play like.

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PRS Guitars and John Mayer officially announce the PRS SE Silver Sky, an affordable version of the original with PRS trademark bird inlays and three single-coil pickups.

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