Are We Living In The Golden Age OF Pedals?
Has the best overdrive been made? Will a new octave fuzz be released soon that will eclipse all others? Has the crafting of digital reverb algorithms reached the apex? Will another 60’s spec Strat or Offset homage be built and steal our hearts? Have amp & cab sims really caught up with the real thing? Are we living in The Golden Age OF Pedals?
These are all questions that, from our perspective of this industry, we ask each other all the time. When will it stop? Will this ‘pedal high’, that’s been rolling for the best part of two decades now, just keep riding the wave? Or will a new musical fad eventually steal the show? In my somewhat biased, optimistic view, I don’t think we’re destined for a demise.
Back in 2017 the Washington Post published an article called ‘Why My Guitar Gently Weeps’ which centred around the industry sales figures and mounting debts of guitar manufacturing giants like Gibson, Fender and PRS. The main ‘reason’ for this decline was explained by the ‘Guitar Gods’ of old like Clapton, Hendrix and Page, and their main guitar playing audience, fading away. The term ‘Guitar God’ didn’t have relevance any more. Trap beats, Hip Hop and Pop Stars had taken over.
This article, though accurate at the time to some degree, was pretty short-sighted and hasn’t aged well in the light of 2021. While those industry juggernauts were ‘struggling’ it seemed like every other week a new pedal brand or homegrown guitar company popped up and gained traction in the social media world. Rewind to the early 2000’s and the pickings from pedal brands was extremely thin, with only the big brands being easily available at local stores.
Now the ‘Guitar Gods’ have actually been replaced by an ever-growing and inspiring throng of Instagram guitarists, as well as an exponential burst in YouTube demo artists (which I’m lucky enough to be one of). The ever expanding artisan builder demographic, hand in hand with these new musical personalities, have bolstered each other and propelled the pedal/guitar/amp industry repeatedly to new heights through the last few years, even through a pandemic fraught with lockdowns, parts shortages and horrendously affected freight systems.
But why? How is it possible that ANOTHER dual overdrive will undoubtedly take us all by storm, or a Tone Bender variant with an extra clipping option will sell out in minutes online. Is it because we’re all suckers? Are we all just incredibly bored or addicted? I think the answer is hidden deep in the neurological way we, as musicians and music lovers, respond to sounds. But I also think there’s an organic thing that has happened.
(The Protein from Browne Amplification is one of the recent dual overdrives killing it right now)
On one hand I’m surprised by the success of pedal release after pedal release we see in store, but then I’m as much of a consumer myself. I’ll play the latest creation sent to me for a video, or listen to a clip on instagram, and I’ll be enthralled by the harmonics, or chew modulation, or expansive ambience. Next thing I know I’m planning out where this new piece will fit in my rig, and which box may need to be sacrificed to satiate my latest desire. Something mystical happens when we ‘gel’ with a sound. Add to that the thought and creativity put into the aesthetics of todays instruments and devices… it’s a well oiled machine that draws us in… and I don’t mind one bit!!
Then there’s the fact that everyone of these companies have real, live faces we can associate with them. You can watch a clip on Instagram and see the person that put solder-to-circuit talking you through his or her latest creation. The industry has become relatable. No longer are we restricted to companies that are just a logo with no personality. We get Colt Westbrook, Robert Keeley or Joel Korte sharing their passion with us and thanking us for being part of their journey. It’s real and endearing, and makes us all feel connected in some greater way.
(Colt, Robert & Joel)
And it’s not just us, everyone is gassing for pedals. Something that may also surprise you is that it’s not just the guitar-centric world experiencing this boom. The hardware synth industry is growing rapidly too. Drum machines, samplers, analog synths… they’re all being produced by smaller and smaller companies. Take modular synth for example. In recent years eurorack modules have been responsible for the highest percentage of annual sales on Reverb more than once. Though this isn’t something to be worried about if you’re a guitarist. Lots of modular brands have incorporated interfaces into their product lines that allow their users to put pedals into their systems. So they’re all experimenting with the sounds original intended for guitarists, and that’s actually good for everyone!
It's becoming increasingly popular to use pedals as outboard gear in the studio. Re-amping guitar parts, acoustic instruments, pianos, vocal, or even as inserts on soft synth and sample instruments. In fact, I’d wager a bet that if you picked any recent song there’s a high chance at least one track has been manipulated by a pedal or two. These quaint, colourful boxes have infiltrated all avenues of music, be it at the hands of the bedroom hobbyist, in the rig of a touring artist or aiding the studio-bound producer in his art of refining others work.
Well, that’s my broad ‘brush-strokes’ explanation, but there’s so much more to dive into, and this blog is going to be the place to do it! We hope you’ll join us to explore the empire of pedals further. We’ll be traversing the seas of controversy, diving deep into origin stories, interviewing your favourite builders (and some you may not know) and putting the spotlight on some devices that we think you should know about. Let’s take advantage of this era we live in: The Golden Age Of Pedals!!