Over the years I’ve written about stuff, actual physical stuff that you can hold in your hand and appreciate. I’m guilty of fetishizing all manor of objects. So it should be no surprise that objects that fetishize other objects scratch a very special itch for me which is why my bookshelves are exploding with what I just refer to as art books though I accept that many people wouldn’t consider the subject of many of them to be art at all. An example of that would be guitar pedals. Most people wouldn’t consider them art, even though some people obsessively collect them like art. Musicians are artists, and music is art, so it’s really not much of a stretch to think of the tools artists use in an artistic fashion. I was recently gifted a beautiful book on the subject which made me realize that I now have several books on the subject and though maybe some others might be interested in hearing a little about them.
I bought Level & Attack – The Untold Story of The Tone Bender Fuzz in early 2018 admittedly without knowing much of what it was about. Some friends were very excited about it and I saw a few photos from it and was curious enough to jump through the needed hoops to get one shipped to me in Japan. I was not disappointed. Substantial barely begins to describe this massive book which is too big to fit vertically on my bookshelf. Authors Anthony and Steve Macari dive deep into the history of a single pedal (the Tone Bender) with almost pornographic close up photos of hand wired circuit boards and the most painstaking documentation of variations from one model to the next. This is supplemented by anecdotes by massive name musicians gushing about how much they love it. As an effect, “fuzz” wasn’t something I really paid much attention to before getting this book but there’s no way to take in the passion and love poured into this book and not get infected by curiosity at the very least. I can’t imagine how expensive this book was to make, and they only made 500 copies which sold out right away so getting one these days is no easy task, but if you have the chance to pick one up and flip though it I assure you it will be worth your time. I say that assuming that, like me, you enjoy seeing the most knowledgable people on a super niche subject just spill all of the goods in unrestrained detail.
With that groundwork laid and the interest itch piqued, adding 2019’s Pedal Crush to the collection was an absolute no brainer. If you don’t know anything about guitar pedals and want to understand what they are, what they do, how they ended up doing that and who is doing what with them today then Kim Bjørn and Scott Harper (aka Knobs) have published the perfect book to answer all of your questions. While Level & Attack was hyper focused, Pedal Crush zooms out to cover the entire landscape. The history of various effects, what they sound like and how those eventually got squeezed into pedal format, the manufacturers who drove and continue to drive that innovation and generally how one thing led to another, and the who’s who of all corners of the boutique pedal industry.
Between these two you might think the story has been told, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But any good story has multiple layers and Eilon Paz’s Stompbox really puts the personal stories front and center. That’s not to say the previous books don’t talk about people (they do) or that Stompbox doesn’t cover history (it does) but much more than the others, rather than being about pedals this book is about the people. The subtitle 100 Pedals of the World’s Greatest Guitarists buries the lede because the “greatest guitarists” part is really what makes this book so special. The absolute bulk of this already bulky book is personal stories from musicians you love talking about something that in many cases defines their sound. This is artists talking about the favorite paint on their palette, the brush that they couldn’t have painted a masterpiece without.
100 musicians, 100 pedals, lifetimes of stories. This isn’t a book you read cover to cover and then put on your shelf to forget, it’s one you can (and will) open to any page at any time and find something wonderful and inspirational. This book is brand new and I haven’t fully read it yet, but that is only due to its size and my need to eat and sleep. However there hasn’t been a page I’ve read in it yet which hasn’t left me wanting to read the next one as well, and I may savor that feeling by limiting myself to reading just one a day. That, as well as a way of self regulating and to prevent myself from blowing a bitcoin on Reverb. Which brings me to a stern word of warning–do not even open these books if you are subject to GAS. They will wreck you and full you with lust. Glorious, beautiful lust.
(Did you enjoy this post? Let me know and stay tuned as I’m considering doing a series or even an ongoing video thing where I explore some of my art books and what I love about them.)