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Reverb turns up the volume on guitar FX history in The Pedal Movie

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 17 – Fall 2021
The Bells & Whistles

Imagine rock ‘n’ roll without guitar pedals. Jimi Hendrix. Eddie Van Halen. ‘70s R&B and funk. Metal and grunge. St. Vincent.

The Pedal Movie explores the world of guitar pedals and their sonic impact on the equipment industry and beyond. It’s the first feature-length documentary to come from Reverb, the Chicago-based online marketplace for music gear.

NOTE: This article originally appeared on our Fall 2021 edition which can be seen at the link above. 

“The initial inspiration for The Pedal Movie was us asking how this strange little pocket of the music world grew into this massive community,” says Dan Orkin, co-director of the film. “Today, there are thousands of builders churning out hundreds of thousands of pedals every year.”

woman sitting in director's chair
Sarah Lipstate on The Pedal Movie

While it’s true that musicians can find at least one stompbox for any tonal color on the spectrum now, it was early tremolo units and distortion pedals that ignited today’s wildly diverse pedal scene. Tinkering with volume controls was a gas, but nothing like full-blown overdrive. Without this early curiosity and desire to push limits, many genres of music would be missing their signature sounds.

When you hear Hendrix, you can’t help thinking wah and fuzz; EVH—flanged and phaser, Nirvana—distortion, and Larkin Poe—peaches n scream. The examples are endless, but surprisingly the idea for the fuzz-tone happened during a 1961 studio mishap.

Jamie and Julie from EarthQuaker Devices

As the film details, a distorted tone from a malfunctioning console at the Quonset Hut Studio in Nashville inspired the first fuzz pedal, aka the “Maestro Fuzz.” Created by engineer Glenn Snoddy, it was manufactured by Gibson as the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone. The pedal gained popularity when Keith Richards used it on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

Countless pedal moments ensued during the mid-to-late-‘60s, ‘70s, and thereafter. Jimi Hendrix revolutionized the wah on songs like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” Early on, Hendrix also used a Maestro Fuzz and a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. Later, he would favor a Uni-Vibe chorus/vibrato for watery oscillations, and an Octavia (which he referred to as Octavio) for frequency doubling with added fuzz.

In 1967, the Doors’ Robby Krieger superbly stomped a Maestro Fuzz on “When the Music’s Over.” Fanny’s “You’re the One” (1971) rocked a lot harder with June Millington’s fuzz-drenched solo. Since then, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Jennifer Batten, bass funkateer Bootsy Collins, and many others have traversed standout solos, wild sequences, rhythm parts, and funkadelic bass lines with all types of pedals.

Steve Vai on The Pedal Movie

Today’s pedal community is still evolving, with boutique builders, customized units, and new gadgets and accessories popping up each year, as many artists rely on pedals for changing pitch, texturizing songs, and recording with unconventional techniques. The Pedal Movie opens with guitarist Sarah Lipstate (Noveller and Iggy Pop) playing guitar over her pedalboard. “I think that that’s why guitar pedals appeal to me so much because it was really a way to come up with sounds that didn’t necessarily sound like a guitar,” she says. “Didn’t necessarily sound like music that was already out there.”

pedal board

The documentary seeks to answer the question “How did pedals get so big?” partly through conversations with builders and leaders from more than 50 brands, including Chase Bliss Audio, EarthQuaker Devices, Frantone Electronics, Gamechanger Audio, JHS Pedals, Meris, Strymon, Walrus Audio, Wampler Pedals, Way Huge Electronics, Dogman Devices, ZVEX Effects, ThorpyFX, Fuzzrocious, Caroline Guitar Company, and many more.

guitar pedalsAll in all, it reminds us how and why we connect with music. Sometimes, it’s through a little box of electric magic: erupting, unchained, a voodoo chile surfing with the alien feeling outshined like a fool in the rain or a stranger in the Alps with Phoebe.

Available on iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu, The Pedal Movie includes interviews with Peter Frampton, Patrick Carney, Billy Corgan, Graham Coxon, Kevin Shields, Steve Vai, J Mascis, Fran Blanche, Nels Cline, Steve Albini, and more.

Photos provided courtesy of Reverb

Caroline Paone

Caroline Paone is a freelance writer for several content channels such as SFGate and ClassicRockRevisted. Her work has also appeared in Bass Player, Bass Frontiers and Flair magazines. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineRex

Caroline Paone
Caroline Paone is a freelance writer for several content channels such as SFGate and ClassicRockRevisted. Her work has also appeared in Bass Player, Bass Frontiers and Flair magazines. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineRex
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