State of the Stomp 2010
Greetings box stompers. This month is
Premier Guitar’s annual pedal issue. So, in
keeping with tradition—and since I’m the
de facto “pedal guy”—it seems appropriate
to summarize some of the more significant
happenings in the stompbox scene this past
year. Here are a few of the highlights.
Stompbox as Art
One of the more notable pedal-related
events of the year was the release of a
new DVD titled The Art of the Stompbox.
Hosted by guitarists Henry Kaiser and Nels
Cline, the DVD was made in support of
a special exhibition (also called The Art
of the Stompbox) that took place June 1
through September 30 and was hosted by
the NAMM Foundation’s Museum of Making
Music in Carlsbad, California.
The exhibit focuses on the stompbox as not
only a tool of artistic expression, but as a
work of art itself, highlighting the eye-catching graphics used by many boutique pedal
companies, particularly the hand-painted pedals popularized by Z.Vex. In fact, the exhibit’s
emblematic pedal art was painted by super-talented Z.Vex artist Hannah Haugberg.
The Museum of Making Music also hosts an
online version of the exhibit, which includes
a brief history of the stompbox that artfully
paraphrases bits from the first two chapters
of Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. I
wasn’t able to see the exhibit in person, but
I did purchase the DVD (along with five posters), so let’s talk about that.
The DVD really warrants its own separate
review, so I’ll just touch on a few things here.
First of all, I was struck by the presentation
given by these two highly respected and
accomplished players. The whole thing seemed
loose, improvised, and unrehearsed. Everything
they discussed and demonstrated came from
their collective wealth of knowledge and experience, which I found impressive.
The flip side was that the info and explanations given were mostly off-the-cuff, lacking in
technical detail, and sometimes downright random. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
62 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2010
Cline: “The flanger is also the sound of goth,
and we know that goth is forever.”
Kaiser (describing reverb): “It sounds like
you’re in the Taj Mahal with your guitar.”
Cline (describing a Leslie effect): “It’s the
sound of speakers spinning around at different
speeds inside a beautiful piece of furniture.”
Clearly, these guys are musicians, first and
foremost. As such, their commentary distinctly
reflects the players’ perspectives. And while
they may not have articulated the how and
why of what makes their gear tick, they sure
as heck know how to use it. Anything lacking
in verbal description is more than adequately
addressed through expert demonstration.
Vintage Pedal Prices
Okay, let’s talk about vintage pedal prices.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’ve
been keeping a close eye on the stompbox
market for nearly a decade. And since the
economic downturn, I’ve been even more
interested in how the resale value of vintage
effects would be, uh … affected.
Initially, the vintage stomp market as a whole
held reasonably steady. But that proved only
to have been a delayed reaction, and this has
been the year the recession’s aftermath really
hit the vintage stomp market. Vintage pedals
that had been stable for several years finally
took a tumble. A prime example is Mu-Tron,
one of the few brands with a historically consistent and predictable market value.
The Mu-Tron Bi-Phase, for example, could
usually fetch over a grand in good condition
with the original footswitch. Now it’s hard to
find one that hits that four-figure mark. Ditto
for a vintage Uni-Vibe. But in true form, the
vintage pedal market as a whole refuses to
cooperate with our attempts to pin down its
trends. While the value of many top dollar
classics has dipped, inexplicably other vintage pedals keep rising. Most of these have
been British fuzz pedals. The price of any vintage Tone Bender is now at least 25 percent
higher than the average pre-recession price.
Recently the madness has escalated to a new
level of crazy. Just this past week a Baldwin-Burns Buzzaround Fuzz sold on eBay for
£3300 GBP (that’s $5148.08). Interestingly,
the vintage synthesizer market has also been
steadily on the rise. But I guess that’s a discussion for a different magazine.
Last Ride of the Horsey Man
Another historically significant stompbox
event this year was the (reported) ceasing of
production of the venerable Klon Centaur.
For the past 16 years, this iconic, mother-of-all-overdrive pedals has been the only
product of a brand made by one man, who
abruptly announced last December that the
Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive is out
of production. The reaction was predictable,
yet somehow astounding. Panic ensued
as players and collectors alike were suddenly stricken with K.A.S. (Klon Acquisition
Syndrome). A plethora of Centaurs came
up on eBay, regularly selling for over $1000,
essentially doubling the previous average
The Klon frenzy continued for several weeks.
At any given time you could find half a
dozen active eBay auctions for this quintessential Holy Grail overdrive, with the gold
“Horsey Man” versions going through the
roof. In recent weeks the prices seem to
have stabilized somewhat, but remain above
their previous average. We have since come
to learn that the beloved Centaur is merely
on hiatus while Klon creator Bill Finnegan
comes up with a new enclosure that will be
smaller and more pedalboard-friendly. It
remains to be seen if the market will accept
the new design or—as frequently happens in
this fickle niche—if players will nostalgically
yearn for the old “big box” Klon. I think if
Mr. Finnegan can deliver the goods with a
gold finish and a Horsey Man graphic, all will
be well in the stomp world.
Well, that’s a wrap for this month. Until next
time, keep on stompin’!
Tom Hughes (a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and
proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.
com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage
Effects. Send questions or comments about this
article to email@example.com.
Established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993, Analog
Man ( analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique
effects manufacturers and retailers. Mike can be
reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.