‘The Pedal Movie:’ Reverb.com Shines Light On Guitar Innovation That Changed Touring Forever

The weeping wah-wah on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” Keith Richards’ splitting Velcro-fuzz on “Satisfaction,” The Edge’s signature twinkling echo on U2 staples like “Where The Streets Have No Name.” 
Guitar is a fixture of the rock ‘n’ roll (and, therefore, touring) business, and these signature sounds have become almost as famous as the songs and artists themselves. 
The sources of those sounds, the guitar stompbox – compact effect pedals that can do everything from sweeping phasers to endless feedback with the switch of a button and occupy most if the space in front of a guitarist or bassist – will finally get their due with “The Pedal Movie” being produced by online gear store network Reverb.com.
“The idea was to shine a light on this really cool pocket of the industry we live in, and moreover tell the story of how we got there,” says Dan Orkin, Reverb director of content and international marketing, a driving force behind “The Pedal Movie.” 
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The documentary, to be released sometime later this summer, features interviews with artists such as Steve Vai, Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. It also tells the story of the pedal business, interviewing luminaries including Electro Harmonix founder Mike Matthews, a pioneer manufacturer responsible for famous effects including the Big Muff Pi fuzz unit, the Memory Man delay pedal and the Small Stone phaser. 
“For a rough estimate, there are thousands of people making pedals today,” Orkin says. “If you go back to the late ’80s, there were maybe nine or 10 pedal manufacturers globally. What are the forces that unlocked the abilities for an individual person to start a pedal company and market their product?” 
Reverb is a music gear website that allows everyone from major retailers to the most amateur of hobbyists to buy and sell new and used gear across a powerful network that includes user reviews, buyer protections, shipping discounts, and even artist shops with gear from major musicians including St. Vincent, Wilco, Flux Pavilion, Green Day and many others, some of which offer their own gear for sale to hardcore fans or audio enthusiasts.
In the widespread shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Reverb has offered home-recording resources, lessons and plenty of gear to choose from. “Reverb’s team is hyper-focused on helping local music shops, boutique gear makers, and more support their businesses through online sales – especially as more and more retailers are being asked to close their physical locations,” a representative told Pollstar. 
“The company is also using its social media and other channels to promote artists that are feeling the impact of cancelled shows and lost income due to COVID-19.”
While the pedal industry is fascinating and a story of its own, the maturation of the business has impacted the touring world, too, with more reliable, affordable, higher-quality gear available to musicians at all levels. 
“Today there’s a situation where every pedal you buy, down to the most basic fuzz, is going to be true bypass (switching), is going to have nice, solid metal casing and is going to be reliable,” Orkin says. “That’s just the reality of the competitiveness of the field. If you’re not making high quality products, you’re not going to be successful.”
Artists have taken notice of their fans’ interest in guitar pedals as well, such as Dinosaur Jr.’s “Camp Fuzz” up-close-and-personal festival of sorts at Big Indian Resort in New York featuring pedal workshops with frontman J. Mascis and boutique effect manufacturer Zvex. 
There are artist-endorsed pedals such as multiple Yngwie Malmsteen overdrive units, or even artist-created pedals such as the recently unveiled Steel Panther “Butthole Burner” distortion, compete with not-safe-for-work graphics and knobs that control the levels of “lava flow” and a switch for “balmy” or “scorched.”  

Pedalboard in action
Joby Sessions / Total Guitar Magazine / Future via Getty Images
– Pedalboard in action
gear in action at O2 Academy Bristol.
Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has done videos discussing the Electro Harmonix “Big Muff” Op-Amp variant, a pint-sized model in pumpkin orange based on the model Corgan used to record the Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, which that inspired a generation of guitar hobbyists.
“It’s true that there is a  need to tour with a lot of different pedals, because it’s where people’s sound derives from,” Orkin says. “J’s pedalboard is chaotic but it wouldn’t be Dinosaur Jr. without that pedalboard. That has led to a lot more reliable physical boards themselves, power supplies that are a lot more sophisticated, more cases, amplifiers designed with pedals in mind.” 
However, the sophistication of the pedal gear business could lead to some of its charm – the unique, individual stompboxes populating the board – becoming outdated for some, as there is also a trend for more portable, rack-mounted multi-effects that are a lot more sophisticated than those of yesteryear. 
“They’re similar to intent and style to those you would find in the early ’80s, but they sound much better and they’re very reliable,” Orkin says. 
“There’s a lot of touring bands I know who are basically touring with that kind of gear exclusively. They love the pedalboard and practicing with it in the studio, but if you’re touring the world and they want to have the same European rig as your U.S. rig, some of these solutions are very convenient.” Orkin mentioned “Weird Al” Yankovic guitarist Jim West as an example: “Think about it, Weird Al’s set is every conceivable genre of music in the course of a night.” 
But the spirit of the sound, and the stompbox, will live on for sure.
“The majority of those who buy pedals, they’re in it for the love of the thing itself,” Orkin says. “I can only speak for myself, and the digital stuff sounds good these days and it’s interesting, but I have a desk job and at the end of the day if I’m playing guitar, I don’t want to look at a screen any longer. I want to twist a knob and have that tactile experience. Pedals are cool and evocative.” s