December 2020

Step On It – Books About Pedals

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.

You can almost smell the solder in Level & Attack

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.

Tremawhat? Pedal Crush explains it all

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.

J and his Big Muff in Stompbox
Albini on his legendary Percolator

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.

Death By Audio pedals being spray painted by hand

(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.)

Proof of Life / Station Ident

Apparently I haven’t blogged since May, which might be the longest stretch of non-blogging since I started blogging before blogging was called blogging. In my defense, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I moved around the world from Tokyo to Vancouver. That’s not to say I haven’t been active, I just haven’t been active here. Which I regret. So I thought I’d quickly drop an update for the few of you that still read blogs.

Just after moving to Canada from Japan we at Safecast had to face the cold reality that our funding efforts this year have failed miserably in no small part due to COVID and that was unlikely to change anytime soon. We made the hard decision to shift the entire paid staff to volunteer so that we have reserves to keep the servers online hopefully long enough to get through this. That includes me, and means that for the first time in 20 years or so I find myself without gainful employment. Did I mention that I just moved around the world and we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Right, so that’s fun. The interesting thing about being self employed for most of your adult life is that it makes you essentially unemployable.

To that end I’ve been staying up late working on various side hustles any number of which might, with just the right combination of time and place, grow to at least fill some of these new gaps.

I redid my photography portfolio site top to bottom to try and give a better view of what I do, what I’m trying to do, and where I think that might lead and why it’s useful. At you can buy prints and books and merch. I’m especially excited about my new subscription offer where I send subscribers a limited edition mystery miniprint each month – a few spots are still remaining if you are interested.

Speaking of photos and merch, has been updated with some new pacific northwest influenced designs on housewares and clothing.

Tara and I have finished writing The Interest Driven Life book and are in the final production steps before it goes off to the publisher. If you’d like to get more info about that as the release date gets closer, please do sign up for our mailing list on the site.

Speaking of mailing lists, I’m still actively writing my newsletter The Crowd, though like this blog the updates are not as frequent as they once were. This is in part due to the fact that I’m taking a break from Twitter because it’s a garbage fire of depressive bullshit, and that’s where I used to get a lot of the news I’d write about. Perhaps ironically I’m spending more time on Instagram. I would like to explore how best to merge the blog and the mailing list, so that I could write something and it would go to both places.

Perhaps most exciting, I’ve revived my old record label Toybox Records and have begun announcing plans and releasing things. The roadmap at the moment includes a mix of older yet previously unreleased material, reissues of favorites, and new stuff by new bands. As before, genre-wise, expect it to be all over the place. For now music can be found here and brand spanking new merch is over here.

Writing that all out does make it feel like a lot, but I’d be lying if I told you that from the place I’m sitting at the moment it felt like a lot. I think because so much of that is in the “about to happen” or tentative stages it feels like none of them are actually real. But they are, and at this point I’m just trying to get them in front of people who may appreciate them. If you know someone who might be interested in something I’ve mentioned here, I’d be in your debt if you felt like passing the link on to them to check out.