Pedal Culture is a themed exploration of guitar effects pedals as cultural artifacts, derived from a 2017 design exhibition at San Francisco State University curated by the writer. This colorful and artfully designed volume contains curatorial text describing eight different object displays along with photographs of each of the sixty-three individual pedals, richly illustrated in approximately one hundred original photographs.
The anthropological quest into understanding how effects stompboxes allow for quasi-supernatural power transference from on high to working guitarists is just one of the many themes explored in this volume. Other exhibits explore symbolic associations in the branding of sonic effects with notable cultural touchstones from popular arts and culture: As material manifestations of noir literature, retro-futuristic cinema, and Japanese anime; as explicit graphic metaphors for female pudenda; in explicit reference to gruesome tabloid tales of murder and mayhem; in alluring ads for small-batch, handmade artisanal creations; and in all too obvious associations to guacamole and chips. This is Pedal Culture--where we also find a heartfelt dialog among church musicians for whom effects pedals bring heaven to earth, yet risk interjecting the world of crass materialism into sanctified settings.
Designers and musicians will find the catalog of value for its topical content, and arts educators will appreciate an exemplary case study of students collaborating with artists and curators from the community at large. Unlike other books about the expansive (and expensive) world of guitar gear, the curatorial tone of Pedal Culture employs an irreverent sensibility expressed in a whimsical and ironic attitude toward its subject. The Pedal Culture catalog is intended as a hip, personally expressive design project fusing form, content, and aesthetics into a volume oozing both art style and curatorial substance.
On Feb 3, 2022, at 6:23 AM, Jessica Kastner
Ronald Light had a varied career developing innovative and influential programs in arts, culture, and technology—often in service to very human needs for personal and community development. He has a BA in anthropology from San Francisco State University and an MFA in design from California Institute of the Arts. Light lives in San Francisco, where he plays guitar, badly.
“I was blown away! This is the most original and compelling display of guitar ‘pedal culture’ I’ve ever seen . . . A true gift to a largely unheralded part of the music instrument scene—honoring the beauty, craftmanship, and technical innovation inherent in the world of guitar effects pedals.”—Sanford Forte, former music industry marketing maven
“A very special exhibition, effects pedals displayed to the public in this way as a form of high art all onto themselves is a spectacle long overdue!”—Fran Blanche, Frantone Electronics
“Pedal Culture was an insanely enlightening interactive exhibition that deserves to live on as a book. Everyone who loves otherworldly sounds and artisan craftsmanship will appreciate a playful dose of Pedal Culture!”—Jimmy Leslie, Frets Editor at Guitar Player
“Pedal Culture was a fantastic exhibition, and it highlighted why guitar pedals have such immense importance in a player’s life! My only criticism is that I couldn’t go personally because I live in Europe. Now this book brings the even to me and functions as a beautiful coffee table read in my studio.”—Henning Pauly, a.k.a. EytschPi42, YouTube influencer and guitar gear reviewer
“Guitar pedals are so much more than just sound; they are landmarks of culture, history, and art. This book is a perfect way to explore how pedals have added to the amazing narrative of music and design over the last sixty-plus years.”—Josh Scott, founder, JHS Pedals
“In Ron’s delightful exhibition [and this book] you’ll encounter a musical archaeology of the object, its origins in early studio experimentation, and its evolution from surf music to heavy metal, from reverb to fuzz, from delay to looping, all with mystifying tales told about individual pedals, whose human adoration of a fleeting sound they recall and the material innovation needed to achieve that sonic revelation.”—Steve Seid, Emeritus Curator, Berkeley Art Museum