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 author. An anthropological quest, understanding how effects stompboxes allow for quasi-supernatural power transference from on high to guitarists is just one of the many themes Ronald Light explores. Exhibits showcase symbolic associations in the branding of sonic effects with cultural touchstones from popular arts and culture: material manifestations of noir literature, retro-futuristic cinema, and Japanese anime; graphic metaphors for female pudenda; explicit reference to murder and mayhem; and all too obvious associations to guacamole and chips.
The curatorial tone of Pedal Culture employs an irreverent sensibility expressed in a whimsical and ironic attitude toward its subject. In the expansive (and expensive) world of guitar gear, this richly photographed volume fuses form, content, and aesthetics. This is Pedal Culture!
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