The Pedal Movie: 2 hours and 23 minutes about the history and development of the humble stompbox, featuring interviews with the builders and users of these magical boxes of tone. If you’re into pedals, this is one you won’t want to miss.
The Pedal Movie
I sat down over the weekend and watched The Pedal Movie, a documentary film all about stompboxes and their history. The film does a good job of telling the story of how effects pedals became such an integral part of guitar playing and music today. I’ve watched a few other films about the history of effects pedals, including Brinkfilm’s Fuzz: The Sound that Revolutionized the World which is in my DVD collection, so a lot of what was in this new movie wasn’t new to me. But The Pedal Movie goes a lot deeper and is better than these earlier films in many ways, So even if you have seen a few documentaries already about effects pedals, I would still suggest that you check this new one out for yourself.
What’s really nice about The Pedal Movie is that it puts the – at times complex – history into a format that’s easy to watch. It turns out that several different effects were discovered almost simultaneously. The timelines in this movie are well laid out, so if you wanted to know how the fuzz pedal or the wah pedal came about, then this film does a good job of explaining what was going on.
The film described how many of the first guitar effects were accidental discoveries made in the early recording studios of the ’50s and ’60s. Later in the ’70s, electronic components become more widely available and industry developed mass production of cheaper transistors and chips. Effects pedals started to mimic more complex studio effects like phasing, flanging and delay. Then in the late ’70s and throug the ’80s, everything started to go digital and we see effects like reverbs hitting the market.
Without going into too many details and spoiling the film, it’s fair to say that the advent of the internet in the ’90s spawned the boutique pedal craze. People could share information, look up old schematics and see the older effect pedals in action. I can remember in the late ’80s we had a lot of Boss effects from Japan, and the older analogue effects pedals were not wanted. They were seen as being poorly made and sounding dated. But by the 1990s, they were starting to be seen in a new light.
New companies emerged, including Chase Bliss Audio, EarthQuaker Devices, Frantone Electronics, Gamechanger Audio, JHS Pedals, Meris, Strymon, Walrus Audio, Way Huge Electronics, Dogman Devices, ZVex Effects, ThorpyFX, Fuzzrocious and Caroline Guitar Company, who all feature in the movie.
There are lots of famous pedal builders interviewed here, film including Adrian Thorpe, Fran Blanche, Josh Scott, Zachary Vex, Jeorge Tripps and Joel Corte to name only a handful. Then we have players like Billy Corgan, J Mascis, Kevin Shields, Nels Cline, Peter Frampton and Steve Vai telling how and why they use effects pedals.
We even see some NAMM archive footage with pedal designers like Mike Matthews of Electro-Harmonix who isn’t directly interviewed for the film but who plays a huge part in the story. Other famous brands like MXR, DOD, Boss, Arion and Dunlop pop up, too.
“I never understood subtle effects, ‘Oh it’s transparent!’ Well… then why would you turn it on?” J Mascis
Would I recommend it?
I think directors Michael Lux and Dan Orkin did a great job on this film. The 2 hours and 23 minutes fly by, cramming in over 50 years of history. One thing irked me a little though. The movie is focussed on the USA and although there are a few mentions of what was going on in the UK and Japan, I feel there is a lot missing about developments in the rest of the world. That’s a pity, as some amazing pedals originated outside of these countries that don’t get a mention. But The Pedal Movie is still essential viewing if you are into stompboxes and their history. Yes, big chunks of that history are missing, but just like pedals, there is just so much to choose from and I think the directors did an admirable job of covering the majority of what you need to know.
You can watch The Pedal Movie on iTunes, Google Play and Vudu. Just follow the link below.