The Top 10 Most Influential Guitar Pedals of All Time

If you have ever been to a concert, seen a live show, given change to a busker, or sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee while listening to a solo acoustic act, chances are you’ve seen a guitarist twiddle with some weird gadgets at their feet, or bend over during a show to twist a knob or two. If you’ve ever wondered how guitar players create their sonic signatures (or “tone”); it’s with the help of these little boxes, known as guitar pedals, or stomp boxes, that electric guitar players can create new worlds of sonic exploration, soaring distortion soaked leads, crunchy driving rhythms, ambient modulated room filling textures, and everything in between. Here are the Top 10 most influential guitar pedals, how they work, and who used them.

  1. The Heil Talk Box

For fans of classic rock and funk, the talk box is almost synonymous with the name Peter Frampton. He was the first big user, which rocketed the talk box from obscure musical gadgetry to super stardom. The idea behind the talk box has been around since 1939, where it was used a gimmick for lap steel guitar players to create a “singing guitar effect”. However, it wasn’t until The Kustom Electronics Talk Box (better known as “The Bag”), came along in 1969, that we began to see the talk box more widely used in rock and funk. All through the 70’s, throughout almost every popular genre, the talk box’s instantly recognizable metallic gargle can be heard on many seminal albums from Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow (1975), to Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind (1972). The very first modern “high powered” talkbox that musicians still use today was created by Bob Heil and Joe Walsh for his Barnstormer tour, along with his guitar tech. It employed the same principles as The Bag, but was adapted for high level rock shows. That version of the talk box was and still is the most widely used version of the effect, even though simpler, more modern appropriations are available.

Heil Talk Box

Heil Talk Box

Examples of talkbox use in songs:

  1. Peter Frampton – Do You Feel Like We Do? (Frampton Comes Alive: 1976)
  2. Joe Walsh – Rocky Mountain Way (The Smoker Your Drink, The Player You Get: 1973)
  3. Pink Floyd – Pigs (Three Different Ones) (Animals: 1977)
  1. Univox (Shin-Ei) Uni-Vibe

Listen to the heartbeat, the clanking of money, the proletariat British voices speaking  about insanity, and the screams of Clare Tory amalgamate into a climax, as it drops you into the arms of a warm, rich swirl. Listen to the pounding feedback and seething, pulsating fuzz as it rips your body apart through the hands of a machine gun wielding master of the Stratocaster. Hear the crooning and creaking of the bridge of sighs as it buckles under the weight of the thick, syrupy throb. These most majestic and unique sounds were created by the venerable Univox (Shin-Ei) Uni-Vibe. It’s original intent was to replicate the swirling, three dimensional sounds of a Leslie speaker. Although it wasn’t very good at it, it became a unique effect in its own right. Employing a lamp and photocell circuit, it creates a pulsing or throbbing effect, closer to a phaser then a Leslie, but far more thick and deeper sounding. The Uni-Vibe was most prominently used by Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour, but many others have used it as well, such as Robin Trower, Trey Anastasio, and many others. Since the original Shin-Ei unit was discontinued, many modern re-designs and clones have flooded the market, with the ones that feature an actual lamp and photocell circuit being the most desirable among Vibe fanatics. These are much more stable and portable than their vintage counterparts, but some guitarists still swear by an original. If you’ve got a hankering for some vintage Vibe, they can sometimes be found on eBay fetching prices ranging from $1200-2000 USD.

Univox (Shin-Ei) Univibe

Univox (Shin-Ei) Univibe

Notable Uni-Vibe Uses:

  1. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon: 1973
  2. Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun (Band of Gypsys: 1970)
  3. Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs (Bridge of Sighs: 1974)

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Lullabies In A Car Crash; Bjørn Riis On His Latest Solo Album, The Music Industry, and Today’s Changing Landscape for Independent Musicians

The album cover for Bjorn's newest record

 “…there’s no doubt that the old record industry is dead. It has been for years and the two or three majors that are still holding on have but a few years left in them. Music is still being downloaded illegally in huge quantities but there’s also a small but important rise againts the consumerism and devaluation of music, which the old industry has been in charge of the last decade. People don’t stop listening to music but they want it as convenient as possible.”

Norway,

a country who’s musical landscape has long been characterized by church-burning black metalists, has recently solidified itself as a progressive rock force to be reckoned with, in the form of Norwegian prog outfit, Airbag. Formed originally by  classmates Bjørn Riis (lead guitar), Asle Tostrup (lead vocals), and Jørgen Grüner-Hagen (keyboards), these native Oslo rockers have sent waves through the progressive rock community, that are being felt all across the world, where their fans actively and adamantly support the work they do. In a time where progressive rock has traveled far from the original vision of the prog behemoths of the 70’s, Airbag’s signature sound has adapted a back to basics approach, taking nods from modern prog (Such as Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree) and paying homage to the prog of yore, most notably comparable to the sights, sounds, and experience of Pink Floyd; which comes as no surprise. When lead guitarist Bjørn Riis is not in the studio, he is running and managing the famous Gilmourish.com, a site dedicated to cataloging the gear, techniques, and guitars used by Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist, David Gilmour.

The site is a very extensive catalog of every amp, pedal, guitar, (down to even strings and picks!) used by Gilmour on every album he has worked on since 1968, organized by album, by tour, and down to each song. There are also backing tracks to play along with, gear reviews, tone tips, and an extensive buyer’s guide which details and recommends gear based on a Gilmourish.com score (how closely it helps achieve the tone)   The one thing that sets Gilmourish.com apart, other than the beautiful design, is the staggering amount of engagement in the comments section. Riis takes the time to answer every single comment and question posted to every single page, which is no small feat. This dedication and love for helping others achieve their desired tone is what sets him apart from the rest.

Not long after Airbag released their latest album, The Greatest Show On Earth, it was announced that Airbag was taking a short hiatus. It was also announced that Bjørn was working on a solo album. That was released to the world on November 3rd, to incredible feedback from both fans and the press. I recently spoke to Bjørn about his latest solo album, Lullabies In A Car Crash, and about his opinions on the music industry, how this album differed from his work with Airbag, and about being a musician in today’s day and age; with the advent of high quality digital technology and the renewed demand for analog.

 

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