I play guitar. Not only that, but I also get super into guitar gear, specifically effects pedals. These boxes of magic can do almost anything – any flavor of distortion/fuzz/overdrive, repeat your signal infinitely, shift pitch and harmonize , make your guitar sound like an organ, all kinds of swirly modulation, or completely mangle and destroy your signal. Like many other things in our stuff-obsessed culture, I have turned my pedal board into an esteem generator.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I say that self-deprecation is the most sincere form of criticism, so here we go.
Like I said, I dig guitar pedals. But not just any pedals will do. I prefer my pedals to be ’boutique’ and made by hand by friendly folks that I probably know online. I want them to be made in limited numbers, and better yet, I want to be able to talk to the builder and get mine in a custom color. If I had the expendable income, my amps, cabs, and guitars would all be custom built for me in similar fashion.
One of my most recent (and favorite) acts of hypocrisy is spending royalties from selling my book about how we aren’t all special to custom order a pedal from Black Arts Toneworks to commemorate the occasion…but also to feel special.
It’s worth pointing out that I’m not on the level of a professional guitarist. A strong case could be made that I’m not that good at guitar at all and just play rehashed Black Sabbath riffs that I think are my own. I don’t really need this kind of gear, but I want it, and it comforts me.
So I’ve got these pedalboards full of custom and/or limited run pedals from a number of the best builders in the business. Now what? How exactly does that equate to a perpetual motion machine that fills my coffers of esteem?
The internet, of course.
Just about every time I get a new pedal, I plaster it all over Instagram and message boards, especially if it’s customized in any way. I feel good when I see likes roll in, or people admiring my newest addition, or commenting on the overall snazziness of my rig. It has become part of the ritual now – unbox, play for a bit, take pics, upload to the internet for further validation.
I have justified my behavior as taking part in my online community, which it kind of is when posting on a message board about guitars and/or effects, but totally isn’t on Facebook or Instagram. I have defended my love of custom colors and limited editions as an extension of my enjoyment of the visual element and/or attention to aesthetics that accompany these kinds of pedals. I use the same argument when purchasing limited edition records – something, something, more tangible experience and/or more purposeful listening. Really, it’s not much different than my collection of comics with variant covers – I want them because they make me feel special.
The same argument can be made for just about anything. There are people who have collections of watches, records, wine, shoes, handbags, cars, art, baseball cards, clothes, firearms, and whatever else can be converted into tangible demonstrations of worth. The internet only serves to extend our reach and gives us the ability to connect with communities where our chosen fetish is normalized and validated.
I’ve had people tell me (with pride) about how their bong was hand blown by some dude living on some mountain who only takes direct orders and produces them in extremely limited quantities. I wish I was joking about that, but I’m not, and it’s happened to me more than once.
But who am I to judge? They have their fancy bongs, and I have my fancy guitar pedals, it’s all the same shit.
We have been conditioned to scurry in search of validation through any means necessary. In my case it means that I am not satisfied with just playing guitar, I need to have other people praise my taste in gear to maintain the level of esteem that I have become accustomed to having.
It’s an increasingly common practice in our society – we often find ourselves unable to maintain our feelings of worth through internal means, so the easiest way to remedy this is to generate esteem though possessions. Bonus points if they are custom or special in a way that allows us to work how special our special shit makes us into conversation.