Jean-François Lacombe RGD, shares his collection of Guitar Effects Pedals.
Being an amateur guitar player for over 3 decades, I’ve collected several guitar pedals. These are the little metal boxes that you activate with your foot to create effects that shape and alter the sound of an electric guitar. They are placed before the signal that goes to the amplifier. These stomp box effects come in different shapes, sizes, forms, colours, languages, etc.
It started innocently with the very first guitar I bought in 1992, a Gibson Les Paul. I needed an effect that could help me reproduce the tone of my guitar hero at the time, Neil Young. So I got my very first pedal, a BOSS Turbo Overdrive OD-2. From that point on, as I pursued sonic exploration, my collection has grown to about 50 pedals.
I must admit to going through a lot more of these over that 30-year span; I have bought and re-sold items as I refine the effects I need to craft my sound. It’s a practice among guitarists so common that is has a name -- a condition called «GAS» or «Gear Acquiring Syndrome».
How does it inspire you as a designer?
The design aspect of each pedal is so particular. Each one is unique not only in the branding, but also in the informational graphic elements that relate to the interactive parts (still mostly analog). The design qualities are visual but also part of the UX design.
Sometimes the design is flawless, representing both the aesthetic effect of the pedal as well as the visual cues to manipulate and control the sound. Brilliant!
Other times, the design lacks legibility; the contrast is not optimal or the positioning relating to the user’s hand or visual field has not been considered. The flaws can also be metaphorical; ambiguous icons or poorly-chosen knob labels. Sometimes the system for a line of pedals is not cohesive and lacks affordance. In these cases, it is clear that the person who envisioned the product had not put her or himself in the shoes (literally) of the guitar player.
My passion for the complexity of these little stomp boxes is so strong that I started giving this as a design challenge to my students to help them think in systematic ways.
Currently, I own a lot of Fairfield Circuitry pedals that are designed and manufactured right here in Gatineau. The design is minimalist, functional, even brutalist. The company uses manual punches to imprint the type onto the aluminum boxes, which are then acid wiped to produce that raw finish. Each one is unique but is part of strong branding (even if Guillaume Fairfield, the owner, talks about «non-branding»!). And of course I admire the beauty of a system that was developed 10 years ago and still endures today.
An item you aspire to have in your collection?
Many pedals collectors (or «users») dream of owning vintage items that were manufactured in the 60s or 70s. These pedals reflect the style and design trends of those eras and are often constructed with parts impossible to find today. Some of these pedals can sell for thousands of dollars on the aftermarket (namely Reverb.com). To surf on that trend, many pedal manufacturers launch reruns or imbue their design with iconic revival design elements. For my part, every item in my collection needs to have a fine balance between sonic qualities and good design as a whole. It’s the curse of the designer-player.
Jean-Francois Lacombe RGD has been part of the Multidisciplinary School of UQO since 2005. Before that, he taught at UQAM's School of Design and at Laval University School of Design. He also directed the multidisciplinary design studio S27 in Montreal, founded the Ottawa chapter of the Pecha Kucha Nights and was a sculptor in another life. He tries to encourage student to think in systemic and critical ways.