New exhibition considers guitar pedals as fine art

Guitar effects pedals are built to be stomped on. But for Ron Light, guest curator of the “PedalCulture: The Guitar Effects Pedal as Cultural Artifact” exhibition at San Francisco State University’s Designspace gallery, those pocket-size gadgets that make Flying Vs squeal belong on a platform.

Opening Thursday, Nov. 2, the show will feature more than 50 effects pedals from around the world — many of them rare, one-of-a-kind and collectible — alongside large-scale photographic displays, music samples and an interactive installation that allows visitors to channel their inner Jimi Hendrix.

“The show is whimsical, yet provocative in many instances,” says Light, referring to some of the pedals wrapped in more risque political and sexual imagery.

The exhibition features the “Throne Torcher” by Abominable Electronics, a pedal that pays tribute to Norwegian death metal musician Varg Vikernes, who served time for the murder of a rival band member and torching churches; the “Pussy Power” pedal by Poul Ciok of Denmark, which appears exactly how one might expect; and the fairly innocuous “JimiLee” by Flying-Mojo, a fuzz-tone pedal decorated with artwork that pays tribute to Hendrix’s painted Strat, along with pieces of a handwritten note by the rocker himself.

Light considers the expressive visual style of the effects pedals, often evocative of the bold graphics found on skateboard decks, as cultural artifacts that reflect the times.

He’s also fascinated by the way they have become fetish objects for guitarists.

“I think it’s quite thought-provoking,” he says.

Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MusicSF


“PedalCulture: The Guitar Effects Pedal as Cultural Artifact”: Opening reception, 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Through Nov. 17. Designspace, Fine Arts #115, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., S.F. www.sfsu.edu



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