pedalsAs most millennials I have a bad tendency to get all my news from Facebook.  Sometimes that means I come across articles that someone else has drudged up from a while ago. So while this response is pretty late to the game, but I think it’s still worth talking about.

Here’s the original article:

Let me start off by saying I really appreciate where the guy is coming from. It’s obvious he’s trying to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit and think about the issue as clearly as possible. That’s great. I also agree that a direct rip off of  someone’s boutique pedal is morally ambiguous at best on the part of the manufacturer and they should probably find something better to do with their time.

On a different token I’d also like to explain where I’m coming from as a musician. I believe you can make great music and get some great tone with a lot of budget gear and I don’t mean a direct rip off of someone’s boutique pedal. The most I’ve spent on a on a pedal ever is about $200 and it literally had “all the bells and whistles.” So all that said let’s get on with the response.

I think his argument breaks down a bit. (As a side note, if you haven’t read the original article the rest of my post isn’t going to make sense. Here it is again.) I’ve done a little pedal building before and I have some friends who understand a lot more about it than I do. I think it’s a cool hobby for a musician to get into. Most of what I’ve done is modding existing pedals to add features to them. But from what little I know about the subject, I can tell you that there are really only a few ways to make an overdrive circuit, or a tremolo, or you name it. Going with the overdrive motif, you can usually tell what circuit the pedal was modeled on. There are your Tubescreamers, your Rats, your fuzzes, etc. The principles of electronics dictate that there are only a few ways to do things.

I’ve got a clone of an orange squeezer on my pedal board, it was perhaps the first compressor made specifically for guitar. Pedal Nerds will know that originally it wasn’t even a pedal, you plugged it into your guitar and then plugged your guitar cable into it. Mine’s been modified to have two different volume settings with the compressor always on. Not exactly a direct clone, but what about the old school MXR red compressors? It’s circuit is strikingly similar to the orange squeezer. In the music world if there is a specific end you are trying to achieve, there is a very narrow path to get there. I don’t think that should exclude people who come to a similar circuit by legitimate means. I would question the morality of someone who reverse engineers a circuit simply to copy and resell it and those that support such endeavors by purchasing their stuff. For the hobbyist, I personally don’t see a problem with figuring out great circuits of the past. It’s a good way to learn, but don’t stop there, go out and figure out how to make it better.

Now on to a more direct response to the article.

‘The builder brought this on himself by charging too much to begin with.’ – Agreed. Just because the guy is charging an arm and a leg doesn’t make it right to steal it.

‘I’m using it for worship.’ – The ends don’t justify the means… ever. I think the Robin Hood thing broke down pretty badly. Maybe all those poor people should have been trusting God to provide their needs instead of stealing from the rich and maybe they should have been standing up for their rights to not be stolen from in the first place.

‘I’m buying it used…the damage is already done.’ – I think this one depends on where you draw the lines and every player has to figure that out for themselves. I personally think a direct clone isn’t such a great idea, but taking an original or duplicating a circuit to improve upon it is. It’s taking something and making it your own.

“It’s not illegal…you can’t prove it in court, and it’s next to impossible to patent circuits.” – Agreed (with Karl’s response to that objection). Legality does not equal morality. It’s next to impossible to patent circuits for good reasons that I’ve addressed above. Also, I was told recently by a patent attorney that it can be pretty cost prohibitive to get anything patented. So that’s something to think about for the small guy building original pedals out of his garage. Maybe his pedal is getting cloned because he can’t afford to patent it much less go after the guy who’s doing so.

“The cloner is a great guy.” – Maybe, maybe not. If he’s engaging in the morally dubious act of directly cloning pedals, I’d question just how great he is, nice guy or not.

“All circuits are clones anyways.” – Not all circuits are clones. Many circuits are similar. On the other side of the coin, sometimes two “identical” Tubescreamers can sound very different simply because of parts tolerances. There are always ways to hack a circuit and make it your own. I’d suggest erring on that side.

I found it interesting that he used Zachery Vex as an example of a boutique manufacturer. It’s not unknown that Mr. Vex cut his teeth as a hobbyist. In fact his Fuzz Factory is basically a modded out Fuzz Face. Should he and everyone else that’s done something similar (the list is not short) be forced to pay some sort of fee to Dallas Arbiter? I’m not so sure they should. But if someone is just straight ripping someone else off then maybe they should reconsider.

Ultimately, as worship musicians we should hold ourselves to higher standards. I’m writing this as I listen to my pirated copy of the Beach Boys discography. It’s a little bit convicting. Where you draw the lines may be different than where I do, but that’s between you and God. I think I have some music to delete.