The Problem with Gear Reviews, by (Knobs)



A little thought-provoking article about subjectivity and gear by a guy who makes many reach for their wallets. Unfortunately a little late for Black Friday.


Good read.

I thought it was going to be about the problem with gear reviews by Knobs (though I see he distinguishes between demos and reviews).

My problem with gear demos by Knobs (which I thoroughly enjoyed for a couple of years) is that I finally tired of textures, fragmentary loops, atmospherics, bleeps, and bloops and wondered what the pedals might sound like when applied to music with at least some form or structure.


Does the comma help?


Well, it clarifies it, I guess, but I enjoyed the opportunity to riff on the ambiguity.


Funny about reviewers / democats who make me reach for my wallet: if I get burned more than twice by buying something that sounded sublime in their hands - then not being able to get anything remotely like it out of the actual thing - I no longer pay any attention to their blandishments.

Or, rather, if they're enjoyable enough to listen to on an absolute, gear-be-damned, basis - like, for example, RJ Ronquillo - I'll watch the demo but without getting any buy-me vibes about the product. (Because no Eastwood I bought after his demo sounded for me like it did for him.)

Sometimes less gifted players make more compelling - and representative - presentations. Well, I mean...if they absolutely flat suck, they can make anything sound bad, so there are minimum standards.

There are also great players who manage to make everything sound the same - and sometimes worse than the gear actually is. Greg Koch is reliably musically entertaining, but I can't tell anything about how a guitar sounds from his demo.

I guess I get the best sense for gear from guys who play somewhere vaguely around my ability.

Knobs is just...Martian. Not even on any relatable scale. His demo of the Chase Bliss Brothers, fergawdsake - a plainol dual-dirt pedal - made it sound like some avant garde sonic fractalizer.

He certainly writes much more conventionally than he plays. I was expecting impressionistic word clouds.


Have you read his book?


Not yet. Soon, though.

Is it impressionistically word-cloudy?


Tim your command of the English language is commendable, I had to look up blandishment, I'm now one word richer! :)


I haven't read the book (I'd like to), but I suspect the layout is mighty whimsical


I had to bail on that Knobs review of the Chase Bliss Brothers. Hadn't seen their style of review before. Makes no sense and it was really hard to follow what they were doing.


Turning more knobs...

I shouldn't have suggested I don't like Knobs videos. I do often enjoy his pointillistic collages with some pedals, truly ambient (as in morless devoid of conventional structure), which can be pleasant - in a diffuse, drifting, contemplative sort of way. The best are like little Debussian reveries, suitably abstracted and fragmented for modernity: when we live electronic lives, we have electronic dreams.

For a long time, we didn't know the identity of "Knobs," and no bio or other explanatory material was available. Just these atmospheric extra-dimensional mini art films. Now that we know he has a name and where he's from, and he's been seen in at least one low-production-value phonecam-in-a-room sort of video interacting with another pedalhead, it's all less mysterious and singular.

It's a great object lesson in the heightened value of art which stands on its own, all but apart from the artist, and with no supplied context from outside the medium. You'd think all artists would understand this, but exhibits of all sorts of art (in every discipline and medium) are often accompanied by material expanding on the artist's perspective or intentions. Since the artist has often been inspired and motivated by very different (and usually more pedestrian) perspectives, insights, and intentions than the art itself suggests - and suggests differently to every viewer - such crutches to meaning generally cripple rather than strengthen the actual work. I guess if the artist (or its exhibitor) himherself doesn't trust the work, they can't have much faith in us either.

When Knobs is unmasked as one Scott Harper, the mystique dissipates and it's all a little less compelling. We always knew there had to a real artist behind the work, but it was nice to pretend for awhile that such work just appears, without precedent or explanation, in its own domain. Like the lunar obelisk in 2001. It's just cool when we don't see the strings and scaffolding. His videos don't have the same impact for me that they used to - either as artifacts in and of themselves or as demos.

I think Knobs has had huge impact on the way more conventional pedal demos are made: never seeing the player, focus on the pedal, often with seemingly unrelated (but possibly thematically metaphoric) items in the frame, artsy photographic/video effects, and information appearing silently in (varyingly clever and/or explanatory) text at strategic points in the video. Others have picked up and modified all those techniques, and make effective presentations with them. (Not sure I understand the dude with the rubber glove, but gotta have a gimmick, I guess.)

In that sense, Knobs' musical sense and cinematic inspiration - and, undoubtedly, much hard work behind and between the scenes - have almost singlehandedly shaped an essential new genre in the new (but rapidly maturing) art of online gear demos.


i like Knobs' demo videos more than most. for the kind of stuff he demoes, i don't really need someone to play the predictable 3 or 4 things everybody plays. i can infer the possibilities from what the pedal does and translate it into my style. on the other hand, to me Ronquillo makes everything sound the same.

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