Have we reached “peak pedal” with the Meowdulator?

Have we reached “peak pedal” with the Meowdulator?

This is not a review of the Meowdulator. It’s not really a pedal that can be reviewed, even if every single bone in my pedal-reviewing body is urging me to give it a 10/10, editor’s choice, best in show, preemptive Gear Of The Year in every category, a permanent spot on my pedalboard and a little salami (as a treat). But to review the thing normally would be wrong – after all, it’s hardly a normal pedal.

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So just quickly, what is it, then? In short: a cat version of the Miku Stomp. Remove Hatsune Miku from the equation, replace her with a variety of meow samples and synths played in pitch with your guitar signal, and you’ve got the picture. From any demo of it you can get the idea – (why not check out ours?) – it’s got adorable artwork, it makes a lot of obnoxious noise, it’s undeniably hilarious and, well, you want one, don’t you? Of course you want one. I’m not just saying that – B’s Music Shop and Cusack Music have sold more than they could have ever imagined. There’s clearly a demand for the Meowdulator.
I for one was inordinately excited by it, and obsessively refreshed the parcel tracking on our demo unit as it journeyed across the Atlantic. As soon as it arrived I spent a bit too much time screwing around with it instead of getting any work done – plugging it into delays, flangers, reverbs, distortions, the Time Shadows. I was more excited for its arrival than basically any other pedal I’ve bought or reviewed in recent memory.

And yet, in the best way possible, it is completely fucking useless. Am I going to bring this to band practice? Yes. Am I going to turn it off once my bandmates have gotten the idea and stopped laughing? Also yes. Will the joke get old? Inevitably. So as I sat there, screeching meows echoing around me, I thought:
Have we reached peak pedal?
Or, in other words, will people just buy anything in pedal form, as long as it has the right marketing and some fun YouTube demos? With regards to the Meowdulator’s overwhelming success – I think the question sort of cancels itself out. It’s cute and fun. People, famously, like cute and fun things. Mystery solved. But the question still stands in a broader sense, as outliers like the Meowdulator don’t give the best sense of the wider picture.
There is, increasingly, discussion about whether this is all just too much: there are too many boring overdrives, too many pricey lo-fi-bleep bloop things, too many superfluous digital features that no one uses (like MIDI support), not enough practical features the average musician might want (like MIDI support) and too many YouTube demos of all these new things. Who has the time?
I think it’s that last thing that holds the key to understanding the question. Consider this: how do you, as a pedal fan, interact with the wider world of guitar pedals on a daily basis? I mean, outside from actually playing the things – taking on other people’s opinions about them, learning new ways of using them, learning about new pedals.
Even if you’re lucky to have a load of nerdy musical friends who share your interest, the vast majority of that interaction is likely via the wider pedal internet – and the vast majority of that, in 2024, is YouTube. It wasn’t always so, but combine YouTube’s massive growth over the last two decades or so with the fact that video makes a lot of sense as a medium for pedal content, and you can see how the shift from bespoke little forums to pedal influencers with nicely-lit home studios and hundreds of thousands of subscribers happened.
Coincidentally, you could even argue that the other novelty synth pedal has a big role in all of this. Rob Chapman and Lee Anderton’s video on the Miku Stomp (almost 10 years old, now, by the way) is an early example of ‘modern’ pedal content finding its voice – funny, relaxed and personable, it’s a huge leap forward from whatever this is.
Rob and Lee’s demo felt less like some budget shopping channel, and more like a fun vlog that you’d watch anyway, for entertainment. But Andertons is, well, still a shop – the intention there was still to sell you a pedal.

And this is the thing about the pedal internet – the marketing rises to the top. The YouTube algorithm probably won’t show you that old video about using what you have – instead, the new thing that everyone’s just made a video on, all timed for release just when the embargo lifts, is much more likely to find its way in front of your eyeballs.
But this conflicts with the practical way in which we actually use pedals – what’s the point in zip-tying your cable runs down if all everyone seems to be talking about is buying the new thing? Pedalboards can be a nice little spot of creative permanence, a curated expression of what you need musically, and nothing more – but, maybe this new thing could also fit on there…
So, despite not really having the board space or the cash, you watch a couple of demos anyway. And the FOMO is only hammered into your soul a little deeper. Because if you believe (some!) YouTube thumbnails, buying a new pedal can completely turn your life around – “I didn’t know I needed this pedal until now!”, the bold text proclaims, next to the obligatory shocked face.
You click the video: did you know that there was a previously unknown hole in their musical life? Which happened to be shaped exactly like the newly-released $699 stereo reverb thing? And now, like the VHS in Ring, simply watching this video has passed the curse on. That same hole was there in your life and on your pedalboard, too, you just didn’t know. Sorry about that other thing you were gonna spend $699 on.
I am, of course, being a bit dramatic and cynical. This response relies on you immediately taking this all at face value – which, in all likelihood, you don’t. You’re well aware of the fact that there’s a marketing aspect of the demo, you know there’s some vested interest at work, you know that it’s an affiliate link in the description. You likely have a good idea of whether the thing in question will suit your musical needs. And, credit where credit is due – pedal-focused content creators are relatively good at disclosing their relationship with the maker, at least compared to some other niches.

But there is a cumulative effect, I think, that leads to a sort of consumer burnout. There’s so much content, and algorithms are getting better and better at showing stuff you’ll watch. At the end of every video, the cogs start turning, even if you’re already completely happy with your setup. “Hmm… only $699 – maybe I could move that pedal over a bit and fit it between the other two…” In the end, you can’t justify the purchase of the new thing. But some aspect of its absence remains.
What doesn’t help is that for the algorithm, your interest in pedals is reduced into a strange monolith, one that doesn’t completely encompass all the nuances of how people actually make music. You’ll see broadly the same videos recommended whether you want to sound like Eric Johnson or Einstürzende Neubauten. Hence you’ll see baffled comments on Chase Bliss demos, written in the tone of a Tory MP who’s just stumbled into a warehouse rave. “Why would you spend $399 to make your guitar sound like it’s being played through two out-of-sync VHS machines in another room?” they ask, unaware that they’re addressing the annual meeting of the ‘warbly VHS tape’ fanclub.
So, either you feel like you’re missing out on something you do want (maybe you actually did – it was a limited run, and they all sold in the time it took for the demo to load), or you’re being asked with a straight face to spend a huge amount of money on something you’d never use in a million years.
This is why I would say that no, we absolutely haven’t reached peak pedal, but it can feel like we have. An online aspect of pedals that flattens down the nuances of actually making music, and stops being for you if you want to stop buying things.
But to say we’ve truly reached “peak pedal” would imply that what’s being sold is genuinely worthless, cynically made to separate musicians from their money. Does this occasionally happen? Yes, of course, but plenty of makers are still pouring their hearts and souls into new, innovative, fun designs that are worthwhile.
It’s just that at a broader glance, the specifics of what does make the interesting things interesting can get lost in all of the hype. The enthusiastic commenters yelling “shut up and take my money!” below every Youtube demo. The Redditors who seem to all be lottery winners, posting photos of the latest shiny new thing on a board that’s already heaving with Strymons and Chase Blisses. GAS. NPD. The number of fuzzes you need is always N+1. For the average pedal fan with an average amount of disposable income, it can feel like you’re not really participating in the interest.

Hype machines
The surface level of the pedal internet is a crust made out of influencer hype, and hype understandably makes people wary. Because an excess of it can preclude an absolute void of meaning beneath that crust. Look at NFTs – to mask the fact that on-boarding into the phenomenon meant spending tens of thousands on ugly JPEGs, the hype was absurdly fervent. It had to be. NFT evangelists didn’t just say “oh, here’s a new thing” – they proclaimed the technology was going to change the world. There used to be a large Bored Ape NFT mural on a building near where I live, with the phrase “Bye Banks!” painted next to it. The whole thing has recently been painted over. Banks, as far as I can tell, are still around.
So when pedal fans see demos that proclaim “buying a reverb pedal totally changed everything for me! (sponsored)” it’s understandable that they provoke a bit of an eye-roll. The difference is that, unlike NFTs, there is still good stuff once you’ve walked through the room with a few mirrors and a bit of smoke.
It’s still healthy to be sceptical of some of their more snake-oily elements, of course. When someone tells you a few millivolts variance in the behaviour of a set of germanium diodes makes £200 worth of difference in an overdrive pedal (ahem), I’d trust your ears over anything they have to say. But it’s also important to consider the wide, messy, subjective world of making music before writing off the latest lo-fi glitchy delay/looper combo pedal as just hype. For some, that’s their musical bread and butter.
As for the Meowdulator? Well, I take back what I previously said about it being a novelty. It’s actually changed everything for me. It realigned my chakras, cleansed my aura, and finally made me understand there was a hole in my musical life and on my pedalboard. It was shaped exactly like the Meowdulator. I look forward to using it on every guitar solo I will ever play ever again. I don’t know how I lived without it…
Or maybe it’s just a guitar pedal.
The post Have we reached “peak pedal” with the Meowdulator? appeared first on Guitar.com | All Things Guitar.

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