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HAL LEONARD

October 1, 2002
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I'm a sucker for gear books — the more vintage and exotic, the better — even if I don't own the items covered. Originally written in Japanese under Boss's auspices but published in English, The Boss Book ($19.95) is part product brochure, part historical account, and part gear porn.

When I received my copy, I wondered what I would find interesting in a book about the ubiquitous little stompboxes that are still being manufactured by the millions. Boss has made over 6 million of the DS-1 distortion pedal alone — just how many secrets could there be in such a popular product line?

From Bee Baa to Bee Gee

As far as books for collectors and enthusiasts go, The Boss Book seems thin at 122 pages. But don't let its size fool you: Boss spared little expense on this project. The pages are thick and glossy, and color photos and graphics abound. That's especially satisfying because most of the pedals are color coded by function.

The Boss Book begins with an overview of the product line, organized by effect type. The function of each pedal is described, accompanied by a few specs and the dates of availability. This section also includes Roland effects that preceded the Boss line, such as the Jet Phaser and a pair of early fuzzboxes called the Bee Baa and the Bee Gee.

Next up is a side-by-side waveform comparison of 20 distortion boxes. The examples include a brief analysis of each waveform, discussion of how it sounds, and visual representations that show each waveshape and the effect that certain settings have. This is one of my favorite parts of this book, but we're only up to page 46!

Next come the “Relationship Atlas for All 20 Distortion Models,” the “Distortion Character Distribution Diagram,” the “Character Analysis Table for All 20 Models,” and the “Boss Chronology.” It's interesting to note that some of these pedals have been available for 20 years. By this point in the text, Boss has graphed the various features in so many ways that you'd think the vast number of models was planned from the beginning.

A Knob by Any Other Color

From there, it's straight into the abyss of true geekdom. Under the heading “Detailed Info for the Boss Fanatic,” the book offers examples of the variations in knobs; changes in the “back panel” (bottom plate), which is divided into eight “periods”; variations in battery snaps; even changes in the screws that hold the battery compartment shut.

The next few sections offer historical and anecdotal accounts of Boss and its products. An interview with company founder Ikutaro Kakehashi serves up notable QUOTEs. For example, he says the Japanese were the first to come up with the fuzz effect based on the sound of the shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument. That made me want to dig in to his autobiography, I Believe in Music (Hal Leonard, 2002).

Subsequent chapters present comments and tips on the Boss effects from members of the development teams; a shoot-out between Electro-Harmonix, MXR, and Boss pedals; photos of the pedals at various stages on the assembly line; and vulnerable aspects of certain Boss products. The package comes with a CD that includes sound examples of Boss pedals in situ. Several pages of the appendix are devoted to the settings used to get these sounds.

Not for Geeks Only

Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Popular Compact Effects for Guitar,” The Boss Book delivers what it promises. I was amazed at the amount of detail given and found I couldn't put the book down. For the mildly curious, The Boss Book is definitely a fun read. No doubt the obsessive collector will be grateful for this book. You probably know which side you're on.


Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4

Hal Leonard Corp.; tel. (414) 774-3630; Web www.halleonard.com

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