Colorless writings, part 11 – The Expert

What now?

I felt like i needed to write this off my chest. As the title suggests i’m going to rant about these so called “experts” that think they know it all and how i think we all should use caution when we assume we have an “expert” on our hands. First of all. I’m no expert. Sure, i’ve built hundreds of effect pedals, repaired and modded a bunch of units and done some analysis on a few boxes. That does not make me an authority on the subject. I’m still learning new stuff every single day in my chosen field, which is rather narrow when compared to vast number of electronic devices designed and manufactured over the last century or so. I do not know everything and i think i never will. I do know a lot, but damned be the day when i crown myself as an “expert”.

Let’s take a look at the definition of the word. “An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain.” (Quote from Wikipedia).

Now, if and when someone considers him or herself as an expert, we all can judge that expert by the work we see. As the effect pedals are very narrow field when compared to anything, there are bound to be these “experts” who write books on the subject with very little real knowledge about the filed. With well done research anyone can write sufficient book on any subject. Does that make the author an expert on the matter? No. It doesn’t. What if the research part has been light and sloppy? Does the resulting work help anyone? Here’s the bigger question.

Nearly a year ago i bought a book on pedals. It was called “Practical handbook” for effects. The author had done nice research on the history of how effects came to be and there are about a hundred pedals listed with superficial descriptions. Most of the dates are fuzzed or obscured (even worse than what i do on my pedal posts) with a decade as an error margin. Granted, reliable information on certain effects is very hard to find, if not impossible. But the pretext as an introduction on the book says something peculiar. The author claims he has had about 50 effect pedals in his posession over the years. Apparently the publisher of that book considered the author to be an expert to the degree where its ok to publish his book on the subject. He doesn’t claim to be an expert de facto, but as an author of “Practical handbook” it’s rather safe to assume someone considers the author as an expert.

So you’re pissed off by someone writing a book with moderate expertise?

Almost. Think of it like this – should i write a book on raising children? I don’t have any of my own, nor i ever will, but i’ve spent some time with our bass player’s kid and even more time with my sister’s kids. So i could claim i know a few things about raising a child. But would i be any expert to write a book titled “Practical handbook” on the subject?

Other issue with the book are the technical examples. It clearly says the example schematics are not intended as a base for your own effect circuit. There is a simple reason for that. I bet they were afraid of the possible copyright issues of schematics that were completely redrawn – so they simply made every single one defunct. I could tell just by looking at the drawings – No. That won’t work. And while making the schematics are defunct, the author removed or messed up parts of the blueprints that are crucial for the function and sound of the original design. So in a sense, the technical part is completely unusable and doesn’t teach the reader anything. Needless to say i felt pretty swindled after reading the book.

Would you feel any different if the book was titled differently?

Yes i would. It should be titled “Beginner’s guide” or “Simple overview”. Then the customer buying the book would not be disappointed to these hights. There are true experts. All you need to do is log yourself in to Freestomboxes.org and start reading. You’ll notice a few screen names that offer a lot of useful information based on facts and not on guesses. It is an open forum, so there is bound to be some not so great writings as well. Still, you can learn a lot from these guys. I sure would like to read a book on pedals written by one of those gurus.

Besides. I’ve never heard them call themselves an experts.

I think the main issue here is that publisher honestly thinks guitar effects as “toys” rather than real tools of the industry. This is where i believe it all went wrong. When you don’t respect the field, how narrow it may be, you are easily tempted by selling some half ass semi-truths as facts. In full view, i’m not blaming the author, but the publisher. Putting a person with hands on experience with 50 pedals on a  pedestal as an expert isn’t probably the wisest move. I did not mean today’s colorless writing to be a book review, but i wanted to poke the issue of who gets to be celebrated as the expert. As the Wikipedia noted, the Expert needs to have accorded authorty by his or her peers. And no one should ever call a slight introduction a “Practical handbook”. As another parallel, think of a book on math called “A Practical handbook on derivation”. You come home with it and read all about how numbers came to be and how you can add one plus one. In addition it has wide range of example equations – all broken and not true. How much can you learn from broken data?

The book itself isn’t that horrible. It is a nice introduction for beginners, but as a hard fact book that offers knowledge – not so much.

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