Dunning ∿‌‌ Kruger FX

Effect Pedals and Guitars, etc.

Smewthe

It’s “Smooth”

Vincent Price’s pronunciation of “smooth” is extremely difficult to capture in written text.

In 2005, J. D. Ryznar, David Lyons, Hunter Stair, and Hollywood Steve brought us Yacht Rock, the greatest and best web series, which coined the term for the genre. Yacht Rock delved into the dark recesses of really smooth music from the late 70s and early 80s, and explored the tangled relationships that rocketed a relatively inbred group of artists straight to the top of the charts.

In Episode 5, we find Michael Jackson recording Thriller, and being lured toward hard rock through his interactions with Eddie Van Halen (who played the guitar solo on “Beat It”). It was up to the band Toto (who played just about everything else on Thriller) to bring back the smooth. So, of course, they enlisted Vincent Price to hold a séance, awaken Koko Goldstein’s ghost, and have Koko “spook the smooth” back into Michael Jackson. The tortured pronunciations that James Adomian came up with in his portrayal of Vincent Price are ridiculously hilarious, particularly “per-swad-ed” (persuaded) and “smewthe” (smooth).

Hence the name for this compressor pedal.

Details

Smewthe is a compressor based on the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. The original Orange Squeezer wasn’t a pedal—it had a 1/4″ plug built into it, and the whole box was intended to be plugged directly into a guitar or amp. It also had no controls except for an on/off switch, and the effect was permanently stuck at a fairly modest setting. That said, a lot of people thought that it was set correctly, and it was a favorite of many smooth guitarists of the time, including Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (of the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency) and Jay Graydon, who (according to pedal guru Analog Man) used it on the solo in Steely Dan’s “Peg.” The Smewthe version of the compressor, which is a BYOC Mimosa kit, is a similar circuit installed in a more conventional pedal format with level and blend controls to adjust the overall volume and mix the original and compressed signals together as desired.

Compression is an audio signal processing operation that makes the loud parts of a sound quieter, often so that the whole thing can be made louder overall without the previously loud parts clipping. Depending on the type of compression and how it’s used, the reduced dynamic range and unnatural attack/sustain of a note can produce some telltale sounds, but it’s typically not a dramatic effect. Smewthe is particularly subtle, so I’m not including a sound sample. For a while, I wasn’t even sure if it was working at all. After spending some time with it (and with some help from the folks at BYOC), I can tell that it is, but it’s almost more about the way it makes the guitar feel than how it sounds. I can see this being something that I just leave on all the time and don’t mess with, which I suppose is appropriate for a compressor that originally came with no controls.

Vital Stats

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter
Dynamic “Weasel” Range
Control “Polecat” Knobs
Extreme “Stink Badger” Squish
Subtle “Stoat” Smoothness