The Peavey Revolution

By Ken Achard
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Hartley Peavey is a bona fide American hero, and he has built an empire in a uniquely mythic American way: By working hard, working smart, and giving the people what they want. But while it would be almost criminal not to respect the man, one of the Peavey company’s oft-heard complaints is that it is not held in the same esteem as some other giants of American music-equipment manufacturing. Whether that assessment is true or not, its shadow falls across every page in The Peavey Revolution [Backbeat].

First, there’s the fond, almost adoring tone by author and former Peavey employee Ken Achard. The Peavey Revolution is definitely a homage—rather than a corporate autopsy or biographical tell-all—but Achard’s insider status does inform his writing with a welcome familiarity and depth. Just don’t expect explicit and comprehensive data about failures, less-than-stellar business decisions, and manufacturing problems.

Second, the exhaustive listing of the birth of nearly every product in Peavey’s 40 years can be, well, exhausting. Now, only a darn fool would argue that Peavey hasn’t launched scores of absolutely brilliant products in its four-decade lifespan, but I found myself wishing for a simple product timeline after a few chapters of wading through lines upon lines of text about each piece of gear.

These quibbles aside, the book does a fine job of documenting Peavey’s evolution from a dream in a garage to its current stature as an international powerhouse. For gear fans, the coolest parts of The Peavey Revolution will likely be the archival photos and old product ads, which really give you a sense of what it was like building a music company in the fab ’60s and wacky ’70s—as well as providing insights into the concerns of each era’s musicians.

The big story, of course, remains that of the main man. Hartley Peavey’s quotes throughout the book are wise, inspired, and often funny—if a tad studied at times. And getting insights on product development, fair business practice, and marketing from this laid-back genius is not only a tremendous learning experience, it’s a treat for your soul. Peavey’s mission was to build great gear and price it within reach of working musicians, and neither time nor affluence nor shifting business strategies has diminished his enthusiasm for those original ideals. Peavey is an innovator, a survivor, and, thankfully, a rebel, and The Peavey Revolution is an excellent tribute to an American original.
—Michael Molenda