The Pedal File – Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box, Pt. 1

Hello dearies!  It’s 2016 and what did I promise?  More weird, right?  Right!  (No, I don’t have any pictures of that rash I was telling you about…not that kind of weird, silly!)

What a glorious time it is to be alive in this world of gear that is perpetually producing new products that most of us could probably never even imagine like we live in some space age era where all the musicians play crazy twerk-pop-metal-step at the local Star Wars cantina.

I feel like everyday I see something and go, “Wow, that is really innovative and could change the shape of music as we know it!” Then I step away from the mirror, put on my pants, and start my day.  (Teehee)

So with the thought that the world of music will never be the same again, let’s jump right on in to today’s topic like a pool full of noodles: Pittsburgh Modular’s Patch Box – the modular synth made for us degenerate, drooling, lowly, foot-stomping guitarists.

pittsburgh-modular-patch-box-130415-616x440

‘Why should I care about modular’, you ask?  Remember that one time I talked about synth rigz and why a non-linear signal path has some advantages over the alternative?  To sum it up: MAXIMUM VERSATILITY.  (Nicky likey versatility, and you should too.)

First, a little background on the creator of the product/emancipator of our tone: Pittsburgh Modular [hereon referred to as PM for brevity] has only been frolicking in the land of the musical products industry since 2012 (the year the world ended and we passed through to a parallel universe, remember?  I’m glad cheeseburgers made it through too.  Whew, close one!).

In that time they’ve introduced a staggering list of products like their impressive modular synths, the Foundation and System series, as well as a bevy of individual euro rack units that can all play nicely together and make you into a veritable Dr. Frankenstein of sound as only a modular setup can do.

Patch Box Deets

According to PM, the Patch Box is ‘a completely new type of multi-effects pedal offering direct access to both the audio and control voltage signal paths. The ability to reroute any signal with a push of a footswitch or by quickly repatching a cable creates an infinitely customizable sonic palate.’  Tantalizing, no?  I don’t know about you,  but I love it when companies talk dirty to me.

So anyway the Patch Box FX1 is like your mom, all ready to go; it ships with a complete set of Pittsburgh Modular’s most popular effects modules that fit into the Patch Box enclosure, including the Analog Replicator (delay,) Filter (you know, filter for phasey/flangey sounds), Crush (signal decimator/bit crusher), and LFO2 (for all your wobbly vibrato needs), along with twelve high-quality Naszca Audio patch cables.

The following quoted text is from PM’s website:

‘The Analog Replicator is a versatile delay that can be bright and clean or dark and dirty with an adjustable range and voltage controllable delay time, feedback, and wet/dry mix. The Filter is a voltage controlled, analog, state variable filter offering creamy smooth low-pass, high-pass, notch, and band-pass filters in addition to a chaotic self-oscillation mode.  Crush is an analog signal decimator.  A voltage controlled bit crushing effect that breaks down an audio signal into larger and larger static chunks slowly turning any signal into noise.’  Go ahead and take a moment to mop up that coffee you just spit on the screen.  I’ll wait…

(Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll dissect the modules included in the FX1 package in more detail!)

‘Access to the control voltage signal path takes the Patch Box FX1 to a new level. Control voltages are used to automate module parameters using modulation or expression pedals. An expression pedal or the output of an LFO can be directly assigned to one or more parameters at a time creating powerful, expressive effects.

 

The Pedal File - Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box

The power of the FX1 does not live in the modules alone. The Patch Box enclosure is packed with the functionality of five highly tuned components integrated into the heavy duty steel enclosure:

  • a custom designed preamp that adds everything from clean gain to sweet distortion without overdriving the modules within the Patch Box.
  • dual, assignable expression pedal inputs allow the Patch Box to integrate 3rd party expression pedals anywhere into the signal path. This allows for realtime foot control of any voltage controllable parameter.  (How sweet and thoughtful of them to add this important functionality to allow guitar players more complete access to create cool modular sounds!  Heart emoticon!)
  • dual, assignable A/B footswitches expand signal routing options. Perfect for use as on/off switches or to flip between two signals, the footswitches can be patched up to enable/disable individual modules or route audio and control voltages.
  • a signal splitter is included for routing a single modulation or audio source to multiple destinations.  (It just sounds to good to be true.  I’m waiting for the catch to be something like every time you play the Patch Box, your life force is drained out of you little by little.  Until you’re dead.  Or something.)

The last stage of the Patch Box signal path is a master output level control. Adjust the output signal level to connect with a wide range of devices. The Patch Box FX1 can output anything from guitar level to line level signals.’

Get a taste:

Tweakables

Front Panel Controls  – taken from Patch Box manual
  • SWITCH 1 – patchable footswitch can be used as on/off or A/B switch.
  • SWITCH 2 – patchable footswitch can be used as on/off or A/B switch.  (The ability to turn an effect on/off OR switch from one to the other is a feature that opens up incredible possibilities alone.)
  • BYPASS – true bypass circuit enables or disables the entire Patch Box.
  • GAIN Knob – controls the gain of the 1/4” input jack. Signal begins to overdrive after 12 o’clock.
  • OUTPUT Knob – controls the output level of the Patch Box.
  • INPUTS Jacks – dual buffered jacks carry the preamp output signal. Patch into the signal input of installed modules or the OUT jack.
  • EXP 1 Jack- output of expression pedal 1. Outputs a voltage between 0-5v used to control one or more voltage controllable parameters of the installed modules.
  • EXP 2 Jack- output of expression pedal 2. Outputs a voltage between 0-5v used to control one or more voltage controllable parameters of the installed modules.  (Tweaking sounds in real time means another layer of versatility.)
  • MULTIPLE Jacks- used to split an audio or control signal. Patch a signal in and use the remaining two jacks as copies of the input signal.  (Man, the versatility is piling up like hot cakes!)
  • SWITCH 1 Jacks- used to patch through SWITCH 1. The center jack is always active so pressing footswitch 1 switches between activating the left and center jacks (LED off) or the right and center jacks (LED on).
  • SWITCH 2 Jacks- used to patch through SWITCH 2. The center jack is always active so pressing footswitch 2 switches between activating the left and center jacks (LED off) or the right and center jacks (LED on).
  • OUT Jack- passed audio from modules through the Output level control to the rear mounted 1/4” output jack.

Rear Panel Controls

  • INPUT Jack – 1/4” unbalanced instrument input.
  • OUTPUT Jack – 1/4” unbalanced guitar or line level output.
  • 15V DC Power Jack – 2.1mm barrel connector for external 15v DC 2.6 to 5A adapter.
  • EXP 1 Jack – balanced 1/4” input for universal expression pedal such as the Moog EP-3 or M-Audio EX-P expression pedals. When using the Moog EP-3, place the switch on the bottom of the expression pedal to the “normal” position.
  • EXP 2 Jack – balanced 1/4” input for universal expression pedal such as the Moog EP-3 or M-Audio EX-P expression pedals. When using the Moog  EP-3, place the switch on the bottom of the expression pedal to the “normal” position.

The versatility is getting thick enough to cut with a knife!  And those are the controls just for the freaking enclosure!

Speaking of versatility, the true adventure seeker could mix-and-match a Patch Box setup to one’s own taste with the more than twenty different euro rack modules offered by PM.  You could also choose third party euro rack modules like Roland’s Aira series, Dwarfcraft’s modules, or any module that will fit in the space provided by the enclosure (What other industry makes products that compete in the same market yet can play nice together?  Society could learn a lesson from this).  The tonal possibilities are truly zen – beginningless and endless.  The Patch Box would make a great family heirloom where for generations your ancestors could honor you by finding new tonez through the next millenium.  Now that’s a way to be revered.

Conclusion

I hope I speak for everyone when I say that I appreciate PM’s desire to allow guitar players into the mystical realm of modular synth.  To be honest, I would have expected Moog to fill this niche (but they didn’t, so give PM a few extra points!).  In this age of music-related technological advancement there has been an aching, throbbing, pussing gap left only to grow bigger as guitarists’ and synth players’ available technology, and by extension, tones have begun to converge.  This festering gap has finally been filled by the Patch Box.  Let us all rejoice in the healing!  Hallelujah!

With a modular signal path applied to guitar, your tone isn’t pigeon-holed by those cute yet confining little boxes that can only make (x) amount of sounds.  It is freed, or even unleashed if you will, upon the world to do as it wishes, see the sights, and sniff the butts of whomever it pleases.  This may not appeal to you, but then I should ask, why are you on my website?   Also what do you have against your tone sniffing butts?  Hmmmmm?

Don’t get me wrong.  Pedals are still great.  I’m not giving up on them.  The Patch Box is just another tool that can open up a whole new world of possibilities and a whole new way to approach guitar playing.  Don’t be a Luddite about it.

You don’t need no special pickup or cables, no rules, no prisoners.  Thank you, Pittsburgh Modular for catering to us guitarists and making it so we can use the synth, the whole synth, and nothing but the synth.  So help us Robert Fripp.

Check out www.pittsburghmodular.com for more info.

Leave me a comment and let me know if you have any thoughts about the Patch Box and how it could affect your life.  Also stick around for Part 2 where I’ll dissect the individual modules featured in the Patch Box FX1 system.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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