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

The Pedal File – More Weird, More Pedals in 2016!

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Hello, loyal Pedal Filers!  The year is nearly over, so for my last post in 2015 I’d like to thank you for sticking around and reading my incessant ramblings on the subject of effects pedals.  It speaks volumes about your ability to pay attention.

This has been another therapeutic year for my pedal addiction, but of course there is no absolute cure so I ask you to take my hand as I lead you further astray into an even better year for The Pedal File in 2016!

Are you sick of fast-forwarding through demos that talk more than play?  Annoyed by shitty blues wanking?  Are you looking for unique sounds that only the most versatile pedals can provide?  Then come to The Pedal File, er, Side…

Here’s what I’m thinking about the next year:

More pedals, more knobs, more switches, more videos, more reviews, and more weird.

Sound good?  Cool.

I compiled some video (check it out below) of the newest effects I’ve acquired to give you a sneak peek of the coming months, and all I can say is that things are already weirder around here.

Is there anything you’d like to see in 2016?  Maybe then you should start your own pedal website.  BOOM!  Of course I’m kidding guys.  I’m always on the lookout for interesting and exciting pedals that push the boundaries of sound – feel free to alert me if you know something or give me suggestions to improve the page.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for your continuing readership you filthy animals!  Happy New Gear!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File Halloween Edition – Spooky Sounds with Pedals

Hey all, it’s that spooky time of year again, so I thought it’d be fun to put on our Hillary Clinton masks and talk about making freaky sounds with some pedals.  Sounds fun, right?  Right.

The inspiration of this idea came from Tera Melos guitarist, Nick Reinhart.  If you don’t already know, he’s kind of a pedal mystic or sage if you will and has in the true Halloween spirit, made recordings full of spooky sounds on guitar.  Check it out above.

I wanted to share a spooky soundscape I did and talk about a few pedals that are perfect for haunting your house, cabin, spaceship or any other place that is bound to contain evil spirits and/or aliens.

Moog Mf-102 Ring Modulator – every sound that comes out of a ring modulator can be nasty, dirty, scary, and panic-inducing if you want it to be.  LFO sweeps, crazy harmonics and electric bellgongs, robot wolf howls…Ring modulators are a pretty common sci-fi film sound effect that I’m sure you would recognize.  Most robot voices are just ring modulators.  Think of it as a robot larynx, I guess.

Iron Ether Frantabit – bit crushing sample rate reducing is another way to conjure some gnarly sounds from your guitar to honor your favorite dark lord.  This thing does fuzz, static, strange theremin-like frequency sweeps, total annihilation.  You can make an already scary sound even scarier by making your amp sound like it’s dead. Or back from the dead and you have to smash it’s fucking brains out.  (If you want to know more about this pedal, check out my review of it.)

Visual Sound Liquid Chorus – the Liquid Chorus ironically sounds beautiful and makes everything shimmer.  Chorus (or any modulation) is great for creating suspense, especially if you set the depth, width, and rate controls high for some wobbly swirlyness.  The faster the swirl the more anxiety you can impart on your dog, as well as any ‘subjects’ you may have strapped to that operating table in your basement….oh, that was a secret?  My bad.

Keeley Absolute Wurst – octave pitch shifting pedals are perfect for getting doomy low octave bass lines and those high-pitched terror inducing noises that sound like babies and cats fighting in the night during a full moon.  Plus, this guy can sort of emulate a pipe organ, which is kind of the epitome of evil sounding music. (Review here.)

Anyway, here’s my contribution to the genre of scary guitar: https://soundcloud.com/sexypigdivas/sets/freaky-sounds-on-guitar/s-RJbXC

All these pedals can be used in a musical, subtle way, but today that isn’t the point.  Mood and texture is what it’s all about if you want to get freaky with pedals.  Now go out there and make Satan proud!

See ya in Hell!

Until next time.  Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File – Fun with a Minimal Pedalboard

Hello and welcome to the Fellowship of the Pedal, commonly referred to as the Pedal File.  Today I want to flip things around and make you question your pedal beliefs.  Let’s put your mind in the sweet new shoes of another perspective:

Minimalism

What I mean by minimalism in this respect is but one definition of the word – a design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.  In other words and in this context, do more with less pedals.

I know what you’re thinking.  Use less pedals?  Everything I read and all you talk about is pedals, blah blah, pedals to infinity!  I know it sort of sounds like blasphemy, but sometimes cliches are right, and less is more.

Using fewer pedals means swapping out or switching the order of your effects without feeling like you’re using a Moog System 55.  (Sure pedals are awesome, but you know what are not awesome?)  Cables.  Would you care to put your dirt pedal in other places on the board to see how it sounds?  It’s a lot easier with less pedals – less weight to carry, space to take up, less cables, and less time thinking about turning pedals on and off.

The Pedal File - My Current Board

It’s easy to load up.

It can be hard, but take some deep breaths, and think about limiting yourself to just three pedals.  If you want to get hardcore downsize to one pedal.  Although initially dreadful, this thought can be liberating and inspire you to explore sound in an all new way.  Have you ever dared to not use any dirt pedals?  What about substituting another effect for distortion, like chorus?  How about using a pedal for a tone it wasn’t technically intended to produce?

With a little patience and willingness to explore, I’ll bet you’d be surprised by how much you can do with one pedal (and by what one pedal can do to you).  For instance, since delay, reverb, and chorus are all time based effects, you can achieve all three if you have the right delay pedal.  Set the delay time short (preferably less than a slapback, but experiment with longer delay times too!) and keep the repeats low – this will create a chorus or doubling effect (if you have a mix knob, see how things sound when increasing or decreasing the effect).  Begin turning the repeats up and you should make some pseudo percussive reverb sounds. Experimenting with different combinations of short delay times and the other knobs of a delay can yield sounds you can’t quite get with a reverb or chorus pedal (EQD’s Aftermath and Sea Machine are exceptions).

Remember kids, there is nothing wrong with using a pedal in a way for which it was not intended.  Just also remember, your friends and family may not want to hear about all of your experiences using pedals for ways they were not intended.

All this being said though, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be tasteful and use a knob factory’s worth of pedals.

Check out another fine article on the topic by Caroline Guitar Company’s Philippe Herndon and another by Sam Hill of Tone Report.

Now go out there and get em!

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File – Some Great Pedals Made by the Little Guys

Hello there!  It’s The Pedal File back for more pedal-packed fun!  ‘Two posts in one month?’, you’re thinking.  I’ve got to try to keep up, you’re a feisty bunch, aren’t you?  The reason I write today is to tell you about some great pedals made by some of the little guys in the pedal biznass.  I want to remind you not to get swept up on the pedal bandwagon, and that there are some truly hidden gems among the ‘lower’ classes of pedal makers.  I’d like to prove that all pedal makers are equal until proven guilty by a court of unhappy customers on a pedal forum.  Or something.

VFE Pedals Tractor Beam

VFE stands for Von Rutter Family Effects, started by mathematician/physicist Peter Rutter as a hobby.  Not the catchiest of names, but he could have named his company Peepee Poopoo Pedals for all I care.  We’re here to talk about pedals and tone, not marketing.  The reason I include this company is because they specialize in giving you as many tones in one box as you can handle (seems like more of a disease than a hobby, but I can relate).   VFE offers pedals with so much tweakability and versatility, one pedal purchase from them is like buying at least 2 or 3 pedals from your favorite Run Of the Mill Co.
The Pedal File - VFE Tractor Beam
On top of that, you can design your own custom pedal with colors, art, knobs, etc. in their Pedal Wizard, and you can actually submit circuit design ideas to them that they might put into production.  One of the coolest things they do though is support any musical artist that uses their pedals.  Got a recording with a VFE pedal on it?  They’ll put it on the site.  The icing on the nipples by far though is when ordering a custom pedal, a percentage of the purchase goes toward an artist that you can choose from their artist program!  I can’t even decide how many extra points they get.  It’s a lot though.

The Tractor Beam is for those of you who want to dial in an absurd range of phaser sounds.  Multiple selectable stages, inverted phasing, the ability to mix phaser and vibe effects together, the option of momentary switching for quick on/off effects, you can even adjust the brightness of your LED for Oprah’s sake!  You know what I think?  I think Peter Rutter is an alien-human hybrid creature created by the U.S. government to distract us with his tantalizing pedals from what’s really going on.  I’m on to you, Mr. Rutter…

Tweakables: Quoted text from the manual.
Speed – “Sets the speed of the phaser. In version 2, we increased the max speed by 50% and doubled the rate of the slowest speed. In order to have a super-wide range that is still easy to dial in, we had pots custom-made specifically for the Tractor Beam.”  No expense spared there.
Center – “Sets the center of the phase sweep. Turn counterclockwise for low-end throb, turn clockwise for watery shimmer, and set at noon for a full-range sweep.”
Feedback – “Sets the feedback, which is perfect for those slow, resonant phase sweeps. Clockwise = negative feedback, counterclockwise = positive feedback, 12:00 = zero feedback.”
Mix – “Blends between the dry, unaffected signal and the wet, phase-modulated signal. Because phasers get their sound by the interaction of the dry signal, the 12:00 position will yield the strongest phasing. Turn counterclockwise for a resonant tone with less pitch modulation. Turn clockwise for pitch modulation with less phase resonance.”
Stages – “Selects the number of phase stages. More stages = wider phase sweep. The 3-stage position is inverted, for reverse phase sweeps.”  Not like where a play is performed, silly.  Stages as in the number of peaks/notches in the phasing signal to give you different phasey tones.
Mode – “Selects the voicing of the phaser. P = synced phase sweep, V = warbling vibe sweep, PV = half phase, half vibe voicing.”
Internal Controls – “The internal LEVEL trimpot sets the output volume. NOTE: The JFET is factory set for maximum phase sweep – DO NOT ADJUST.”
True Soft Bypass – “All VFE Pedals use true bypass relay switching combined with effect-side FET switching. This makes for pure and smooth switching that is rated for a longer lifetime than you.”  Well now I feel inferior, but hey that’d be a cool heirloom to pass down…
DualMode Switching – “DualMode is a unique VFE feature that lets you setup the footswitch for momentary operation (press & hold = on, release = off). To activate, wait 5 seconds and then press tap+tap+hold until LED flashes.”  Maybe you just want to be able to throw some quick phase on only part of a riff, or even toggle the effect on and off – now you can.
LED Brightness – “Just because we can, there’s an internal trimpot to set the LED brightness just the way you like it.”  Not that I ever thought I needed this on a pedal, but I admit there are a few on my board that light up like frickin’ laser beams.
Carling Footswitch – “The part that you step on shouldn’t be made cheap. We use rugged, industrial grade Carling footswitches in all our pedals.”  Agreed, I always feel a little sour when a pedal company uses cheap components.  Nothing better than a pedal that feels like a brick in your hand.

asduigh984qaubgaiuh49…Sorry, I drooled all over my keyboard and my fingers were slipping.

Check out www.vfepedals.com for more info, but heed my warning: there are lots of pedals and lots of info – you might spend a long time on there.  Also check out the video demos by various people who are not me, and please also note that the demo is for the original version that was called the Enterprise.


Alexander Pedals F.13 Flanger

I’ve talked about Alexander Pedals in a previous post, but I just discovered this soon-to-be-released, soon-to-be a wonder of the pedal world: the F.13 Flanger.  As I predicted, flangers are coming back y’all, and this is one you should take a hard look at.  When I saw that the makers of the Radical Delay have a flanger coming out, it was difficult to contain my excitement, so I went down to my pedal dungeon to blow off some steam.  I feel a little better now…

The Pedal File - Alexander Pedals F.13 FlangerAlexander are another company that doesn’t want to insult your intelligence with copies and clones of everything else.  Matthew Farrow is doing his own thing, which enables you to do your own thing in return.  It’s sort of beautiful really.  The F.13 takes the company a step further in that direction.  This flanger has features that I have yet to hear of in another flanger, like step flangering (think step filter) and dynamic flangering(ydingdong) (think envelope filter/auto wah effects in the way your attack/signal triggers the effect).  Alexander have already forged a path with their small line of effects in their short existence, and I have to say I’m really excited for them to release more.

Unfortunately there isn’t even a demo video to hear how it sounds (perhaps soon I can fill the void), but I’m confident it will sound awesome.  Read on for knobbage.

Tweakables:
Rate – “Controls the rate of the low-frequency oscillator (LFO) for the flanger, from glacial to space invaders.  Controls the input sensitivity in Dynamic mode.”
Depth –  “Controls the maximum LFO sweep.  In Step mode, the depth control chooses downward steps, upward + downward steps, upward steps, or random steps.  In Dynamic mode, this controls whether the flanger sweeps down (less than noon) or up (greater than noon) based on the input signal.”  I really want to hear this thing!
Mix – “Controls the blend between the dry and flanged signal.  Equal mix is at 12 o’clock.  Hint:  Pitch vibrato is available with low Regen settings and fully wet mix.”  Very cool, normally flangers don’t have a mix control, but they should because sometimes you want just a little.
Regen –  “Adjusts the amount of flanged signal fed back into the modulation.  Zero feedback is at noon, clockwise increases the positive feedback for a standard flanger sound.  Twist this knob counter-clockwise for negative feedback and a unique “inside out” flange.”  I’d sure like to turn this thing inside-out…

Mode Toggle:
Step -“The flanger LFO is forced to “step” to eight different values for transforming robot sounds.  Sweeps either up, up + down, down, or random.  The random mode is similar to a synthesizer “sample and hold” effect but with flange instead of filter.”  Umm, I am seriously interested.  Damn you, Alexander, and your temptations.
Sweep –  “Traditional flanging is found here.  The LFO for the F.13 is actually a “hypertriangular” waveform, so that the flanger spends more time in the interesting portions of the sweep.  Hint:  Set the Rate control at zero for “filter matrix” style manual flanging.  The Depth knob controls the flange position.”  I might need a new keyboard, more drool commencing.
Dynamic –  “This one is kind of unusual, even for us!  The flanger delay time is set by the volume of the input signal.  The Rate knob adjusts the sensitivity, to allow for different pickups or effects before the F.13.  The Depth knob controls which direction the flanger will sweep when it hears the input signal.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”   I won’t.

And to think flangers couldn’t get any cooler, the F.13 is in my opinion the most enticing to date.  I’m impressed by Matthew Farrow’s creativity when it comes to pedal design.  It’s apparent that this guy has some experience with what he’s doing, and that each new pedal he makes will most likely be a pleasant surprise for pedal enthusiasts, thus proving that the pursuit of rockin tones will continue on.  There’s a perk to giving this company your money too – they’ll put a portion of it toward cancer charity in honor of Mr. Farrow’s brother.  Hey and unlike the Red Cross, I bet they actually donate it too!

Alexander only has a small line of other effects so far, but you should check them out.  Now.  Go on, get! www.alexanderpedals.com

So that’s all for now, kiddies.  I hope this will hold you over until next time, but until then feel free to shoot me a comment and tell me what you think, or get at me through my Contact page if you’re a little Anonymous Andy.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File