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 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

Pedal Feature – Alexander Pedals Radical Delay Demo

Is it time for another post already?  I suppose it is considering you’re reading this and I’ve already written it.  Cause and effect, you know?

So anyway, I’ve got a Radical Delay in my possession to exhibit just for your eyes and ears; therefore I must share what I’ve learned studying this unique specimen up close in my laboratory.  Since I’ve talked about the Radical delay and it’s tweakables in a previous post, I’ll leave most of the details to the demo video and try not to repeat myself, myself, myself….sorry, I’ve gone and repeated myself.  Here’s what I found out:

Alexander PedalsThe Radical is a knob tweaker’s dream and will reward you a king’s ransom for experimenting with settings.  That’s why you’re here right?  To seek out the pedals that will give you unprecedented authority in the tonal realm like you’re a big bank and pedals are a world currency.  Well the Radical Delay is a currency you should be manipulating, you capitalist pig!

This pedal sure can do standard digital delay sounds (10-900ms) with all the dotted eighth note syncopation you could desire.  It’s fun to play licks and have them be augmented by the delay trails into something you did not expect.  From the moment I plugged into the pedal, I was sucked in and immediately inspired – It’s tones made me feel like I was drifting backwards and forwards in time at the same time, as if I was watching an old movie set in the future.  And this was before getting into the remarkable sounding chorus/vibrato modulation, bit crushed synthy sounds, octaves, detune, strange harmonizing fun house mirror Mario on acid circus pitch shifting arpeggios, AND pseudo flange/phase/rotary/organ tones that can be imparted on the wet signal (I think that about covers it!).  No, this delay does not self-oscillate, but more than makes up for it in droves with it’s little tricks and tweaks to delight your ears.  (Don’t worry, turning the time knob while passing a signal through the Radical will still create all those cool twisted warping sounds.)


The Radical also offers some sensational slapback/short delay tones, especially when you start experimenting with the other aforementioned sounds.  It can become much more than just a delay in this way, and is great for adding subtle (or not so subtle) textures/atmosphere to riffs; so much so that it might only be apparent when you turn the pedal off, but trust me, you will quickly turn it back on.

If you’re looking for a straight-ahead digital delay that can do the usual delay tricks, the Radical can handle most of that, but you’re going to miss out on a lot of tonal/textural fun.  As I tried to demonstrate in the video, the Radical runs the full spectrum of subtle to extreme sounds (some that aren’t even actually ‘delay’), and for that reason I think you’d dig this pedal for anything – from your 80’s cover band to your cutting edge post rock, djent polka, ambient disco, space jam, dub step, emo band. I enjoy playing with this pedal immensely, and appreciate it’s ability to make me get lost in it.

If you want to get lost in the black hole of your mind ala Matthew McConaughnamahay in Interstellar, the Radical is your starship (watch out for Matt Damon though).  In other words, buy it!

For more info check out www.alexanderpedals.com

That’s all for now.  Leave me a comment with your thoughts!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

Pedal Feature – Iron Ether Pt. 1

Good news, everyone!  A new post about pedals!  It’s been far too long and it looks like you’ve been working out.  Very nice.

Iron Ether logo

At this very moment I want to bring your attention to a rather unique pedal purveyor.  A few months ago I stumbled across, made up my mind I must have, and then acquired The Frantabit and Subterranea made by New Orleans based pedal erector, Iron Ether.  After I watched their demos I was really intrigued by the versatility of those two particular pedals (Subterranea review to follow shortly).  Both were able to achieve a wide range of sounds/tones and I couldn’t resist.  What really excited me was the fact that the Frantabit and Subterrenea make your guitar sound like not a guitar – more like a digital chainsaw in the former case and a fuzzy Moog synth in the latter.  Starting with the Frantabit as part 1, allow me to break it down for you, Morgan Freeman style:

The Frantabit

The Frantabit is essentially a bit crushing, sample-rate reducing, sound degenerating device capable of destroying and transmogrifying your tone in ways you never thought possible.  Bit crushing is caused by the reduction of the resolution or bandwidth of digital audio data.  The resulting quantization noise may produce a “warmer” sound impression, or a harsh one, depending on the amount of reduction.  If you’ve ever listened to techno or played a video game, you should recognize the sound.  It’s like your guitar is teleported to an alien world, but it gets stuck in between teleports and is deconstructed atom by particle, then passed through a series of fine mesh screens until you’re left with just a cloud of dust in some unknown dimension.  No foolin!  With control over the sample rate and bit depth (control over reduction of bandwidth), the Frantabit lends itself to being a highly flexible bit crusher.  On top of that, two separate modes only add to the craziness, with the ability to achieve some kick ass tremolo as well nice ring modulation with plenty of harmonics and chime.  Oh, did I mention that it can get all fuzzed and filtery too?  Like you’re the driver of a sputtery digital motorcycle (digicycle?).  For reals.  This pedal is tremendous for making noise and for adding texture to riffs when used more (or less) subtly.

Tweakablesquoted text is from the manual/Iron Ether’s website

  • “Sample Rate control: This control allows the user to lower the sample rate of the analog-to-digital conversion from 32khz down to <100hz, creating Nyquist aliasing effects – frequencies from the instrument begin to “fold” back downward, creating new harmonics and subharmonics. The frequency response is lowered as sample rate lowers, but instead of simply filtering out higher frequencies, they are mirrored back downward, to create strange harmonies and overtones.”  I don’t really know what that means, do you?  You could go get a degree in electrical engineering, or just take my word for it, the frequencies are weird and wonderful.  Like receiving an outer space transmission on your old tube radio.
  • “Bit Depth control: From a pristine 24 bits down to a massive fuzzed-out 1 bit, the Bit Depth control introduces digital distortion artifacts as the instrument’s amplitude is quantized into progressively fewer volume “bins”. Uniquely, with this type of distortion, the instrument actually becomes cleaner as it gets louder – the opposite of traditional harmonic distortion. Dynamic fuzz tones, digital destruction, and chiptune synths can be dialed in with this control.”  This one is fucked up, but like the previous feature it’s true.  You pick hard and the tone is clean.  You barely strum and your speaker is like a fuzzy whispery ghost.  It seems spooky and counter-intuitive, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.  You definitely get some wild fuzz tones with this knob – fuzz that is chaotic and soaring, which is great for bends and sustained notes.
  • “Mix: Controls the relative volume of the clean and effect signals.”  For those of you about to dismiss this pedal as another toy for noise nerds, please realize this feature makes the Frantabit quite useable in a musical setting.  By adding your clean tone, you can achieve such unique textures that I’m willing to bet no other pedal can give you.  Let it give it to you.
  • “Volume: controls overall volume.”  It can get LOUD.
  • “Degrade/Obliterate switch: This switch controls the behavior of the sample rate reduction.”  I like a switch with choices such as these.  If only I had a remote control with this function to use against those who disobey and annoy me…
    • Degrade mode is true digital sample rate reduction, as described above.”  At some settings the Degrade mode is perhaps the crunchiest, fuzziest, most ominous black cloud bass synth tone ever.  It can also provide you with lots of bit crushed ‘playing Mario Bros while the Nintendo is on fire’ sort of sound.  This thing can literally disintegrate your signal down to one bit.  Like pulling the thread on the sweater of your tone, you can hear it unraveled – naked and screaming like an altar boy in the night.  This mode is also great for producing your gnarly, sputtering, and ripping fuzz tones.
    • Obliterate mode is an emulation of analog aliasing effects – a harsh, harmonically rich “pixellated” sound, much like square wave ring modulation which creates synthy atonal waveforms.”  Obliterate mode is hard to describe.  How do you put things like digital bubbles, digital saws, digital bowling pins, digital pins and needles, static, crackles etc. into words and in a musical context?  Some settings give you really nice warm tremolo (as mentioned above) that can be choppy as well as change speed on each note you play.  Other settings give some nice ring modulated bell like tones and the other scrambled weirdness I feebly attempted to describe above.
    • “Expression Mode rotary switch: this 4-way switch allows the user to assign the expression pedal to any control:
      • S: Sample Rate
      • B: Bit Depth
      • +: Controls both Sample Rate and Bit Depth at the same time
      • M: Mix – clean/effect volume ratio”  This is also really cool and surprising on a pedal of this size considering it’s complexity and amount of knobs.  You have lots of options to tweak with your foot, and I have to say, one of the coolest things about this pedal is playing stuff while the knobs are ‘turning’.

Check out Iron Ether’s website for more info.  Also, the rest of their line of pedals is totally worth your time:  www.ironether.com

A final thing I found really cool about the Frantabit is that even with just the clean tone dialed in, the guitar tone was improved.  It reminds me of a tube preamp with nice clarity and top end chime.  You could just use this as a tone enhancer/boost and not use the effect at all.  …But you would be the most boring person in the world and I will hate you for not using this exceptional pedal to it’s potential!

I hope you found this ungodly creation from Iron Ether as interesting as I do.  As always feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts and to tell me how your day was.  Stick around for a demo video on the Frantabit and my next post – Iron Ether, part 2…

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File