Tuning Up: The Bluetooth Bastardizer™—the Hi-Tech Pedal for Neanderthals
I’m an inept circuit dope who couldn’t even make my distortion-pedal kit work right in high-school electronics class, so there’s no way I could invent a crappy effect, let alone a new recipe to rival iconic pedals like the Big Muff, Phase 90, Memory Man, or DigiTech Whammy. But I’d like to propose a pedal idea for those of us who prefer the simplicity of a guitar running into a pedalboard and tube amp, yet want to dish out something different. Best of all, it’s doable with technology found in an $80 aftermarket car stereo.
Every waking moment of every day, most of us walk around with a device that has the potential to transform our songs and performances without abandoning our guitar-pedalboard-amp rig. The device? Well, it’s really two. One part is a Bluetooth-equipped smartphone. You don’t need a fancy new app, either. Your phone’s most essential component—its microphone—and barebones audio-recording app (e.g., the iPhone’s stock Voice Memo app) are all you need to unlock these new sonic realms.
The other part is a relatively simple digital stompbox—we’ll call it the Bluetooth Bastardizer™—that you can put between any pedal and use to augment your guitar signal with audio samples captured by, and streaming from, your nearby Bluetooth-enabled phone. I want to be able to load sound samples captured with my iPhone into iTunes, and then pair my phone with a pedal that can stream snippets of life through my guitar rig just like a Bluetooth car stereo or portable speaker system. Could there be an easier way to add a cinematic dimension to your songs? Incriminating quotes from drunk friends or your kid’s adorable (or shocking) utterances—the possibilities are endless.
If you think this sounds silly, ponder all the songs with a sound sample that’s as integral to the tune as the chords, melodies, and lyrics. Even the most guitar-centric bands dabble in it. The backward car horns in Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil” are almost as memorable as Eddie’s playing. The tolling in AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” adds a deliciously ominous touch. Metallica’s “One” harrows draft-age metal fans with its machine-gun samples from Johnny Get Your Gun. Living Colour’s raging “Cult of Personality” pounds its point home with JFK, FDR, and Malcolm X speech excerpts. And the Ramones’ “We’re a Happy Family” masterfully paints a picture of disjointed domesticity with a chaotic blend of dinner-table bickering, a blaring radio, a shrieking baby, and an incessantly barking dog.
The Bastardizer would be pretty simple, too: It needs a play/pause footswitch, forward and backward footswitches for scrolling through the audio samples (set lists could be stored as playlists), and an LCD readout for displaying song or sample names. For me, a mono input and output would be okay—I’d be fine with the samples being colored by all my other effects and cranked amp. But if some enterprising pedal builder wants to market the Bastardizer to a wider audience, they should probably offer stereo I/Os that could be switched to operate as a wet-dry pair. You’d also need a mix knob for controlling the volume of the sample relative to the pristine guitar signal being passed to the next device in the signal chain. And, just for the hell of it, I’d have a microphone and record switch so you could sample and warp stuff happening at your gig—perhaps the audience or your bandmates (à la David Torn).
If you’re a big-picture player, you’ll love being able to use the samples as-is or morph them into oblivion with your other effects. Either way, the beauty of the Bastardizer is its simplicity and convenience: Three footswitches, a knob or two, a display, two or four 1/4" jacks, and the ability to easily turn everyday encounters—and your existing rig—into a whole hell of a lot of fun. Any takers?