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RJM Music Technology: Killing the Tap Dance One Rig at a Time

Upstart builder quickly finds his niche: minimizing stompage

We routinely put the spotlight on gear manufacturers whose products shape our tone, so this week we decided to go another direction. There are some innovative products out there that are more or less the mortar of your musical brick house. The people behind these products aren’t necessarily working on ways to bend and tweak your sound, but they are just as important in the overall scheme of things. In the case of RJM Music Technology, Inc., the efficiency and streamlined control of your signal chain is their specialty.

They don’t make instruments or effects, they make systems that allow you to focus on what you need to be focusing on – playing. If you find yourself furiously tap dancing all over your pedalboard and amp footswitch board in between or during each song, you know what I’m talking about. Different songs need different effects/channels. Wouldn’t it be great to rig some kind of overarching toggle system that allowed you to press a single button to dial up an entire combination of foot taps?

That kind of idea is what launched RJM Music Technology, albeit the original impetus focused on amplifier footswitches. After a few years of R&D for the products and the business model, the company is now full-on, selling its Amp Gizmo and the RG-16 to players, techs and studio engineers who have simply had enough of the tone tap-dance. We recently had a chance to talk to Ron Menelli, the company’s multi-hat wearing president, designer and builder extraordinaire about his company and his designs.

How did RJM Music Technologies come about?

The Amp Gizmo was the very first thing I started doing research on. There were few existing solutions out there, many of them had come out and then didn''t exist anymore. And when you could find them, there were things that could stand to be improved. So that was it – I don''t really like having a separate amp foot switch and a separate pedal and all this other business so I decided at least to tackle tying an amplifier into a midi-enabled system. That was what I started with.

It took a tremendous amount of research to figure out what really needed to be done, because there are just so many amplifiers out there and they all do different things, they all have different interfaces. The product development was just amassing the information needed to be able to reasonably cover most of the amps on the market.

RJM Amp Gizmo
So, explain this to me like I''m an idiot. What is the Amp Gizmo?

The Amp Gizmo takes the place of an amplifier''s footswitch. It''s for amplifiers that have multiple channels or footswitchable features like reverbs or boost. Instead of having your amp''s footswitch on the floor alongside all your pedals, the idea is to replace the footswitch and instead control all of those footswitchable features through the same MIDI controller that you''re using to control everything else in your rig.

Instead of saying, "I need to step over here to control my effects and step over here to change the channels on my amp," you have one controller where you can press one button and say "turn on these effects, change my amp to channel two and turn on my reverb," or whatever combinations you need. It makes a lot of sense to have one place to go for everything.

The nice thing is that, because it''s MIDI, you can do whatever you want with it. It has buttons on the front, so you can run it from the front panel. Because it has MIDI, you can use one or more controllers. So if you have a tech offstage, you can use a footswitch to change things. Or multiple locations on the stage, you can have controllers to run the thing. It opens up a lot more possibilities than just having the single footswitch in one place on the stage.

Okay, so how does it get programmed?

Well, the first thing to do is get the right cable. As I mentioned earlier, the problem is that there is no real standard for how the footswitch connects to the amp. We''re amassing all that information into a database on our website where you can figure out what exactly you need. But still, the vast majority of amps use some combination of1/4" jacks.

The Amp Gizmo has 1/4" jacks on it so you can run mono or stereo 1/4" jacks to the back of your amp. Where possible, we put information on our website to help you do that for each particular amp. There are also other amps that use proprietary connectors, and we make special interface cables that connect directly from the Amp Gizmo to the amp''s footswitch jack, whatever unusual connector it might need.

Then, the buttons on the front of the Amp Gizmo will effectively take the place of the amp''s footswitch. Typically the first four buttons are reserved for channels, so if you have a two, three or four-channel amp those buttons will allow you to do the channel switching, and then the remaining buttons will allow you to switch whatever else is footswitchable on the amp: reverb, boost, effects loop -- whatever.

Once you have that going, you can plug your MIDI controller into the MIDI input of the Amp Gizmo and designate the what channels/settings you need for each program. There are 128 programs if you really need them. Typically people use between five and 15 programs.

The back panel of the RG16

Let''s talk about the RG16. What exactly is it?

The RG16 came out of what became a pretty universal sentiment from people saying, "The Amp Gizmo is great, but it would be really cool if it could control my pedals as well." The idea is take the Amp Gizmo and add eight true bypass loops to it so you can, under the same method of control, say for Program 1, "I want the clean channel on and reverb, and I want this chorus pedal to turn on as well." So for every program number on your MIDI footswitch, you can not only tell it what you want your amp to be doing for that particular program, but you can also select any of your pedals to be on at that time as well. So the same rules apply, any combination of amp features and any combination of pedals can be on for every program number on your midi controller.

I understand this product is a big hit with players who fly a lot.

That’s sort of an unexpected market that we’re getting into. Basically instead of having these monster racks, they’re having a small rack with an RG16 and a few pedals. We''re hearing from places like Tour Supply saying, ''hey we’re really using these because people can build a smaller, lighter rig and won''t get charged hundreds of dollars every time they throw it on a plane.''

You come up with this great idea, you put it together, it works like a charm and then you face the question, ‘How do I get this into the guitar universe?’ Tell me about that process.

NAMM is such a great place. I was unsure of whether I was going to have the prototype working in time, so I didn''t even tell anyone I was going to be there. I was thinking, "Well, hopefully I can get this thing working, and hopefully I can show up at the show." Fortunately, it did work. That''s the cool thing about NAMM – there are so many people who walked up and just said, "Wow! I know what that is; that''s really cool."

There are some industries where only big dogs in a big booths get taken seriously, but at NAMM, people are always looking for the small guy with the great idea, who in a few years is going to be huge.

Yeah, and that''s one of the things that really appealed to me to switch to this from something big like the telecommunications field, where there''s just a handful of huge companies and basically nothing else. In the guitar industry, the small guy is not only accepted, but often times preferred over the huge companies because the small guys working out of their garages are the ones who really care about what they''re doing and that''s where a lot of the innovation comes from.

Bring me up to speed with how things are going now.

At this year’s NAMM we had our own booth and everything, and actually told people we were going to be there. It was a really good experience. We showed a prototype again this year for our Mastermind MIDI controller; this is the first time we have our own MIDI controller. We made it a point to make sure our stuff worked with everyone else''s gear, but now we wanted to have our own spin on it.

The idea behind the mastermind is to make something that is relatively small, but quite powerful and well-made. It seems like the MIDI controller market is divided into smaller, cheaper ones and some really great heavy duty, expensive ones. There wasn''t really a smaller controller that could still handle the abuse of being on the road. That''s what we showed at NAMM ''08 and we got a lot of good feedback on it, so we''re feverishly working to get that out.

Any kind of ballpark target target date for the Mastermind?

I would say at this point, probably about mid-May is when I’m looking at right now.

Let’s talk about artists. I understand you’ve developed a list of guys who dig your stuff fairly quickly.

Officially we have Dave Weiner from Steve Vai’s band, and he’s also working on his own album right now. Dweezil Zappa is using three Amp Gizmos in his monster rig. Paul Jackson Jr. is a big user of our stuff. And quite a few bands actually, it’s really cool, we have some really big guys and then some really cool up-and-coming bands as well. That’s definitely validation for us that these guys are using this stuff. I mean, Dave Weiner took an RG16 prototype on the road when we were still months away from having a product, but I put one together for him and he was confident enough to bring this thing on the Vai tour in 2007 and it held up really well.

Just to have these guys using them and giving us feedback is priceless.

Well Ron, it sounds like you''ve definitely found a niche that needed to be filled. Best of luck to ya -- thanks for your time!


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