july 2014

A powerful sound-design tool—now on your pedalboard!

If you’ve used software or hardware amp modelers, chances are you’ve used impulse responses. The technology, developed by Sony at the end of the last century, is one way that modelers mimic various mics, cabinets, rooms, and outboard gear. Impulse responses (IRs) are recordings of test tones created in the spaces or through the gear being modeled. IR reverb players compare these recordings to a theoretically dry version, and then apply the resulting variables to any audio you pump through them. Voilà— your guitar can sound as if it was recorded in the Taj Mahal. Or a sewer. Or through a $5,000 outboard reverb unit.

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The ability to amplify and get exact sound representation from our acoustic instruments is what most players want,

but is it really possible?

Larry Fishman talks about the virtual impossibility of using amplification to exactly replicate the sound of acoustic guitars.

In my past few columns, I've traced some of the historical approaches to amplifying acoustic instruments. I've also gone over the design philosophy behind some of the more common approaches, with a deeper look at the technical details of several currently available pickup designs. At this point, I think it might be useful to step back and consider what this is really all about.

Why do we want to amplify an acoustic instrument in the first place? After all, these instruments already are amplifiers on their own. Their original design intent was to mechanically amplify and enhance the sound generated by a tensioned string when plucked, bowed, or hammered-on so that that resulting sound could be heard at a reasonable volume in an intimate setting.

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This bite-sized box delivers big, boss fuzz tones with that twisted ZVEX touch.

ZVEX didn’t make its good name by taking the path most travelled. The same sense of irreverence that’s driven the company from day one guides nearly every creation that emerges from its Minnesota shop. And even as the company enters the raging micro-pedal arms race, where size limitations sometimes demand conservative design, ZVEX shows no signs of surrendering its adventurous spirit.

Take the diminutive Fuzzolo reviewed here. It’s a silicon fuzz that sounds way bigger than it looks, but it also has a blendable pulse width control (borrowed from ZVEX’s Mastotron) that’s a simple, surprisingly versatile, and sometimes radical tool for tweaking the rich fuzz output. The sounds you can get with this 2-knob baby monster are both massive and wonderfully mangled—the kind of stuff likely to stoke heavy riffing thugs and lo-fi sonic sculptors alike.

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