Talking about gear (79)
Regular readers of this blog… I’ve been a good boy in recent times with almost no ranting, with little or no intention of deliberately highlighting things that will upset people… I know, quite unlike me. Forgive me, loyal readers of thine blog, if it has become boring.
Having said that, you might want to get the popcorn out. I’m not going to descend into some epic rant here because I believe in providing the evidence for you to make your own mind up - but I am also going to be cross-referencing stuff… So, get comfy, as to be able to fully understand what I’m saying you’re in for the full monty with reading this blog, two other pieces and watching a review of a competitor’s pedal. You might need to listen to a podcast as well (although to make it easier, I’ve transcribed what Brian and Blake said at the bottom).
Now, I hear you ask… what is this all about? Well, you could say I watched a video recently that pissed me right off. You could say that, and you’d be quite right. The video in question was full of such outrageous comments and statements that I feel the person who said it should have known better. Much better. Brian commented about it on the podcast (he basically stated his disbelief at what was said) and was then contacted by the reviewer in question who completely failed to understand why we, as pedal builders, would be upset by it. With this in mind, I’ve taken it upon myself to lay the facts out clearly.
Before I go further, I need to highlight a couple of things. I need for you to understand what a gear influencer is. It’s highlighted fully here. It talks about how they get paid (if they do), who pays them and goes on to explain what the difference is between a demo artist and a reviewer. If you still have the will to live after that one, read this one – it’s all about production techniques and why pedals cost as much as they do when a top-level USA based company produces them.
The person that got this rant going is a gear reviewer. He did not receive any payment for the video, he bought the pedal himself, so it was an honest one from that perspective. He was under no obligation to paint the pedal in any light other than his own. However, regardless of that, I feel that when you are going to put yourself out there to do this, you need to be careful in what you are saying because the casual observer can take what is said and draw the wrong conclusions.
I need to make a statement now before I carry on… so here it is. I am completely and utterly bored of people talking the purest horseshit imaginable about production techniques and parts used, and then basing the value of the product on their misunderstanding of how all this actually works.
There. I said it. It’s out of the way… So, in order to make my point, I’m going to have to break some of this video right down, line by line, and expose just how dangerous saying this stuff is. I say these kinds of comments are dangerous because it gives an unfair perception to the customers about the value of pedals, and what goes into them to bring them to market. To put it simply, it’s dangerous because it’s total crap.
During this video, in particular from the 6-minute mark onwards, he’s carelessly throwing around the price of things. “$1.50 for the power jack”, “$1.50 for the input and output jacks….” He even goes as far as saying “Parts wise, there is nothing to validate the cost of this $230 pedal.”
The devil is in the details.
OK, let’s rip this little section apart a little. First of all, his estimation of the cost of parts is so far wrong you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve spoken to Josh Scott and Robert Keeley, looked at our own price/rate (who I’m pretty certain you can agree to represent a fair panel of this industry), and the average cost of an input/output jack is no-where near as expensive as that in the numbers we buy them in. One of those companies (based on the 2017 figures) had a failure rate of just over 0% (on 21K+ pedals produced during that period). Another had a failure rate of just over 0% (based on 29K+ pedals made) and the other had a failure rate of just over 0% (based on a total output of 35K+). Of all the information I could gather, the only issues happened were due to human error in the production process. So, tell me again how a more expensive jack from Switchcraft would increase the value of the pedal to the customer? You have to admit, a combined failure rate of literally just over 0% based on 85K+ units really is quite remarkable.
Regarding pricing of parts, take a look at these.
One of them is $0.10, and the other is $2.26 (prices right at the time of writing, they are subject to change). Just for complete transparency - here are the places I am getting these pictures and prices from.
Although the page clearly states that these images are for illustration purposes only, I can assure you if you put the two different parts in a pedal and pointed to them with a screwdriver on a YouTube video you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Also, I’m not saying that Josh uses either one of these parts in his pedals, I’m just showing what a pointless exercise this all was... One of these parts is 2260% more expensive than the other. So, what is the point of looking at them in a pedal and passing comment on their value to the product, or in fact, their literal fiscal value at all?
I could go on and rip the rest of it apart, but it would just descend into me ranting, and I’m really trying not to, so here are the direct quotes that really annoyed me.
8:11 “I think honestly though; this pedal should be 130 – 150 dollars tops.”
8:18 “Even though it sounds good, I betcha it would sound better with some better parts.”
8:27 “Looking at these parts these are about the same quality components you get in a BOSS pedal so, it’s not like you are going to go down a lot in quality when you go to BOSS, it looks like they were put together in the same way.”
Having read what I say in the original piece about production costs, R&D, guarantee, (and let’s also factor in that Andy Timmons is paid a commission on each unit sold), how the hell can someone ascertain the cost of a pedal by a cursory look at the circuit board in that way? How does this person then go on to KNOW what would make it sound better? And most importantly… how are they able to compare it to a pedal by another company – especially when the only thing that compares the two companies is that they both make guitar pedals… the processes and intentions are extremely different between the two.
I’m having a hard time in keeping this all on point, so I’m going to stop now… Just remember what I said in the other piece about costs associated with making a pedal in the USA and think about comparing a pedal like this one to a boss pedal and only using your eyes to make that comparison. Don’t think about the location of the manufacturer. Don’t think about a limited lifetime warranty (which is what JHS offers to a pedal bought in the USA). Don’t think about artist commission. Don’t think about anything at all. Just look at the pedal guts and openly make uneducated and outrageous bullshit assumptions about them, and then broadcast them to 128k subscribers.
I will, at this point, acknowledge that he does say "We know we are not paying for parts when we are buying pedals - that's a wrong road mentally and you'll upset yourself. it's kinda like when you go for breakfast and you think about how much eggs and bacon cost"... but if that's the case, why go on to say all the other crap?
I’d like to thank Robert and Josh for their openness in discussing the cost of parts and their failure rates so frankly with a competitor. Just goes to show what a wonderful relationship we have in our little corner of the industry, and also explains why we kinda stick up for each other.
Transcription of Blake and Brian's podcast conversation - original here (Episode 193, from 45:00).
Brian: “This particular You Tuber had a JHS pedals… he liked the sound of it, and he opened it up, and he started talking about how he didn’t feel it was valuable enough because it had surface mount parts and look at this, you know, the way this is done, I’m not a big fan of that, you know, I don’t like these kinds of…”
Blake: “For real?”
Brian: “And, I’m sitting here, like, getting…”
Blake: “Not the surface mount thing again?!”
Brian: “YES! And I’m sitting here… And this is the guy with 200k subscribers or something like that. And I know the guy… super nice guy… and I thought about it and should I and just be like “Dude, why didn’t you do three minutes of research – we have an entire blog about this discussion. Literally, you type in surface mount v. through hole and it like pops up. It takes like, no research. We did it for you.”
Brian: “And he used to have music stores! You know how this works! There are profit layers… From distributors to retailers etc etc. And that’s the only way you can sell it around the world. You are not going to make a pedal in your garage and sell it in 500 stores. It’s just not going to happen.”
Blake: “It’s a different thing and we’ve beat that horse to death”
Brian: “Yeah, and I don’t want to hit that again – I guess… It was just a disappointment. To see one of my favourite YouTube channels not do due diligence. And research it a bit more thoroughly.”
For the sake of balance, here was the response to Brian's original comments, in a blog piece. I note how the real issues were not addressed, hence this blog being written.
Winter NAMM is right around the corner, and with the weeks leading up to it come the crazy of preparations to setup the booth, layout the board and get any marketing materials (shirts, stickers, etc) together. One of the biggest things that NAMM is known for is the plethora of new gear that is showcased by most every company. Some designs are reworkings and updated versions of existing products, brand new designs, or something completely out of the ordinary designed to make a huge impact on the patrons and tone chasers who keep up with NAMM news down to the wire.
Herein lies the issue with presenting at NAMM: what’s the best practice in regard to showcasing new products? In years past our brand-new pedals were given first looks on our social media platforms, either from visitors to the booth snapping a photo, us uploading a sneak peak, or your favorite YouTube or gear channel doing a quick video where someone showcases what we’ve got new. This year is a bit different for us though, because our ideals have shifted a bit with what we’re aiming for. NAMM is a stellar event, but it’s also a tidal wave of new information that overtakes all gear outlets for the days leading up to it, during it, and for weeks to come after it. We’ve got several new designs that we’re extremely proud to have ready, but the question comes in as to whether they’ll get lost in the shuffle of new stuff? Each product Brian and our team has worked on has many hours invested, tone-wise along with aesthetics, marketing plans, and the usual release details that often go unnoticed by most people when we release something new. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves showing our whole hand starting out?
So, our question comes down to this: Despite the designs being done for upwards of 5 new pedals, what do we show at NAMM? Do you go full-blast and hit everyone with all of the information at once, or take a select few and really hammer them home before introducing more? We’ve seen some companies showcasing their NAMM releases already, with the same idea applying of getting ahead of that tidal wave of information and making sure their product is visible and not lost in the mix. We follow a fairly punctual release schedule, so if a design isn’t mentioned at NAMM then it’s a pretty sure bet it will be following suit in a timely manner. This gives us time to prepare, get demos together and the pedals ready to ship to dealers without the tease…or is teasing part of the fun of it?
What do you think? Would you rather know in advance what’s coming up to prepare your wallet and board, or is it like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, where the magic of the surprise isn’t there? In the end we want happy customers, so we’re curious to know what you personally think and would like to see?
I got in a bit of trouble last week with some people - purely because I encouraged a mass troll of a troll. A lot of people thought it was the wrong thing to do, but in my defence, the guy who was trolling us said something so silly I just couldn’t help it. My bad, I should have known better. This guy was dropping one liners on demo videos saying things like “*insert demo artist name here* will endorse anything that is put in front of him”. Once I’d got over the incredulity of such a ridiculous statement, and having discussed it with Brian and Alex (to be fair, we often have discussions about statements online that are plainly ridiculous and wonder what people are thinking when they say them), I came to the conclusion that there are people out there that don’t appear to have a clue what the difference is between the two. So, I thought I’d lay it out in front of you – I will stick with the pedals as it’s all slightly weird, but this will apply to all aspects of the MI industry…
These are the guys that receive some kind of payment to produce a demonstration of a product. Often paid for (in one way or another) by the company that makes the pedal themselves (or by their distributor) and it’s a fantastic way of getting the pedal out there quickly into the ears and eyes (and then hopefully the hands) of the customer. Now, there are a lot of people out there that want to do this so the competition is fierce. When you look at the demo’s that are turned out by people such as Ola Englund, Brett Kingman or Tom Quayle, not only are you seeing the product, but you are seeing expert levels (with pro-level gear) of photography, videography, audio recording, composition and decades of crafting their playing talent. These are not some chancer with an iPhone 4S and a nice guitar who knows a few riffs, these are people that do this as part of their wider job, therefore they receive payment (and this element is not standardised, some people cost a LOT of money compared to others).
In order for them to maintain our business, as the manufacturer looking to get the product into the customer’s hands, it is well worth their effort to make the pedal look and sound as good as possible. Let’s face it, if a demo artist comes onboard with us and their first attempt is utter crap, they won’t get anything else from us, ever again. So, they HAVE to make it sound good for our sake, but most importantly, for their own.
This is where it becomes an art form. I’ve seen countless videos of Brett Kingman where he has straight up said that “it’s a great pedal, if you like that kind of thing” which can be translated to be saying “It’s not for me”… but, he does everything he does to make it sound the best he can in the video. What does that mean? Well – on a personal level, it makes me trust him, I don’t want to sound like him but I know if I listen to his demos, he makes it pretty clear what it can and can’t do, and I know what it will sound like in most situations. Brett has been doing this for a LONG time, he was the first demo artist I dealt with when I started with Brian in 2010 and he’d been going for a good few years then. It’s safe to say that for me, Brett remains the benchmark in terms of professionalism, honesty and dignity in this business. You know what you are going to get, not only from the demo but also from the unit if you buy it.
I think this is where people get confused, as this is where opinions come into play, and as a manufacturer, it’s a bloody nightmare and has legitimately caused me sleepless nights in the past. A great example of people who review pedals who walk this very fine line are Henning Pauly and Dan and Mick on That Pedal Show. Although, to be fair on the both of them, they aren’t really reviewers, they just do what they do but in this industry, they are the closest I can get.
They are both extremely experienced in their appreciation of music and the weapons that are waged war on to make it, but they have both built their channels based on “I’m not going to bullshit you”. So much so, there are times when I’ve watched them both with our pedals and my heart has sunk out the bottom of my shoes, out the front door, into the gutter and then washed out to sea. BUT… they are both ridiculously popular, so we listen to them, and we learn from them. I, and we, have learned very valuable lessons from their videos that have been invaluable to us as a company in the past. Why? Because they approach it differently, Dan and Mick are the excitable tone chasers that know what they like and everything in their show is done to their liking – so, if they like your pedal, you’re going to sell a shitload, if they don’t… Well, some you win and some you don’t. Henning is a no-nonsense kind of guy that says it like it is, you can’t hide ANYTHING when you send a product to Henning, if he thinks something is stupid, he will say so, and is probably right to do so. Probably. Do they demo? Do they review? It’s hard to gauge, but I think they both kinda review, but not in the way you would expect.
I’m not going to get too far into this one as it can get political, but you know, have you noticed how quite often the companies with the biggest adverts in a magazine quite often have the most products reviewed in that issue? ANYWAY... moving swiftly on...
And, in conclusion…
What are the differences? Well, a demo artist is paid to make a pedal look and sound bloody brilliant – it’s an advert. S/He is paid to advertise the product, by playing it, and for it to be launched either to their own following or you use it to communicate to your own. So, it’s all about reach and getting it into newsfeeds and incite that condition known as G.A.S.. A reviewer is someone that will be more open and honest and give you their opinion on it. Which should you rely on and trust more? The answer, obviously, is both and neither at the same time. What you should do though is not take either of them as gospel and watch and read as much as you can about any given piece of gear and then base your decision purely on how it makes you sound, when you play it, with your own gear.
As you may (but you probably may not) know, I use somewhat of a complicated pedal board for the band I play in. We are just a pub band that generally play to a couple of hundred people, with at least 50% of those are generally too drunk to care about what they are hearing. But still, every gig I walk into the venue with literally thousands of pounds of gear. I know a lot of people will say “why bother”, but I do it because it makes me happy and I want to have great tone. So, let’s nip that one in the bud before we get started!
However, an incident at a gig a couple of months ago has made me relook at a couple of items on my board and made me realise I bought a lot of my gear because it’s considered to be the industry standard and it was expected to have that piece of gear if I wanted the feature set. Yes, this means I play each gig with a Strymon TimeLine and Mobius. Before I go any further I do want to say that I bloody love the both of them, they are incredible pieces of kit and it’s easy to see why they are considered to be the industry standard and sell so many every week, month and year.
However… would you be surprised to know that the TimeLine has been out for 6.5 years and that is a LONG time in terms of tech. Granted, it’s received software upgrades in that time (currently on v1.84 as we speak), but from what I understand, the hardware on the new ones you buy in store today is the same as the ones that were first released. Let’s put that into context in a more accessible format. The TimeLine is like having an iPhone 4. Loads of people have them (including my kids) but it’s safe to say, it’s in no way considered to be the cutting edge of technology. If you were considering paying hundreds of pounds for a new phone, would you choose an iPhone 4? No, you wouldn’t. If we are being honest here, the display of the big three Strymons are straight out of a Nokia 3310 rather than an iPhone X.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of new products come out that challenge the mighty TimeLine as the first call MIDI controllable programmable delay pedal. BOSS have come out hard and strong with the DD-500 and to pick the one I have personal experience with, the Source Audio Nemesis is fantastic, albeit a very slimmed down version. I know about the Eventide and TC Electronic (haven’t we all seen endless arguments about which is better), but I’m going to stick with the ones I know properly, otherwise, this will be very long and very boring. When I first got my hands on a TimeLine, I spent hour after hour marvelling over what it could do, how amazing it sounded (I’m a big fan of the analogue through signal that many other pedals do NOT have) and spent literally hours playing with the ICE setting, The Filter, The Dual, Duck, Swell… well, you know, the list is endless. It was great, great fun.
BUT… (and yes, hardened viewers of Game of Thrones may chuckle at that, consider Ned Stark’s opinion of that word) when I had programmed my gig board (which if I am honest, generally only gets played properly at gigs) I realised I didn’t use any of that, I use the dBucket and Digital setting, regular quarter notes and a dotted 8th, and it never goes over 500 or so milliseconds. I have 6 patches I use and they are all pretty standard stuff. Now, if I played a lot of U2 songs or some of the more interesting Floyd stuff etc etc etc, I would use more, but I’m guessing that in so far as a regular gigging musician, I’m pretty much the same as the vast majority of players out there… So, why do I have this beast? It’s simple… because everyone else does and it’s considered, still, to be the best in its class.
To go back to something I mentioned earlier, there was an incident that made me rethink this properly and was somewhat of an enlightening moment for me. The lummox of a bass player that is in the band I play in dropped an XLR on the tap tempo switch of my Mobius and snapped it clean off. I was pretty horrified to notice it had a composite plastic shaft and broke extremely easily. I had a little trouble with Strymon when I tried to order a replacement, but they stood up to the mark and sorted me out, so this isn’t a bitter retort about customer service, but more of a contemplation on how we view and buy gear. I challenged them about the shafts and they said they were the best option for the pedals. Considering they sell replacements for them on their site for $4, I am thinking maybe they aren’t. But, that’s only here because it was the catalyst for my change of thought process.
Simply and honestly, I got the Strymon’s because everyone had one and G.A.S. - I didn’t really think about it.
A good mate of mine distributes Source Audio in the UK and let me borrow the Nemesis after I told him what I actually wanted rather than what I thought would be fun… and guess what, it does absolutely everything I need and no more – and, it’s also over $200 cheaper than the TimeLine in-store. I’m currently in the process of changing the TimeLine over to the Nemesis, and it’s almost hilarious the number of people who say “WHAT? WHY!!!?” when I tell them.
Let’s look at the Nemesis for a minute. It has all the silly stuff, including some interesting pitch shifting type features etc, but it appears to have been designed by gigging guitar players. There are no endless submenus through an awful display to get a decent effect, the selections on the ‘main delay type selector thing’ are incredible – for example, the slapback feature is sublime, the tape setting sounds much more tape like than the Strymon and everything is just there, and just right. Granted, if you are a tweaker, the amount of variables in the TimeLine is quite remarkable, but… for me… well, there is a reason I work for an analogue effects manufacturer I suppose, I just get pissed off with scrolling through things to tweak the lo-pass filter and the subdecaytrouserfilament etc. (on a crappy numerical LCD display - you may be sensing a theme here). I just want something that I can program in a heartbeat, using only the knobs on the top, and save it quickly to a location and then call up that patch via MIDI.
Since then, I’ve also got a BOSS MD-500 here that will probably replace the Mobius. Because for the price I can sell the Mobius for, I can replace with a brand new BOSS pedal (I know, if you are reading this and thinking “Bloody hell, how much do they sell for in the UK?” but I got offered a great price for one… so….) The BOSS outperforms the Mobius in absolutely every situation, much higher processing power, much stronger unit physically and the display is gorgeous, I can see everything I need to see in order to program the thing. So, pretty soon, I imagine I will be Strymon free.
Like I said above, this isn’t me knocking the Strymon, they are fantastic and have served me well. It’s just about time they updated them, physically – because pretty soon, their age and awkward displays are going to be outdated, if not so already. So, I challenge you Strymon, stop messing around with digital distortions and v2 the big three. Updated with OLED displays, increased processing power (as the Source Audio and everything else that is more reasonably priced has either the same, or more powerful, levels of processing) to refine the tones that are in there (at least attempt to put a decent tape emulator in, PLEASE) - because if you do, you will once again set the benchmark that other companies will take literally years to catch up on.
The Gauntlet has been thrown down. Let’s leave 2011 tech where it belongs and show me something that will melt my mind… not with silly pointless effects, but something that a regular gigging guy (with a MIDI controller) can really hit ‘that’ mark and do justice to the G.A.S. your products are still kinda generating. If not a v2, but with maybe a streamlined TimeLine v2 to go with it… Because pretty soon, reputation alone just won’t cut it – your reputation is still there, just, but there are others are gaining momentum, and gaining it VERY quickly.
Oooops, they did it again. Unfortunately for us, and you, a few dealers saw fit to release details of the Tumnus Deluxe before the release date, so this pedal will come as no surprise to many of you. Shame really, but I’m guessing when a pedal is as eagerly awaited as this one is, it’s fairly inevitable that people will want to get ahead of the game.
But, that as we say, is already history. We are managing the release now, we’ve officially announced it, so it’s now out there – let’s just get on with what this thing actually does. As usual, I gigged the pedal last week to get a feel for it, and here is what I found from that night and playing with it afterwards. I’ve also extensively A-B’d it with the mini so…
The pedal. First of all, I must say, it’s bloody beautiful. I’m pretty self-deprecating when it comes to my work, but with this, I give myself a pat on the back. It looks ace. Taking the original concept and expanding on it, complete with white LED in the lamppost :D
When I first plugged it in, my initial reaction was that it was much smoother than the mini. Everything seems to be a little more rounded, a little more pleasing to the ear when using it as standalone overdrive. I always found the mini to be a little gnarly and out the box, the Deluxe has been smoothed a little, with a tweak of the gain and the EQ, you can replicate that gnarliness, but you can get a much smoother tone if you require it. For me, this is a massive bonus. Setting the bass and mids at 12, normal mode, buffer in, you get pretty close to the Tumnus. Increase the gain a fraction and the treble a little, you have an almost identical replication of it. However, when you then drop the mids back a little it smooths out somewhat, and when you bring them back up past to where it was, the tone just jumps out at you. Flicking on to true bypass doesn’t do a huge amount initially, it’s a fraction smoother again, but that just shows what a wonderful buffer Brian put in the mini. However, when I started stacking up over drives over the top (more about this later) the true bypass really started to shine.
I dropped the pedal straight into my gig board in place of the mini (it was most amusing, I had a glove covering it on my board just in case a camera phone was out, highly unlikely, but you never know – the singer thought this was hilarious and made repeated jokes about me throwing the gauntlet down) So, my gain section was Tumnus Deluxe into 2-1 of the PaisleyDog. Right away, I noticed that smoothness and clarity that the true bypass gave, I got the original Tumnus tone by tweaking, but ended up using the smoother version. I found that I was boosting the mids slightly, not quite so much top end and keeping the bass ever so slightly rounded off. This gave me a much fuller sound. The Tumnus for me is almost an always-on pedal, the Bravado is immensely unforgiving in its cleanliness, so I use it to break it up a little. Also, when you have the Underdog growling at you, bringing the Tumnus in behind it makes it sound massive with considerable bite. The Tumnus Deluxe with its expanded EQ options gave me slightly more control over that, and allowed me to really tailor that bite and hone it exactly where I wanted it. The one thing I really noticed was that the whole thing was just slightly fuller due to the EQ, it was slightly more pleasing to listen too as the gnarlyness was gone - when I was stacking two overdrives on top of it, as well as compression before, it wasn’t jumping to feedback so quick. I had much much more control over my tone because the base tone was somewhat more refined.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about it, I want you to make up your own minds when you get the chance to play it, but my initial thoughts of this pedal and what it does remain from when I first plugged into it. And those are: it’s smoother, it’s eminently more tweakable to nail THAT exact tone you are chasing and most of all, it has a white LED within a streetlamp on the graphic. Worth it just for that alone I’d say!
This week I want to tell you about a piece of gear I first played nearly a year ago. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while, as I wanted to wait until it was released, and it just has.
The company is called Synergy Amps and I’m a fan. And before you start to think cynically, I’m not employed by them!
As always, there’s a story attached to this for context, so I’ll get that out of the way first. When at NAMM I suffer horrifically from jetlag. As Cali is 8 hours behind the UK my sleep patterns are destroyed and I literally get about 4 hours of sleep per night, I’m not there for long enough to try to force it around with sleeping tablets, so I just live with it. The best thing about this is that I’m up at the crack of doom and generally get to the show each morning LONG before the doors are open. I usually take this time to do a line check on the rig and make sure everything is in place before the people attend the show, start attending.
One morning I was there so early the only people on the booth complex we are part of, the wider Boutique Amp Distribution booth, were myself, Bruce Egnator, Groover Jackson and my buddy Steve Elowe. Now, Bruce and Groover being there isn’t integral to this, but I just wanted to make you all sound the name drop horn in your heads – it still freaks me out that these guys are just milling around to talk too, a real pinch yourself moment! The Wampler rig was fine so I wandered off to see Steve who was sat at a computer, with guitar in hand, rocking hard. He was also gently cussing under his breath about latency issues, so I offered to help. He got me to play while he did something to the computer.
I was playing through the new Synergy Amps rig.
At first I just played enjoying the tones, then he started to press buttons and all these different sounds were appearing, so I was playing different stuff on the fly as the sounds were so radically different. He then stood up and said “That’s better”. The computer was now behaving how it should so we had some time to play with the Synergy rig.
Let me fill you in on what this thing is. Basically, Synergy is a modular system that has ports which allows you to add various modules that sound and behave like the amps they are based upon. You buy the dock, a single or double module unit, and then load the amp module in. The docks are 12AX7 driven with a ton of different out options. There is a straight “preamp out” and an emulated out to go into your PA/desk/DAW - I was initially playing through the preamp out to a power amp, but once Steve had sorted the latency on the computer he pushed it over to the emulated out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I had an incredibly authentic Soldano SLO100 tone coming straight from the studio monitors that sounded EXACTLY the same as the preamp out, and from what I can remember about playing an SLO (which I have played through a lot) exactly the same as the amp – not only tonally, but in respect of response. The way it responded to my picking dynamics, the volume pot and the gain… man… the gain...
At that point he started to show me the differing modules, which could be changed in a matter of seconds. One minute I was ripping through the SLO, and then quickly through a Friedman BE which was just roaring, then back into a TDLX which had the kind of clean tones you’d expect from a blackfaced, or tweed finished amp, then a Morgan AC that was SO glassy… and then… and then…. and then...
After I’d played it for seemed like 5 seconds, which in reality was almost ¾ of an hour, I was left thinking about the practical uses of this system and where it sits in the market place. The first thing that got me, other than the tone that was coming from it, was the ease of use and how practical it can be in any set up. In a way, it was like having a modelling system but without the endless sub menu’s and degree in computer science to work it, or let’s face it, if you are anything like me, tons and tons of stuff that you would just never, ever use. This I think is where this product is going to sit, right in the place where people want a ton of options, but only the specific ones they require, and something that has real tubes, real knobs and real tone. You can literally have a mountain of boutique amps available, at a fraction of the cost and using a fraction of the room, just ‘there’.
The trouble I’ve always had with the modelling stuff, apart from ‘that’ reaction (which let’s face it, that gap is being bridged all the time), is that you generally have to get rid of your original amp set up and get a full range amp/speaker to go with it. You don’t get the best results from those things going into your amp, they still sound great, but they work best when everything is modelled and you are going direct. Then, they sound incredible. The beauty of the Synergy system is that it can be run direct within the loop of your favourite amp, giving you multiple new channels to play with. For many players, those that don’t want the computery stuff and love their rig already, this HAS to be the best thing, well - as we say over here, since sliced bread. Also it works flawlessly direct into your DAW, or PA, it has a great FX loop (so you can run your favourite effects in there, the ones that were originally in the loop of your amp if you used it that way)… I’m not sure who is behind this system, but I doff my cap in their general direction.
From looking at the website, I can see that the docks are $499 for the single and $799 for the double, there is also all tube heads available and a power amp. The modules are $399. So, let’s look at a boutique level amp, which I’m guessing you will all agree tends to be around $2k to buy and generally only give you the sound associated with that amp, you get what you get and nothing else. So, consider this, If you have a great amp you can buy the dock and 2 modules for ¾ of the price of a new and different sounding head, and then keep adding to it for $399, you will start to build up an amp collection that is worthy of Joe Bonamassa. Then think that these modules are small enough to get two into a single 19” rack unit. Even if you have 8 modules and the Syn2 (double port dock) it comes to less than 2 full boutique level amps. That’s 8 amps for the price of two. Once you have the dock, the modules are so cheap GAS will be screaming for new ones all the time.
I don’t get excited about new technology products very often mainly because I like tubes, knobs and instantly available tone and most of the time these days, all those things appear to be missing in new innovative technology. New gear concepts these days usually consists of “sitting down with a manual the size of a novel and 3 hours just to get the amp tone you want that’s hidden in the middle of other stuff that appears to have no practical musical use to anyone”.
I want one.