February 13, 2013

Gear Trends for the next years.

In the last few years we have seen the comeback of guitarpedals and pedalboards. In the eighties and nineties guitarplayers were fascinated by rackmount gear. Pedalboards are conveniant because you can change individual pedals more easily and buy something new without costing an arm and a leg. Multieffects units in the past gave you a whe lot of effects but very often of a lesser qualility. Programming a pain and not always successful.  We put up with that for a while because we the had every effect possible in 1 unit. Some, like the guys  from the LA guitar scene got a 19" rack effect for every effect they wanted resulting in HUGE racks.

With pedalboards no firmly reestablished ( even Steve Lukather came back) we see the trend of buying the socalled boutique quality pedals. Ordinary pedals are not good enough anymore. They have to be at least hardwire bypass connected with highquality cables. Players started adding more and more effects. Because the signal paths became too long players started adding buffers to fight signal degradation caused by connecting multiple pedals with multiple cables of varying quality. The Next step some of us took or are contemplating is the use of onboard switching systems. Palmer, Carl Martin, CAE and many more have created these pedal switching devises with multiple loops. Now you can have the same flexibility  of a midi switching rack system combined witch analog pedals.
All analog pedals? No. Because the a lot of modern players want to have every conceivable effect there is they run into real estate problems. Their pedalboards have become so redicously large and the wiring so complex that it has become unpractical. Mini pedals appeared half the size of a normal pedal. Line 6 M5 has a lot of different effects inside but you can use just 1 at a time. No need for a seperate chorus, flanger, rotary etc,. Small footprint but a lot of effects. Eventide's stomp boxes  delivered several studio quality effects in a single box. So do the new Strymon Mobius and Timeline. Expensive pedals but you get an enormous amount of bang for your buck, euro or Yen.

The next step that is now already in a second stage of development is the abity to upgrade the software in your pedal to a newer version. This was already possible with certain rack and studio  gear but TC electronics has made this popular for their Toneprint stomp boxes . You can even upgrade via your smartphone!  Since many guitarists wanted to create their own sound for their pedals TC has released the software they use to create these Toneprints  to everybody. So now you can create your own stompbox sounds. The next step I think would be to have an empty hardware stompbox with a high quality chip inside so you can decide what the pedal is going to sound like tonight. Mayby today it will be a chorus and tomorrow a heavy distortion or an autowah. iPad/iPhone/iWatch (?)  connectivity will also be a trend. Already we see this in Eventide's new H9 pedal.
We want the ease and digital functionality combined with the highest sound and upgradeability. We need forums to exchange or sell our own creations.

Factal audio, Kemper, Line 6 and newcomer in this field DVMark create all in 1 solutions but are also very flexible enough to be used in various situations in different setups, with or without a real amp or pedals. You could use just the effects and use your own amp or pedal or use the unit as a standalone do-it-all direct box. Especially Fractal Audio is an amazing company. They were the first to create this all in one box at such a high level of performance using nothing but the best components available. They constantly upgrade the software with not just new models but also improved versions of previous amps and effects models. Kemper an Fractal both offer the possibility to create modeled versions of your own amp. Sharing your own presets via forums etc. is easy. Fractals software editor works on the iPad too.

Guitar modeling will improve and increase the next two years. The number one in this field of operation is off course Line 6 with their succesful Variax series. The second generation was created in cooperation with luthier James Tyler. The sound quality is very good and here too upgradeability is the key. Consumers have so gotten used to this feature with all the apps on their smartphones ( thanks to Apple's Appstore) that manufacturers will loose marketshare if they don't.
Roland is of course also working in this field. First with their succesful VG (floor)units and now with the Vg guitars. PRS guitars latest model the P22 is an electric guitar that can sound like an acoustic without the harsh sounds of piezo pickups. The Graphtech ghost system can do the same thing and be fitted into your own guitar. Reading through the forums most players agree the Line 6 has the best sounds but the Roland offers more flexibility.

In the area of guitar synthesizers the market is pretty much dominated by Roland. With their GK pick-up and their latest GR-55 they rule. New development will come from companies like Jam Origin. You don't need to buy extra gear. You install their software and can play synth sound directly using your own guitar. Mono phonic and polyphonic! Although the software is not 100% perfect it sure looks very promising. More companies are working on transforming sound directly into midi so you can play directly into your iPad, iPhone etc. using the notation software or the synths.

Amps. Traditional tube and transistor amps will always (?) be around. We need them love them! With the increase of modeling gear we need speaker systems that can cope with that. Speaker-systems that can sound very linear but should also be flexible with different acoustic settings and speaker modeling. Don't forget the USB for upgrades!

Of corse you don't have to follow trends. Most players will mix and match.  However a lot of digital gear already sounds as good as their analog original.  With every new generation of chips there will be new and more possibilities only limited by the imagination of the manufacturer and their willingness to produce the next generation. Guitar amps on pedals are ok and fun but not quite there yet limited only by processing power and commitment. The more horsepower there is under the hood the  better old pedals can be modeled. Of course we don't just have to model. Create!

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