To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone. Wait, scratch that, that's Lord of the Rings. Yes, this is just the HotHand USB - and one of a number of visions of the future of digital guitar playing and new gear our friend Joe brings us back from California.

To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone. Wait, scratch that, that’s Lord of the Rings. Yes, this is just the HotHand USB – and one of a number of visions of the future of digital guitar playing and new gear our friend Joe brings us back from California.

Who says guitar technology isn’t advancing? Joe Gore is a guitarist who’s unafraid of the bleeding edge, so he was a natural to report back to us from the hallowed halls of new musical instruments, NAMM. He takes a look at what’s new and what’s evolving through a guitarist’s eyes. And this stuff is interesting, indeed, with effects and controllers that might inspire gear desires in instrumentalists of all stripes, not just guitarists.

We guitarists tend to be a technologically conservative bunch, yet there was no shortage of forward-looking products at NAMM 2013.

Not that everyone was looking in the same direction. Guitar processors are getting smarter, but they’re doing so in different ways. Are we entering an era when every guitar, amp, and pedal in our effect chain will boast powerful processors and a dedicated editing environment? Or will we just simply centralize everything in some future i-device? (I suspect that latter, and tend to think that smart pedals and smart amps represent an evolutionary cul-de-sac. But that cul-de-sac might be a real nice place to hang out for a couple of years.)

eventide h9

Eventide’s H9 stompbox does more than your typical stomp – think 43 algorithms, with more available to purchase as add-ons (yes, in-app purchasing for a stompbox, effectively)!

eventide editor

Eventide now has you editing stomp presets from iOS.

One release I found particularly telling was Eventide’s H9, the latest addition to the company’s software-intensive stompbox line. The H9 has few new sounds, but can run all the DSP algorithms from Eventide’s other guitar stompboxes. The $499 box will ship late this quarter, preloaded with 9 of Eventide’s 43 current algorithms. Players hungry for more will be able to purchase them à la carte from an online store. (Eventide hasn’t yet finalized the add-on pricing.) The H9 also includes a handsome and full-featured iOS app for editing and managing patches via Bluetooth. There are no current plans to release an editor for OSX or Windows.

On the other hand, TC Electronic announced TonePrint Editor for Macs and PCs, but not iOS. This software editor will let users create and manage sounds for TC’s seven TonePrint-enabled pedals. Judging by the pre-release screenshots, the Editor is a fairly deep plug-in-style interface that can tweak far more parameters than might be accessible via the stompboxes’ knobs. (However, there aren’t yet any TonePrint-capable drive/distortion/fuzz effects — just reverb, delay, and modulation devices.)

Digital modeling amps are also advancing. I’ve heard raves about about the revamped modeling software in Fractal Audio’s Axe-Fx II, and representatives from several guitar and guitar parts companies told me that the adoption rate is phenomenal, particularly among young metal players. A newer rival, the Kemper Profiler, adds the ability to model any amp via an integrated signal generator and automated measuring/modeling tools. (A Kemper rep I spoke with insisted this is not an impulse-response process, but allowed that the device only measures an amp in a single, static state. It does not, for example, mimic the response of a particular amp’s tone or gain controls. All profiled amps get routed through a single EQ section.) New for 2013 is the Kemper Profiler Rack, a two-rack-space amp head, available with and without an integrated power amp.

ikm blueboard

What, you don’t want to step on your iPhone or iPad? BlueBoard is a MIDI-enabled foot switch for iOS.

You could scarcely turn around without running into some new iOS-inspired product. There was also a seemingly endless supply of iPhone and iPad clamps, stands, and brackets from many manufacturers. IK Multimedia previewed their upcoming BlueBoard, a small, simple Bluetooth MIDI controller with four assignable footswitches, plus two 1/4” inputs for connecting continuous controllers (not included). IKM also demoed iLoud, a compact 40-watt RMS powered stereo speaker, and the iLoud MINI, an even tinier 12-watt version.


Detail of the ODD, 3D-printed guitar.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Olaf Diegel of New Zealand’s ODD, the man behind those radical 3D-printed guitars that have set the guitar forums ablaze. Each of Diegel’s instruments is a virtuoso display of this emerging technology. For example, he showcased an American flag-themed guitar with an intricately crafted NYC skyline visible through the body’s holes. I also had the chance to play one of Olaf’s $3,000 guitars. Diegel is more a 3D-printing visionary than a luthier, and while his instruments sound decent, they don’t offer the tone or refinement you’d expect from a $3K axe. But someday soon a great luthier will collaborate with a 3D print specialist, and awesome things will happen. (Though I wager we’ll see bitchin’ 3D-printed parts and accessories before we see a truly bitchin’ printed guitar.)

At least two MIDI guitar products drew steady crowds. Neither is an entirely new idea, but the technology that surrounds them has evolved to such a degree that they may finally make a serious splash. For the second year running, Fishman showcased their TriplePlay MIDI Guitar Controller. (And it’s still not shipping, though it’s promised before the end of this quarter). TriplePlay is a smart update of the old hexaphonic pickup idea. Unlike the earlier Roland and Yamaha systems, TriplePlay transmits MIDI data wirelessly to a dongle-sized USB receiver. This means a) no clunky 13-pin cable, b) no rack-mounted processor, c) no need to rely on cheesy factory patches, and d) a relatively modest price (probably just north of $300). [Disclosure: Fishman is one of my clients, and I’ll be demoing TriplePlay at MacWorld in San Francisco this weekend.]

Also coming soon is an Source Audio’s Hot Hand USB. Players wear the Hot Hand controller on their finger like an oversized ring. The unit’s internal accelerometer generates MIDI info that can be routed to various effect parameters. (For example, you might control a filter-cutoff frequency with the wave of a hand.) The original Hot Hand worked only with Source’s own stompboxes, but the upcoming USB version deploys a wireless, dongle-sized receiver much like the one used in TriplePlay, so you’ll be able to route the accelerometer info to any destination.

These last two items gave me chance to hang out with two important digital guitarists. Adrian Belew was scoping out TriplePlay; he’s a brilliant, top-notch guitarist. And I loved hanging out with Derek Song, the 23-year-old whiz kid whose band, Pinn Panelle, is close to racking up its nine millionth view with their realtime cover version of Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The Hot Hand appears prominently in the viral hit, as does the qwerty keyboard mounted behind the bridge of Derek’s guitar, which he uses to wirelessly control his software-intensive tones. Derek developed this and other controllers on his own, and he builds custom processors using Max/MSP, so sadly, these tools were not displayed at NAMM. They are, in the words of countless 2 A.M. informercials, “not available in stores.”

Joe Gore is a San Francisco-based musician, writer, and sound designer. This report is cross-posted at tonefiend, Joe’s tech-intensive guitar blog.

  • Daniel M. Ottini

    I’m looking forward to the TriplePlay to jettison my bulky Roland gear (hey, maybe space for an MS-20 Mini!), but I’m not comforted by the length of time this is taking to bring to market…also, I love my iPad and am a NI Guitar Rig user (which I also love), but is it me or does anyone else find that iPad guitar pedal sims (AmpliTube, et al) sound a bit thin coming out into their monitors. It could just be my Input/Output path, but I shy away from them (though I do use the iPad for more radical processing like CS grain, etc.) I was once an AmpliTube PC user and liked it all right, so I don’t think it’s bias against the IK modeling…would love to hear Joe’s (or anyone else’s) opinion on this.

    • Joe Gore

      Hi Daniel! Excellent question! I’m biased — I was the developer for a lot of Apple guitar content, so I’m pretty much an Amp Designer guy — which does you no good whatsoever unless you’re a Logic/MainStage user, since Amp Designer isn’t available outside those apps. But whatever the simulator, you may find it helpful to keep some sort of “fattening” plug-in as the last insert on your guitar channel(s). I’ve had good results with PSP’s Vintage Warmer and Sound Toys’ Decapitator. And if you’re on a system with UA powered plug-ins, well, let’s just say their Ampex tape simulation is RIDICULOUSLY good.

      Hope that helps! :)

    • Daniel M. Ottini

      Hey Joe; Thanks for the reply…I was wondering more about iPad processing Vs. PC processing with Amp sims – I am perfectly fine with the PC platform amp sims (although like anyone I have my favs (and I do agree with you on the Vintage Warmer!)), but I have a dislike of the iPad amp sims – I am wondering if it is a bias on my part (hey we all have em!) or is there some sort of “short-cutting” that occurs in the modelling because of the lower processing requirements, in/out, etc. of the iPad that results in a (to my ears) less robust sound. I should note that I would not expect an iPad Amp sim to perfectly replace one on a laptop/desktop platform (although it seems that they are increasingly being marketed to do so), but I am wondering why they don’t seem to come close…

    • Joe Gore

      Yeah, the iOS simulations really aren’t there yet, and I believe that has more to do with the current throughput capability of iOS than anything else. Actually, I’m amazed by how good the iOS sims sound, but there is undeniably a big drop-off in sound quality relative to the computer-based models. That’ll change over time, though.

      But if you run your iPad through some fuzz pedals, it’ll sound pretty cool. 😉

    • Joe Gore

      I should have added: Yeah, I’ve been waiting a long time for TriplePlay too! But the beta unit and software I’ve been using are fab. I suspect you’ll be pleased when it arrives in a month or two, :)

    • Max

      The TP looks very neat, especially speaking as an unabashed wire-phobe. One thing I wonder, probably exposing my general inexperience with midi guitars, is what happens with muted strums? Also, do you have exact numbers on the latency from pickups to cpu?

    • Daniel M. Ottini

      If anything like the Roland, muted strums are met with…muted synth tones!. Depends on the synth of course, but I find string mutes tend to close the filter on the synth while harder picking tends to open it up…this is of course changeable on the (Roland) GI-20, but the out of the box CCs seem to be set-up that way on the GI/Synth/Patch…one that definitely comes to mind for this is the Meeblip.

  • peboer

    I’m sad you missed out Moldover’s controller augmented guitar. He was showing at Visionary Instruments booth. It’s pretty fantastic. I imagine it’ll be on this site sometime soon, though.

    • vanceg

      Yes, absolutely! The work that Moldover and Visionary are doing in integrating controllers into guitar bodies really does transform the instrument and adds level of “playability” to the massive processing that is available to guitarists nowadays. While attaching controllers to guitar bodies is neither brand new nor unique, Visionary and Moldover seem to be taking it to such an extreme…or at least extremely integrated level that it really does change the capabilities of the guitar. Worth checking out.

    • Joe Gore

      Oh man — I guarantee you, I missed a LOT more than just that! :(

  • Daryl Fritz

    Wait, a Nine Inch Nails tour this year? Adrian Belew kind of dropped a bomb here.

    • kgrouch

      Seriously, whattttt???

    • Daryl Fritz

      He likely said something like “I’m touring with Trent Reznor this year,” referring to How To Destroy Angels and the interviewer misinterpreted.

    • John Jacobus

      True, but like HTDA doesn’t really need live guitar. Ade’s work with Ghosts and TDS are great and random but I don’t see that fitting into the HTDA sound. I could be wrong.

  • Matt Gnarly

    I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist, it’s hard to beat the sound of a P90 through a 5E3, but nothing really wowed me as far as guitar gear goes at NAMM. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few Strymon effects on my pedal board, but iPad integration, proximity sensors and 3D printing don’t do much for me. The TriplePlay has me intrigued, but I certainly won’t be an early adopter.

  • Chiranjeev Ghai

    Communicate through music!

  • Kieran

    Can someone give some confirmation on the Triple Play I’m wondering about? I see a Triple Play pickup system already on Sweetwater. Is this NAMM-demoed version a full guitar with Triple Play built in, an update, or what?


  • Korhan Erel

    Eventide says “H9 Control will also be available for your PC or Mac via USB.” on H9’s web page.

  • iOS Musician Blog

    the ik blue board looks like such a great deal and very useful. bluetooth better keep spreading to other musical areas soon *cough* midi and audio *cough*

  • Yea

    Most of this stuff is novelty……It will be a used guitar parts sites in months. Only the truly great sounding, innovative products will be remebered. I have a 1997 Rocktron ProQ that supplies 25db of cut or boost….and is MIDI controllable and stores presets. Even Rocktron doesnt produce things this great anymore. Makers want the MOST profit, for the LEASt cash output on their part: Hence this stuff keeps getting cheaper anr emore toylike year after year. Except for Mesa or people who really try to make quality product.