On Emulation

      Design, DSP, Electronics, General, Modeling, Pickups

reflectionMy observation is that in general, guitar players are conservative when it comes to guitar sound. I think that is the reason why digital emulations of amplifiers, speaker cabs, pickups, guitars, etc., are quite popular, for example. Take the Roland VG guitar. You see emulations of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, all sorts of amplifiers and speaker cab emulations, all sorts of pickup emulations (single coil, double coil), effects emulations, even microphone emulations and placement, etc. The same can be said of all the current generation plugin effects available for computer based recordists.

Modeling is pretty neat. We can have a vast sound palette we’ve never had before, instantly, in one instrument. With the flick of a switch, a guitar can sound like a Strat, a Les Paul, a Martin, through a Marshal, through a Neumann condenser, etc. Some of these instruments are very expensive and beyond our reach. Only a select few with very deep pockets could have such a collection of fine instruments and equipment.

Yet, inasmuch as I love emulation, my opinion? We’ve stagnated! Emulations are good, but they are, ehm… emulations. Modeling real world gear is cool and some emulations are amazingly convincing. We’ve come a long way and the technology is constantly improving. Yet, emulations will always be second-rate wannabes. I firmly believe that each instrument has its soul and that soul cannot be captured. If I want to have a Strat sound, I’ll get a Strat. If I want a Marshall JCM800, well, nothing beats the real thing.

But why? Why do we even want that? What is sad is that we always tend to go back to the same tried-and-true path. The Les Pauls, the Strats, the Teles, the Marshalls, the 50s style humbuckers and single coils. Bottom line is: we all sound the same —the same instruments or imitations built over the past century! There’s nothing offered these days that gives me the OOHHH that is new! Like, I would imagine, what people thought when they first heard Jimi play a soaring riff through an overdriven Marshall.

What I really want is to explore new sounds. Not the same beaten path. Not the Strat, Not the Les Paul. Not the Marshall. Something totally different with a totally unique signature. For example, I’d really love to have complete control over attack, decay and sustain. I’d die for cello or violin like expressivity, dynamics and sustain without resorting to distortion and without sounding like a synth. In my opinion, expressivity, through sustain and controlled feedback, is one of the main reasons why the fuzz, overdrive and distortion were invented. I’d like to traverse different avenues for exploration with that same goal in mind.


bbsailor says:


Look om the Music Electronics Forum, Pickup Makers for a thread named "moving coil pickups for the technically curious". I explain how to use the metal guitar string as a very low impedance pickup with total isolation between strings. Here is a simple experiment. Obtain any 8 ohm to 10K or higher transformer and clip the 8 ohm side across a single string. Attach the secondary to the amp input. Hand hold a magnet near the string and pluck the string and listen. Move the magnet along the string to hear harmonic changes.

This technique offers some more design opportunities and produces a more acoustic sound espicially when the magnetic field extends from the neck to the bridge under the strings.

Do a web search for the word "stingamp". This same technique is used to make very good sounding electric violins.

Feel free to privately email me at bbsailor@aol.com.

Keep up the good work!

Joseph Rogowski

Joel says:

Thanks, Joseph. I've read about this sometime ago and I am quite interested. The drawback I can see is the need to have a custom designed bridge and nut. This is of course very possible with the Alpha guitar or any other guitar designed from the ground up. One of the goals of the Six-pack project (which is slowly evolving into the Neo project) is to be easily installable and usable. For that, nothing still beats the current simple-to-install design. Even piezos require some changes in the bridge or at least a saddle replacement. With a current magnetic pickup system, you just place it wherever you want and connect the output. bam, you have it.

I do intend to work on a new bamboo-CF prototype. I'll see if I can experiment on the 'stringamp' idea. Thanks for reminding me.