Category Archives: Electronics

NeoM Modeling Pickups

      Electronics, NeoM, Pickups
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Here’s some exciting news! Tired of the same old 50s Mojo? We will soon be releasing two new full-range pickups designed for modeling: the NeoM SC (single-coil) and NeoM HB (humbucker).

(Update: the switches may be removed. See comments below. Instead, we will provide optional resonant filters as an add-on. Tell us what you think!)

NeoM-SC

NeoM SC

What is modeling? If you’ve seen the demo of the Neo multichannel pickups, we were able to easily sculpt the tone using EQ matching to capture the frequency response of another pickup or even an acoustic guitar. There’s so much flexibility and power there!

A full bandwidth pickup will give you complete freedom to shape the frequency response —it’s the perfect blank canvas.

The NeoM Modeling pickups have the same flat frequency response as their siblings, the Neo Series Active Multichannel pickups. These are active pickups utilising very low impedance (Lo-Z) coils with an ultra low-noise preamplifier to boost the lower level Lo-Z signal.

Thanks to modern SMT electronics, the NeoM pickups also feature a built-in resonant filter right there in the pickup, allowing you to sculpt the tone from twangy 50s Mojo to crystal clear HiFi, without requiring external tone controls or equalisers.

Unlike the original Neo series, these pickups are meant to be installed just like any other active pickup. We will provide an easy install (no soldering) system. All components are premium grade. No cutting corners!

Humbucking

A double-coil humbucking variant will also be available. Both versions incorporate the same Lo-Z technology from its predecessor, the Multichannel Neo Series. Both boast extremely low noise preamplifiers. Like the single-coil variant, the humbucker also contains a built-in resonant filter. Both versions are noiseless.

NeoM-HB

NeoM-HB

Resonant EQ

Technically speaking, a pickup is an audio voltage source followed by a second-order lowpass filter. The tone (colour) of the pickup is characterised by its cut-off frequency and its resonance contour —the so-called Quality factor or simply Q. The NeoM has a couple of switches for setting the cutoff-frequency and Q plus an additional bypass switch (if you need to get the full, flat frequency range). The switches are slightly recessed to avoid accidental switching.

NeoM-SC2

Resonant Filter

The controls give you 9 of preselected voices (3 x 3), plus bypass to full-range, for a total of 10 voices per pickup!

F Control

The F switch controls the cutoff-frequency. Lo is preset to 2kHz, Mid to 3kHz and Hi to 6KHz. These are the frequencies that give you the classic tones of electric guitars that we all can’t ever get enough of. We’ve done a lot of frequency analysis with many hours of listening tests before we arrived at these sweet frequencies.

Freq-curves

Cutoff Frequency

Q Control

Q controls the resonance of the filter and determines the steepness of the curve. There are three Q presets Lo, Mid and Hi. The higher the Q, the narrower and sharper the peak is. A narrow peak gives a more pronounced filter effect at the cutoff-frequency. A gentler slope gives you a mellower, rounded tone.

Q-curves

Quality factor

As you can see in the graph above, a higher Q produces higher gain. The Q switch compensates for the gain at each setting (1.0 [0dB], 2.5 [8dB] and 3.75 [12dB]) with a corresponding gain reduction before the filter so we have constant gain for all Q settings. This prevents the filter from clipping and produces an overall balanced output regardless of switch position.

Q-curves-compensated

Compensated Q settings

The Infinity Project

      Design, DSP, Electronics, Hardware, Infinity, Neo Series, Open Source, Pickups, Software
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We want to push the limits of what we can do with the electric guitar. The Neo project (starting from the Six pack project) is a stepping stone towards our goal. And from the very start, our goal has always been polyphonic sustain. Polyphonic sustain, plus extensive processing for each string, will give us musicians full control over the dynamics of the guitar. This is my holy grail and as you can see in our previous proof of concept demonstration, we’ve come closer to that goal than ever before.

Presenting the Infinity Polyphonic Sustain system:

Infinitynew

Digital Control

driver

Driver coils with integrated amplifiers.

It takes a lot more than just slapping together six EBows. A very early prototype employed a 6x analog feedback system just like the Ebow. It worked but was rather unwieldy and impractical. The phase at the driver (neck position) lags behind the phase at the pickup (bridge position) and you need some form of phase shifting (using analog filters) to align the phase properly for sustained oscillation. Without phase shifting, you have to use more force than necessary to get the string to oscillate, and that wastes too much power.

All it should take is a little nudge. That’s what I always say. I think current breed of analog sustainers inefficiently use too much power. If you pull at the right moment with just the right amount of force, you can get something to oscillate indefinitely. That’s the essence behind sympathetic resonance. With just a little amount of force, at the right frequency (and phase!), you can make a very sturdy bridge collapse, for example.

We favor a digital approach with a microcontroller (MCU) doing the phase and frequency locking and synthesising a waveform that’s fed back to the driver (more on this later). A digital system vastly simplifies the required electronics. The MCU can do the phase corrections, analyse the envelope of the input and control just the right amount of signal to drive each string to oscillation.

MCU

Acoustic synthesis

A digital system buys us a lot of flexibility. For instance, with a digital system, we can feed any kind of waveform back as long as it is coherent with the input. Recently, we’ve tried square, pulse, triangle and sawtooth. Wave tables would be cool, for example! How about samples of bow noises or wind blow noises? How about the human voice? Guitar or Piano samples? That might be cool. And, needless to say, there are no nasty squeals that plague analog feedback systems. It’s just pure sympathetic resonance!

Synthesized-Feedback

Acoustic synthesis is a powerful concept. It involves the creation of new sounds by controlling the vibrations of actual physical objects, in this case, the strings.

I’m sure most of you are aware that hexaphonic sustain has been done in the past with the Moog guitar (or the more recent Vo96 Acoustic Synthesizer). So what makes this project different? Unlike the Vo96 —a pure acoustic synthesiser, we opt to combine both traditional synthesis and acoustic synthesis.

EnvelopesThe Moog guitar, and the newer Vo-96 system use pure acoustic synthesis and advertises zero post processing. In my opinion, that is not necessary. You do not need an elaborate system for controlling everything, including timbre and dynamics. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Instead of pure acoustic synthesis, we prefer to post-process the polyphonic signal. You can do a lot with post processing on individual strings including control of attack and decay. An advantage of our approach is that it is simpler, requires less power, and does not require special strings! You only need to get the string sustaining, plus introduce some harmonics along the way. There’s so much potential in polyphonic processing that the Vo system shuns. A simpler system should cut the cost down considerably.

For example, we will not perform sustain dampening acoustically like the Moog did (the banjo effect). Instead, we intend to do DSP processing for each string. With post-processing, it’s easy to sculpt an envelope to achieve the muted banjo like effect. DSP processing will give us full control over the dynamics of the guitar (e.g attack, decay, sustain in addition to harmonic control). With these controls, you can have anything from banjo like short-sustain to long piano-like sustain and of course, infinite sustain.

Software

But it should not be limited to dynamics control. We’re also looking at timbre control and the injection of harmonics using various forms of synthesis techniques such as Waveshaping for timbre control (polyphonic fuzz in steroids!) and Kurplus Strong synthesis (e.g. having a number of virtual strings in memory excited by the inputs from the Neo pickup potentially modifying the parameters in real time). You can have drone strings, doubles, triples, etc. There will also be pickup placement simulation (using comb filters and short convolution for applying captured impulse response of other instruments (e.g. acoustic guitars).

The software is hosted in your laptop (or desktop). A software plugin (AU, VST, RTAS, AAX) does the multi-channel post processing and control; sending downstream MIDI data to the MCU inside the guitar for controlling feedback. The in-guitar MCU can also send upstream MIDI to control performance parameters (e.g. volume, pan, pitch-bend, cutoff-frequency, resonance, etc.) using potentiometers and other forms of user-control hardware directly from the guitar.

Further Reading

To Infinity and Beyond!

      Infinity, Neo Series, Pickups, Sustain
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The Infinity Project

Hey, we have a New Project! Here’s a very early prototype of the Cycfi Infinity Polyphonic Sustain System. The proof of concept video above demonstrates dual sustainer drivers at the neck position with the Neo6 polyphonic pickup at the bridge. In this demo, the sustain drivers drive the two upper strings (B and E). The high, thinner strings are the most difficult to drive due to low mass and weak magnetic pull. The thicker strings are a lot easier to drive into infinite sustain.

infinity_v0_1

Infinity v0.1

We use plain D’Addario Strings (0.009 – 0.042 super light gauge). The output of the Neo6 is summed to mono and goes to a Marshall combo with the treble set to zero, a bit of bass and mid. The amp is mic’d (Shure SM57) and recorded using Logic Pro, no guitar effect plugins, flat E.Q., a bit of reverb and a touch of delay.

The strings are driven into sympathetic resonance using both hardware and software phase and frequency locking mechanisms. The drive waveform is synthesised from the polyphonic signal coming from the Neo6 pickup. The polyphonic drivers are driven at the fundamental frequency of the vibrating string with additional controlled odd and even harmonics.

More info to come. Stay tuned!

 

Wired

      How To, Neo Series, Pickups
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Audio_mixer_fadersHow do you wire the Neos?

The initial release of the Neo series polyphonic pickups was for DIYers, serious hackers and guitar builders. The Neo is not your typical pickup. You can’t install it just like any other pickup. It is polyphonic and requires more work to set-up properly. In Cycfi’s FB page, Steve Hodge comments: “A full system would be excellent. I love the concept but have no idea how to hook it all up”. Soon, we will provide support infrastructure such as breakout boxes, controls, and multi-pin cables and connectors to make it easier for anyone to use the pickups.

In the meantime, for those who are adventurous enough, it’s really not that difficult. You don’t really need an elaborate setup to get into polyphonic string processing.

Allow me to reply to an email from Sam Park:

Continue reading

Iron Man

      Infinity, Neo Series, Pickups, Sustain
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Iron Man Test Guitar

Iron Man Test Guitar

Meet Iron Man, one of our test guitars. You’ll immediately notice a Neo6 in the bridge position. But what is that thing in the neck position? Can anyone venture to guess? Hint: click to zoom and you’ll probably notice 6 more staggered, rectangular coils in there. If you can guess what it is, you are looking a very early prototype. Friends, this is our future! 

First batch of Neos shipped

      Neo Series, Pickups, Release
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shipment We shipped the first batch of Neos. Yay! To all early adopters, a warm THANK YOU. To those who were left out because the initial release was intended for DIYers, serious hackers and guitar builders only, we are working hard on addressing your needs and requests. Right now, we are in the process of prototyping support infrastructure to make it easier for anyone to use the pickups. A full system for end-users is in the works, including a breakout box for ease of use. I’ll also be I will be posting a series of how-to instructions. Hopefully that will help those who are interested in using the pickups but don’t have any idea how to yet.

It’s Official: Neo Series Now Available

      Events, Neo Series, Pickups, Release, Store
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Easter, April 20, 2014. Today marks the official public release of the Cycfi Neo Series Active Polyphonic Pickups. After a long wait, the Neos are now available! As previously noted, we will have a very limited, initial production run. All items are inspected and fully tested according to very strict specifications. The Neos are now available for sale in our online store.

We invite you to join us explore this new exciting world of Polyphonic String Processing. The journey is just beginning!

Neo Series
Neo Series

The Neos are very small, Neodymium-core active pickups that can be used individually or in groups. These are hacker friendly, general-purpose pickups that can be used in a variety of applications. These are active pickups with low impedance coils and individual balanced, low-power, low-noise preamplifier for each coil. Neo1 conains a single coil with a single differential preamp. Neo2 contains two coils and dual differential preamps. And Neo6 contains six coils and six differential preamps.

This release is for DIYers, serious hackers and guitar builders only. The basic assumption is that you know what to do with the pickups and you have prior experience with guitar building or at least customization. With the electronics involved, you know how to at least read wiring diagrams and are not afraid to do some soldering. The Neo is not your typical pickup. You can’t just plug it in a standard guitar amplifier, for example. You can’t use your standard 5-way or 3-way switch, nor can you use your typical volume and tone potentiometers.

There were quite a few queries from end-users asking how they can use the Neo or how to install the pickups in their guitar. If you are one of those folks who want to get into polyphonic pickups and processing, but have no idea yet how to proceed, well, you might need to get some help from someone with a solid background in electronics to do the installation for you. If you are a very adventurous DIYer and want to learn by yourself, we will of course be happy to assist you in any way we can.

 

Here come the Neos!

      Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups
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initial-run

The first batch of Neos… A few more tests and we’re ready to go! It is a very limited production run, as planned. But it is a good first step nevertheless. For those who expressed interest, Thank You! We’re still a long way to go, but I would be scared to carry on with the journey without the positive encouragement of people who support the idea. It takes a lot of determination to think differently and go against the grain.

Multi Pin Cables

      Neo Series, Pickups
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Support hardware for the Neo polyphonic pickups requires a suitable cabling system for connecting the multi-channel outputs to an audio interface. In addition to carrying audio signals, it will also have to carry supply voltage and MIDI data. MIDI control is the only reasonable way to control parameters for all channels.

I’ve tried using snake cables. For the prototype, they work fine. But they are heavy, bulky and cumbersome to use (I find it awkward to have to tighten the jackscrews every time I plug and unplug). Moreover, I need at least 14 pins for 8 audio channels plus 1 mono, V+ power supply and MIDI. Unfortunately, the DB25 connector, commonly used for snake cabling, is designed to carry only 8 balanced audio signals (hot, cold and ground per channel). For the prototype, I ended up using a 12 channel snake cable which is even bulkier. Such monstrosity!

Yes, I also considered using DIN 14 connectors. It’s the same connector used by the Roland GK pickups. I decided not to use it primarily because I find it not sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of stage and studio use. The cables and plastic plugs and connectors Roland uses are flimsy! Why would Roland use such a flimsy connector design? Obviously, they simply want to cut cost.

I’m a perfectionist. I do not want to cut corners! Here’s the cable that I decided to use:

multi_cable

LEMO self-latching multipole connectors

These are metal, self-latching multipole connectors with alignment key and gold plated contacts. These connectors are the best I can find. They are robust yet easy to use with its circular profile and push-pull self-latching technology. Well made, robust connecters should not be bulky! The connector itself is a mere 15 mm (0.6 inch) in diameter. The 19 pin connector (see below) is more than adequate to carry all the signals that I need plus ample room for future expansion.

Features:

  • Push-Pull self-latching
  • Color coded alignment key
  • Brass (chrome plated) shell and collet nut
  • Nickel plated brass latch sleeve and mid pieces
  • Brass (gold plated) Inserts (contacts)
  • 15 mm diameter (20 mm nut)
  • Multipole 19 pin contacts

The other end-point will be a breakout box that will provide clean supply voltage, a standard DB25 snake connector for the 8 individual channels, a Roland 14-pin connector for the first 6 audio channels (alas, 6 is Roland’s limitation) and a mono output. The last bit (the mono out) is not as you expect; it’s not a mono mix of the polyphonic pickup, but rather, it’s for additional mono pickups you might want to install in the guitar alongside the polyphonic pickup. We’ll have more on that mono signal later.

multi-pin-vs-trs-800x533

Multi-Pin Plug and Standard 1/4″ Plug

conn_front

Receptacle, Cable Collet Front

conn_back

Receptacle, Cable Collet Back

 

Transparent Pickup Covers

      Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups
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A friend of mine suggested having transparent pickup covers for the Neo6 pickups. I think it’s a good idea. If there’s interest, we might be able to provide these covers as an option. The coils will be encapsulated in either clear or tinted epoxy. Tell us what you think!

Transparent Neo Enclosure

Transparent Neo Enclosure

Transparent Neo Enclosure Back

Transparent Neo Enclosure Back