After a long and arduous detour with the development of the XR series pickups, we’re back on track! Here’s the evolved modular Neo with better crosstalk performance using permalloy shields and active crosstalk cancellation, even lower noise with improved discrete preamp design, and better aesthetics.
The modular structure will be encapsulated in resin (picture at the right). Resin encapsulation is laborious and tricky to do right. To make production easier, we experimented with thermoforming an outer plastic shell which was 0.5mm in thickness. The idea is to place the structure inside the plastic shell before filling it up with resin. We had mixed results. It can be done, but our initial yield was very low. I like challenges and I still think it can be accomplished, but I reckoned that this was another distraction from our goal and so I decided to sub-contract the manufacturing of these small enclosures to experts.
As promised, we will also provide a complete solution including all necessary components and connectors, all solder free plug and play. I finally decided to go analog at this point. That will require a breakout box for the multichannel audio outputs.
The question was which connector to use. On one hand, there’s the 13-pin connector that Roland uses. It is cheap and readily available, but it is ugly and flimsy. Moreover, it is designed for 6 channels only. On the other hand, my favorite is still the LEMO connectors. These are metal, self-latching multipole connectors with alignment key and gold plated contacts. Alas, these connectors are so much more expensive! A 19-pin cable set will set you back more than $600. With some diligence, we found a couple of companies selling LEMO compatible connectors, bringing the price down to something reasonable. They are still more expensive than the 13-pin connectors, but it’s all worth the price differential. These are class-A cables used in such critical applications such as medical instrumentation.
For testing, we developed two breakout boxes. One using the Roland 13-pin and one using a LEMO compatible connector. There’s no question about it; The Roland 13-pin sucks; the LEMO compatible connector rocks!
But why analog? If you’ve been following our development, I opined that the best way to send multiple outputs down the line is through a digital interface. USB, Firewire and Ethernet come to mind. These are fairly standard (and cheap! due to economies of scale).
Well, there’s this thing called Minimum Viable Product. I’d definitely take the digital route (one day), but after pondering on this for a long time, the analog interface IS the MVP. I need a solution for the Neos and I need it now. To be honest, I was swaying back and forth digital and analog interfaces. But Vance Galloway reminded me: “USB and Ethernet ARE great if what you are interfacing with is a computer. And you do plan to have computers in the path at some point. But you are primarily talking about guitar here – and you need to interface with equipment that guitar players have….”
We do have a guitar to USB (or Ethernet) project in the works. But at the rate I am going, and with my resources, it will take a long time to have it in a mature form. Again, I want a Minimum Viable Product now and it should be as simple as possible but not simpler. It is analog.
The breakout box shall be as simple as possible. There will be DC power, a 19 pin jack for the guitar, and two DB25 connectors providing 8 balanced channels (16 channels total). DB25 to TRS breakout cables are readily available for connecting to your digital audio interface, digital mixer, amplifiers, effects, etc.
Everything will be analog. There will be no noisy digital data passing through the cables, not even MIDI. Instead, some channels can be used to send (slow moving) control voltages connected to potentiometers and control switches in the guitar. You can then use a CV to MIDI converter to control your gear. I’m not sure about the details yet. It is easy to add a CV to MIDI converter in there as well, but it’s hard to predict how many MIDI control channels people will need and for what what purpose. Perhaps a generic case would be one volume, one generic assignable controller, and one 5-way switch? Again, suggestions welcome!
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