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The Amperage Pedal MIDI controller eyes life on stage

By

March 10, 2014

The footswitches can be used to send program change messages to the software, or they can ...

The footswitches can be used to send program change messages to the software, or they can be set to act as latching or momentary switches for turning effects on or off

Image Gallery (8 images)

There are a number of ways to take digital amp and effects modeling to the gig or studio, including the new AMPLIFi models from Line 6, or routing your signal through a laptop or tablet running something like AmpliTube. Accessing and controlling settings on a device screen can be somewhat fiddly, though, and many guitarists feel more comfortable with physical knobs and switches. This is where the Amperage MIDI controller pedal could help to bridge the gap between analog stomp familiarity and the brave new world of digital tone tweaking.

The Amperage Pedal is the brainchild of Kurt Olsen of North Shore Guitars, and has a familiar road-ready analog stomp form factor that's topped by eight chicken-head knobs, two footswitches and three LED status indicators, which can be adjusted for brightness. Each of the knobs can be used to send MIDI messages to a smart device or laptop running music creation or recording software, and custom-assigned to controls in the software running on the source machine.

Labels on the prototype give an indication of what the various knobs and switches can be u...

There are a fair number of other MIDI interfaces already available of course, including IK Multimedia's iRig MIDI, but the Amperage Pedal's development team says that it's the number of knobs in one location, which can be matched to the primary controls of a computer-based modeling amplifier, that sets it apart from the rest. It's also a good fit for a pedal board. Though the labels on the photo above don't actually appear of the pedal itself, the top surface will be home to artwork by Andrew Towl.

By default, the knob to the top right is set to be used as a bank selector (though this can be chnaged if desired). There are seven banks, each of which produces a different color LED light at the center of the pedal. The footswitches can be used to send program change messages to the software, or set to act as latching or momentary switches for turning effects on or off. Pushing down and holding down both footswitches at the same time enters the unit into edit mode, where device behavior can be altered.

Usefully, holding down both footswitches simultaneously for 3 seconds allows the player to lock any of the available banks using the bank select knob, and effectively make all eight knobs available as MIDI controllers.

The Amperage Pedal is claimed compatible with any software or hardware capable of understanding MIDI, though a companion app has been created to allow users to change the pedal's default MIDI controller mapping and channels for each of the color-coded banks.

There are those who might argue that digital effects just don't offer the same warmth and response as analog stomps, and Olsen is not going to argue. He uses the old and the new for his own rig, with a laptop providing a huge library library of modeled tone, and tube amps and speaker cabinets for the output. The Amperage Pedal means that he can access and control his digital effects or modeling arsenal on stage without having to stop and click a mouse or touch an onscreen icon.

Kurt Olsen with his pre-production Amperage Pedal

Olsen is readying a Makerbot Replicator 2 and a Shapeoko CNC milling machine for prototyping and low volume production runs. 3D models and schematics have been created to make upscaling to higher production runs relatively pain-free. Now all that's needed is funding. To that end, the Amperage Pedal project has launched on Kickstarter, where one unit is pitched at US$225.

If all goes according to plan, the first units will be built, tested and shipped in May and June. Backers will also receive Mac/Win audio hosting software called StageManager (to virtually wire up and chain digital amps and effects, all in one place).

"If the Kickstarter is unsuccessful, it will slow me down, but every instinct I have say's that modeling amps are going to become more common on stage," says Olsen. "The Amperage Pedal (and the follow-up product) can make a dent in the acceptance by the average guitarist. It did for me."

Have a look at the pitch video below to see what's on offer.

Sources: North Shore Guitars, Kickstarter

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
2 Comments

How do you use foot switches, yet at the same time, twiddle the knobs with your fingers? Is the unit on the floor, or on a stand? Also, you have to remember which knob controls which parameter, as they appear to be unlabelled on the unit.

It all seems to boil down to the quest for a perfect guitar sound. A few have found it. It seems there are too many parameters to cope with. Most guitarists just really want a good distortion sound, or have I oversimplified it? You can mess about with sounds when recording, but for live, it is often one great sound, and stick with it!

Discuss....

David Colton Clarke
17th March, 2014 @ 05:39 am PDT

David, let me address the "one great sound" first - I agree wholeheartedly. But the problem is that only a few (very successful) guitarists can actually lock down the settings on their amplifiers and trust their very own sound engineer to actually deliver their sound to the audience. The vast majority of guitarists, who are trying to be noticed have no choice but to compensate for each club they play in. This room needs a little more bass, that room needs a bit more treble, or mids - maybe less reverb because it has hard walls and no carpet on the floor. Thus to actually deliver 'their tone' to the audience the amplifier has to be tweaked in real-time. Certainly at sound check and again during the first set you need to make those small changes, in realtime in order to actually deliver that "one great sound" to the crowd. The bottom line is that "one great sound" is a moving target and a club can literally destroy it! Which is why real amps have real knobs which haven't been replaced by pushbuttons and touchscreens or other menu driven user interfaces.

Because I couldn't tweak the (software amp) knobs in realtime (had to use a mouse/touchscreen) my own personal tone couldn't be delivered consistently. So I built a solution - with the Amperage Pedal I can velcro it to my pedalboard and when I have to dial the tone in I can just get down on one knee, keep playing and make little adjustments in-between strums etc. Chicken head knobs can be adjusted with your feet too but it takes practice!

Regarding the footswitches - you can either use them to turn effects on and off, or use them to select different presets. In my case I don't use a different preset for each song. I found that approach WAY to hard to manage and achieve balanced tone and volume between songs. So my strategy is to have only 2 or three presets which usually don't need to be changed within a song. My 'presets' select a type of amplifier - American? British? Boogie? - Thus I emulate exactly what I'd do with real gear - which is to become intimate with each type of amp and switch between them infrequently. If I've been playing on the American amp for a couple of songs then switch to the British amp for another couple songs I'd step on the footswitch to change amps and then....if it's not perfect once the song starts I can at least drop down to a knee and make a quick tweak and keep jamming. And...since I'm using StageManager, which I wrote - every time I change presets (amps), the tweaks I made stick and when I come back to that amp I don't have to re-adjust it. I can actually go through complete sets without ever having to use the mouse, and during sound check, and by the time the first set is complete I've been able to dial in the tone for the room. At which point the computer is a non-entity and I can do what I love best - making people happy with great sound...

Oh, since the knobs can be assigned to *anything* in the software - you can't really label them! - But...Color coding helps you remember. The colors I chose are Distortion=Yellow/Use caution, Volume=Red/Dangerous!, Everybody knows green is for reverb right? (grin). And then, on the bottom row, the tone controls go from dark colors to light colors (bass/mid/treble/presence). Made sense to me! And if somebody really wants different colors I can certainly accommodate that!

Peace,

Kurt.

Kurt Olsen
17th March, 2014 @ 05:59 pm PDT
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