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August 26, 2008

Filed under: music»tools»effects


CDM has a preview today of the Openstomp pedal, which allows custom audio effects built in a visual programming environment, then loaded onto a durable stompbox with two switches and four knobs. It's in limited production now for $349. Not a bad price, considering.

Having messed around with computer-based live effects for a while, then returned to a mostly analog signal chain, I'm torn on this. I love playing with sound design, and would be thrilled to have a customized multi-FX pedal in my hands. But I've also found that pedalboard obsession comes at the cost of musical productivity, and despite months of tweaking, I never did create a distortion better than my MXR Bass DI, or an auto-wah that I liked better than my queasy-sounding DOD FX25.

In the end, I'm not an electrical or DSP engineer. I'm a musician, and that's where my strengths lie. The idea of the Openstomp is something I find powerfully attractive. I may pick one up. But musical utility is not, to me, what it has to offer.

It's also worth noting, I think, that calling it the "open" stompbox is a bit of a misnomer, given that other effects pedals are hardly "closed." Anyone with a soldering iron, a few bucks, and an Internet connection can easily find detailed plans and explanations of how to create (or recreate) their own homebrew guitar pedals. And it's unlikely that the visual DSP in the Openstomp programming kit is any easier to understand than a wiring diagram, given my experiences trying to hack something together in Pd.

Where the Openstomp competes is with proprietary multi-effects boxes like those from Digitech and Line 6. But even there, they have very different goals: the proprietary gear is really all about putting many traditional, analog-style sounds into a single box. Tweaking it beyond the manufacturer's specs is not possible by design. People don't buy a Pod or a GNX-4 because they want to make something crazy. They buy it because they want a pedalboard's worth of familiar sounds at the touch of a button. Being "closed" or "open" is irrelevant to them. Indeed, being limited in very specific ways is actually a feature of these devices, not a bug.

This is not the first time that people have tried something along these lines. The KVR Receptor puts VST plugins in a rack, and Justin Frankel designed his Jesusonic pedal before taking on DAW software with REAPER. The latter never really got off the ground. The former has become mostly popular with synth players who don't want to tour with laptops. If the Openstomp has a future, it most likely rests in its ability to provide one-shot studio-style sound tricks or music visualizations.

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