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I actually like modular systems...

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  • I actually like modular systems...

    But from the response here, I'm thinking I'm the only one.
    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

  • #2
    you mean "modular" like those Randall things? The idea is pretty cool.


    • #3
      I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.
      Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Enzo View Post
        I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.
        i guess he's talkin' about something similar to those Randall Amps, with modular preamps...


        • #5
          captain coconut is one such


          • #6
            Originally posted by Enzo View Post
            I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.
            Something like an analog modular synthesizer, but optimized for use as an effects system rather than tone generation.

            "If you're the only person I irritate with my choice of words today I'll be surprised" Chuck H.


            • #7
              I'm in the midst of getting this puppy off the ground.

              I suppose this is what might properly count as a modular system in the sense of being like a modular analog synth. The assumption is that the front is to be treated like a patch panel, with cables running here and there.

              Each standard-sized module is switchable on its own, via a DPDT toggle, but the master plan is to have a number of nondedicated solid-state switches that are remotely engaged. You can see these modules with the yellow lettering. The advantage of this sort of switch+module arrangement is that one can assign groups of effects to nested loops. So, for instance, Loop A with 3 effects is nested within Loop B that has one effect after and another before Loop A. One can actuate/cancel all 5 effects as well as actuate/cancel the 3 in the middle.

              Another nice thing about the modular approach is the use of "utility modules". Among mine in either the planning or completed stage are a pair of splitter/mixers for running things in parallel, a variable highpass/lowpass/invertor module for monkeying around with the 2nd parallel signal, and an envelope/gate/trigger module for driving outboard stuff.

              You will note that the splitter/mixer is open-ended such that one or more of the nondedicated switches can be inserted in the send-receive path. The nondedicated switches can be actuated on a momentary basis, too. What does something like this permit? Well, imagine that you run your signal into the splitter, with one output going through some effect (or not) and into one of the mixer inputs, while the other output goes to a switch and delay line. The delay line goes to the variable highpass/lowpass module that can produce a telephone-like tone. This would permit me to use the momentary switch function to provide alternating tones from the delay-line output, as well as cancel the input to the delay line such that I work with the "trails" on a riff-wise basis.

              Once you go modular patchable like this, and include solid-state switches that can function in latching OR nonlatching modes, all manner of complex post-production-like effects can be produced in real time.

              I suppose one should not overlook the packaging aspects either. In this case, I was able to pick up a couple of dozen of these nice 2.5 x 4" black anodized and pre-drilled/countersunk plates for 25 cents each. With no need for a battery and space-consuming phone jacks and stompswitches, the board can be as big as the faceplate without interfering with adjacent modules. Moreover, since there is no backplate, I can stack several board, one behind the other for more complex circuits, as long as they fit the footprint of the faceplate. Power is supplied, naturally, by a central regulated supply distributed by cables inside. The mini phone jacks and toggles are a damn sight cheaper than 1/4" jacks and stompswitches. Where a conventional pedal in a box would cost me at least $15 for all the packaging components combined, this one cost me about $2.50 for the same capability. The mini frac-rac was the price of some particle board, vinyl covering, a bit of aluminum channeling drilled appropriately, and some sheets of copper shim to shield the chassis (though you can use aluminum foil if you want). Maybe $10, if that much. The physical size is about 9" tall, 16" wide. Just try packing 10-11 pedals (don't forget the need to include a switching module, at least) into something that small. The front-side patching means I don't need to waste space on leaving room around the perimeter of stompboxes for jacks, power cords, and patch cables.

              Finally, although I have two frac-rac chassis, I will have about 3 dozen or so modules when I'm done (at some point, I guess I'll need to machine/paint some additional plates myself because my supply dried up). Unlike a pedalboard with its jigsaw-like qualities that demand pedal X go in slot Y or else some spatial catastrophe will result, I can remove and replace any module I want without disrupting anything. If I decide I want a "gig-able" 12-pac (I have 12 modules per chassis), I just put one together with whatever fuzz flavours of the week pique my interest.

              Have I sold you on the idea yet?


              • #8
                So it is just a concept then? I had assumed it referred to some sort of product line - in a sense like the Seymour Duncan convertable amps with the plug in preamp modules. SO there is no existing line I could buy, in other words?
                Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.


                • #9
                  Yeah, it IS a concept at this point. There have been commercial modular effects systems produced/launched over the years, but they all seemed to tank. Korg had one. Sequential Circuits had one. Vesta had one. MXR had one. And there were probably others I am not aware of.

                  Generally, they came adapted for a proprietary shell, and that was the problem. It is rare that players feel such a strong allegiance to a given product line that every single kind of effect that one might want has a model in that product line that is exactly what the player wants. You might want 4 of the Korg modules but feel that there are two others which can either be bought much cheaper or have more bang for the buck, or some specific sound that nobody else's unit makes. Interfacing those 2nd party pedals with a master unit quickly negates any convenience that the modular system provides. In my case, the DIY route permits me to use whatever I want, irrespective of brand, era, or original form factor.

                  FWIW, the Korg PME 40X system ( was probably the best of the lot, and was essentially a shell with 4 nondedicated switches, a regulated power supply, and slots to insert up to 4 modules. It had some pretty dang full-featured modules. For instance, check out the Octave V unit ( or the Distortion Wah ( Unfortunately, the 4 module limit was a bit of a deal breaker for some folks. You can find them relatively cheap on e-bay for that very reason.


                  • #10
                    Atta boy, Mark! Good description, and a nice looking implementation.

                    Modular systems are a packaging system. The idea is to make the packaging for each effect mechanically the same, and an easily pluggable part of a bigger array. The price you pay is that all the modules have to have "hardened interfaces" at their edges, where signals go in and out and modular mechanical setups so that you are free to rearrange them with minimal fuss. The "arrange them with minimal fuss" is the payback. If you do a good job of the setup, you can get more effects into a smaller cartable load, and easier rearrangement for experimenting.

                    As things exist today, the common concept of a pedalboard is a crude imitation of a modular system. The ins and outs of the pedals are standardized on guitar level signals (mostly) on 1/4" phone connectors, and the pedals are (mostly) fed 9Vdc from an AC adapter with multiple 5.5x2.1mm center negative barrel connectors. No attempt is made to make the cases of the individual effects the same. Instead, the board is made big enough to let you just velcro on another lump.

                    It works, but it's clumsy. I like Mark's approach of making the effects fit behind a front plate which holds the knobs and which bolts into a carrier. If you do it well, the carrier will become both the pedalboard and the carrying case.

                    Anyway, I'm a modularity bigot.
                    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

                    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.


                    • #11
                      Did they ever attract anyone other than Korg to build compatible modules then? That would require either an accepted standard, or the Korg unit being so popular as to become a defacto stabdard, at least enough to develpop an aftermarket.
                      Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.


                      • #12
                        Nah. Korg did provide an empty "filler box" for the PME system, but I don't think it was intended for occupation by a 3rd party circuit. That was the holdup. Everybody wanted the modules to be THEIRS and theirs alone. The proprietary thing blew it up in their faces. Same thing with the Electra MPC guitars and their modular onboard effects. ( In part, of course, I think you can chalk this up to modular effects systems having preceded the DIY-stompbox era by a good 20-25 years. Pretty much all the modular systems I've referred to are at least that old.

                        The closest anyone has come to it in recent memory is the rather bold attempt by Line 6 with the Tonecore series: which would allow users to design their own modules to stick in the Tonecore docks, and use in conjunction with the existing Tonecore series.

                        However, this only makes it possible to plug in your "personality modules" into their shell. If you've ever hoisted one of those Tonecore pedals, you'll realize that a pedalboard with 8 Tonecore docks is not exactly God's gift to lumbar support. It'd make Rick Neilsen's 5-neck Hamer feel like a ukelele. Plus, the pedals/docks, while in stereo, are conceived of a standalone devices, not part of an overarching system with external loop-switching support.

                        In some respects PAiA's early modular systems could be co-opted to provide a kind of modular guitar processing system. But the modules were of the synth variety and not the guitar effect variety.


                        • #13
                          Thanks for kickstarting this, guy.

                          Modular systems is probably something that needed the DIY revolution to get started. When I look at the various show-us-your-pedalboard threads in forums, as much as I drool over what people have on their pedalboards, I also tend to think that I would not want to schlep those things around, nor would I ever want to change any of my pedals, given the aggravation of having to re-arrange things. In a world of wah-univibe-fuzz, modular offers no big advantage. In a world of Musictoyz and Pedalgeek, though, where a person could have untold numbers of pedals that all sound a little different in some ways, modular begins to make sense.

                          F'rinstance. I've made a number of devices using the same board, that of an OTA-based Ross Phaser, courtesy of Francisco Pena and his fabulous Tonepad site. One board is a standard 4-stage phaser. Another is the same thing only adapted to be a Uni-vibe-like circuit. A third is configured to be a Phasefilter (2 allpass and 2 lowpass stages). Now, I could have a single pedal that encompassed all those options, but the switching and wiring to reconfigure would be nuts, prone to signal bleed issues, and necessitate an oversized and costly chassis. With a modular system, I just build 3 modules tailored to each function, knowing that I can use whichever I want, or even two or all three of them. Hell, if I was REALLY clever, I'd include a jack for patching them all to the same LFO. But the "killer app" is that I can replace any one of them without having to change the position or wiring of a single other effect. None of this "Damn! How am I going to route the daisy-chain power cable to the wah now?" garbage. The tendency for more and more manufacturers and boutiquers to use Hammond 1590B and BB-sized boxes has made life a little easier, but some have jacks on the back, some on the side, and then there are those wahs and Line 6 modeller pedals......

                          The practical constraints are really one of planning out properly. In my case, the tail (cheap faceplates of a particular size) wagged the rest of the dog, but if you start from scratch, you can plan out a system that allows you to use faceplates that come in "multiples", analogous to 1U, 2U and 3U rack panels. On my 2.5 x 54 panels, I can stick 2 jacks, 4 pots and a couple of toggles on and still have room for my fingers. I suppose I could go with 2 or 3 pots and more toggles if need be. But a 5-pot/2-toggle device is pretty much a nonstarter unless I have a bigger faceplate. Keep in mind that the faceplates would need to be multiples of the same basic size, since you'd need to be able to attach the plate to pre-drilled holes at standard locations. That's where the planning comes into it.

                          Actually, now that I think of it, you reminded me - I probably need to make a utility module that does order flipping on the fly.


                          • #14
                            The closest anyone has come to it in recent memory is the rather bold attempt by Line 6 with the Tonecore series: which would allow users to design their own modules to stick in the Tonecore docks, and use in conjunction with the existing Tonecore series.
                            That is really cool! Thanks for posting it. Now I just wish I had 200 bucks laying around and some spare time.


                            • #15
                              I'm normally a fingers-strings-wood-tubes-speaker kind of guy, but I am impressed by Mark's modular system. :-)

                              I've been waiting for the Tonecore DDK to come out, and I ordered one, with any luck it'll arrive in the UK some day. I do a fair amount of DSP in my day job, so hopefully I'll get somewhere with it.

                              Mark, what do your "EPFM Switch" modules do?
                              "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"


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