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If It Ain’t Broke

When it comes to new audio gear, I tend to split products into ‘things they try to sell us’ and ‘things we really need’. Frustration arises when a thing we really need isn’t amongst the ‘things they try to sell us’. Let me give you an example, one that our guitar-playing readers may well identify with. Most serious guitar amps have an effects loop. Most also have a footswitch for channel-switching or turning the reverb on and off. Why, then, do we have to go to the trouble of connecting our ‘insert effects’, such as delay or reverb, to a pair of effects-loop jacks on the rear panel of the amp? We also need to get power to those effects and then find somewhere to stand them.

I know guitar amps are pretty traditional things, but wouldn’t it be much simpler if the designers incorporated a cable with a few more cores and a multi–pin XLR to connect the footswitch to the amp, allowing the effects-loop jacks to be located on the footswitch itself? The main amp input could also be taken down to the footswitch. Of course, these jacks could still be doubled up on the amp itself for ‘old school’ use. If you use pedals, then the logical place for a footswitch is on your pedalboard. So such a simple paradigm shift would allow all your effects, including those that need to go in the effects loop, to be set up on the pedalboard with no extra wiring. Your loop effects and ‘front of the amp’ effects would patch directly into the amp footswitch, which would be fixed to your pedalboard. Indeed, if the amp manufacturers would be so obliging as to also include a decent 9V feed to the footswitch, we could power all our pedals (well, at least the Boss-compatible ones) without having to run mains to a pedalboard power supply. This would greatly reduce setup time, not to mention tripping hazards, as there would be just one cable linking the amp and pedalboard. I know that a product called the PedalSnake offered much the same thing as an add–on, but isn’t it time something so obvious was built–in as standard to eliminate unnecessary plugging in and out?

Sometimes it seems that instead of tackling what seem like obvious problems, designers can’t help but try to take something that already works perfectly well, such as the analogue mixer paradigm, and then re–invent it by trying to convince us of the benefits of a system where, for example, the user might drag coloured shapes around a three–dimensional space while wearing 3D goggles and balancing on a motion sensor platform. Me? I just want the technology to get out of my way and let me get on with the job. In the live arena, that means a quick and easy setup with the minimum of cabling and the lightest, most compact kit possible, commensurate with getting the job done. In the studio I’m happy with a big screen, a fancy mouse and my favourite DAW, but how long before someone tries to persuade me that running GarageBand on an iWatch is the cool way to go?