The Future of Wishful Thinking

Coming soon to a star system near you!

Last week I dared all incautious chumps you to prognosticate about our guitaristic future. I knew the resulting comments thread would be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be that fun!

And also oddly uplifting. Future predictions just seem to skew in an optimistic direction, perhaps because you have to start by assuming that we have a future. So for every funny post suggesting that the most stupid and obnoxious aspects of today’s musical culture will get even more stupid and obnoxious, there’s a complementary positive perspective. In the future, these upbeat dreamers argue, we wil be better…stronger…faster. Of course we’ll have the technology! Better still, we’ll develop common sense.

Granted, some of the predictions are destined to be as disappointing as a 1948 issue of Popular Mechanics, with its broken promises of personal helicopters and monkey butlers domestic robots. But would it be preferable never to have dreamt of having you own jetpack? I think not!

Here’s a fine, optimistic example from Thecoslar, writing about “Lego” Pedals and Amps:

Standardized wiring “harnesses” and interchangeable components will allow companies to produce amp cabinets and pedal cases that consumers will purchase, in addition to compartmentalized circuits. The consumers will “design” their own pedals and amps by mixing and matching that various parts. Combine an optical compressor and a germanium boost. An octave up and a chorus. And that’s just pedals. Imagine what could be done by mixing and matching tone stacks, reverb and delay, or pre amp circuits in amps? Built in analog effects your amp, just by plugging in the components. Everyone and anyone will be able to piece together their own custom circuit, no solder, no muss, no fuss.

Yeah, that would be frickin’ awesome. Of course, we happen to live in a world with at least four common types of USB connectors, no standardized guitar wiring harnesses, and where millions of consumers sigh as they fork over yet more cash for the latest proprietary i-connector. But we can dream can’t we?

Hell yeah, we can! I hope you’re enjoying the conversation as much as I am.

(The fun’s not over, BTW — keep posting your predictions.)

8 comments to The Future of Wishful Thinking

  • ezcomes

    the amp that Thecoslar predicts is kind of already in its infancy, isn’t it? That’s kind of the Randall Kirk Hammett head…

    • joe

      Well, the grandaddy of that design philosophy is the Seymour Duncan convertible amp from the ’80s, which a) made extremely innovative use of modular design and b) was never a great economic success. Stompbox-wise, there’s Zachary Vex’s Invento Box, and yes, Devi Ever’s Console.

      Maybe I’m reading more into Thecoslar’s words than was intended. I suppose the DREAM of that sentiment is some sort of standard of interchangeable components, as opposed to one manufacturer offering a model where you can swap out a few parts.

      • Thecoslar

        That’s the eventual goal. Everything made so that anyone can get the exact sound they want with parts from wherever they choose. The products flying around now just give me hope that a universal standard will one day emerge, even if that’s decades into the future.

  • Thecoslar

    Yup. Plus, the Console- designed by Devi Ever but supported by a large number of companies- should be rolling out in May. These are all steps in the right direction. I the rise of small companies and individual builders is going to quicken the modularization and standardization of effect and amp circuitry. The largest companies just want to make money. They want you to buy THEIR proprietary system. The little guys just want to build shit that people will use. The products out now allow for a great deal of customization and tweaking, but imagine twenty years from now. It sounds like wishful thinking, but with the upswing in the popularity of small manufacturers and the recent economic downturn, smaller companies will start looking for flexible solutions to cut costs and create products that larger companies can’t or won’t compete with. Totally possible and- with the continued rise of DIY communities like this one- even probable.

    • Thecoslar

      That should read “I think the rise of small companies…”
      I always get so excited on threads like this, and then I forget how to type.

      • mwseniff

        It would be nice to have the ability to edit after posting like in the forum so I don’t look like an illiterate unnecessarily.

        • joe

          Sorry man — I know. I would have chosen a different forum plug-in if I knew this one had that limitation. And now I don’t want to change for fear of losing all the archival stuff. But the lack of user-editable posts KILLS me.


  • mwseniff

    As a long time service tech I tend to see some problems. The connectors needed to make the plug in modules easily switchable will always be the weak link. You really need to use extremely good quality parts which is expensive to do. In my experience connectors can account for a high percentage of the failure rates of electronic devices. For musical instrument equipment the problem is aggravated due to the conditions in which they are used, the amount the are moved around and in amplifiers you need to add in the fact that amplifiers are getting a good shaking from their proximity to speakers. IMHO the shaking of a tube amp actually contributes to the sound in a good way but definitely puts extra strain on the components. The more modularity you add the more connector problems will occur. I have seen a few Seymour Convertibles and they are nice amps but the problems were 85% in the connectors. Anyone that has had a tube amp for any long period of time has experienced tube socket problems along the way. When you add in running high voltage and currents thru the connectors it gives a whole new range of failures. When modular TVs were invented in the 70’s the main service repair was cleaning, re-tensioning and replacing module contacts it created a whole new class of repairs and a lot of busy TV shops which was the problem it was supposed to solve in the first place. There are good connectors like those from Burndy that have very robust bodies with good physical attachment and pins/sockets that are very different that the stamped gold flashed stuff we typically see. You need a multi-step plating using layers of copper. nickel and finally gold to achieve really durable usage. Even then you always have the problem of oxidized metals from the base metals growing like whiskers up thru the gold which has tiny pores in the surface, this can be minimized by very heavy gold plate in several layers and a good coat of cramolin to help keep it sealed but again it costs a lot of $$.

    These problems are not quite so critical with designs like Devi Ever’s cartridge system since it is low voltage and current but I think even that will have problems since it will typically sit on the floor with people hitting the switches with dirty shoes and people dropping ashes from all kinds of cigarettes. I prefer separate preamps and power amps to something like the convertible or even relay switching to change the circuitry (assuming the use of nitrogen charged sealed relays with good gold contacts). I know it’s a buzzkill but I have seen the reality and it ain’t pretty. Unfortunately the bean counters always seem to sway somebody in power by cutting costs because it looks good on paper. If you build 10,000 units and show a savings of $100 or more per unit using cheaper connectors (and that is a low ball price by my experience) that’s easily a million dollars that the owner thinks will be a very nice little yacht sitting in his local harbor. That might sound outrageous but I did a project that required the use of a really good Burndy connector to interface a computer with an Electron Paramaganetic Resonance spectrometer to a computer for data acquisition and analysis I found a great deal and paid $137 for a connector body and $25 for pins if I bought 10 or more combos at a time (there was very little price break after that) but it was tough writing a check (that was in 1989). The units I built sold for $800 with some circuitry to match levels and some digital circuits to prep and lock the system to interface with the data board in the PC (the data board and software were on top of that) but the only competition was $13K to $15K so the customers were very happy ( I did make pretty good money). There was another version that used 2 of those connectors that went for $1200 but it had more complex circuits in it.

    I am not saying it’s impossible but it’s not as easy as it looks to make something reliable. Getting a bad rep for reliability is a death sentence for a business especially in the music biz.

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