Los Angeles–based producer and technophile Scott Eric Olivier recently debuted a new product called the PEDALpUNK! This guitar pedal–sized device works principally as an all-analog interface for re-amping or processing tracks with guitar pedals, but it can also function as a DI box or as a standalone saturation/overdrive unit. The anarchy symbol used for the "A" in its name connotes the hidden mojo of this innocent-looking, white box.
On the surface, the PEDALpUNK! solves the problem of re-amping recorded audio tracks through guitar pedals, or any other device that works with instrument-level signals, like my old rackmount DeltaLab Effectron II delay. The PEDALpUNK! takes in an analog line-level signal (XLR or TRS) and converts that signal to a guitar-level (1/4'') output to send to an effects box. Simultaneously, the PEDALpUNK! takes in a guitar-level input (from the aforementioned effects box) and converts it back to a balanced line-level (XLR or TRS) output. This allows a roundtrip path from your DAW (or mixer), out to guitar-level effects pedals, and back into your DAW.
We all know that a simple, passive direct box may be used for re-amping line-level sources via a guitar amp or pedal, right? While a DI box can work in a pinch, passive DIs cause some problems that limit our possibilities. The first problem is that a direct box normally lowers the signal level of an instrument to that of a microphone — a passive DI is basically a 10:1 transformer. Used in reverse, the DI box takes the DAW's output and hits the guitar amp at an extremely high level — possibly as high as +25 dBu. That will surely overdrive any guitar amp or pedal, unless we bring the DAW's output control down by at least 20 or 30 dB. Second, a DI in reverse results in an impedance mismatch that may cause some guitar amps or pedals lacking built-in buffering to sound more thin, bright, or buzzy than usual.
PEDALpUNK! solves the above problems and expands the tonal possibilities by providing an active level control on the send to the guitar pedal, enabling the user to optimize, overdrive, or underdrive the pedals or amps being used. Further, the PEDALpUNK! provides a Focus knob which changes its output impedance as seen by the pedal or amp, effectively providing a tone control before the effects unit. Focus mainly affects pedals without buffered inputs, but also affects many guitar amplifier inputs. If that's not enough control for you, the PEDALpUNK! provides a Return control, which allows you to overdrive its input op-amp and gain a bit more saturation and dirt. As with most DI or re-amp boxes, the PEDALpUNK! also provides ground lift and polarity switches.
In the studio, I patched an unused input and output of my Pro Tools HD interface into the PEDALpUNK!, which then allowed me to use the PEDALpUNK! as an analog insert on any track. Alternatively, the PEDALpUNK! could be used with an analog send from the DAW and returned to a DAW input (aux input or audio track). (In the send/return case, latency may be an issue to contend with, as with any integration of analog processing while mixing in a DAW.) My first attempt at using the PEDALpUNK! was to beef up the guitars and bass on a pop/rock song where the players had recorded direct, relying on plug-in amp simulators. The sounds were decent, but by the time the drums, synths, and vocals were pumping, the guitars and bass were failing to hold up their end of the production. As an insert on bass, I first simply connected the send of the PEDALpUNK! back into its return jack and twisted the Send and Return levels on the PEDALpUNK! to dial in some transformer overdrive. I was surprised how much attitude and depth this little trick contributed to the bass. The PEDALpUNK! allowed me to quickly audition a few pedals before I settled on my trusty SansAmp Bass Driver. This combo let me dial in an aggressive bass-amp tone with the tight low-end punch of the direct recording. Later, a mono drum loop sent through the PEDALpUNK!-SansAmp combo resulted in a great drum texture that I would struggle to match with plug-ins. At extreme settings, I could get the drum loop to distort and bloom like a vintage breakbeat on vinyl. There is enough range in the Send and Return knobs to dial in shades of overdrive — from a subtle push, to fierce tonal destruction, similar to a transformer-based console channel in full overload. For those still wondering, this is where the anarchy element comes into play.
On the main electric guitar riff, I opted to re-amp through the PEDALpUNK! to a Fender tube guitar amp, and mic up the amp to get some real air. The Focus knob on the PEDALpUNK! provided a wide variation in tone, even exceeding the range available from the amp's own tone control. I was able to dial in a very full and aggressive sound on the main guitar. On a funky guitar fill, I experimented with a handful of drive pedals from DOD, Ibanez, Chandler, Hartman and F-Pedals. Between the PEDALpUNK! and the Chandler Germanium Drive, I dialed in a clean but nicely-driven funky Strat sound that suited the song perfectly, à la Prince's "Kiss."
The PEDALpUNK! also proved to be a perfect interface for some neglected studio gear, like the hipster-cool Korg Monotron Delay as well as the aforementioned vintage Effectron II, allowing me to employ some very unique chorus/phaser/flanger tricks during mixing. Having the PEDALpUNK! patched in also inspired real-time manipulations of my effects — much more fun than using a mouse or control surface. Riding the overdrive/buzz on a drum loop throughout a song or even cranking up the feedback of a delay unit into a chorus section seems so intuitive when the pedal is right next to you! With this kind of interactivity in mind, the PEDALpUNK! would be a great in a live keyboard rig or even a DJ setup, in addition to being an effective, creative, and pro-quality utility for the studio.