Every town of any size has at least one guitar tech guy slaving away in a garage and making cool stuff. Amps or pedals - creating, tweaking, figuring out how things work. I saw one guy build stomp boxes from old tuna cans. There are some bizarre things out there that sound great and are far off the beaten path. Two such products are from Chris Johnson of Wilmington, Vermont. He has built a couple of guitar DIs that add their own tone to the signal - sort of like a SansAmp or POD. He was kind enough to let me try out both the Clean and Dirty versions. Physically, they are nearly identical: Black plastic boxes, roughly the size of a garage-door opener, with an input jack, an output jack, and a 9V battery compartment. That's it. No knobs, lights, buttons or controls. Think minimalism. The Clean DI I liked a lot. It had just a bit of grain, or drive, but not too much. I tracked a bunch of rhythm parts with it and they sat very well with the rest of the instruments. My favorite use was on a "tack guitar" part that doubled the bassline in some country swing stuff. Tonally, it was perfect. It was also pretty cool with a steel guitar. The Dirty DI I found a bit too heavy in the fuzz/grind dept. I'm sure it'll be useful in some situations, just not the ones I've been doing lately. These boxes do not follow the "one box does everything" premise. Instead, each box aims to do one thing and do that one thing well. The only way to modify tone is by changing the volume/tone on the guitar (or duh, by trying a different axe). Pretty cool stuff. At this writing, only the Clean and Dirty models were available - a Bass DI was in the works. $100 each.

(chrisj@airwindows.com, www.airwindows.com)

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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