Return to Invention

2004-2006:

I got the core idea of electronically controlling physical vibrations to make things sound different way back in 1979 while experimenting with basic sustain systems. It was certainly an idea  ahead of its time – in 1979 I could prove the invention worked, but certain electronic components didn’t yet exist in the right form to make it practical.

It wasn’t until 2000 that it became realistically doable. In 2004 I relocated to North Carolina and set up a lab in Raleigh where expenses were low and there were few interruptions.

Component technology progresses...

Components like resistors and capacitors were getting smaller, DSPs and micro-controllers were getting faster and less expensive, analog transistors and switching devices were being made more perfect and thermally efficient. Armed with these new components and a growing practical knowledge of commercial product development, I felt ready to engineer a practical portable version of my invention that guitarists could enjoy.

I chose to focus on the guitar – on strings – because strings are such beautiful physical resonators, and because the guitar is an instrument that has been continually evolving and branching out in new directions. And because I play guitar. And as a guitar player I always wished I could have perfect, even, strong sustain on every note and interesting tones to play!

Unlike a sustainer, this system could both start and stop guitar string vibrations.  You can’t just reverse the field on any sustainer and stop the strings. This is the difference between a sustainer and a control system. Technically this is a sensoriactuator, a motion controller where the actuator and the sensor are collocated and perfectly reciprocal. This one produced nearly perfect sustain with no dead spots, evenly across all strings and frets and with high power and fast response. It also provided elementary “tone” control over the sustain timbre. This was a good, solid demonstration of the basic invention and lots of fun to play.

Economic Factors

Developing new technology is expensive, much more than for example taking time to write a book. You need specialized equipment, pricy engineering software, custom tooling made, etc. Thanks to my previous career in California I was able to fund myself without outside investment. For the next two years I focused on creating a single working instrument.

I always thought in terms of partnering with the right company to bring it to market.  I’d been thinking and researching potential partners for some time. Moog was always at the top of my “Doing the Unexpected” list.