journalist, musician, guitar geek

TC Electronic: Saviours of the stompbox?

Winter NAMM 2011 had a whole host of stompbox highlights, including Strymon’s latest mind-bending venture with the Timeline as well as some welcome additions to Malekko’s diminutive (in size only) Omicron line. However, the announcement that has me most excited comes in the form of TC Electronic’s TonePrint series: five new digital stompboxes (plus two analog drives), each with a generous number of modes, true bypass plus stereo ins and outs. On paper these are already impressive specs, especially for the price (around £100-120) but the clever folks at TC have one more trick up their already considerably lengthy sleeve: the TonePrint itself.

TonePrint is, essentially, an additional preset for each pedal which can be downloaded from the TC Electronic website. Each of the five pedals in the TonePrint series offer USB connectivity and, as a result, users have the ability to alter the default sounds hidden within the unit. Like all other presets, TonePrints can be tweaked by utilising the pedal’s individual controls but the base sound is entirely new depending on what has been downloaded to the unit.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this innovation however lies with who created the TonePrints. TC have managed to convince a number of pro guitarists to contribute their own settings, including the likes of muscular death-shred merchant John Petrucci, Doug Aldrich (you know, from Whitesnake) and Bumblefoot (“Guns N’ Roses”). While I’m sure there are thousands of people desperate to experience Bumblefoot’s “evil chorus”, this still doesn’t explain why I’m so excited for the TonePrint series. In fact, my real reason for writing this article is not because of what TonePrint will bring to the pedal arena but what it might stop.

Signature pedals: with an oversaturated signature guitar market, evil heads of marketing lured previously virtuous guitarists into giving their name to a product that people, quite simply, step on. Digitech grabbed Brian May, Eric Clapton and, erm, Dan Donegan while Dunlop have been churning out endless variations on the Cry Baby with Kirk Hammett, Slash and Jerry Cantrell models among the company’s most recent innovations. Even the dead aren’t safe from this insatiable cash-grab as both companies snapped Jimi Hendrix up for a couple of much-needed psychedelic treadle-based units.

Fortunately, should TC’s TonePrint format gain momentum, there’s a real chance that signature pedals could finally be resigned to the wastepaper bins of Digitech’s heads of department, where they belong. We could be spared from the tedious fanfare that surrounds the release of one more digital modelling pedal that the namesake artists would never touch (see Zoom’s artist series). No more would Zakk Wylde be able to promote his tepid approach to “brutal” riffs with yet another signature wah/overdrive/chorus (delete as appropriate). With TonePrint as the default configuration, artists could share the sounds they want to share and we, as guitarists, could make use of the sounds we want to hear. It’s a heart-warming thought and, for that at the very least, I thank TC Electronic (although not for their decision to leave tap tempo off the Flashback Delay). Here’s to forward-thinking and progression!

Then again, I hear that MXR also unveiled another game-changing product at NAMM.

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