Some time ago, unexpectedly, a package of teutonic origin has been delivered to our editorial office. To be honest, somehow we came in contact with Vibesware by Wedemark (Germany), but little did we know that they would be sending us some of their products in order to test them…
Once we’ve opened the box, we take out a strange hooked thing in the shape of a flexible pipe for microphone stands, a little box similar to a guitar pedal, a constant voltage 12 volts/350 mA power adapter, a guide manual and a demo cd-rom… So, we’re getting ready to test this Marcus Pahl’s creation (the Vibesware company’s founder), curious about both the unusual hardware layout and by the possibility to test a magnetic field-based resonator, one of the least common gadget for guitar. The area of application for the “magnetic sustainer” can be considered as confined as well unexplored. We’re talking about –usually- difficult-to use gear and, all things considered, obviously aimed at very unique timbre results. On the other hand it’s just their timbre peculiarity, which has some kind of similarity to strings’ one, to make them reason of a real sound-based research in new musical directions for the guitarist figure.
Among the well-known predecessors in this field, we all know the legendary E-bow.
Invented toward the end of 1970, the E-Bow has been considered the real “magnetic plectrum” par excellence for its relatively small dimensions, for its battery power unit, as well as for its suitability to any steel-stringed instruments. The E-Bow’s success is therefore related to its “manageability” as well as a rather moderate sale price. Used by many guitarists (I suggest you to check again the awesome Pat Metheny’s use of it during the live “The Way up”), the E-Bow shows several structural and functional limitations though. First of all, since it keeps the thumb and the index finger busy (so an entire hand), it requires a completely alternative use to the plectrum. Besides it needs an absolute preciseness in terms of position within its two longitudinal edges which will contain the two adjacent strings to the one that is to (re)sound. By this mechanic positioning, it follows that the E-Bow is able to work just one string at a time and the string switches –still possible- result difficult to do and entail some certain level of familiarity. Further structural limitations come from some sort of slow attack of the effect (although not in every modalities of use) and from the necessity, in order to take advantage of its best performances on the electric guitar, to involve the pickup, lower the volume and turn off the tones. In short: The E-Bow is as much practical as difficult to use, it requires one hand playing, works on one string at a time and needs guitar regulations which, allegedly, have to be completely checked in the end. Everything said above explains for which predominant purpose this device is used in a recording studio.
The family of the magnetic resonators has been renewed by the introduction of the pickup/Sustainers. In terms of electronics, the same applies for this device but, from a structural point of view, it differs in the fact that it consist of an electronic card which is integrated inside the guitar. This card receives signal from bridge pickups, amplifies it and sends it back to them by magnetic field generated in phase. It’s simply a “receiving” pickup (the guitar one which is “affected” by the magnetic field variations caused by the strings) and a “transmitting” pickup (the sustainer, as said, which “stimulates” the pickups even more -and the string themselves- generating the magnetic loop. Nothing more than what happens between speakers and instrument strings when the Larsen effect is enabled; with the (remarkable) difference that the mechanical air-string loop is replaced by a magnetic loop, whose preciseness and steadiness is indisputable because of environmental factors (room, mechanical proximity and positioning distance from the source, performance volume, speakers frequency response and amplification phases, guitar and pickup resonance frequency, and so on). The good things about the Sustainers lie in that fact that it’s possible to use both hands and mainly it allows a polyphonic use of it. Among the cons, or rather the limitations, there is the fact that needs a “dedicated” guitar make an “on/off” use of it, which means that you must have to disable the device in order to bring back the standard use of the instrument.
As much as the “monophonic” E-Bow works on every instrument (also on an acoustic guitar), so the “polyphonic” Sustainer requires a “native” guitar or a card and pickup integrated on a standard instrument. And both of them will give us trouble at the end, when needing to physically put away one and disable the other.
Vibesware Guitar Resonator GR-1
And here we go with the strange hooked thing we received at the editorial office.
As you could have guessed by the picture, the GR-1 is completely an external Sustainer, with the first and incomparable positive option in letting use both hands. But that’s not all: we will be able to choose to use our plectrum or our fingers, to play single notes or chords (triads, to be precise) and to use our favourite guitar and pickups. But there is more: the ability to enable or disable the effect simply getting close or space out from the device. To sum it up, it’s about practicality made in Germany besides the usual teutonic compactness, as we are getting ready to describe it about the hardware interface.
When I took this device in hand I immediately though: “No, I have to weigh it! ”. The over 1,2 Kg of teutonic grace are distributed among the control stomp-box, the flexible pipe –at the end of which the magnetic transducer is placed- and the power supply. The small and sturdy pedal, in a painted black aluminum case, features three audio inputs/outputs, a power input, a power control knob and two switches. The connections are completely intuitive and require the standard guitar input, an amplifier output and an additional jack to connect the pedal itself to the transducer. Keep in mind that the latter connection needs a stereo cable. The power control knob controls the “sensibility” of the device, in other words the amount of signal coming from the guitar pickups and sent back to the strings in the form of variable magnetic field.
The flexible pipe has a screw attack hole and requires a very standard microphone stand so that it can be placed at the height of the instrument strings. Once the connections are setup, by positioning the power control knob in “flat” mode and pushing the switch to enable the effect, we can notice that a led lights up at the transducer extremity, flashing in time as much as our plectrum works.
Unfortunately our test, though very long, happened in a rather “noisy” environment, which means during a rehearsal session with the band. In this context I found it quite hard to estimate the stomp transparency when the effect were disabled but I got the feeling that the incoming signal has been reproduced with good fidelity.
Actually, in a live context, this GR-1 is really intuitive and lets you forget about the trouble with other kind of devices, as long as some minimum requirements are met, such as:
– Respecting some sort of transducer perpendicularity to the strings involved in resounding;
– providing a minimum distance (about thirty centimeters) between the transducer itself and the selected pickup on the instrument (neck/middle/bridge).
Except for this last “unfettered zone”, we will be able to point the “hooked thing” to the strings of the instrument and for all their length along the guitar neck, and depending on the “contact” point, to take out fundamentals and harmonics as we like. The problem with the “pointing” for this device is made easier by the led placed at the transducer extremity which will guide us –even in the deep dark of a stage- during a performance. This kind of situation is even more encouraged by the excellent transducer’s sensitivity (on top of that adjustable via knob), which doesn’t require the old micrometric settings which provide, especially in distortion process, precise attack and fantastic feedback. Since we don’t have to obey to any minimum distance rules (let’s say that again: For the E-Bow it is guaranteed by the two longitudinal guiding edges), Vibesware suggests to set the volume control on “wide open”, which will help to get back to the standard use of the guitar whenever we get off from the transducer capturing range.
Another side of the VibesWare, which is not secondary at all, is that we will be able to forget with this device the undesired “slide” effects or the other mechanical noises caused by contact devices like the E-Bow. The VibesWare is “invisible” and only asks us to “illuminate” the string we want to play exactly in the part of its length we want it to resound.
The overall concept about the device which requires the microphone positioning is the real revolutionary thing about it. While performing feedbacks we could make the “light” of the GR-1 run over the entire string length, getting different resonant harmonics for several points. The GR-1 paves the way to a “dynamic” use of the feedbacks, overcoming the limitations involved with previous devices which, from this point of view, happen to be more static and mono-directional in terms of expressivity.
And now our Vibesware, since transmitting in magnetic form the main note which corresponds to the one we play on the instrument, will meet, during its meandering on the fingerboard, several string “segments” which will produce as many harmonics.
Our stomp, once again, gives us the chance to choose to produce a magnetic field in phase or in phase-contrast towards the one “received” from the pickup, achieving a different result in terms of additional harmonics produced.
This Vibesware gave us real satisfaction and lots of fun, especially during distortion session where one can try unconventional solos in terms of aesthetics. It’s a well-built and easy-to-use device which could surely find an immediate place within ordinary contexts, both live and studio. But this type of device will lend itself also to reasoned use both in terms of experimentation phase and involving the use of additional effects or, at least, falling back upon alternative electric instruments to the guitar. Some “sacrifice” is represented by the fact that the hardware is a bit cumbersome and this will add to the usual amount of guitar belongings, as well as a not-so-immediate wiring process. The sale price, 339,00 Euros, designes this device for those who foresee with enough clarity a path for its use. But we guarantee that the outlay is justified by the overall structure quality as well as by the innovative concept behind this device. For those who are interested in mingling into the Vibesware world, spending about one-third less, there is an available simplified version of this device (the GR-Junior) whose sale price (139,00 Euros) is extremely reasonable.
What to say, after all? Is it worth buying?
We think so, at least considering a potential need in language development and new timbre research within the very much devalued world of the electric guitar. After all, we all know that, it’s a matter of times when it comes to music…Sooner or later some artistic leader will demonstrate what this kind of instrument is capable of and which use one can make of it. Till then, we will be at death’s door, and sleepy…And when everything is clearer, we’ll all begin studying loop and feedback with a will. Indeed seduced by an irresistible magnetic attraction.
Until next time. Bruno Mazzei
• enabling effect mode
• multiplicity of harmonics that can be reproduced
• mechanical toughness
• assembly for the device use
Italian distributor: N/A
Price: 399,00 Euros
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice