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Thurston Moore's patented controlled feedback

8/18/1996 10:26 PM
Joe Jasniewski
Thurston Moore's patented controlled feedback
I guess this is as good a place as any to ask. In a record catalog entitled "Acoustic Sounds", they make referance to "Thurston Moore's patented controlled feedback" in pushing their Ultradisk copies of Sonic Youth/ Goo. After doing some searching on the net, I've yet to come up with any mention of this device or his patent.  
I'm curious what it is and how the man did it. I was working on, or more accurately playing with, a setup intended to do the same thing, about 18 years ago. Mine used a "makes anything a speaker!" type driver, screwed into my guitar, driven by its own amp.  
8/18/1996 10:43 PM

I'm sure this isn't what you really wanted (and I'm fairly sure Sonic Youth wouldn't come within 5 miles of one of these...) but there was a Boss pedal called the Feedbacker. It was in production a couple years ago, and I think it disappeared into obscurity, but it was basically an overdrive pedal that had a second overdrive that generated feedback. I think you could generate different tones of feedback depending on the note you hit when the pedal was depressed the second time. I'm sure you can find this bright orange beast in a pawnshop or music store. If not, maybe ask Roland what happened to it.  
Check it out.  
8/18/1996 10:45 PM
The code-name for the feedbacker pedal mentioned by keith is a Boss DF-1. (Same sound as a DS-1, but with the feedback option). Get hold of one of these. They'll be worth heaps one day.  
10/16/1996 12:50 AM
Jason Collins

I know it's been a while since this was originally posted but better late than never. I have been a huge Sonic Youth fan since '86, and have to say that I don't believe Thurston Moore has a patent on any feedback device. The "patented controlled feedback" was probably just a phrase the catalogue used to descibe Thurston Moore's mastery of controlling the interaction between his guitars and amps. Much of this is a result of how the wacky tunings effect how the guitar resonates. I have read at least one "Guitar Player" interview where he describes such an effect (I believe sometime in '91). - Jay
1/30/1997 10:01 PM
Yuval Shabo

I dug up a copy of "guitar for the practicing musician" ( april 94 ) for you,  
on page 30 there are a few lines on an invention by a guitarist named michael brook. he calls it the "infinite guitar" ( BS alert )  
brook: "it takes some of the signal and feeds it back into the guitar  
making it sound like it's on continuos feedback.  
but it's completely controllable" ....  
the article says he cusomized a guitar for U2's The EDGE.
6/11/1997 5:04 PM
I love Sonic Youth too, but that damn Thurston purchased a Mutron Bi-Phase  
that I had on hold at a pawn shop wile on their '95 tour. The owner said repeatedly that it was on hold and Thurston just kept trowing down $100 bills. Thurston, I still really whant a Bi-phase!
5/3/1997 7:44 PM
Mark Hammer

I recently picked up one of the Boss "Super Feedbacker Distortion" pedals in exchange for a homebrew Big Muff. As far as distortions go, the Big Muff outguns the DF-1 by miles, but the feedback function intrigued me, and I can always throw another Big MUff together on a weekend, so I swapped.  
The DF-1 has one of those cute BOSS switching setups where a quick foot-press latches the distortion effect in circuit, and holding the pedal down longer brings in the (unlatched) feedback function (along with a blinking status LED). This lets the user engage the feedback function for select portions,and disengage it while retaining the distortion.  
The distortion is so-so, as noted, and has a useful tone control that works like the BIg Muff's (honky bass through to insect noise treble). The overdrive has a modest range of voices, and the unit has lots of gain for overdriving subsequent stages.  
Now the main course. The feedback function bewilders me from a design standpoint. It is undoubtedly complex, judging from the sizable component count inside. I can think of various complicated ways to do it, but I have no idea how it gets done in this particular instance. I don't have it here in front of me, but I seem to recall that it will generate an infinitely (at least as long as you press the footswitch) sustaining note at the fundamental, and other harmonics above. I think it does a fifth and an octave. The rotary control pans between these various feedback tones. No other feedback tones are obtainable.  
Unlike conventional acoustic feedback (guitar to amp back to guitar), the DF-1 generate feedback tones at any volume independent of the amp (it can generate feedback tones while playing in your favourite headphone amp). It will also generate feedback even when the distortion is turned down, although it sounds better with the distortion turned up. With an additional distortion unit placed either ahead or after it, the feedback tones start to get interesting.  
In general, with good picking style and a hefty guitar output, the DF-1 will have about an 85% hit rate, in terms of generating feedback tones that are *precisely* the root or overtone of the note played. In this respect, it plays (though obviously doesn't *sound*) like an octave divider. The other 15% of the time the note is either a bit sharp/flat or simply the wrong note. That being said, this thing is NOT a ring modulator cranking out "surprise" notes. Most of the time you can get exactly what you want out of it (I like the way it lets me pretend I'm Jorma Kaukonen).  
It WILL respond to multiple notes (e.g., chords), but will not generate more than one note, and not necessarily one that makes sense, given the chord.  
Although I've used it at low volumes, I have not field-tested it at volumes which are - in themselves - capable of generating feedback, so I can't really say how it either potentiates, or alters, acoustic feedback.  
If you can find one around for $40, I say pick it up. Otherwise, understand that this is not a unit that you can simply turn on and forget about, while you wail away and sound swanky (e.g., like a Univibe). You have to WORK with this thing, and plan out your playing. In that respect, it may be more of a studio gadget than anything else.

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