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patents and the big boys

5/14/2000 5:12 PM
zachary vex
patents and the big boys
you know how they say, if you want to run with the big dogs, you have to piss on a big tree. well, actually, i don't really know anyone who says that.  
but anyway, i have this dilemma i have been trying to solve this weekend and i think i reached a conclusion last night. i was asked by an independent guy working on reissue guitars for a very powerful corporation (who owns the old company name for said reissue guitars) to develop some onboard effects for his products. he has a good relationship with the parent company, they have tried, with some success, to distribute his reissue guitars in japan. i'm sure all of this is getting confusing already, but i just am not comfortable talking about the actual original guitar names and stuff until they are available in the states.  
at any rate, i did develop an effect for the guy, and he was so pleased he has been losing sleep over the thing, calling patent lawyers and such, telling me i have to protect this idea. so in his fervor he's actually got me listening to him, and i started asking some people i know who have been involved in product development for a few decades, and here is where i ended up for five hours last night:  
some of you may remember don lancaster for his books and his articles in some of the electronics magazines over the last 3 decades or more. he sparks ideas. he's a good guy. i especially like the term he has for those new laser/resin instant prototyping devices... "santa claus machines".  
anyway, there was a thread here or in the bbs's last home, aron, where people talked about patents and copyrights and such, so here's a little insight into the real murky world of patents. eww.  
zachary vex
5/14/2000 5:58 PM
zachary vex
oops, i thought i was in aron's bbs.
well, it's pertinent here too, i suppose.  
5/15/2000 4:12 PM
Jim S.

Y'all come back, okay?
5/15/2000 4:21 PM
Mark Hammer
On-board effects
This is more a comment on the wisdom of on-board effects than anything else.  
I think I have a good hunch about who is involved, and while I applaud their adventurousness (and your attempt to be discrete), there is some rather nasty industry history to consider when it comes to on-board effects. All of these are accompanied by an 8 or 16-bit sample (your choice) of a WWII fighter plane going down in the Pacific.  
- Gibson RD  
- Epiphone professional  
- Guitorgans (or whatever the hell it was called) from Vox and other companies  
- Gretsch's Chet Atkins model with the on-board phaser  
- St. Louis Music's MPC line  
There are more (I think there is even a Les Paul model or two), but I have yet to see one of these hang in there as a viable model, despite how well-designed they are. There are chances worth taking, and chances not worth taking, and unless there is some wierd quirk of a particular market that can be exploited, and minimal tool-up time and resources required, I'd advise anyone to stay the hell away from on-board effects.  
My reasons (concurred with by Craig Anderton in a 1979 article I wrote for DEVICE on the same topic):  
1) Batteries: Unless battery life is fantabulous, most people will find the need to get into the body to change batteries on a regular basis objectionable. Gigging musicians will invariably circulate stories about reliability issues the first time someone has a battery crap out on them because they left the cord plugged in too long. Compartments that require more than a thumbnail to get into will result in marring of the finish if you have to get in often (admittedly, this latter one is a barrier that can be gotten around with some thought).  
2) FX ordering: There is always a first, but I've never seen an FX-equipped axe where the order of effects could be reversed. Even where there is only one on-board effects, that one always comes on first in the signal chain. If you can live with it (e.g., compressor), fine, if not, tough.  
3) Switching: Switching FX with your hands instead of your feet is cumbersome. True, you don't need patch cords, but the option to engage an effect for a moment/riff is eliminated by sticking it on the guitar.  
3) Limited choice: Anything that fits inside a guitar will, unless the world as we know it changes drastically, be of a proprietary format. I *have* to like the effects made available by manufacturer X, or else I'm SOL. *IF* the manufacturer has thought this one out and is ready to introduce a line as extensive as any of the major stompbox manufacturers, then the problem is largely solved, but I can't see that happening. I would expect, at most, 6-8 modules from the developer/manufacturer, and product support for a max of 2 years before it peters out. Imagine the musician reconciled to a single local music store that carries 3 or 4 of the modules. Normally, they could buy whatever wah or phaser was sold in town and be happy with it, but in this case they need specific ones. Yes, I know all about e-commerce, but not everyone uses it or WILL use it (I know I've lost my own enthusiasm for it).  
If there was a standard created, and second party developers could supply modules without having to pay a license fee or some such rot, then maybe it could survive beyond 2 years. But as long as players who like the guitar as a guitar end up saying "Geez, I wish I could stick my XYZ in there, or buy something that sounded like my XYZ", then expect to see the lifespan of the product grow ever shorter.  
4) Limited control: There is a finite limit to how many pots and switches you can stick on a guitar before it becomes a) too cluttered to play with, b) too damn heavy, c) too confusing with a whole bunch of unlabelled knobs, d) too expensive to machine in anticipation of knobs and switches. Many FX are hopelessly unsatisfying with less than 3 controls at one's disposal, some need no more than 2 to be just fine. What happens to the extra holes? What do you do with the extra controls?  
If what you're working on is an exceptional product (and I think I speak for all of here when I say we have complete confidence in you to do that), then pursue it. Unless the manufacturer has gotten over the hurdles described above, I say back away very carefully, then run. In my view, on-board effects will never get past the point of what you see on an electro-acoustic pre-amp; i.e., stuff you would leave on all the time, and would need regardless of what music you like to play.
5/16/2000 2:43 AM
Jody Robinson

Just a comment on your issue #1...  
If you own a Zvex effect, you know its a rare occasion that you have to change the battery.  
Thanks, Zac, from someone who just can't get it through his head to unplug that jack.
5/16/2000 6:14 AM
Eric H

" Epiphone professional"
Dang, Mark, not too many are familiar with that one!  
Bought one in '70 (it's a '63 or '64) with most of the controls ripped out, and the mini-buckers replaced with DeArmond single-coils (never could figure that one). 4 fret-jobs (had to learn somewhere) 3 re-finishes, 1 scalloped fingerboard, 1 replaced fingerboard (heheh), MANY pickup changes (4 mini-toggles, and a 2p6t rotary in '76) and it's a real bastard now: ivory with red and purple sunburst (I filled the cut-out areas of the top with fiberglass) the fingerboard is 1 7/8" at the nut (had to add maple fillets to the neck to widen it) Fender scale-length (!) It looks and sounds fantastic --though it doesn't sound much like a 335 (far better than when I bought it).  
Sorry about the off-topic.  
5/16/2000 1:10 PM
Mark Hammer

"Bought one in '70 (it's a '63 or '64) with most of the controls ripped out"  
Given the date of purchase, I think that kind of says it all about on-board effects. 1970 precedes the era when people were just itching to throw on knobs and switches, so obviously (at least to me, anyways) the previous owner had yelled "FORGET THIS!!" at some point (nice use of TV dubbing dialogue, eh?), out of frustration, rather than out o desire to replace the on-board electronics with something even spiffier.  
Congratulations on your courageous stewardship of a vintage piece into exciting new territory. (That's a compliment)  
Those skinny Epiphone necks are a bugger, aren't they? My Coronet from the same period ('63-'64) has a similar type of neck, and its the most unstable thing you'd ever want to play. I refretted with wider tang frets than the originals to add some stability. It worked up to a point, but there is only so much you can do. More to the point, over the last few years, my fingers have gotten stiffer and less nimble, and what used to be merely a nuisance for playing (getting in between the strings in crowded spaces) is now starting to turn into an impossibility.
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