On Tools. Featuring guitar pedals, cattle growing and math

The Idea

Bear with me during all the technical and guitar lingo, and keep reading because there is a point.

After few last weeks of obsessively investigating guitar pedals, because of: “what should i get this year for my birthday?” i decided to change some parts of my guitar setup and long story short I ended up with only 1 analog pedal in my setup, which like everybody knows is too little, so I came up with an idea: i could build my own guitar pedal that i can tweak and make custom and unique sounding, Lets Go!

Do I need to Grow Cattle?

After some web browsing on DIY analog pedal building and schematics, figured out that an analog pedal is not really worth, because without knowledge of analog electronics i will just end up building up some schematic i find on the web without truly understanding it and thus limiting my power to improve it.

So maybe a better idea is to do instead a software guitar pedal, where i can do all the programming and thus be in a better position to tweak it to create my own sounds. Right? Wrong!

I had a look at the audio plugin programming world and looked to me like: incompatible platforms, buffers, streaming, real-time, whole new set of programming environments to learn, etc etc… a big mess… i don’t care about all that, i just want to play around with sound design ideas.

Is like wanting to make my own pizza, but for the cheese I have to grow cattle, get the milk and make the cheese. When what i really want, is just play around with different cheeses and ingredients to create my own pizza. Its a whole different set of skills and goals…

Finding Gold

Then at some point landed on a page that described mathematical models of “amplifier tubes” and realized, this is a model simulating a real sound behavior, so is exactly focused on the right thing, and also, a theoretical math model stands the test of time, it can be implemented in any computer simulation or even in a stand alone digital chip. The math modeling work is truly platform independent and without expiration date, this is real gold.

And look at the implementation side of it. Implementing is actually monkey / mechanical work, i.e. nothing new about implementing a math formula in a programming language and besides, most of the effort will unfortunately be on the audio plugin programming environment(the growing cattle part)… on top of that, even if I implement it on the current most modern platform, most likely will only be running for a couple of years, because when a new audio plugin platform arrives, it gets incompatible, and i will have to do it again… Also, i don’t wanna go trough all the cattle growing process just to find at the end that actually that model does not work as i though… There has to be a better way…

Making it Real

Then again, just the Math by itself will not make my new guitar pedal, so we still need something else that will run that theoretical model on the computer… Finally i stumbled on guitar effects simulations made in Matlab, looked at the source code… and… Brilliant! Short and directly to the point, high level algorithm implementation of audio effects. This is great, it will allow to try out the math models i found before much easier & quicker compared to using the full stack of audio plugin development.

With the caveat that Matlab is not really suited for building a production-standard-final-product, is targeted instead at creating a working prototype, which is perfectly fine, because if the models really work out well then, and only then, i could create a company, get investors / money and hire someone who knows better and is interested about the cattle growing part more than me to create that production-standard-final-product and maintain it.

In the meanwhile with math and quick prototyping tool i can focus just on modeling and trying out guitar pedal ideas.

The point: Tools are the means to an end, not the end itself, and this is very easy to forget. Tools are not the end goal. But tools do matter, a bad tool can distract you from focusing on the right things and slow you down, but a good tool, can make you work in a better way and get to the goal faster.

A suficiently different and good tool, can make you think differently.


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