January 1, 2005

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DigiTech Models Jimi Hendrix

There were ghosts at New York's Electric Lady Studios, but they were benevolent spirits, and they were happy.

The echoes of Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and others were spinning off the analog tape reels and filling the control room with history. Thirty-odd years ago, these very spaces were bursting with magic, as Hendrix-giddy with the thrill of being the first rock artist to own his own major recording studio-tracked hours upon hours of jams, songs, sketches, demos, and other aural jewels. But this was September 15, 2004, and I was being enveloped in the sounds of genius for a project that likely would have appealed to Hendrix's global citizen of love, music, and endless possibilities persona.

Under the direction of legendary studio wizard-and original Hendrix engineer-Eddie Kramer, the multitrack reels of several Hendrix hits were hauled out of deep storage and rethreaded across old-school tape decks to allow a team of DigiTech engineers to model the exact guitar tones that Jimi created to animate his songs. The end result of the technological exercise will be a stompbox-expected to debut at the January 2005 Winter NAMM Show-that gives average, everyday players like you and I access to Hendrix's transcendent tone-sculpting chops. With this pedal-developed using DigiTech's "production modeling" process that emulates all aspects of an artist's signal chain-users will be able to call up a classic Hendrix sound, and either stop right there, or use that tone as the foundation for further sonic tweaks.

The as-yet-unnamed Hendrix box is the second offering of DigiTech's Artist Series processors, which was kicked off by last year's The Weapon pedal that modeled the signature tones of Disturbed's Dan Donegan. During The Weapon's premiere at Winter NAMM 2004, the DigiTech team was tasked with compiling a wish list of artists for expanding the series, and it was company president Rob Urry who asked, "Why not Hendrix?"

Shortly thereafter, and with Kramer in tow, Harman Music Group's Buzz Goodwin and Noel Larson [HMG is DigiTech's parent company] presented the concept to Bob Hendrix of the Hendrix estate, and the pedal was greenlighted. In addition to Kramer, who is the audio consultant and spokesperson for the Hendrix project, the technical leads include DigiTech's vice-president of engineering John Hanson and DSP engineer Jeremy Geisler.

"We chose tracks to model based on technical reasons-we needed to get a great fuzz tone, a great wah tone, a great Octavia tone, and so on-as well as wanting to capture the classic sounds from songs the public is familiar with," explains Kramer. "We were basically pulling out the best parts of Jimi, and, because of this, the pedal is a marvelous tribute to him. The next generation of guitarists will be able to hear exactly how Jimi played-'Oh, that's how he got that sound.' And even the baby boomers and Saturday night heroes who have picked up a Stratocaster and wondered how he sounded the way he did will better understand how he created his tones. This pedal furthers Jimi's historical legacy by letting players learn firsthand how he achieved his sound. I think it will stun the world."

Obviously, this level of signal-chain modeling-which is designed to bestow players with the sonic signatures of master guitarists-is so heavy and so cool that it boggles the imagination. Perhaps the only thing cooler was sitting in Electric Lady's control room hearing a joyful Hendrix making his classic tracks-along with all the alternate takes, room sound, extended jams, and studio jabber. It was like communing with angels.

-Michael Molenda  

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