Anyone who’s been reading this column over the last decade will know that I’m a bit of a MIDI bunny, so I’m interested in looking at any stuff that comes along that puts a new twist in the tail of that technology – especially if it involves a guitar in some way.
To the chagrin of my bank manager I’m a bit of a guitar-gadget magpie, with a cupboard full of shiny guitar signal processors and other string-driven high-tech devices. Recently, I have been playing around with the AdrenaLinn II module, which is actually presented as a combination of a guitar processor and a drum machine. I was quite keen to look at this unit because its designer – Roger Linn – is a drum machine designer and a pretty handy guitarist as well. After playing with the unit for while, it is become pretty obvious that this product is a good deal more than just a guitar processor bolted onto a drum box.
Roger Linn’s main claim to fame is that at the beginning of the 1980s he produced the first commercial programmable drum machine to use digital samples as its sound source. After working with Akai for a while, he decided to go solo again and released the AdrenaLinn Mk 1, a guitar processor and drum box, which won a bunch of awards from US publications and critical acclaim from all round the world. The AdrenaLinn Mark II has more facilities and an improved user interface compared to its predecessor, and has a list of designers that includes music technology pioneers Dave Smith – who founded Sequential Circuits and practically invented MIDI – and Tom Oberheim, another classic synthesizer designer.
What Roger has done in the AdrenaLinn is to integrate two technologies to produce something entirely new. Another way of looking at the module would be to describe it as a ‘tempo aware’ guitar effects processor, where you can use the rhythm brain to control the time domain aspects of the effects. So instead of dealing with delays in terms of milliseconds, or filter sweeps in terms of frequency, you can now define these parameters in terms of beats and bars. The tempo reference can be generated internally from the integrated drum machine, or externally from the MIDI port, say from the tempo track of your sequencer or hard-disk recorder. While the AdrenaLinn lets you define the delays and filter modulation in terms of milliseconds (0 to 2.8 sec) and fixed frequencies (0.03 to 10Hz), it is much better adapted to dealing with these parameters in terms of the bars and beats.
The unit has two distinct functions: the guitar processor and the drum box. The processor in turn has three independent sections: a filter (or modulation) effect, guitar amplifier simulation and a delay unit. There are lots of different amplifiers to choose from, including various Boogies, Marshals and VOXs, as well as a number of custom Linn designs and couple of generic fuzz settings. There is even a Roland Jazz Chorus simulation for rhythm work and a ‘Clean preamp’ if you want to send a direct signal into your mixer. The filter section has 14 different effects to choose from, including the standard Tremolo, Pan and Flanger/Chorus effects along with an analog synthesizer type Filter, Talk Box and Volume control.
One interesting toy is an Arpeggiator function that’s triggered by the guitar output, accentuating certain notes and also generating new ones that are defined either by a pre-set or user-defined sequence. This sequencer can be used in a variety of ways depending on the effect type you are using. For instance, apart from the Arpeggiator, you can use it to control the filter cut-off point to give a sample-and-hold effect or to control the Tremolo depth or Pan position. The two-bar, 32-step sequencer is programmed in the same way as you would an old-fashioned hardware drum machine, and you can save a separate user-defined sequence in each of the 100 user presets.