Background and Development
Creating the candela vibrophase
During the early winter of 2015 we were preparing for the 2016 Winter NAMM show and I decided to start working on a phaser/vibrato, one thing we've never had in our lineup before. As I came close to completing the socketed prototype I came to a sudden and dismaying realization… I had just reinvented the wheel. My sadness shifted to anger over somehow losing my way with my company's vision, and then I had a flash of insight. We've been hand-painting and decorating pedals with steampunk-inspired artwork over the last couple of years, and I considered how exciting it could be to use as much 1800s technology as possible to build a guitar effect. A real steampunk guitar effect.
I needed a mechanical method for modulation so my first research was for model steam engines and I quickly shied away from them when I found that they need three fluids (water, regular oiling, and alcohol), and that they have a tendency to blow up. I settled on the Stirling engine, designed in 1816 and celebrating it's 200th anniversary. It can be built with lifetime lubrication and only uses hot air for it's mechanical drive. Also, it requires so little heat that it can be operated off a candle, which provided me with light for solar cells to power the circuit. Now I didn't need a battery either. Initial tests with the Stirling engine and solar cells told me exactly how much mechanical power and electrical power I had to work with, so I built up a new current-starved circuit that operated pretty much at the minimum and maximum impedance limits for great sound with very little power. When I completed the circuit I took my trusted sales staff into my darkened lab and controlled the circuit with a waving flashlight substituting for the candle and rotary control. It got rave reviews. Erik Sexe was playing guitar and he exclaimed "It makes everything sound like a song!"
My next task was to build up the mechanical parts. My excellent and talented friend Mike has a machine shop in his basement so I scheduled 10 days with him and went to a metal supplier to pick out various pieces of brass as I imagined what I'd need to make it work. I had a drawer full of brass balls of various diameters which I'd used in previous experiments years ago so I grabbed them too. When I arrived at Mike's I dropped a box full of brass on his workbench and he asked me "Where are the drawings?" I shook my head and pointed at my temple. "Up here." He was laughing and said he couldn't work without drawings, so I walked over to his milling machine and pointed at a couple of metal locking levers and said "Can you make these?" He nodded, I handed him a long piece of brass rod, and he went to work. I went to make drawings and met up with him the next day, where there were 8 beautiful brass levers on his bench waiting. We spent 77 billable hours in the shop, probably a lot more spent doing setups and building tools to hold parts… round parts are hard to hold in a vise. We finished it the day before the flight to the show and it worked perfectly on the first try. I was elated.
The NAMM show reception was incredible. We demoed it all day for 4 days straight, going straight from one demo to the next and my voice started to blow out but hung in there. We had at least 10 people tell us it was the best thing at the show! Incredible. And it really sounded amazing. Until the Candela, I've never made a modulation effect that makes the amp sound like it's floating around spinning. It's honestly the first time I've heard a mono source that sounds stereo through a single speaker. It must be because it has a physically spinning modulation source but I can't really explain it. You have to be in front of it to believe how 3-D it sounds. When we were shooting the demo video Erik said "I could play through this all day." If he had two candles, he absolutely could.