Sound Sculpture was founded in 1986 on what was to become an unrelenting mission to create the world's finest effect and audio routing systems. Here is a synopsis of our product history on the long road to achieving that end.
The Blue Wind Switching Box
This simple stomp box was our first product. It had one input for guitar and two outputs that connected to two amplifiers. A momentary pushbutton switch allowed the guitar signal to silently switch from one amplifier to another using FET switching. Each channel had its own high gain preamp (up to 32 dB of boost) with separate gain controls for each channel and an LED to indicate which channel was on.
This box was only sold locally to artists in the Boulder area and when word caught on we ended up selling quite a few of these things. This product was discontinued in 1988 as they were costing us more to build then were were selling them for. After doing some simple math we realized that if we sold enough of these, we'd go broke!
The Programmable Effect Patch model PEP-3 (floor model) and model PEPR-3 (rack system)
After 2 years in development we introduced our first serious product family at the 1988 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim. These units were developed to allow a guitarist to integrate up to 3 effects devices. Both units had a single input for the instrument, 2 outputs to connect to amplifiers and 3 effect loops to connect to stomp boxes or rack effects.
This system was the only switching system of its kind that allowed the user to string the effects in series in any order, mix the effects in parallel, or do combinational networks such as sending the signal through one effect first, splitting the output of the effect and then sending the signal to the other 2 effects in parallel before going to the amplifier all with programmable gain and without touching a single cord.
This ability to patch the effects together in any conceivable way became a staple of our product line that continues to this day. The PEP-3 was discontinued in 1990 as MIDI devices were taking the market by storm and well....our system didn't have MIDI. Later on we did add an optional MIDI daughter board but we knew it was time to get back to the drawing board.
The MIDI Crosspatch model MC-8
In early 1991 we began shipping the most powerful effect switching system of its time, the MIDI Crosspatch. As you may have guessed we wanted everyone to know that this unit was MIDI literate (hence the name). But the real power of the MC-8 lay much deeper. This system was the first (and only) effect switching system to implement a True Matrix Design which meant anything could be connected to anything, anyway you like. Unlike the PEP series which had a dedicated instrument input and amplifier output, the MC-8 matrix allowed multiple instruments and multiple amplifiers to be connected to any of its 8 inputs and 8 outputs right along side the effects. With this type of matrix not only could all the effects be patched together any way you care to imagine but signals could also be tapped at different parts of the effect network, mixed with other effects and with new gain levels and sent to different amplifiers. If you had 4 amps connected, each could get a sound from a different part of the effects network creating amazing new sonic possibilities.
The MC-8 also had full control over the gain of each patch which meant you could control the level of the signal both going to an effect as well as the level returning from the effect. The importance of this becomes evident when you realize that the characteristics of distortion devices and preamps change when driven by different signal levels. The MC-8 was our first truly successful product and is still used by musicians around the world. It was discontinued in late 1993 to make way for the even more amazing Switchblade 16.
The Switchblade 16 (The Ultimate System)
This product was originally going to be called the "Advanced Continuous True-Matrix Programmable Audio-Routing-and-Mixing MIDI-Literate Signal-Switching System". We thought the name was a tad confusing and when a friend who knows nothing about music was asked, she said "What's it do?". When told "Well...it switches things.", her single word response, "Switchblade", became the name of the product
Although the MC-8 was an amazing device and still ahead of it's time in many ways, it was not yet the ultimate system. For one thing, eight ins and outs were simply not enough. With the coming of age of stereo signal processors that have 2 in's and 2 out's and with many musicians using 2, 3 or more amplifiers on stage and switching between guitars and other instruments, the I/O's on the MC-8 were quickly filled. So we knew the optimum system would have to go to 16 inputs and outputs. The MC-8 also exhibited a short (15ms) but nevertheless present drop-out when switching between presets to rewire the patches. If you were in the middle of a power chord and switched presets, the short dropout could easily be heard. The ultimate system would not only switch patches and adjust gains instantly but it would also not interrupt patches that happen to be the same when switching between presets (many thanks to Trey Gunn for coming up with this suggestion during the design stage).
This was not an easy task considering the number of ways the matrix could patch things together. With a considerable amount of engineering finesse we were able to incorporate these features into the Switchblade16. But it still wasn't enough. The one thing that was still missing in our past switching systems that was a must for the ultimate system was continuous control. Use presets to completely rewire and balance the levels of the effects but then use MIDI continuous controllers to crossfade between effects or swell levels within a preset. We weren't sure if this could even be done but became obsessed with the challenge of making it happen. Sure enough, it took dozens of designs scratched on scrap paper that later ended in the trash, until one design was born that could be integrated within the heart of the matrix with no compromises in sound quality or performance. Inspired by this leap in switching system design, we decided to top off this system by leaving nothing out. So a bright new LCD display was added, programmable relays to turn on and off amp reverb and overdrive, high level firmware to allow full remote control by computer for the project studio, very user friendly menus, greater bandwidth and audio levels, lower distortion and on and on.
We shipped the first Switchblade-16 in August 1993 and it quickly proved to be our hottest selling switching system. In mid summer 1998, after a long and illustrious career production of the Switchblade-16 ceased to make way for the even more amazing Switchblade GL.
The Studio Switchblade (The Ultimate System...Take Two)
In the fall of 1995, we introduced a sister version of the Switchblade 16 that was designed primarily for the recording studio and live sound venues where higher audio levels and hefty line drive capability is required. This model is identical in every respect to the Switchblade 16 except it has balanced inputs and outputs and operates at levels up to 19dBu. The 8 relay outputs (footswitch simulators) were also removed as these are not needed for the intended applications. And lastly, a VU metering system was added. The Studio Switchblade design has proven to be a best seller for audio applications in theme parks, audio art shows, performing theaters, shopping malls, and flight simulators among others. The Studio Switchblade was discontinued in 2003 and will be replaced with a high level version of the GL before the end of the year.
The New Switchblade GL (successor to the Switchblade-16)
It's awfully tough to improve upon an award winning design, but with balanced gear becoming more prevalent with guitarists we just had to offer a Switchblade designed for both balanced and unbalanced gear at the signal levels typically used by guitarists. In addition, we also wanted the new system to have the high impedance inputs that were available on the Switchblade-16.
Thus was born the Switchblade GL. (No, GL does not stand for Great Looking although the yellow and red silkscreen is a nice touch). As it turns out, the GL has some design improvements that take it beyond our original goal. First of all, we were able to increase the input impedance to a very high 1 megohm. This is way beyond the Switchblade 16's 150K impedance. With this new input, it is possible to plug high-Z devices such as piezo pickups and high-Z microphones directly into the GL. More importantly, the higher impedance virtually eliminates any loading on guitar pickups to enhance crispness and transparency. Secondly, the new channel design completely eliminates all DC offsets within the matrix. This reduces switching noise when changing presets to an unprecedented level (much lower than even the super quiet switching of the Switchblade-16) Thirdly, the VU metering system on the Studio Switchblade is now standard on the GL as well, giving you visual indication of the audio level of each input channel to optimize signals throughout your system. Finally, the signal level structure of the matrix was tweaked to improve signal noise and switching noise even further.
All in all we are very proud of the new GL and very excited about having succeeded in bringing guitar switching systems to a new level of performance. The GL is truly the most remarkable system in the world. And it's still the same price as the original Switchblade-16!!