Webster's defines Spicetone 6Appeal as the quality or state of one having owed to the properties of...
Hmm... no, that won't work.
The Spicetone 6Appeal is Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones.
No, that's not it.
The Spicetone 6Appeal is like a digitall-controlled, all analog GR-100 that is completely unlocked in some respects, but is missing an internal envelope trigger.
Getting there, but not quite.
The Spicetone 6Appeal is a hex fuzz with filter, LFO, and step sequencer that can be controlled digitally via MIDI. It's like a vintage
got thrown into that box from the Transformers movie that turns simple devices into sentient monsters
. This makes it a powerful sound design component for hexaphonic guitar that is a throwback in a lot of ways: 1) it is meant as a core component in a larger system, 2) it is very hands-on, with knobs and buttons for every control - a welcome relief for those who complain about the 1980's LCD screen paradigm that still rules mainstream guitar gear 3) it can be the starting point of monster sounds, and 4) it will require some learning and experimentation for the end user in order to work with it deliberately - with purpose, and 5) people like me, seeing it without a firm frame of reference will struggle to pinpoint exactly what it is and what it's good for.
I'm going to start describing this unit with some lists, the second of which is features. I'm doing this because potential owners of a 6Appeal are going to have to evaluate the unit as it functions as part of a whole sound design system, using additional tools of choice, with which the 6Appeal will easily integrate - it is designed well in that regard.Simple Demo
- First, consider this simple demo, which uses nothing but a generic Logic drum track, the 6Appeal, and a few effects in Logic (e.g. Guitar Amp). Here is the list of steps I took to create this very basic track:
- The real first step was the choice to make a very conventional-sounding demo. Listening to the demos already in circulation when I reviewed this device, it seemed there was a kind of generic synthiness to the demos in general. While I'm the biggest synth geek I know, including all my keyboardist friends, I wanted to show that the 6Appeal can be used as part of a deliberate sound design toolset, driving it in any direction the user chooses. Therefore I chose to make a demo of utterly conventional sounds.
- Plugged in a GK-3 equipped guitar with no traditional pickups connected - just the hex pickup
- Pad Sound
- Started with a clean patch and added Fuzz
- Lowered filter cutoff to very low level for a generic string pad sound
- Added an additional filter with envelope (auto-wah) in Logic for a little movement
- Added chorus
- Looped 16 bars a few times until I had tracked an acceptable, generic verse-chorus
- Started with clean sound again
- octave down effect in Logic
- Bass Amp plugin in Logic
- low cutoff again - not as low as the pad
- higher resonance, which accentuates the way the timbre of the plucked string develops - like particularly vocal jazz bass
track bass part
- Rhythm Guitar (under verse 1, 2, 3, 4)
- Having spent way too many hours and days out of my life building my own pickups, I'm pretty familiar with the response curve of some of my favorite pickups and pickup combinations. Most guitar pickups have a very pronounced midrange hump and a fast falloff above that, so a relatively high resonance helps sound more like a traditional guitar, if that's what you want. I opened up an instance of Voxengo Span to see the effect of turning the filter cutoff knobs and shot for a curve that looked to me like it would a good rhythm sound.
- Added Guitar Amp plugin in Logic
- Melody Guitar verse 2
- Tweaked cutoff and resonance for Strat bridge/middle type sound.
- Used the 6Appeal Clock interface to select Drive Menu and pressed the center knob/button to select Overdrive
- Dialed in Drive, Gain, and Tone
- loop 3 takes of unsatisfactory improvising LOL, settled for the last one because it was too depressing to listen back to the other two
- Melody Guitar verse 3
- same as guitar 1, but with a lower peak (low wind PAF type) and Fuzz with Drive and Gain set higher. A very wide range and variety of clipping is available. I wish now I'd spent more time on this sound. I was growing impatient after the time I spent reading the hefty manual.
- Melody Guitar verse 4 (fade out)
- This is the sound of the GK in bypass mode on the 6Appeal - it's just buffering and summing the 6 pickups on the GK into a mono signal and feeding it into the same Guitar Amp plugin in Logic. I probably should have turned off the Guitar Amp plugin so you can hear how really full-range and plinky is the uneffected sound.
Here's what it all sounds like:Features
Here is a list of features in order as they appeal to me personally. There may be some/many I'm leaving out. For the complete list, consult the PDF manual
(halfway down the page: "User Manual and Flowcharts") - or peruse the Spicetone website to get a bigger picture.
What's Not in the Box?
- All analog audio
- A very nice interface that maintains both hands-on, buttons-and-knobs analog interface and the power of digital communication/storage.
- A very malleable filter section
- 3 Types of clipping: overdrive, crunch, fuzz. They all sound good with plenty of character, yet they are easy to mix.
- 2 LFO's that can be timed/synced just about any way you can imagine for extreme creativity, and they can control any audio parameter.
- Very comprehensive I/O of audio and MIDI. You can route audio out via 13-pin, mono 1/4", 6 individual mono signals (one per string, which can each be effected differently in a single patch), stereo, or probably any way that your imagination/patching allows. The MIDI implementation is deep, so you can receive a MIDI clock, CC's from a foot controller or sequencer... actually it's silly to try to imagine all possibilities - my impression from my quick tour is that you can control any parameter with any MIDI source. Someone even built a makeshift patch editor in Max (no librarian tho) that will run in the free Max Runtime (like Java for music).
- Root boost circuit - emphasizes the fundamental. I meant to try this on my bass patch but forgot.
- There is also an internal sequencer. This will be useful to some. Others - maybe most people - will be using the 6Appeal with a computer in which case a desktop sequencer - e.g. Ableton - will be more practical for most things IMHO
- It uses the contemporary standard 13-pin connectors so it can interface with popular gear like a Roland GK-3 pickup for input.
- The 6Appeal runs acceptably quietly from a single, standard Boss-type PSU, which must have taken some real work to make happen. It's the kind of thing I would complain about bitterly if it weren't so. I'm going to take a moment right now to imagine being saddled with an additional non-standard PSU and be grateful that the 6Appeal uses any 9v center negative adapter.
The thing that most foxed me regarding the description of the 6Appeal was the omission of a complete envelope generator, which is an essential component of a sound design toolset. You can get away with no envelope generator if you are using the 6Appeal as a sort of analog Variax/dirt box, or if you limit your sounds to very unobtrusive background pads, but beyond that you are going to run out of options very quickly. After the filter, which the 6Appeal has on lock, envelopes are used to craft the most characteristic aspects of sounds.[/li][/list]
You do have envelopes with the 6Appeal, just not envelopes directly triggered by performance. Right now if you want an envelope for every time you play a string, you have to split your GK signal into an additional device - the Spicetone manual details how to do with a Roland GR-55 - and trigger the 6Appeal's envelope with MIDI from the Roland device. If I'm going to have to wait for the Roland latency anyway, personally I'd rather have Roland's vastly more expansive sound design toolset. So the envelope situation on the 6Appeal at present is complicated.
I will say that Spicetone is working on an external envelope generator. This is what really reminded me most of the wild frontier era of the 1940's and 1950's, when people were building components and patching them together for the first time. Additionally, they have made a sort of kludge provision for triggering envelopes with MIDI. Finally, you can trigger an envelope with an LFO, which, now that I think about it, I could have used in my demo on the pad sound - sync LFO to whole note using MIDI clock from Logic, and I could have had a very usable envelope for that sound.
Actually that's probably the perfect anecdote for illustrating my overall impression of the 6Appeal: it's deep-yet-incomplete as a full sound design toolset without complementary devices; it is wonderfully playable owing to its analog, literally-the-speed-of-light audio path, yet it will take some non-musical, careful thinking ahead of time to set up sounds. This is a box for tweakers, not preset users.
The 6Appeal could use a global setting for per-string sensitivity. As it stands you really need to adjust the Gain parameter for each individual string in each individual patch to get good string-to-string balance. My hunch is that this unit will appeal to hardcore tweakers who are spending a lot of time programming individual patches, anyway, so that may not be a huge issue for the target market.
I also wish the 6Appeal had a built-in 7- or 8-channel USB audio interface. As it stands you have to route 6 audio outputs into the audio inputs of your own interface, which makes it instantly non-portable by my criteria (one trip from the car for all gear for any show) - but most people have much higher tolerance for gear bulk. I have a flight case from an old rig that holds a 15.5" notebook computer and a 2U rack that could easily accommodate a 6Appeal/computer rig. The USB port on the 6Appeal is just for writing to the PIC (i.e. firmware).
The manual could be organized better. If I were creating a manual for this device I would simply identify the piece of similar gear I had mastered fastest in the past and imitate the logical organization of the manual for that product. All the information is there, and it is competently written in English, but the order and flow of material made so that I personally had to read the entire manual to get the big picture, then find particular information during my test drive of the 6Appeal. Others may have an easier time than I did.
Finally the 6Appeal could really benefit from some presets that highlight its ability to function in an established musical style. This concern was the motivating factor behind my own audio demo - the stock presets sparked no recognition or inspiration for me personally. Who Would Like It?
Writing this review, I'm developing a lot more empathy for the magazine writers I previously thought of as lazy for falling back on the story of their own experience - As I waited in the lobby of the Four Seasons to be ushered to the suite of the notoriously difficult actor...
I think my difficulty trying to classify the 6Appeal may be instructive to potential buyers. When I first heard about the device on V-Guitar Forums, I listened to the demos and thought, huh, these are amateur musicians, but who is this device designed for - certainly the makers didn't throw their lives into the production of such a piece of engineering just to play Sweet Home Alabama at the corner bar?
So I read every page of the small website, specifically looking for the disclosure of the design philosophy - you know, what question does this device answer, we made this with XYZ type of musician in mind, etc. The features are well represented, but nowhere do they state what was their mission when they set out on long journey of hard work that was beautifully realized in the 6Appeal. I read every word of the manual with that question close to the front of mind - what exactly is this thing supposed to be? If the makers of the 6Appeal have published any statement regarding their inspiration or mission, I haven't seen it. To me that mystery is part of the beauty.
The 6Appeal exists because it is badass, bitchin', cool, awesome, superlative. It is a very complete sound design component, not a complete sound design system. Before trying the 6Appeal I never even considered the possibility of a computer-controlled, analog hexaphonic guitar rig; now I'm trying to keep the idea from my mind for fear that it will take root and I'll spend a year out of my life mainly tinkering with neat-o analog sound tools. Again.
Here are some ways I can imagine the 6Appeal being effective for musicians:
A sort of all-analog pickup modeler with OD/Dist/Fuzz, feeding into a conventional guitar rig. With very capable filtering the 6Appeal can emulate both familiar response curves and unfamiliar ones to feed into additional guitar pedals and amps
A polyphonic, analog guitar synth that fits on a pedalboard.
A guitar effect in a large, computer controlled production.
Futuristic solo guitar. Lots and lots of performance possibilities using a DAW/sequencer without giving up the immediacy of analog processing. An obvious one is splitting two or three lowest strings with different filtering and octave down effect for Charlie Hunter style guitar without a specialized instrument.
A central component of a digitally controlled, all-analog sound design rig. That envelope issue is vexing in this case. Once they crack that nut, sky's the limit in the universe of subtractive, 1960's and 1970's type synth sounds.
An organic-sounding front end to notoriously non-organic sounding Max mad science projects. All the 6Appeal's strengths lend itself to computer integration, and its good-sounding filter could be a good complement to Max's apparently intrinsic grainy, computery sound
The Spicetone 6Appeal isn't going to expand the palette of sounds for someone who already owns a VG-99, GR-55, or GP-10. The 6Appeal isn't a sound design monster. It moves the hexaphonic guitarist ahead by providing deep computer control of an uncompromisingly playable analog hex fuzz with good sounding filters. The lack of an internal envelope trigger is a limitation, but I'm fond of the idea of limitations as an aid to creativity. When Spicetone - or some industrious DIY'er - releases their external envelope generator people will have a legit analog sound design kit for guitar with digital control. I'm sure someone has built something previously that would fit that description, but AFAIK, Spicetone is the very first to offer it in a small, pedalboard-friendly box that integrate easily into any 2014 music rig.
Do I recommend buying it? I don't know. I highly recommend thinking about it, reading the manual, and considering whether the 6Appeal could help you with your current musical goals. If you are already using digitally controlled analog gear then you probably want one. If you are a traditional magnets, wire, and tubes type guy (still?!) then this is about a gentle intro to synth shock as you're going to get - basically just filtering a distorted signal per string - and all the digital control you absolutely need is built into the 6Appeal itself, with presets, programming, bypass, etc.
Or think of it this way. Imagine having a GR-100
, every parameter of which you can modulate with Ableton, MainStage, Max, or whatever you use (plus the internal LFO's and sequencer). If that gets your juices flowing, go to Spicetone
right now and pick one up. EDIT: better yet there is now a group buy discount for VGuitar Forum: http://www.vguitarforums.com/smf/index.php?topic=12104.0
Personally I've already committed to the dark side (digital). I have a room in my basement full of amps and it is with mounting dread that I'm realizing I may never again put any of them in the trunk of my car or on a trailer - I may never even record with them at home. Someday I'm going to have to let go and sell most/all of those amps to musicians who will use them. Same thing with pedals and a collection of guitars. Roland really set the hook in me with a relatively complete sound design universe in a stomp box. I can imagine a scenario in which I would build a new, badass analog rig with the 6Appeal at the center and Ableton Live as the control/interface, I just don't see myself doing it right now.
I guess the bottom line is as follows. The 6Appeal is, AFAIK, the best that has ever existed when it comes to digitally controlled hex fuzz. If you can imagine something to do with that, then the 6Appeal will make it possible to realize your vision. When Spicetone finishes the envelope component, replace possible