Ever since the early 1960s, electric guitarists have been relying on foot pedals (frequently dubbed “stomp boxes”) to color their sound. For years, foot pedals had one or two sounds in each pedal. Fuzz tone (as heard on the Stones’ classic “Satisfaction”), phasing effects (the Stones’ “Shattered” and Hunter and Wagner on Lou Reed’s live version of “Sweet Jane”), chorus (on lots of hit singles by the Police) and the wah-wah pedal (used by loads of guitarists, beginning most famously with Jimi Hendrix) are all classic foot pedals.
But beginning around the early 1980s, stomp boxes began to get more and more sophisticated. The harbinger was Tom Scholz’s classic Rockman box-crammed full of transistors and printed circuits, it was a veritable Swiss Army Knife for guitarists. Producing the same kind of distortion tone that Schulz made famous with Boston, as well as a clean, chorused sound very much like Andy Summers’ Police sound, the Rockman served as a headphone amp for thousands of budding guitarists, as well as being featured on loads of hit records in the mid-1980s.
Around that same time, Roger Linn was making a name for himself with his Linn Drum Machine, which was featured on even more hit records. Linn maintained a somewhat low profile for much of the 1990s, but remerged a couple of years ago with his latest product, the AdrenaLinn, whose firmware was recently upgraded to create the AdrenaLinn II.
There are certainly other products that do a little of what the AdrenaLinn does. The most famous is probably Line6′s Pod, which focuses on modeling archetypal 1950s and ’60s guitar amps and effects.
While the AdrenaLinn has several authentic sounding amp models built in, it goes beyond “simple” amp modeling to include an astonishing amount of sounds, ranging from screaming Marshall Amplifier-style tones to synthesizer-like sequencers and envelope followers. Remember the first time you heard Pete Townshend’s envelope filtered guitar solos on classic Who songs from the early 1970s, such as “Going Mobile” and “Relay”? Or the talkbox on Frampton Comes Alive? Those types of sounds are included in the pre-sets of the AdrenaLinn, along with phasers, flangers, tremolos, and other standard guitar-oriented sounds.
Almost a Guitar Synthesizer in a Box
But standard guitar effects are just a first step when it comes to how the AdrenaLinn can color an electric guitar’s sound. While the AdrenaLinn has some great guitar amplifier sounds, it can also make some very un-guitarlike sounds with its eighth and 16th note sequencer patterns. It’s almost a guitar synthesizer in a box.
For the guitarist who enjoys home recording, the AdrenaLinn could be a very welcome addition. Its effects could add a level of polish and sophistication to home recordings that would otherwise require a pretty fair chunk of change to replicate. Its sequencers and sweep patterns can make an ordinary chord sequence sound radically individual.
It’s not too difficult to think of the AdrenaLinn as a drum machine with a digital modeling chip. Its drums sound very good, and have some great pre-set patterns (this unit was designed by the guy who gave us the Linn Drum Machine after all). For those who record on a hard disk, it would certainly be possible to make loops of these drums, and then paste them in when necessary when recording, for more flexibility. Otherwise, the drums are nice for practicing, or for a solo gig.
What Does It Sound Like?
A few weeks ago, the chips to upgrade my original AdrenaLinn unit built in mid-2002 arrived from Linn Design. Following their instructions, and using a screwdriver and a socket wrench, I installed them and powered the unit up.
I had been in the process of recording a new instrumental; I had laid down a variety of Sonic Foundry’s Acid Loops, but only a few guitars. So I plugged my Les Paul Custom into the AdrenaLinn and started experimenting. I had planned to play some keyboard synths, but figured the AdrenaLinn would be more fun to experiment with it–and for me, playing guitar is much more fun than playing keys.
Listening to the finished instrumental, the bass string riff on the first two verses was run through the AdrenaLinn’s “Cars Filter” patch, which recreates the familiar “bow-bow-bow” sound heard on many a Cars’ song. The sequencer-sounding bits between the bass string riffs were just single chords held for a whole note, and played through the Sample & Hold patch. The solo on the second verse was run through the auto-wah patch. And that quiet, weeping-sounding guitar was the Les Paul processed with the AdrenaLinn’s Guitar Synth patch.
Smoothing out the Learning Curve
While there are some fun new sounds in the AdrenaLinn II, perhaps the biggest improvement is a simplified interface, which greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to get a handle on the unit.
Previously, because the original version of the AdrenaLinn had so many settings, all controlled by four knobs and three buttons, programming the unit beyond those presets required somewhat of a steep learning curve.
In the new unit, the steps to alter the sounds are much, much more intuitive to the user. When I reviewed the previous version of the AdrenaLinn for Vintage Guitar magazine, I wrote:
there’s something about the AdrenaLinn’s design that makes it a bit clumsy, at least to me. Your mileage may very considerably-try to test drive the unit for a while in a music store before purchasing it. The instruction manual can be downloaded as a PDF file from the AdrenaLinn Web site (at www.rogerlinndesign.com), and I highly recommend printing the manual out and bringing it with you to test the unit out.
That was then-the new version is much, much simpler to understand. All of the commands are functionally laid out, and with about a half hour or so of practice, the unit should be easy to understand and adjust.
While the instruction manual states that the unit can be programmed on-screen via its MIDI input and a computer’s GUI, additional software needs to be purchased. I would have loved to have seen a USB-input on the box, ala Line6′s PC-based GuitarPort product.
Such an input is always possible in a later unit, as this new version shows. Even before the AdrenaLinn II debuted in late summer of 2003, RogerLinn Design tweaked the unit slightly, adding newer and cleaner amp models and a headphone jack (ala the classic Rockman). Allowing for practice via headphones helps avoid playing through an amp turned up to #11 for distortion–nothing like having the police show up on your doorstep at midnight while you’re trying to practice.
For those who are looking for a wide range of guitar sounds and effects for recording or playing live, and have the patience to learn a unit that’s a sophisticated piece of portable musical technology, the AdrenaLinn could be a welcome addition to their arsenal. Amp modeler, effects box, guitar synth, guitar sequencer, and drum machine-it’s truly the Swiss Army Knife of stomp boxes.