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What is the ToneZzarTM Harmonic WaveshaperTM?

ToneZzar is a new guitar tone processor but it's not a standard guitar multi-effects processor with reverb, chorus, and things like that. Since it is a guitar tone processor, it produces amp tones but not from amp models like most of the products on the market. Instead, tones are built from scratch from a large collection of low-level processing modules that can be connected in any fashion. This lets the user build tones and effects that can't be had from amp models or even mixed combinations of amp modeling components. With modeling, the emphasis is on tone re-creation but with ToneZzar, the emphasis is on tone creation.

The design objective was to create a tone-building tool that gives guitarists the flexibility and programmability that synthesizer players have enjoyed for decades. The unit is just about as flexible as you can get without actually writing DSP code, even though the user does not need to be technical in order to create tones. The unit's processing modules are designed to give maximum control over frequency response, harmonic content, dynamics, and motion. The result is a device that blurs the distinction between tone and effect. All of the unit's SHARC DSP power is focused on delivering essential tone rather than being divided between tone and effects that are better served by high-quality dedicated effect units or software. A planned update to use a later generation SHARC chip will provide the additional processing power needed for high-quality standard effects.

While the development of ToneZzar was primarily focused on electric guitar tone, its flexibility makes it equally suitable for electric bass. Its architecture is all about experimentation, so it could conceivably be used to process just about any kind of audio.

Rather than have you read all the way through before telling you, ToneZzar is not in production yet. There is more about that at the bottom of the page.

What Does Harmonic Waveshaper Mean?

Critical to almost all amp tones are the non-linear transfer functions that provide overdrive and distortion effects, or maybe just a little tube warmth. At the heart of ToneZzar are its harmonic waveshaper modules. These modules use harmonic models to define their non-linear transfer functions. This method produces highly accurate transfer functions but also provides a wide range of control over their tonal character. Nobody else does it like this.

The harmonic waveshaping process begins with the creation of the harmonic models. A non-linear device such as a vacuum tube or solid-state distortion circuit is driven with a test signal at the desired distortion level and a spectrum analysis is performed on the output. The amplitude and phase data from the first 200 harmonics, after some manipulation, will form the harmonic model. A 200-harmonic model is able to capture the audible harmonics of even the most extreme transfer functions.

The ToneZzar unit's waveshaper modules apply the transfer functions defined by the harmonic models to the signal. The waveshaper modules can also employ a math function that progressively rolls off the higher harmonics to soften the distortion effect. This means each of the unit's models can produce a wide range of distortion.

The software tool developed to create the harmonic models can also be used to create models having arbitrary amplitude and phase values. It can also create models from virtual devices whose transfer functions are drawn graphically. The modeling process can easily produce harmonic models from actual hardware devices or from improvised virtual devices that can range from analog lookalikes to those that could never be duplicated in the analog world.

The ToneZzar unit has some limited ability to create new models. It has an editor for modifying or creating models by specifying the amplitude and phase of each harmonic. It also has an editor for creating a new model by blending the harmonics from two existing models. There's another for creating a new model that's equivalent to two existing models' transfer functions being driven in series. The intent was to not only supply a rich variety of models with the unit but also give the user the ability to create new models from within the unit.

One final word on the harmonic waveshaper modules: The Achilles heel of digital distortion is aliasing noise. If the distortion adds harmonics that exceed one-half the sampling frequency, they'll be reflected down into the audible range. With ToneZzar, the finite-harmonics aspect of the harmonic models reduces the likelihood of aliasing. Beyond that, the waveshaper modules employ a proprietary process that further suppresses aliasing. This means ToneZzar can produce analog-like distortion effects without digital artifacts.

Unit Features

Have a Look and a Listen!

The YouTube videos below each contain several clips that hopefully demonstrate ToneZzar's versatility. For the best audio quality, switch the player's quality setting to 720p-HD. YouTube uses higher bitrate audio for HD videos. There are noticeable transcoding artifacts in some of the clips when played at the lower settings.

If you need more player size options, you can use the links Demo Vol. 1 and Demo Vol. 2 to watch the demos from within the YouTube site.

ToneZzar Demo Vol. 1

ToneZzar Demo Vol. 2

About the Demo Clips

All of the tones used for the clips were built from the front panel using the internal editors. There are no canned, hard-coded effects or configurations – there's nothing that could not be built from scratch by anybody. None of the tones attempt to mimic any particular amp or device. They were developed by simply dreaming up possible processing module configurations, “wiring” them up, and tweaking the module settings until something interesting emerged. Emphasis was on creating distorted tones that still let the guitar's tone ring through, which is tougher than max-gain/max-distortion tones. The clips are the developer's first crack at creating tones with ToneZzar. For the humbucker clips, a budget Epiphone Les Paul with stock pickups was used. For the single-coil clips, a mid-1970's Strat with tired frets and stock pickups was used. In all cases, the tone controls were set for maximum treble. The soundtrack for the Vol. 1 opening logo sequence uses the same tones that were used for some of the demo clips. Like the demos, no outboard effects were added. All audio was recorded directly from the unit's line outputs.

ToneZzar Is Looking For a Home

At the present, the only existing ToneZzars are pre-production prototype units. The USA-based developer is currently seeking an equipment manufacturer that would be interested in adding ToneZzar to its product lineup. If your company fits this description, please contact the developer at the address below. If you are a guitarist that thinks ToneZzar would be a nice addition to your rig, sorry about the tease. Please drop us a line so we can let you know when ToneZzar becomes available. Any new developments will also be posted on this site.

[email protected]

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