Though noodling is a whole lot of fun, and fingertip calluses certainly need regular workouts, there are times when it would be good to have your very own John Bonham or Mitch Mitchell to provide a rock-steady beat. Playing along to backing tracks or engaging the help of loopers, drum machines or rhythm boxes can work to some degree, but there's little or no room for improvisation or creativity unless you take your hands away from the guitar to mix things up a bit. Billed as the first guitar pedal drum machine, the Beatbuddy from David Packouz puts control of the beat at your feet, leaving your hands free to get on with some serious shredding.
Beatbuddy was born of frustration at not being able to find a stomp that could pound out some rhythm on the fly, with the player able to bring in fills and end with a big finish. "I needed a dedicated drum machine pedal," Packouz reveals. "The closest thing I found was the Sound Master Rhythm 1. It had a total of 8 very bad sounding beats (think pong computer beeps), only an output jack, no fills, no rhythm changes, no accent hits, no tap tempo, and of course no computer interface. So I designed a system of signals where a musician can use a single pedal to start and stop a beat, add fills, transition to different song parts and add accent hits."
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His subsequent patent application was granted within a year (which is said to be unusually quick), and a development team including mechanical engineers from TakDesign and electrical and software engineers from BrioConcept worked on the device for two years before arriving at a pre-production prototype. The drum sounds used in Beatbuddy come courtesy of Goran Rista of the GoranGrooves Studio.
Each 3.7 x 6.2 x 2.5 in (94 x 157.5 x 63.5 mm), 1.1 lb (499 g) Beatbuddy will come pre-loaded with 10 drum sets and over 200 complete songs (each song has a different number of parts, including progressions from verse to chorus, and song intros and endings) in beat styles including rock, country, pop and jazz. A 1.8-inch color LCD display on the face displays the chosen songs, kits, time signature and volume level (which are all selected using the knobs and buttons up top). Though tempo can be controlled by turning the appropriate knob, players can also set their own pace using the Tap button or footswitch.
The Beatbuddy has a 600 MHz ARM Cortex A8 processor at its heart, and 1 GB of DDR2 system memory. The device includes an SD card slot for expansion and a mini-USB port for connection to a computer running companion software, with which users will be able to load up custom beats and kits, and add additional percussion parts to songs (such as fills, a bridge or perhaps a 20-minute drum solo).
The developers plan to make additional free and premium content available for download, and intend to launch an online Beatbuddy community, where members can upload and share drum patterns, rhythms and drum sets with others.
The sides of the anodized aluminum housing are home to a MIDI Sync interface that caters for integration with loopers and effects, mono or stereo in and out jacks, and players can plug headphones into the pedal itself via the built-in 3.5 mm audio jack, then adjust playback volume using the wheel on the right. Of course, this output can also be used to hook up the pedal with a home stereo to accompany whatever acoustic instrument you might choose to play.
The Beatbuddy is powered by a 9 V adapter, and if not switched on, the signal from the guitar will not get through to the amp. If using other effects, then the Beatbuddy needs to be placed at the very end of the chain or the other stomps will change how Beatbuddy will sound – which could actually be kind of cool.
Operation appears a simple enough affair. When you want the rhythm to start, you push down the footswitch. If you want to throw in a fill, you push down again (the pedal can cycle through different fills for a live performance feel). Press and hold to enter transition, and release to end and move onto the next part of the song. Push down the footswitch twice to end with a fill or three times for an abrupt stop.
An external footswitch (not supplied) can be plugged in to add percussive effects like cymbal crashes or hand claps. Users needn't worry too much about being precise when stomping on the footswitch to start or end a drum part, the pedal will always finish a song part at the end of a bar.
Beatbuddy has launched on Indiegogo to go from working prototype to market product. At the time of writing, there are a few really early bird specials still available for US$179, which includes a t-shirt listing 10 amusing reasons why the pedal is better than a regular human drummer. Once these units have been reserved, the standard early pledge level rises to $199.
The campaign smashed through its funding target in less than 24 hours, so if all goes as expected, shipping will begin in April next year, ahead of an August retail launch.
The pitch video below details the main features, and shows the Beatbuddy in action.